Where I Am With My First Manuscript
Did you ever see that documentary about the 85-year-old sushi chef who runs a Michelin three-star restaurant out of a subway station in Tokyo? When I watched that film, I was spellbound by that singular lifetime dedicated to one specific, meticulous task: making sushi. I am a creative, anxious, people pleasing imagination tornado. I’ve spent my brief life looking for my purpose, my craft, my mission. Maybe that mission is even simpler than making sushi. Maybe it’s writing stories.
I started this blog in the spring of 2015, thinking I had a couple of months before I would finish my first manuscript and maybe another year before my book was in the laps of delighted 12 year olds. What I didn’t realize was that I couldn’t write a story yet. I was Jiro Ono, seven years old on his first day working at a restaurant.
November 2015, I submitted my manuscript to publishers who requested it through Twitter. All came back rejections. Some never came back at all. One merciful publisher gave me the hard truth: the manuscript was not ready, not even close. That was one of many moments of truth, for me. It was time to put away that hopeful notion that I was born with the chops, had all the magic all ready in me. I like to think Jiro Ono never had a moment like that. Even when he entered his apprenticeship in Tokyo, I can see him telling fifty-year-old chefs they’d have to put in the hours if they wanted to be the best.
January 2016 I put that hot mess of a manuscript in a drawer (following King’s advice). I spent two months churning out character descriptions, charting maps and pouring plotlines onto paper for a completely new, completely different novel. I took a look at my outline, story grid foolscap, and pitch materials. That was a good feeling, maybe like the first time Jiro made a good pot of rice.
March to October 2016, I hit the ground running with that first manuscript. I dealt with plot holes, a saggy hook, too high a word count, adverbs, cardboard dialogue, you name it. Finally, I got to a point where I could stand to look at the darn thing. I sent it to beta readers, I hired an editor.
My first National Novel Writing Month, I wrote 35K of the novel I plotted in January. Each day, my husband couldn’t wait to get home and read what I had written. It felt fantastic. Like I had the magic in me.
November and December 2016, feedback started rolling in. It was all honest, all supportive, all enthusiastic. They actually liked it. It occurred to me I might just be close to something I could put in front of a literary agent. January and February 2017, I’m flying through revisions. It’s starting to fall into place. Now, I’m two weeks away from pitching a completely new edition at a writers conference. Whatever this agent says, it will only make me a better writer.
I may not have the focus and stamina of Jiro Ono. Heck, I may not even live to 85. But his life is a testament to the positive growth of a soul that perseveres. I’m grateful to God that I’ve gotten this far.
Hill and I are calling 2017, “Phase Two” because we want to focus on moving into a new era of our lives where the seeds we’ve been planting grow into seedlings. This spring marks my first serious go at trying for traditional publication. I will pitch in person to a few agents, send query letters to many more, enter Twitter pitch contests, and generally stumble my way through the most intimidating and heart breaking stage of a writer’s career. It’s the step that weeds out even the best, and I expect to wallow in self-pity more than a few times. But if my first novel isn’t ready to be read, it can sit in a drawer for a little longer, and I’ll go after it with my latest project.
The way I see it, a skill set is a skill set. I’ve clocked in maybe 3,000 hours of writing so far. Only 7,000 more to go until I’m an expert. I don’t plan to ever stop writing, but if providence leads me elsewhere, I’ll still have all this experience to draw from. We can’t all be Ono.