It is important to remember that when you hit a roadblock that you do not give up. Likewise, it is just as important not to plow against that roadblock until you are burned out. Keep learning. Watch webinars. Go to conferences. Read about your craft. Read about things you want to write. Learn.
While you are doing this, set your manuscript aside. Let it rest. You don’t rest. Keep up the momentum and keep writing. It may never amount to anything, but you at least are moving. As long as you are moving, your dreams are not dead.
That is where I was. I had written a horrible manuscript, don’t get me wrong, it was a good story, but it was not good at the same time.
What I had thought a few months ago would be an easy write, turned out to be hard. You had to tell a story in a limited space and there were so many rules and expectations.
I set my story aside and worked on other stories. I developed my craft and soon there was a stack of stories in my drawer. I was not just writing stories and throwing them in there, I would write them and take them through critique groups until I felt I could do no more with them.
My local SCBWI chapter decided to hold a spring writing retreat. It was going to be a cozy environment at a local lodge in which we would have break out groups and classes, and most importantly, time to write and interact with other writers. Part of the retreat was going to be manuscript review opportunities from some of our published members.
I pulled out my stories from my drawer as I periodically did, and reread them. The last one was that first story I had put in there. I wanted to write this story, but I didn’t know how to. So, I pulled out two other stories and decided to work on them instead.
A couple of nights later (well, early morning) I was lying in bed and thinking as I have a bad habit of doing. That first story popped back into my head. It was strange, but I felt I could fix it, I just had no idea how to.
The next day after work, I came home and pulled out the feedback I had received from the editor and read through them again. There was a lot there, and very little at the same time. I agreed with her on so many things, but the answers weren’t there.
This time, as I reread the story for the umpteenth million time, I heard it. It was a voice. It was not my voice, but that of a character. It was the same voice I had heard while lying in bed. I had spent so much time focusing on the biography, that I had missed the voice.
My prospector was not telling his story, his gold pan was.
I tackled the rewrite and focused on the things I really liked in my original story, but allowed my main character to shift. The story fell onto the page.
It was rough, but it had all the components it needed. It was long, but I knew I could edit that down with illustrator notes.
I took it to my next critique group. Many did not recognize it from the original story it had changed so much. In truth, the story changed very little, but the perspective did.
After some critiques, I polished it up a bit and submitted it for a review during our retreat. I requested Tricia Brown, a local Alaskan author who has written many picture books and worked as an editor.
I had to wait a couple of months until the retreat, so I continued to write while I waited.
As the retreat grew closer, my doubts began to rise. I reread my story and had a few others read it and it was not really as good as I originally thought it was. I wanted to tell this story and hoped a review by a seasoned professional would give me the insight I needed.
By the time the retreat arrived, I almost didn’t want to go. I wanted to avoid the pain. I didn’t want to sit around for a weekend with a piece of work I no longer felt confident in.
Two months ago, I was making a plan to submit this story over the summer, now I wanted to get it back to the safety of the drawer.
My wife and I drove to the retreat and we were given our reviews in a folder. I quickly perused the first page and shoved it deep into my writing bag.
We retired to our cabin and read our reviews. I read my review more slowly. Tricia had liked my story. She had a lot of practical edits, but nothing major. I was searching for things I needed to do to change my story and make it better, and they weren’t there. To be honest, I was starting to think this was a waste of time.
Then my wife asked me, “How many stars did you get?”
I looked at her with what I am sure was my stupid confused face. Stars? What stars?
I went back to the cover page that she was pointing at on her own review.
5 stars…..Wait! What?
My wife didn’t believe me either and took my manuscript. She read though my review far more quickly and was beaming.
I was still confused. How was this story that I had come to not like be 5 stars? And what in the world did that mean?
My wife read off the last page in which Tricia put her personal response on how much she loved the story and the voice and said that she knew a company that would be interested in it.
I met with Tricia later at the retreat and she told me more great things about my story and helped me flesh out some of the rewrite before telling me who I should talk to about getting my book published.
I don’t remember much more from the retreat, but it was exciting.
It had not been a year since I had attempted to write my first picture book to my first viable submission.
I rewrote my story and had it critiqued again. Tricia reread it again and like the changes and I submitted my manuscript. The publisher was going through a change, but five months later I had a contract with Graphic Arts Books to publish Pedro’s Pan through their Alaska Northwest Books imprint.
On February 19th, 2019, the book will be released.
My writing story is not a typical one. I know of writers, many far more talented than I am, who are still unpublished or have spent years before they have published a book. I have been blessed. My story was in the right place at the right time. It found its champions who brought it from thought to life.
I still have a stack of ideas in my drawer, some bad, others worse. I hope that one day, another one will be just as lucky and finds it home. Until then, I keep writing, I keep critiquing and I keep remembering how blessed I have been.
Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep loving what you do. And find your champions.