Many blogs have been written on the reality that one should always write for oneself. There are also variations of that theme; such as how writing to be rich and famous is a fool’s journey and the trials of endless rejection letters. Granted there are some aspects unique to writing, but on a greater level, the need for an audience is shared by anyone seeking to express themselves through creative/artistic endeavors.
Since I was a child I have written creatively. I still possess several crudely illustrated books created as far back as the second grade. In those days, the creative process was the end all and be all of rewards. Creating for creation’s sake. Whatever anyone else thought simply did not matter, it did not even register. All that mattered was whether I enjoyed the outcome. And I always did. This feedback loop was a positive one, resulting in further creative works.
I’m not sure when it happened exactly, or even why, but somewhere around early adolescence, something changed in that process. Perhaps it was having work graded in school, perhaps it was the dismissive responses of those around me, but at that point, the approval (and disapproval) of others began influencing my own satisfaction with my works. Looking back now, I can see that it was an insidious influence, sneaking in under my internal radar, stealing the joy of artistic expression, and replacing it with worry and doubt.
The loss of enthusiasm wasn’t a cut and dried process. I wrote short stories, screenplay, and poems well into my college days. Some works were better than others, but they all fulfilled that indefinable need within to create. However, something was missing. Accolades were not the issue, my creative writing grades were A’s and I was a featured poet at campus readings. The joy was fading. Restlessness and discontent were growing within. The more earnestness I invested in my works, the less satisfactory the results. Not to put too blunt a point on it, but it was feeling masturbatory. Rather than examining the internal issues, I sought validation from external sources. And when that approval began disappearing, the desire to create withered. So I stopped writing.
Years passed without any creative writing, until I met a true artist–a soul that didn’t want to create but that NEEDED to create; a person for whom art was not a reward but life itself. My best friend and coauthor, Narcisse, possesses an enthusiasm for art that is infectious. Her creative drive still leaves me awestruck. In those early days of our friendship, I was inspired by her. After decades of neglect, I began writing again.
My writing was rusty (to say the least). My early attempts were rife with the flaws of inexperience. Some things were easier to fix than others. For example, I’ve improved my narrative technique, showing the reader instead of telling them. Yet I still struggle to keep my love of adjectives and adverbs harnessed; although there has been a notable improvement in this area as well. Any improvements must be attributed to Narcisse, for it was her guidance and feedback that encouraged me to grow.
One of the first questions we get asked is how we were able to work together. The answer is always the same, not easily. Writing with Narcisse is a joy, unlike anything I have ever experienced. Our imaginations mesh well, feeding off one another. We love juicy characters that possess merits and flaws in equal measure. We love discussing the mechanisms of magic and the mechanics of imaginary societies and environments. We also share the same contempt for deus ex machina, reliance upon tropes, and plot cheats so common in fantasy fiction these days.
It took us years to write our novel, The Tendrils of Fate, but we did it. It would be disingenuous to make the process sound effortless for it was anything but that. We have different writing voices, ideas, tastes, and influences. These differences created challenges. We each took charge on different chapters, but we were always in discussion. We shared ideas and thoughts, sanity checked each other and on more than one occasion took over a particularly frustrating chapter from the other. There were arguments, debates, false starts, and many, many deletions. So many deleted words, I wouldn’t be surprised if they outnumbered the words that did make it into our final version. Our guiding principle never wavered, only the words that best told our story could remain.
Written separately, these chapters needed to be blended together. Adding to the difficulty of uniting the content, was the gap between our writing abilities and strengths. Narcisse has never stopped writing in her life. She has a wonderful way with words that frankly astonishes me. It is without irony or jest that I call myself her number one fan. I love her writing. The sanest thing we did to bridge that gap was to agree to a dominant voice for our shared writing. It made great sense for that voice to be primarily hers. This was a decision we made early on, and the one I hold most critical to our success. Ultimately, The Tendrils of Fate is written in a single voice that is truly ours. Readers cannot tell which chapters were written by her and which by me.
Three years later, we completed our novel. A one hundred and eighty-four thousand word epic with a colorful cast of unique characters, a complex but honest plot, set in a rich and vibrant fantasy world. There are no compromises, this is the story we set out to tell. We have had it professionally edited, proofread, and have incorporated the feedback from beta readers to ensure the most polished and solid novel we could create. Yet for all that pride and satisfaction, there has been pain as well. I wish I could say we had a great deal of support. We did not. Many times we found ourselves the only source of encouragement to continue. There are those closest to us who still have not read our book. Even upon completion, the congratulations were few and far between. It may be a cliché, but writing is indeed a lonely business. Completing a novel is an accomplishment in and of itself; it is a book I am damned proud to call my own.
Now we are shopping our novel. It’s also a cliché, but still true, writing the query letter and synopsis are harder than writing the novel itself. Want to experience new forms of stress, second-guessing, and anxiety? Try condensing a nearly 200K word story with six key characters and interwoven plots into a hundred or so sentences; knowing that this may be all that is used to decide whether to accept or pass on it.
Even more daunting is creating the query letter. There are so many blogs full of suggestions, do’s and don’ts for creating the perfect contact letter. Then there are the agents themselves–each has their own requirements for submissions. This means that every query letter must be custom tailored. There is stress involved in this process too, with a lot of second guessing. Will a cool and professional tone work, or will they respond to a more casual and warm approach? Should we emphasize the adventure or the romance? Are they more prone to being interested in a detailed fantasy world or fascinating characters?
And after all that, is the knowledge that you are not likely to get a ‘yes’ the first time you send out a query. Tales abound of famous authors receiving multiple rejections for ultimately famous books. We use these anecdotes to assuage the disappointment of yet another rejection letter. But that will only take you so far. By the time you receive multiple rejections it is only natural to begin wondering whether your work will ever be published. If you have never received a rejection letter, here is a pretty typical response:
Dear Narcisse & Marzio,
Thanks so much for letting me take a look at your work, and please forgive me for the brief response. The volume of submissions we receive, however, makes it impossible to provide everyone with detailed feedback.
Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time. We wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work, and we thank you, once again, for letting us consider it.
The worst part of having your submission rejected is the absence of feedback, not knowing why it was turned down. I understand that agents deal with hundreds, if not thousands, of queries. I grant that every author believes in their work. As Narcisse is fond of saying, it takes the same effort to write a crappy novel as it does a good one. No one who completes a novel believes the final product is anything less than a good book ready for the masses. Knowing that does not make it any easier to receive a form letter saying ‘no thank you’.
When the rejection letters grow in number it is hard to remain hopeful, harder still to avoid second guessing yourself. Was my query too confident? Not confident enough? Was my synopsis too detailed? Did they even read the chapters? You can make yourself crazy. The only thing to do is persevere. Or surrender.
Then we received a positive response at last! A junior editor at a major publishing house loved The Tendrils of Fate. Seriously raved about it. We were elated. I literally jumped for joy. However, there was a catch. Being a junior editor, they did not possess authority for accepting our work. He promised to bring it to the senior editors at their next meeting and pitch our book. As he put it in one of our conversation, “If they are looking for epic fantasy, this is it!” So it wasn’t a real “Yes” but damn if it didn’t feel like it. If nothing else, a professional who reads submissions every day loved our work. That has to mean something!
Then we got the email. The Senior Editors liked our novel but didn’t think it fit with their plans. The junior editor was apologetic and obviously just as disappointed as we were. Well, perhaps not as disappointed. I admit that I took this particular rejection really hard. I had allowed my hopes to rise. Even though I told myself it wasn’t guaranteed, I was certain the pitch would succeed. In many ways, this was worse than a form letter. Narcisse handled this disappointment far better than I did. As a lifelong artist, she has learned to temper her hopes. Knocked down, she was already dusting herself off and getting ready to send out another round of queries. I wish I could say I handled it as well as she did. I did not. The wind left my sails and I was bereft of any enthusiasm.
Narcisse is right. Our novel is still excellent, it just wasn’t right for them. Had I not had such a wonderful partner, I most likely would have given up after this latest rejection. I won’t, I can’t. We worked too hard and created too good a book to let disappointment prevail. The Tendrils of Fate will be published. But damn, I must confess that I never truly accepted that the hardest part of writing a novel was selling it. I don’t enjoy marketing, I am not a salesman at heart.
Success doesn’t happen from wishful thinking. It takes perseverance and unshakable conviction. It is true that my confidence was shaken, almost broken. Were it not for the incredible partner and friend that I have in Narcisse, this could easily have become another broken dream. It isn’t. Nor is it a dream deferred. It is a call to action. This isn’t the end, it is only the beginning.