[SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK]: Shelter Us, Part 2

In Part 1 of Behind the Book, I told of my journey from lawyer, through motherhood and on to novelist, and how I declared 2008 “my year of the novel”! I shared all kinds of wonderful, warm, and triumphal bits about Shelter Us and its publication with She Writes Press in June 2015, seven years past my ridiculous deadline.

Now it’s time to share the warts, wrinkles, and wrong turns along the way, and in doing so offer you the encouragement to keep going if you are somewhere on that path.

1. Commit to your project and a deadline. Tell lots of people about it.

Announcing a goal and an ambitious deadline helped me focus. I felt bound to my goal. Even as I was slogging it out, taking longer than my allotted twelve months, I had to keep going. Telling other people had made me want to live up to my grand announcement, lest I be revealed as a big liar. Well-meaning friends and family kept asking me about the novel’s progress. I needed to be able to tell them something. I had to finish. You don’t need a year-long sabbatical to write a novel. You need fifteen minutes a day. You’ll get to the end eventually; you first have to start.

. Don’t submit to agents/publishers too soon.

When I excitedly told my husband I’d finished the first draft, it was still more of collection of vignettes about a character. Like a gassy planet still forming. The ingredients were there, but they hadn’t coalesced. Nonetheless, after he read it he said in love-blinded awe, “I can’t believe I’m sleeping with a novelist.” My doting parents similarly over-heaped praise upon me: “Pulitzer!” my father raved.

Oh how I wanted to believe I was done! A friend suggested I submit it to her book editor friend. (This is where you should be screaming, “Stop! Don’t do it!”) But I was excited. I didn’t know any professional book people, and here was one being offered to me. So I submitted a first draft. I fantasized that she would love it, overnight it to her publisher-crowd in New York City, and that it would hit the shelves soon. (I know. You are cringing for me. Thank you. It’s okay. This is how we learn.)

Be open-minded to criticism. Seek it out.

The editor did send me an e-mail explaining what she didn’t like about the book. After I got over my initial disappointment, I read her comments without too much pride or defensiveness, and found that a lot of what she said was justified. I went back to address those critiques. I was grateful for her input.

After revising it, working with a paid editor, and revising it some more, I began to send it to agents. I received thirty or so very polite rejections, but some of these agents added a couple of sentences of feedback. I paused in my agent hunt, and went back for more revisions, adding details, fleshing out dialogue. I submitted it to another twenty or so agents, and got more very kind rejections. Sigh.

It’s okay to take a break. Sometimes that’s exactly what the book needs.

This is where I got disgusted. I set the down book for six months. I was sick of it. It was crap. It was my nagging hangnail, a reminder of that terrible idea I’d had to go and blab to everyone that I was writing a novel.

Try again.

Thank goodness I had blabbed to everyone, lest I think I could go quietly into anonymity of never having committed to this. I was too embarrassed not to finish. Six months after setting it aside to work on something else, an idea for the novel woke me in the middle of the night and sent me stumbling in the dark looking for a pencil and a scrap of paper. I was back on track.

I had many more revisions. I felt elated sometimes, as when I solved or improved a plot point. I felt deflated sometimes, as when I re-read it after what I believed was the very last edit and saw that I had inadvertently sucked the soul out of it and had to go back one more time to fix it. Slowly it has come into fruition.

I once read about a survey of eighty-year-olds who were asked what advice they would give their younger selves. Overwhelmingly they said, “Say YES to opportunities.” With the benefit of their earned wisdom, I add my encouragement: Say yes to the voice that’s telling you to write the novel inside you. Say yes to announcing your project to the world. Say yes to thirty minutes a week, if that’s all you have. Say yes to your unique voice being heard in the world.

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  • Laura Nicole Diamond

    Shelah, I love your comment. We are not alone in this process -- especially with SheWrites and the community we have to fall back on. "Trust the process" -- even the part that makes you want to curl up and let it die. There will come a point when you love it and want to spend hours working on it.

  • Sally Ketham

    It is so comforting to know that we're not alone in this process. I don't know if any writers really know what they're getting themselves into. It is such a PROCESS!! :) But posts like this make it a little more enjoyable, thanks Laura! Like you, I've gone and spouted my mouth off to so many people not to mention the obligation I feel to the girl I co-authored my book with. It WILL see the light, but there are days I want to curl up and let it die. Glad I can't. :)

  • Laura Nicole Diamond

    Betsy, it sounds like you've been experiencing this phenomenon yourself! It makes sense; but you have the right attitude -- don't listen to the "haters."

    I have to say that - so far - I have been enormously lucky to be around supportive people, who must be confident in their own accomplishments! I have received congratulations and "you did its!" Those folks who might resent the completion of my novel have been keeping it to themselves.

  • Laura Nicole Diamond

    Thank you for your comments! I am struck by how familiar many of these passages in the writing journey are for all of us, and how it is still important and powerful to hear that others are sharing them. When one of my best friends from childhood, a writer I admire very much, was stuck in one of her books, her mother wisely told her: "Trust the process." It made all of the stuck-ness, angst and discomfort part of a whole, the whole that would yield her beautiful book if she stuck with it.

  • Betsy Teutsch

    It is important to know that some people, even though generally nice folks, find it reassuring if you don't accomplish  your goals. On some level, this makes them feel better about themselves. Conversely, if you do accomplish your goal - writing a book- some people will be dismissive. Just remember that they have probably **not** written a novel, or in any way taken themselves out of their comfort zones. You have broken the pact of non-accomplishment and they resent it. Hopefully there are not too many of said types in your life, but note it when people are withholding and try not to take it personally. (if that is possible!)

  • Pamela Olson

    "I felt deflated sometimes, as when I re-read it after what I believed was the very last edit and saw that I had inadvertently sucked the soul out of it and had to go back one more time to fix it."

    I related to this so much! Yep, sometimes you can edit something until it's TOO perfect. It becomes kinda generic. Then I have to go back and figure out how to make it just ragged enough to look like me. :)

  • Brit Columbia

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Right now I am in the discouraged-and-taking-a-break-from-the-book stage. But I'm going to have to finish it this year because I told lots of people I would. And thank you for reminding me about the part where my unique voice ought to be heard in the world. It should! I just have to make about 8 millions revisions first.

  • Joan Leah Gibson

    Wow Laura, I like what you have to say about your journey. It's taking me F.O.R.E.V.E.R to write my novel, however I am happy to be reminded that the best thing is to write the book you want to write no matter how long it takes.