Andrea 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 blog, Thirty-Things.
My list of things to do before I turn thirty was conceived in a spirit of fun and adventure, of carpe-ing the diem.
Many of the things on my list are the things I fear I will become too old – or too tied down – to do later on. Let’s face it, at some point throwing a fake bachelorette party with your friends just wouldn’t be cute (although throwing one in my seventies with all my granny girlfriends would be mind-blowingly awesome; so that’s something to think about). Much as I’m having a blast checking items off my list, I wonder if I’ve attached a bit too much significance to this milestone birthday by pinning my biggest dream on it: that is, getting a book deal.
I put this item on the list last fall when I first came up with the idea for this project. I was in a different place then; I had just finished revising a novel I’d been working on since forever and was getting ready to submit it to agents. The process of trying to get published is a lot like dating: no matter how emotionally obliterated you feel after a big disappointment, you have to keep on keeping on if you ever want to find true love.
So, when I put this item on the list, I was in the midst of the kind of giddy, possibly delusional optimism that one feels when they’re headed to a first date that they’re really excited about: this one will be different. After all, I’d written what I knew was a better a better book than the last. True, my wonderful agent had left the business, but she’d given me a long list of referrals, as had a couple of my publishing buddies. Surely this part of the process would go more smoothly this time. But I was wrong, oh so wrong. It was the same old grind, different book.
As anyone who knows will tell you, the process of trying to get published and the process of writing are two entirely different beasts to be kept in separate cages, but the one sort of naturally messes with the other when you’re deep in the throes of both.
Just like getting over an ex, the easiest way to move on from an old project that’s causing you grief is to go fall in love with a new on. So a couple of weeks ago I started working on a new novel. It was slow going at first but soon I found I was back in that familiar rhythm of writing a first draft, putting the words down with only a vague idea of where the story is actually going. It felt good, I felt like myself again.
To further help me process my writerly malaise, I called my wonderful former professor, friend and mentor Pat Geary (go read her immediately, people). I’ve known Pat for eleven years. She remembers the first thing I ever turned in in my Freshman fiction class. ‘It was this incredibly dense four or five pages of a story,’ she told me, ‘no one knew what it was supposed to be. But I could see then that you were a novelist, you just didn’t know how to do it yet’. Pat has read everything I’ve ever written: no one knows me better as a writer and no one’s opinion means more to me on the subject. I confessed to her that I’d always thought I’d be published by this age. She told me not to worry about the outcome and just write; she said I was getting better with every book and that furthermore I’d probably do my best work in my forties and fifties. ‘It’s not like you’re a ballerina,’ she said. Well that’s for sure.
I still hope to check this item off the list; I worked long on hard on the books I’ve written and I’ve gone through a lot of heartache with rejections and close-calls. But some part of me knows to cherish this pre-publication time as well; once it’s gone I’ll never have it back. I know all too well from working in the industry that getting a book deal isn’t a one-way ticket to Shangri-la; it just brings a whole new set of anxieties.
I’ll be overjoyed when my dream of being published becomes a reality. But for now I have the dream, still shiny and untouchable for now. And maybe that’s not so bad.