Scene: Dusk. Tucson. 2011.
I’m walking along the Rillito River path with my not-yet-wife, crossing under the Campbell bridge just as the bats begin to flicker around us, high-pitched clicks barely audible over the hum of passing cars. The heat hasn’t yet begun to dissipate and we’re still months away from rain, so the guano has accumulated in thick lines across the asphalt and its smell is a punch that doesn’t quite make you gag, but encourages you to hold your breath.
We’re talking about jobs, careers, life. I don’t know what I’m doing with any of them. My current job has an expiration date of the end of the year and I need to search for something new but I don’t know what. Every career I consider requires commitment, requires further education. But I don’t want to go back and get a Masters, not really.
Nothing I choose will leave enough time for writing, I explain to my wife.
And then, almost immediately afterward, I add, Oh.
Because I’d just recognized the real choice I had to make: continue to treat writing like a fun hobby or prioritize it as my actual career.
It’s no choice, not really. Not for me, anyway. But it’s the moment I shift from playing around to being serious. The moment I consciously decide that if I’m going to Do This Writing Thing, I’m going to Do It 100%. Which means treating my dream with respect, which means treating writing like a job, which means setting deadlines and goals and working toward them.
Which means committing to a having a dayjob and putting writing first.
It’s scary. There’s no guarantee of success, not even a vague assurance – just a hope. But a hope is enough. Because in 5, 10, 20 years, I know I’d rather have given it my all and failed then be haunted by “what if?”
It’s not going to be easy, either, but more than a little uncomfortable. I’ve just got to hold my breath for a while.
Books I’d written before that point: 7ish
Books I wrote (or rewrote) after: 3
Careers I’d attempted before that point: 3
Careers I attempted after: 1
Scene: Saturday, 11pm. Tucson. 2015.
I’m tired. Eyes are scratchy, throat dry because I kept forgetting to drink enough water. We’d just gotten home from playing D&D with friends. I’d quit my job the day before with no new job in place, only a dim hope that I’d find something better. Something that’d make me a little less miserable.
I hadn’t sent out any new queries in a few weeks now and figured I was done trying with this project. I’d let the last round of rejections roll in and move on to a different project. After I’d found a new dayjob, of course.
So I was in the habit of checking my email and seeing something from an agent and not getting my hopes up. There was a new email that night, one that I read after brushing my teeth and feeding the cats. I knew it was a rejection. Of course it was a rejection. Then I read it.
It was not a rejection.
It was a request to chat the next day. Or, as it’s so lovingly called within the writing community, “The Call.”
Reader, I did not sleep that night. Reader, I may have panicked. Reader, I definitely cried.
It was not real, it could not be real. I made my wife read it, because clearly I had misread. Clearly I was misunderstanding. Clearly by “chat” the agent meant she wanted to tell me just how much I sucked.
After my wife talked me down from my panic and then through the initial rush of adrenaline and when my hands were no longer shaking, I managed to type out a reply. “Sure, of course we can chat tomorrow, I will definitely be well-rested and coherent.”
Reader, I was not. But thankfully Kurestin was not dismayed and offered representation despite my rambling.
Total queries for this project: 30
Partial Requests: 3
Full Requests: 4
Offers of Rep: 1
Prior Queried Manuscripts: 2
Scene: A day of the week. November. Michigan. 2016.
The space heater hums in the other room as the oven clicks through its own heat cycle. The kitchen smells of cinnamon, apples, and sweet potatoes. It’s daytime.
I’m exhausted. I’d been up most of the night with an 8-week-old who needed to be bounced 40min before she’d fall asleep. I can still hear the baby crying, even when my mom is holding her, now finally napping, in the other room.
I’m pacing, my fully-charged phone clutched too tight in one hand. Waiting. I pick at the calluses on my palms. I’d just been out in the garage, lifting heavy to try to clear through some of my anxiety. It worked, kinda.
Then the phone rings and in an instant all of my exhaustion is gone and I’m talking with my agent and soon-to-be-editor about a contract with Tor, about turning my standalone fantasy into three books, about how the heck I’m going to do that, about timelines and deadlines and a hundred other things I won’t remember as soon as I hang up.
But in the moment, it’s suddenly Real. In the moment, I’m not worrying whether or not the baby will wake up. In the moment, I’m discussing all these publishing things that used to be as far away and as intangible as the sun like they’re a part of my job – because now they are.
Or they will be. First, I have to write a book. In nine months. With a newborn.
But I’ve been setting myself deadlines and writing and revising and editing on my own for years now. I know I can do this.
I stop holding my breath.
Words cut from manuscript before submission: 10k
Time spent on submission: 12 months
Books attempted while on submission: 2
Books actually written: 0
written acquired: 1