Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fence sitting (or, could someone get me a cushion)

I'm a fence sitter. No, it's not that I can't make up my mind about a topic. This type of fence sitting is what those of us who have been writing a long time and had a good amount of success in the realm of the unpublished writer do. We sit up here on this fence looking over at the Land of the Published (which I visualize as looking like Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings), wishing for that elusive call from a publishing house that will finally knock us over to the other side of the fence. I've often joked that I've been sitting on this fence so long that my butt hurts.

Last weekend, my local RWA chapter celebrated its 10th anniversary. That made me think about where I was 10 years ago compared to where I am in my career now (and it is a career even though I'm not published yet). Back then, I was muddling through my first romance manuscript, which went through so many different versions that I eventually lost count. It was the only historical I wrote, but over the intervening 10 years I've written 17 additional manuscripts ranging from romantic suspense to young adult. Back then, our chapter had one or two published authors. Now, roughly a third of the chapter is published, including my two long-time critique partners. One of those CPs won a RITA last year; the other is a RITA finalist this year. Back in 1997, being a Golden Heart finalist was this dream way out of reach. But it was a goal that I worked toward, and when I finally finaled for the first time in 2003, I about passed out. Literally. I had to sit down on the side of the bed because I was shaking so much. In 2004, I accomplished yet another dream -- I won a Golden Heart. And what did I do when I got on the stage to accept it? I bawled like a baby. I'm told I made many of the people in the audience bawl too. Sorry if I ruined your mascara.

As I began to have success in the Golden Heart and other contests and began to get requests for revisions and encouraging words from editors, as I signed with my dream agent who had such glowing things to say about my writing, I felt that my big dream of getting published just might be on the horizon. I felt I was so close that in January of 2005, I left my full-time job as a magazine editor to write full-time. Then the editor who had two of my manuscripts and gave me every indication a sale was just around the corner left the publishing house and those manuscripts came sailing back so fast that I was stunned. Yes, tears were shed, and I wondered if I'd done the most stupid thing I'd ever done in quitting my job.

I could have quit and gone back to a full-time job, but I didn't. I've had this dream for so long, and I've put so much time, effort and trips to the post office into it that I'm not quitting. If I do, it will have all been for nothing. And I've never been a quitter (okay, I quit running track and playing basketball after two years, but let's be honest -- I sucked at both).

I'm not saying that there aren't difficult days. When manuscripts that my agent and I really, really believe in get rejected, there are still tears and brief dips into the dumps. Dairy Queen makes a mint off me when those things happen. Chocolate Extreme Blizzards are the best comfort food. When people see me at conferences and ask, "So, when's your book coming out?" and I have to respond, "I haven't sold yet", to which they say, "I could have sworn you'd sold," -- yeah, that's a bit of a bummer.

We're writers and thus a bit neurotic, so those little devils on my shoulder often whisper things like, "It's never going to happen. Quit wasting your time, and get a real job" or "Yeah, Golden Heart finals are great, but aren't you getting to the pathetic stage? Maybe you've plateaued, and this is as good as it's going to get." You know what I do after I inevitably listen to that little devil? I punch him in the face and get to work on a new story idea, the one that's going to wow the editors and start a bidding war and finally push me over this fence. The view's nice from up here, but seriously I think I'm getting calluses. :)

If you're a fence sitter, try to enjoy the success you've had so far but keep pushing yourself to do more, do better. Believe that you WILL sell. Do not let defeatist thoughts take over your mind or darken your speech. Reaching the Land of the Published takes timing, hard work, belief in yourself and a positive attitude. I'm hoping we all are having a nice sunny picnic on the other side of the fence very soon.


Anna Campbell said...

Trish, firstly, huge congratulations on all your contest success. You're doing so much that's right, you'll end up on the other side of that fence if you hang in there. Honestly! I know exactly how you feel - and it's so much harder when you're doing more stuff right than wrong and you still can't cross over into that next garden and have a sandwich at the picnic (snork!). That's the heartbreaking moment, not when you're putting in work that isn't fit to cross an editor's desk. I smiled when I read your comment about thinking the GH was as good as it gets. I won our local equivalent of the GH in 2005 (with the book that didn't sell) and it carried a check for $2,000 which is serious money! I remember looking at that check and thinking that was the most I would ever earn for my writing because I was obviously never going to sell.

Trish Milburn said...

And look at you know, Anna! Not only did you sell, but your book is getting serious buzz. Congrats! Save a sandwich for me, eh? :)

Tawny said...

Awwww Trish... I wish I could push you off the fence :( You so deserve to be there with the hairy footed ones (You did say Hobbiton, right?).

Having straddled the fence myself, I definitely know of the pain you're tush is having!

But I also know you're going to slide on over. And then you'll hit huge... you've already paid all those dues, after all!!

Trish Milburn said...

Thanks, Tawny. I just hope my feet don't get hairy after I sell. :)

Beth said...

While the fence isn't the most comfortable place to sit, I think it means you've already accomplished great things in your career :-) Although being pushed off that fence and into the land of the published will obviously be a highlight!

Hang in there, Trish! With your talent and drive, I know you'll achieve your goal of getting published. And I'll be just one of many lined up to get a copy of your first book ;-)

Trish Milburn said...

Thanks so much, Beth.

Caren Crane said...

Sorry I missed this when you posted it, Trish, but I was on a Girl Scout camping trip! That's the sort of thing I do when I'm not writing. Since I haven't made it my full-time pursuit, I can look at things like my GS troop, the Alpha class I teach at church, my Board duties on my local RWA chapter (oh, and the paying gig) and feel as if it's okay that I haven't published yet. But we all know what cold comfort that is.

You keep plugging away and I will, too. That, my friend, will get us to the other side. And think of the stack of manuscripts we'll have to sell our publisher once we get there!

Trish Milburn said...

Thanks, Caren. And you're right -- we just have to keep plugging away.