I've been in a nostalgic mood this week. Tuesday night, Susan and I and my friend Gail went to hear Anne Lamott speak on her first stop of her tour for the paperback of Some Assembly Required. Later, Gail and I tried to remember which of us blogged about seeing her several years ago. I was curious what I'd said if it was me, or what Gail said if it was her. What were we thinking about then? It was five years ago, almost to the day, in April 2008. It really does seem like just yesterday. That's not just a cliche here.
I never found a post about that night from either of us, though I'm almost positive one existed. But the search led me to scroll through lots of old posts on my blogs, current and past. I wondered what I was thinking about in April 2008, then in other Aprils. It was strangely affirming to come across these thoughts and to see the progression of seven Aprils:
April 2007, I wrote:
Something interesting we are talking about in my voice class this week (Barbara Samuel's online class). We are getting down to the last few weeks and one of the questions she asked today is (something like) "What question is it you're trying to answer in your writing?" In other words, what motivates you to write most everything you write—what question is answered when you get to the end of every book you write? I think I know my big question, and it's been apparent in each of the adult manuscripts I've worked on so far, but I want to narrow it down a little more. More or less, I'm writing stories that ask the big question, "How far do you go for the people you love?" As a subset, "When do you let go, and when do you hang on, and HOW do you hang on, no matter where it takes you?"April 2008:
I was in a rut with the manuscript I was writing (that did not sell, though I tried). It didn't appear I wanted to talk about writing much—it was all I could do to actually write. I began keeping a log each day of "Five Beauties"—five things I observed that tickled my senses, hoping, I'm guessing, that these simple observations would jar me out of that rut.
I wasn't blogging at all, anywhere. I was about to query the manuscript I'd finally finished. I must have been full of hope and big dreams and hugging that information close, afraid to jinx myself—never dreaming that a year later, I would have mostly given up on that story and started something brand new.
April 2010, I wrote:
So, here it is April 21, and I'm [only] up to about 10K new words on my story. But I'm not crying. In fact, I'm pretty excited about those words and how they're flowing, even if they're flowing rather slowly. Sometimes, I think, a lazy river runs the deepest.This story is kind of a different genre for me. It's still all about relationships and families, but I threw a historical element in there for the heck of it (well, and because it's the story that's been gnawing at me for about three years!). I never dreamed how much that would slow me down, though I'm not complaining. I've had many stops and starts, fine tuning the settings and time periods and voices.
I'd finished writing Calling Me Home, and was closing in on revisions. I blogged about query comps—what to use as "comparable works" in query letters to catch an agents attention. I was all business again, but I can detect the optimism behind my words--full of hopes and dreams again, that Calling Me Home would indeed be the story that landed me an agent, and then a book contract. I worried about using comps that were too "big," or not quite the right genre. (The irony now is that one I rejected—The Notebook—shows up in my most commonly quoted blurb. It's everywhere!)
I interviewed Jacqueline Luckett on the blog. I'd sold Calling Me Home, it was already in production at St. Martin's. But it turns out that simply selling your book does NOT automatically silence those voices in our heads. We still wonder and worry. I asked Jacquie this:
Something I deal with as a debut author—more than I probably even care to admit—is fear and self-doubt. You can worry about so many things as a writer: how your books will sell; how they will be accepted by the media, by readers, by … ; whether everyone will wonder what the heck you were thinking when you decided to write the book. Have you experienced this, too? How did you deal with these emotions? Any advice for newly minted authors you wish someone had given you?She shared her own struggles with doubt and fear and had some good advice.
And here it is now, April 2013:
Calling Me Home released almost two months ago. Talk about time flying. It's been a fun ride so far. In fact, I am finding I'm much more relaxed in the months since the book released than I was in all the months building up to it. This is a good thing. But I'm also starting to feel the very real tension of having a new book inside me that wants to be released, and in the process, I'm finding myself cycling through many of these same emotions. It's helpful to look back and see how many times I was able to rebound and recoup after periods of fear and doubt, and how I was by turn optimistic and introspective, waxing and waning.
It's also encouraging to realize that, in the midst of all those changes, I'm still working at answering the same big questions—questions I wrestled with in my first full manuscript, the one that didn't sell, and in Calling Me Home, the one that did.
"How far do you go for the people you love?"
"When do you let go, and when do you hang on, and HOW do you hang on, no matter where it takes you?"
Writers, have you found your big questions? Are you trying answer them?