I’m headed off to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference this week in Seattle. Of course, I’m hoping to learn more about writing and selling my memoir, but there is also a workshop on essay writing that I’ll attend.
I have been revising my book proposal from last year so I’ll have it ready to send to anyone who’ll read it right after the conference. Last week when I began to revise the three chapters I’d sent out last September (but hadn’t looked at since), I was blown away by how rough and lacking my own sample chapters felt to me. Two of the chapters felt easy to improve by adding more dialogue and physical setting and character description. Both chapters doubled in length and expanded greatly in breadth. I could tell the reading and thinking I’d done over the last year had significantly improved the quality of my writing. My view of my own writing had shifted as a result of what I’d learned.
But one of the chapters seemed to need a complete revision. I played with it a little, but then decided not to include it in my revised proposal. It was too raw and in need of deeper help, probably best served by feedback from a critique group (what I’ve been calling writing group). To think, last September I considered this chapter one of my best, and only 9 months later, I’m embarrassed to show it to anyone in its current state.
Today I read Jane Friedman’s The Secret to Writing & Publishing That Should Be Taped to Your Wall. She says that revision can only be completed when there has been sufficient time for the author to step away from the material so that they can gain perspective. She says, “the writer hasn’t achieved the necessary distance to either evaluate or communicate the commercial merit of her own work. And this is why, in particular, trying to revise, market, and sell your own memoir is next to impossible.”
Reading this made me feel less alone in my little battle to get published. The last week has made me realize that I need to write the first draft of the book, and then set it aside for a while before tackling the revisions. As a result, I’ve decided to revise the fourth dimension of my goals: time. Last year, when I started this blog, my goal was to complete the memoir by 2011, and hopefully find an agent in the mean time, and sell the damn thing soon after it was completed. But after reading about the lives of many other writers, and actually trying to be a working writer with a family life, I am convinced that I need to be willing to relax my timeline for success.
If I push myself to finish the book on a shorter time scale, the quality will certainly be compromised. If I learn half as much in the next year as I did in the last, my book will be drastically better by this time next year.
So I’m taking the pressure off myself. I don’t HAVE to find my agent at next week’s conference. In fact, I probably won’t. I just have to learn as much as I can and figure out how to translate that into a better memoir than I wrote yesterday.
I saw this interview with Laura Munson, author of This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. She wrote fourteen novels and had them all rejected before she found an agent for her best seller. I’m seeing a trend when reading about successful writers lately, that I might have to write more than one book before I sell it. I’m not sure I’ll make it to fourteen without at least a little financial pay off, but I’m willing to do the work and enjoy the process, trying not to worry so much about the outcome.
Thanks for your continued support.