Long-time readers of this blog know that I’ve spent the last three years researching, writing and rewriting Ellen, a novel. I showed it to my agent twice along the way, and knew she had reservations about the premise, main character, time period and tone. I wrote the book anyway, and I turned it in. To say my agent didn’t like it is an understatement. She hates it. It’s not a novel she can represent.
I’m very proud of how I listened to her objections. I can see the validity of all her points, and I can’t argue her into liking something she doesn’t, so I didn’t even try. Besides, I agree: the book’s flawed.
Before we were off the phone, I started to think about the next book I’ve been circling around for some time, and I experienced a momentary euphoria at being able to start something new. Then the shock of that phone call wore off and I wept.
I peered into the abyss of despair and considered diving into a tailspin, but that’s so predictable. So I stepped away from the edge and began cleaning my house. Specifically, I started to clean the room that was once my study and is now simply a mess.
Before I had my studio, and when I was teaching all over the state, this room was where I dumped my books, papers, correspondence, short stories, essays, contracts, scripts, receipts, reading lists and the kids’ letters from their gap years abroad. The youngest has been home for five years and is now out of college. Clearly, it’s time to clean up.
Aside from the therapeutic effects of creating order where there was none, I’m deriving pleasure from finally tackling a long-delayed project, surprise at just how productive I’ve been, and resignation at how hopeless I am about maintaining order.
Sorting through several years of past work reminds me of all that I’ve done – in addition to writing a flawed novel. Letters from friends, former editors, previous employers – all these artifacts of a productive life remind me that I haven’t always lived in self-imposed seclusion, and that I do have marketable skills and significant successes.
Every day I spend sifting through the stacks of papers and piles of books, I also consider how, exactly, I’m going to go on. Put another way, what can I learn from this failure?
A lot, it turns out. Including: the world hasn’t ended; my imagination hasn’t dried up; I haven’t run out of paper or ink or pixels or RAM or even things to say. So onward, with spirit!
Wishing good words and wide audiences to writers everywhere.