Since I first began my attempt at writing a novel two years ago I have wondered if and when the time would come that I would feel comfortable labeling myself as a writer. Or should I say, a "Writer?"
I began this whole book project kind of on a lark. I was on a pretty intense reading binge and started to muse over the process one would go through in creating a novel. Having spent much of my life in various creative endeavors (singing, acting, playing musical instruments, writing music, etc.), I became curious about how similar or different writing a novel might be from other things I had already done. From there my next thought was, "How does one even come up the idea for a story? If I were going to write, what would I write about?" Once I asked that question it was as if a flood gate opened. A story line with characters so real and fully developed that I felt like I knew them came to my mind. I then owed it to them to try to tell their story. I guess you could say I had three more children that day since these characters started occupying my thoughts nearly as much as my four living, breathing, flesh and blood children do.
For me there was never really a question as to which genre I wanted to write. I love teenagers and have worked with them for most of my adult life so writing a Young Adult novel was the natural choice.
I set out on a new adventure.
It was challenging and thrilling, this act of bringing life to these people and their experiences. I gave up many hours of sleep, writing into the early hours of the morning. I became terribly aware of how much of the mechanics of writing - exact grammar and punctuation - I had forgotten over the years. I knew what I wanted to say, but fumbled with some of the tools I needed to use.
Relearning and learning became the task at hand. I read the blogs of literary agents. I studied writing books, websites and blogs. I participated in critiques groups. I even joined a writer's organization. Still I wasn't a Writer.
My first draft was done. It was then I decided that I would eventually try to find an agent and a publisher for this lark turned obsession. Rewriting and editing provided new and invigorating challenges. My work came closer and closer to being ready to send out into the world. A small handful of opportunities for seeking reprensentation presented themselves before I was really ready, but I took them anyway, just to get my feet wet in the querying pond.
Still I wasn't a Writer. Would I be one when I got an agent? When I had a publisher? When I won an award or hit a bestseller list?
Anyone who knows anything about writing knows that every writer has received lots of rejections. Stories are rampant in author's circles about how this bestseller was rejected by so many publisher's before one finally took it on, about how that well known author wrote so many books and looked for an agent for so many years before at last signing with someone. The moral of these stories being to keep trying, get used to being rejected. It happens to everyone.
I got my first rejection by email. That was okay. It didn't really count because I knew my manuscript wasn't ready to send out. The only reason I queried them to begin with is because they were having what they called a 'query holiday,' meaning no dreaded query letter needed to be written in order to submit to them. A writer only needed to email them the first five pages of their manuscript. They would simply look at the writing sample to decide if they were interested. The thought of not having to write a query letter was too good to pass up. I sent them my pages. They sent me a form rejection. I was not surprised.
My second rejection also came by email. This submission also happened more because of timing than because of being ready. An agent who had just returned to work after being on maternity leave for several months commented on her blog that her inbox was uncharacteristically empty, so if anyone had something to submit now was a good time. This time I thought my work might be good enough to get some interest, but I wasn't sure it was really 'there' yet. This time I heard back quickly. She expressed some interest, but said my manuscript was too similar to books she already represented, therefore she was passing. That was an encouraging rejection.
I polished and shined my work some more. I had more people read it and give critiques. During the polishing I came across the website of a publisher that accepted unsolicited submissions - no need for an agent. Although I do want to have an agent, I thought I would give this method a whirl. They only accepted paper submissions, so I printed up my pages, wrote a cover letter, packaged these up with a large self addressed stamp envelope since I wanted them to return my manuscript if they weren't interested (standard procedure), and a business sized SASE so they could send me a letter of request if they were interested. I signed, sealed, and sent off the dear package. I looked at the calendar to count out six to eight weeks (the time frame stated on their website for how long it usually takes them to respond) then added another couple of weeks to that since it was the holiday season and began patiently waiting.
I was surprisingly calm during the waiting. My heart didn't race every time I checked the mail. Some days I didn't even check the mail. The mailbox was still my friend. Mostly. It still had too many bills in it.
The allotted weeks went by. The extra weeks I added went by. Several more weeks passed. That was okay. No news is good news, right?
Finally, about four months after I mailed my sample to them, there it was in my mailbox. My large envelope. I was disappointed when I pulled it out and saw my name and address written in my own handwriting. Oh well. I walked back to my house wondering what kind of rejection letter would be included, a form rejection or a personalized rejection which would mean they had been at least interested enough to give me some personal feedback. Of course I opened this piece of mail first when I got home. There was no letter, just my manuscript. I felt slighted. No letter? Was it that bad? Didn't I even rate a preformulated paragraph saying "thanks, but no thanks?"
Then a week or two later it came. A letter. In their envelope. With their company name preprinted in the corner of that envelope. A letter written on their company letterhead. A form rejection. Unknowingly, they had sent me a badge of honor. My very own, printed in black and white kind that I could hold in my hands. Now I possesed something every great writer has - a real rejection letter.
Am I a Writer now?