Lately I’ve felt stagnant. I haven’t written anything, haven’t revised anything, haven’t even stuck to my blogging schedule.
I’ve been querying agents, though, but this feels like a mostly passive and rather neurotic activity. I’ve racked up two rejections now; the first enormously encouraging, the second a cursory form email received five days after I hit “send.”
I think this query process has hobbled me–I started to say “crippled,” but I don’t think the damage is lasting (I hope not, anyway). I’m finding it difficult to focus, hard to begin anything, nearly impossible to jump back into the regular routine of my writing. This query process has an insidious way of making me feel as if something’s just over the horizon, about to crest the firm clear line of blue mountains dark against a bright summer sky.
For years, when the phone’s rung, I’ve often said to anyone nearby, “This could be the phone call that will change our lives!” Just because I like the idea of that–the possibility of something unforeseen and entirely unpredictable. Now I have that feeling every time I check my email. And I neurotically check my email, multiple times a day. There might be a response to a query letter.
It’s a pins-and-needles feeling, a breathless one, and I’m realizing suddenly that I’ve been holding my breath far too long. I need to push through this liminal space to whatever lies beyond, to tell stories and send them out into the void, no matter what follows. But it’s hard, under the best of circumstances, and while waiting, it seems nearly impossible.
There’s something frightening about the fallow places–the ruined castle, that tiny kinda scary house by the woods, the burnt-out factory. Pure wilderness doesn’t hold the same terrors. But in the places where humans have trod, the spots where their hands have shaped things and their passions have played out, it’s easy to feel that traces of them linger, and the feeling is uncanny–unheimlich–“unhomely.” The space between stories feels a bit like this to me. It’s not my home. I don’t live here. I’ve just stalled here temporarily, though for how long, I can’t say, and I find myself constantly looking over my shoulders.
So I haven’t written, haven’t even blogged for a while. I need to get back on this horse, but I’ve had no idea where to begin. I’ve been in between stories for too long. The seeds of a new one are germinating slowly in my mind, but haven’t sprouted yet. It’s not yet time to cultivate them. Sometimes I’m hard on myself–I tell myself I should be pushing, writing even if I’m not ready, moving on to something, for crying out loud.
But you can’t push a seed.
It’s been dry here in the valley where I live for weeks–no rain worth speaking of. And then, just a few days ago, the sky split open and torrents of rain lashed the dry earth, bending the branches of trees and giving the parched soil a wake-up smack in the face.
A few days ago, I got an email. Not from an agent. I hesitate to say this in the Age of Hyperbole, but this email was from The Best Betas Ever. Okay, so I don’t know all the beta readers ever. But until I do, I’m sticking to my claim. I feel insanely fortunate to have had two of my manuscripts read by three of my husband’s high school students–a trio of brilliant young women with fantastically quirky senses of humor and absolutely no fear of spiders. I adore them. I don’t know how often an unpublished writer gets to have her drafts critiqued by her exact target audience, but I feel amazingly lucky that these three are not only willing to read my stuff but are also willing to then offer me the most insightful critiques I’ve ever received, from their three unique perspectives.
Their email was the kick in the seat of the pants that I needed. I’m pleased that they liked my story, but even more thrilled that they pointed out inconsistencies my writerly myopia had missed, and that they articulated what they wanted more of. This is the kind of critique that writers covet.
So I am going to go print out their email now, and pin it on my cork board by my desk. It’s a map, not for my entire journey, but for the next leg of it, at least. Though it won’t take me all the way (and couldn’t, since I myself have no idea where this journey ends), I think it will be enough to guide me out of the fallow places.
Rachel, Hannah, and Hannah Rose–thank you for the map. It brought the rain.