The Submission Process: “But you don’t own a shih-tzu.”

shih-tzu

I had a dream last night in which I was trying to explain the novel submission process to my father. My Dad passed away in 1990, and dreams about him are rare, so it was something of a gift. And, considering the nasty topic, it was a pretty humorous dream.

“You can’t just write ‘Dear Agent,’” I said.

“What do you write?” he said.

“You write whatever their name is. ‘Dear Ms. Huntington’ or whatever.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Well,” I said, “but then you have to personalize the letter.”

“How do you do that?”

“’Dear Ms. Huntington, I read in the recent Annals of the American Kennel Club that you are the breeder of champion shih-tzus, and that your prize bitch, Foxy Fiona, recently won fifth prize in her class at Crufts. I, too, am the owner of a shih-tzu.’”

“But you don’t own a shih-tzu.”

“It’s for the letter, Dad. I’m supposed to make a personal connection with the agent. I’m supposed to show that I’ve done my research, and that I know something about her.”

“Sounds stupid.”

“It is.”

Of course, I know as well as you do that one does not go off on a tangent about an agent’s shih-tzu in a query letter (unless one’s book is about shih-tzus). But the dream was instructive. It was instructive in that I woke up laughing.

There is a game to be played in the submission process, and having been through it once before with my first novel, I dread it again this time with my second.

The submission process has been dangling over my head like an anvil in a Wiley Coyote cartoon — freezing me in place, preventing me from completing my most recent draft. If I finish this draft, my mind tells me, then I’ll have to finish the next draft. And then soon enough, I’ll be submitting.

But the fact that my subconscious found enough humor in the process to create a nocturnal comedy sketch about it (with my father included) tells me that maybe I am in fact ready to move forward. Maybe I shouldn’t take it all as seriously as I have in the past – the research, the e-mails, the rejections.

If my subconscious says it’s okay to laugh in my dreams, then it should be okay to laugh in my waking life. Laugh at the “Dear Author” emails, the “Thank you for your query letter, but…” e-mails.

Easier said than done, right?

So that’s one of the reasons I’m writing this post. To remind myself of my dream. To remind myself of the lunacy of shih-tzus and query letters. If my mind can come up with that, it can come up with anything.

And isn’t that what being a writer is all about?

When Friends Don’t Support Your Writing

statues backs to each other

I’ve had to make a choice. A friend, or my writing. I chose my writing. Sounds harsh. Narcissistic. But she did not support me. In fact, she undermined me. And I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that there are people out there who are willing to support me – sometimes strangers (like you) who connect only through the ethereal mist of the internet. And I know that staying attached to those in my life who do not support me in my writing is toxic and a waste of my time.

Being a writer is hard enough without someone pulling you down, telling you in words or otherwise that it is a pointless pursuit.

This particular friend had the following statement for me: “Focus on something other than your book!” The words came in a text, complete with exclamation mark.

As writers, we pour ourselves into our work — our souls, our hearts, our entire life experiences. And this friend was dismissing hours and hours and hours of my life’s work with just a few flicks of her finger on her iPhone.

I had given her the completed first draft of my novel to read – 75,000 words. That alone should tell you how close we were. She had her hands on the manuscript for six months and had only read two chapters. She once called me up on a day I had scheduled for writing to see if I wanted to join her shoe shopping at the mall. “No, thanks,” I told her. “Today is a day I have scheduled for writing.” In response, she said, “You can’t sit around all day doing nothing.”

So when she told me to focus on something other than my book, several thoughts ran through my head. What should I focus on, then, I thought. Perhaps the triad of depressiveness that is Donald Trump, climate change, and the Syrian refugee crisis? Should I give up on my writing, the thing that gives my soul life and depth and clarity, and dwell upon the negatives of life? Or should I skirt around the edges of life, like you, dear friend, channeling my energy into my hair and makeup and the latest trendy boots? No. I choose words. I choose to write. I choose characters and soul and the weaving of stories. This is where I find my truth.

Writing is where humans have found their truth for millennia. The act of quill on paper, stylus on clay tablet, chisel on tomb wall. And before writing, we painted our stories on cave walls 15,000 years ago. We humans are storytellers — that is what we do.

cave_painting_l

I suppose writing cannot really be explained to the nonwriter. And I am certainly not the one to do the explaining. But when it came time to choose, I chose writing. And I always will. It is, as one of my characters once said, “in my veins.”

So, I wish my friend well with her trendy boots and her newest mascara. I only wish, for one small moment, that she could feel the joy of creation — the spark — that comes from forming a beautiful sentence, an eloquent phrase, or from finding just the right word at just the right time. But she won’t. Because she is not a writer. She is a consumer of things, not a creator of things.

And creation, whether it be the telling of stories or the writing of music or the painting of pictures, is where beauty lies. I will not give up. I will not “focus on something else.” It is not who I am. I must be authentic to myself. And my self, my soul, is a writer.