Andrea Dunlop is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her personal blog, thirty-things.
Some of the items on my before-30 list are things that are relatively easy to accomplish. Even the ones that aren’t exactly easy, like learning a foreign language and living abroad for a month are more or less within my control.
But there is one item that is a genuine, lifelong goal: getting published. I amend this to ‘get a book deal’ for the purposes of the list because the former would be literally impossible to accomplish given that it takes about a year from signing the contract to the bookstores receiving the physical book.
I do have a novel written; in fact I have several novels written. One is a very earnest, early attempt that I wrote and re-wrote throughout my college years. Another is a novel I began in New York and tried to get published three years ago.
Part of the reason I moved to New York and got a job in publishing after school was because I had some vague notion that it was going to help me become a writer. And, in some ways, it has.
In the spring of 2008 when I was working very sporadically on my novel and was having trouble making headway, I had the good fortune of meeting and befriending Polly Devlin, an Irish writer of renown and we had a conversation one day over coffee that changed my life. She enumerated for me with stunning incisiveness the reasons I was having so much trouble finishing my book: namely that I had a day job in publishing (which messes with your head), that I was terrified of trying to get published, and that I had a hectic life with no time to write. The job I needed, and the fear, she said, would always be with me (true so far!). The third thing was the only one I could control and so I damn well better do it. ‘Go to bed an hour earlier and get up in the morning to write before you go to work. ‘Do this,’ she said, ‘or you will be sitting here ten years from now wondering why you never finished your novel.’
I was up at 6am the next day and four months later, the novel was finished.
After this came my first close call with publication. I got a great agent and after a couple of months of editing the manuscript, we sent it out to editors. We had lots of nice feedback and we even had interest from a young editor who eventually backed off of it, saying the usual about fiction being so tough to sell. And then it was just kind of…over.
I was pretty devastated that I’d come so close to the Big Dream only to have it slip away. I look at pictures of myself from this time and I’ve never looked worse; even my hair looked miserable. I confided in a writer friend that I was really having trouble with the whole process and she told me, ‘Oh Honey, if you’re not on the bathroom floor with a bottle of vodka during this whole thing, you’re doing just fine.’
When I moved back to Seattle a year and half ago, I was living with my parents and working a part time administrative job. I was always telling myself I would write more if I had more time so now I was really out of excuses. By the end of the year, I had finished a new novel. Sadly, my old agent had left the business so I’ve had to start from scratch and look for new representation. In some ways it’s easier, if only because I am prepared for what I’m going to feel like every time one of those carefully worded rejection letters shows up in my inbox, but it’s more frustrating too. I already cleared this hurtle and now I have to start from the beginning again. But I have to push through it, I have to keep trying.
There are many reasons that this one might not happen in the time period I’ve allotted for it but it won’t be because I didn’t go after it. It’s on this list not because I’m going to throw in the towel once I hit the big 3-0 (or ever for that matter) but because it would just be too easy to keep pushing it back and telling myself I have my whole life to do it. Nothing scares me more than the idea of letting my dreams slip away little by little and finding myself middle aged with no idea where they went. So in the midst of the big adventure of checking things off of my list, I have to keep sight of the one item that matters most.