I finally finished my first chapter book/novel. I’m a Middle Grade (MG) Fiction writer. There. I said it. I embrace it. I have no idea what will become of it, but what I do know is I did it.
It’s been four years since I dropped everything and stumbled into the writing life. I joined professional writing organizations, followed blogs, vlogs, podcasts, participated in webinars and even attended some small seminars. I’ve enjoyed attending author events, an award ceremony (yay!), and being a guest author at schools and other book events and festivals with my first children’s book. It’s been great.
In all of that, I tried all of the advice that’s been out there. I started my own blog right away, tried to build my fan base with social media, and supposedly kept writing through it all. But as with any new venture, I hit a wall somewhere along the way. Eventually, I had an epiphany and realized that I’d been going about this thing all wrong (for me). So I got bounced back to square one. Thirty-something me may have taken this as a sign that I should move on and do something else with my life. But forty-something me is a bit of a hard ass. So, I chose to listen to my heart, dig in, and get to the business of evolving in my craft.
Dumping Social Media
I went on a straight-up hiatus from social media. Just disappeared. I worried about losing my small following or ruining my chances of being picked up by a publisher, editor, or agent in the future. But I did it anyway for one simple reason: It was totally distracting me from the business of writing.
As a writer and lover of fiction, I appreciate reading fiction as an escape from the stressful realities of life. If I enjoy escaping through fiction, then there are other readers who enjoy escaping through fiction as well. And if I’m not creating, then there’s no new material for readers to enjoy.
Getting caught up in building a fanbase was taking the focus off of writing. So I asked myself,
What am I building a fanbase for when I don’t have any new books?
Sure, I published one book which is no small feat by any means. But one can’t base an entire blog on one achievement. And of course, other manuscripts have been in the works. But none of them were finished let alone ready for publication. I hadn’t even submitted anything. What’s up with that Cane?
There were so many echos in my ear telling me how important all this stuff was. Finally, I decided it was all just noise. I was allowing all of it to distract me from what truly mattered–writing. It was time to quiet the noise and make some much-needed changes. So, that’s exactly what I did. I dropped it all for writing.
Best decision I could have made!
Silencing the Noise
Let’s be clear, I didn’t close my social media accounts. I just stopped engaging. Now, this could be considered taboo for writers, especially on Twitter. But I took the plunge anyway. I tuned in to the different Twitter feeds for writers occasionally. I just didn’t do a lot of interacting. I pretty much lurked for several months. Reading, watching, but not engaging. And again, I only did this occasionally. It wasn’t something I did daily. Probably once or twice a week on average.
Then I stopped blogging. No more entries. I stopped abruptly. I thought about doing a post to announce what was happening but figured that might be the quickest way for some of my followers to unsubscribe. So in my mind, it was better to just not post at all for a while.
Next, I prioritized all my incomplete stories, then chose one. That’s right. Just one– we’ll call it, Project MG. While some writers can work on multiple projects at one time there are others that find it too difficult to work that way. I’m one of them. Multitasking is not my strength. And that’s exactly why in three years time I had nothing new to show for my writing. So, I picked a project I felt good about, but most importantly, one that I wasn’t married to (more on that in a future post). I chose a work that wouldn’t break my heart if it were rejected by an agent or editor–one I could grow and learn from–a work that would give me big girl panties of steel. Then I got to work.
Deadlines were set. Some were met, others were missed, but eventually, I got through the full process of writing which took a few months in this case. The manuscript had already been drafted, first by hand, then transcribed. I left it alone for a couple of weeks. Within those weeks, I didn’t pick up a new project because technically I wasn’t finished with Project MG. Once an MS is drafted, it’s a good idea to take a break from it before the real grit begins–revising.
Since the purpose was to minimize distractions, starting another project would be a bad idea for me. I could see myself getting caught up in the new project, forgetting about Project MG, and then the cycle of working with nothing to show for it would begin all over again. So I just chilled for a bit. I cleaned up and updated my website, reached out to a few schools, got some admin stuff done, finalized my query letter, researched editors and agents, and even did some magazine contest submissions. Basically, I wrote for fun while also doing some things to advance myself within the project without working on the manuscript itself.
Eventually, it was time to continue with Project MG. After a couple of rounds of revisions, my son acted as my first official beta reader for the manuscript. His age group was the target age group for the project. I made some more changes after his honest feedback, then felt it was ready for my beta readers. This meant another break until they returned it with their feedback. Once my betas submitted their feedback, there were at least 8 more rounds of revisions that followed before I finally deemed the project complete.
I submitted the work to my editor of choice for a small press and let the waiting begin.
Now, that it was submitted I had to prepare myself for anything. There were no guidelines for this particular submission, so I followed the industry standard and sent the first chapter (or the first 10 pages).
During the writing recovery time, I still didn’t start a new project immediately. I instead drafted some notes on the next project on my priority list, and researched other agents and editors that might be interested in my MS if this particular press rejected it. That way, I would have a plan in place to keep moving forward without stewing and sulking over being rejected.
If you’ve never submitted, then you have no idea the coaster of feelings that accompany such a feat. No, I didn’t cry or anything that dramatic. But the sense of pride and fear all balled into one was indescribable. I was both proud of myself and scared to death at what I’d just done. I totally second-guessed myself. What if they decline it as the worst MS they’d ever gotten? What if they saw my work as amateur? What if I had the wrong email address? What if I never hear back? And then I remembered the purpose of me finishing the MS and minimizing distractions in the first place–to submit my completed work with no regrets. So, mentally I moved on realizing it was time to start on the next piece. And whatever would come of the submission is what would be. I’d just have to keep trying if it got rejected.
For the record, as morbid as it may seem, I submitted with the expectation of being rejected. It’s not a positive approach, but it is realistic and can soften the blow when it actually happens (which it has). If the work is accepted or if it at least gets a request for a full submission, then there’s something to celebrate. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in my craft or that my submission isn’t good enough because I do and it is. I wouldn’t submit it if I didn’t think it was ready. But, I believe this approach will keep me grounded and humble throughout the process. Many newbie writers think their work is a masterpiece when in actuality, it needs a lot of work, and likely the author has a lot of growth and development that needs to take place before a submission is actually ready for acceptance. It’s just the nature of the beast.
The Feeling of Completion
I must admit, I didn’t know how I should feel or what I should do once I actually hit send on the email. I thought I would feel a huge sense of relief like a great weight would be lifted off my shoulders. But I didn’t feel that at all. I just felt anxious and was a little obnoxious about the fact that I actually followed through and did something with my MS. But isn’t that the expectation though? Duh! So I did what any sensible person in my shoes would do. I put my feet up, had a glass of wine to take the edge off, started a book I’d been eager about reading, and stayed up late watching whatever trashy show or movie was on t.v. at the time. Then I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to take the next few days, manuscript free, by the horns.
Yes, I’ve been checking my email every day for a response, knowing it could be weeks before I heard back. Yes, I drafted this blog post while I waited. Yes, I binged on some junk food for a couple of days. And then I was back to normal, trying to make healthier choices, trying to exercise, and getting the beginning stages of the next MS ready to move toward completion so I could do it all over again.
I stuck to my guns, committed to not being all over social media and something amazing happened. I became a writer.
As of now, I don’t know the status of my submission. But what I do know is now, I have something to blog about. And when the response comes back, I’ll have something to share. Hopefully, it will be good news, but if it’s not, either way, growth will have taken place and my writing will have evolved.
Your journey is not and will not be the same as any other writer. It’s your journey. With that in mind, share some experiences of your journey in the comments. What are your biggest distractions? What has your submission process/experience been? Whatever happens along the way, Write on!