Novel progress: one step forward, two steps back, and right where I should be

“…stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

— Stephen King, On Writing

It came to me in the shower: how many successful YA novels are written in third person?

novel manuscript ready to mail off to agentsThe manuscript wasn’t finished. I had to stop querying agents and rewrite it in first person.

I’m thankful for these bittersweet discoveries because they help me take my manuscript to the next level, but oh, how part of me wished I’d never had this one.

Having written so many drafts over so many years, I’d assumed Standing on the Precipice was done.

Before the birth of my first child, I quit my job and took a month to finish this novel once and for all. When I returned from the hospital with tiny R. in tow, my first rejection letter awaited me in the mailbox.

I continued to receive rejections, most of them encouraging. Agents wrote notes about how my protagonist seemed interesting, but my novel wasn’t a project they could take on at the moment. They apologized for slow responses, praised my work, and wished me well.

Fellow writers congratulated me and said, “you’re getting so close! Keep revising!”

I smiled and thought, nah, Standing on the Precipice is done. I just need to find the right agent.

Then came my little revelation in the shower, and you know what? I owed it to the story to make it happen.

manuscript with a note from an agentAs I dipped my toes back into the manuscript, I saw the gaping distance third-person perspective created between my main character and the reader. This rewrite was the opportunity she’d been hoping for all along.

In short, I saw the book Standing on the Precipice had to be, even if it meant combing through the entire manuscript sentence by sentence to uncover the story that needed to be told.

Some days, this work feels marvelous. After all, if I was getting friendly rejections before, surely Standing on the Precipice will see an agent’s desk after such vast improvements.

Other days, it’s painfully clear I’m dumping more hours into a project that won’t see the light of day for a long time. I’m tempted to use this time for a new piece that could put my name in print sooner.

Novel writing is like the world’s longest game of Chutes and Ladders. Just when you’ve readied your victory dance, you hit that long chute that starts the whole game over.

Then you have a choice. Some writers would shove that project away in a dark drawer and call it a failure. Others would keep querying anyway. Others would simply get back to work.

If I’ve learned anything in the nearly five years since my first draft, it’s that if writing a novel feels easy, you’re far from the finish line. If you keep an open mind, your book will lead you there — however circuitously. As you listen for its direction, your only task is to remember that no request, no revision, is too great.