The journey is the reward: How I made bad writing the basis of a great life
Backstory: I wrote a Really Bad Novel (RBN) in 1997. Not that I thought it was awful at the time – like many novice scribes, I was sure I was on to something big. So I crafted a query letter (better than the novel itself) and bagged a couple of interested agents. Julie Castiglia asked for more, then declined. (I don’t blame you, Julie.) But the epitome of rejection AND the highlight of this process was a phone call from a Midwest agent (illustrating how far-flung my efforts) the only purpose of which was to share that, after a read of my first three chapters, she could assure me that my novel would NEVER, EVER (no exaggeration) be published.
Well, you were right and thank you, whoever you were. My RBN never became a book, but your personal attention helped me open my eyes, grow a spine, and increase my resolve, if only to someday prove you wrong. I found help, I grew as a writer, and although I never re-worked my original novel, I wrote another that’s pretty good, and am working on a third. It’s even better.
One of the greatest rewards of my bad-writing journey was the discovery of editor Laurie Rosin. Her patient enthusiasm and in-depth written critiques were like a how-to-write-fiction tutorial, akin to coursework in one of the country’s best creative writing classes. I re-read my RBN, titled Light as a Feather, a couple years ago and emailed Laurie an apology. “I’ll bet you wanted to slap me,” I said, “er, I mean slap that whiny victim of a main character …” I hope I made her laugh.
I loved having Laurie’s help, and I recommend her as an editor. The truth is, her tutelage improved my ability so much that I went on to get paid to write, as MarCom Manager for a huge national mortgage company. Not exactly my dream, but definitely on the right path. Moral of the story: Find qualified help. And don’t wait too long between attempts. I didn’t sit down to pen another story until 2009. Ooops.
BTW, I also sent LAAF to Superstar Agent Sandra Dijkstra (who also declined, no hard feelings). In retrospect, I think I really, really wanted to be Amy Tan. Now, I’m aware of the biggest difference between myself and Amy (other than writing skill level, fame, and publishing credits, ha ha ha): As an author, Amy knows that people will be interested, will feel differently, will gain insight and grow as a result of her stories. And I’m not quite there. Amy, I want you to know that every day I’m working to dissolve this belief. And I don’t want to be you, any more. I want to be me. I guess I better get busy discovering who I am and represent. Maybe I’ll write about it.
I realize that thinking I’m good enough to write a successful novel requires a certain naïve approach to life, which I posses up the ying-yang. I’m okay with that. Being naïve has copped me a few of the most awesome adventures of my life. Naiveté helped me believe I could write a novel, move to a new town, buy and remodel property alone, bull my way into a job that was beyond my skill set at the time. Yes, I often feel as though I’ve jumped out of a plane without a chute. So what? So far, I’ve successfully pulled off all these experiences (well, except the marriage part, hummmm). I am single, I may not be a “published” author, I still don’t earn as much as I would like, and the doors I installed in my latest remodel suck. But the writers of Ancient Chinese Proverbs are right: The journey is the reward.
In Bird by Bird, one of my favorite books of all time, Author Anne Lamott [Anne has no website!] says that we should write really shitty first drafts. I’m with you, Anne. Just get the words on paper. Because in writing – as in life – if we overthink and overplan, sometimes the project never gets under way. We can’t complete a goal that’s never begun.
I am Molly Greene, and I am a writer. My advice to you, and I feel qualified to give it, is this: Life is short, and there is much to feel, experience, be, do, accomplish. Just begin.
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Image by Sarah Stierch