It's been just over a year since I quit my day job--the one thing every artist or writer out there advises others not to do. In January, I signed with my agent. What a high! Since then, I've experienced revisions, edits, and a quick submission that we pulled after getting the exact same feedback in the rejections from ten editors at top publishing houses. What a low! Needless to say, it's been a roller coaster in my writing life this year.
Yet with those rejections came feedback that kick-started a major change to my three-generational story. After working with a freelance editor, I've made some sweeping decisions. In many ways, I am going back to square one--a Kentucky bootlegger, a Trappist monk, and a girl running through the woods circa 1950. I'm paring down my story with the hope of fully grasping the characters and plot, rather than skimming above them, my fingertips barely touching their surfaces. It's a big change. But with this decision, I've found I'm free--free to find the soul of my story by trimming her down to the basics.
I am reevaluating how I view this beast of a manuscript as I attempt to tame her. I've started structuring my hours, days and weeks around concrete goals and deadlines, while at the same time attempting to remain flexible enough for new ideas to still flow through. After all, I learned, when you love something you can't squeeze it too tightly. And so with that, I'm allowing my beast to breathe.
Part of that structure is seeking out ways to nurture this manuscript as we transform together, because at the same time I am reevaluating my manuscript, I'm focusing on the care and feeding of my own writer's soul. To that end, I'm structuring retreats for myself, hoping to bring together not only my novel, but to align the heart of my work with where I am as a woman, as well.
Last week, I contacted the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, about the possibility of a last-minute spiritual and writing retreat, as I am heading to Kentucky later in the month. Within three hours of my email, a monk called, offered me the spot for next weekend, and even suggested certain monks to help me in my research of both the era and the Abbey that will best serve my novel. It felt truly like divine providence, right when I needed it.
In November, I'm using a free airline ticket to head to the Oregon coast, where I'm structuring a second writing retreat with a dear writer friend whom I met at the Appalachian Writer's Workshop this summer. We'll be spending seven mindful days writing in the mornings and reading to each other in the evenings as the winter Pacific storms batter her ocean cottage. I can't imagine anything more beautiful.
Then in December, we here at What Women Write will take off for our fourth annual retreat, a long weekend of food and laughter and words. I'm looking forward to our group photo that we'll pose for, now an annual tradition. And I’m ready for the late conversations and friendship with my girls here at WWW.
It's all deliberate, this planning and writing and hoping. I'm blessed beyond measure to have this time at my disposal--it's probably one of the few eras in my life I'll be able to devote this much to writing retreats. Hopefully, at the end of the year, I'll have something to show for my efforts that I can be proud of--both in words on paper and in the shape of my own soul.
It's been a hell of a year, but I can't say it's been a bad one, because with every loss has come a success, and with every unsuspecting turn I've found new friends here to support me. As I develop the soul of my manuscript, I am also deciding what I really want in my own life.
And isn't that what it's all about?