There are points in one’s writing journey where you start to question, “Am I meant to do this? Can I do this?”
A few weeks ago I submitted a portion of my story for critique and received some frank advice in response. Going into it I knew what the chapter lacked, but something in hearing the direct feedback still jarred me. The reviewer was honest with me, and delivered the information in a softer manner than she would anyone else, which was appreciated, but I'm not going to lie.
It felt like a punch to the gut. As all constructive criticism does.
Wading through the revisions, I felt disheartened. I want my work to be professional and presentable. The problem is that I want to work with a mainstream publisher, and that requires extra everything: a literary agent, a perfect query letter, a flawless manuscript...
Staring at my computer screen, an image of auto racing came to mind. Large-house publishing is like that. You have the established names—the writing pros—out on the track, making the laps. A new author only gets the caution flag and pace car for so long before they have to be familiar with the speed, ready to go the distance.
Reading over the critique notes, my heart sank again.
Will I ever get up to speed?
A quote popped into my head:
Along with a memory…
A mutual friend I knew in high school once invited a group of us out to her family’s lake house. I’d never been out in nature like that before, asked to bring my bathing suit and head out to spend a weekend outside. It sounded exciting.
We'd camped out in sleeping bags spread out on their back deck, where I saw every star in the sky that first night. The next morning our friend and her brother walked us to the docks.
“Have you ever been waterskiing before?” she asked, hopping aboard their motorboat.
Shaking my head, I hadn’t. The whole operation appeared wild, equipment and ropes and vests, but I couldn’t say no. Why not try?
Twenty minutes later, I sat floating out in the water, life vest buoyed up around my ears, flexing my legs as I worked to keep the two skis from crisscrossing in the air. Following my friend’s instructions, I positioned myself as if I “were sitting in a Laz-E-Boy recliner,” awaiting the signal that they were going to start the boat.
“Go slow,” I heard my friend tell her brother, the captain of the vessel.
Then he gunned the gas and I went airborne. I lost one ski that first time, and I could of sworn that I'd managed to balance one-footedly, if I hadn’t immediately been dragged into half-mile long belly-flop/human rock-skip across the water’s surface.
My friend slapped her brother’s arm, reiterating, “This is her first time, slow down!”
Spitting water and nursing a magenta-pink stomach, I climbed aboard and we retrieved the lost ski.
“Sorry,” he called out to me.
Waving an It’s okay, I jumped back into the lake and got into position.
“Again,” I said.
“Ready?” the brother called out.
“Ready,” I affirmed.
It took a several more tries. On a latter attempt, I felt the propulsion lift me up, my legs bracing and utilizing the leverage. Balancing, I didn’t fall, didn’t fold. After an initial ten seconds I dared to look around as we’d circled the lake. Wind blowing through my hair, I flew across the water.
I stayed up 47 seconds. I'd learned how to water-ski.
Looking back at my ripped apart chapter, several truths dawned on me:
I’m not staunchly competitive. The thrill of the win isn’t as important to me as doing the job right. I may not be able to move as fast or be as prolific as some.
I’m not aggressive, I’m tenacious.
So I will say, “Again.”
I will go again and again and AGAIN until I get this right.
If I stay afloat 47 months, 47 days, 47 hours, or even just 47 seconds in this industry, I’ll be happy.
I’m not stopping until I fly.