Saturday Six #28: When I Kept Going

When I was ten years old, my parents gave me the thrill of my life: they finally agreed to adopt a cat.

We chose a cat at the shelter and named him Punkin (Punky for short), a name I pulled straight out of a what-to-name-your-pet book filled with photos of fluffy felines. Punky was arguably one of the least attractive cats I’ve ever seen, but he was our first pet, and we loved him. My younger brother and I played with him a lot, dangling strings and toys, watching him leap and chase and pounce. I remember my dad reminding us that if we didn’t let Punky catch the string once in a while, he would get bored and walk away.

It’s true. Anytime we’re putting effort towards something, those small victories and bits of encouragement along the way are what keep us going. So, as promised last week, here are a few reasons why I’ve kept going with my novel.

Connection. I’m fully invested in my characters and their journey. Much of my novel takes place on a Great Lakes freighter in the 1910s, modeled after a museum boat in Toledo, OH. A few months after I started drafting, we returned to Toledo for an event, and I had the distinct and overwhelming feeling that I had come to the place where my fictional characters lived. And another time, when I was looking at interior photos of the museum ship, I came to a certain room and thought, with a flutter of my heart, “Oh! That’s where they met for the first time!”

Problem-Solving. I ran into some trouble with plot holes and making sure the history matched with the story. And I have to say, answers to those problems often dropped into my head almost as if by magic. Long, hot showers and long, solitary walks made a huge difference as I worked everything out in my head, and each solution rejuvenated me. One of these solutions was even the title.

Early Praise. After my first draft, I hired an editor to look at the beginning of my manuscript and offer feedback via a video consultation. I knew the novel needed lots more work, but I just wanted some confirmation about the premise and my writing skills. She was very impressed and told me that I had a real shot at getting an agent who could help me with traditional publication. It was the boost I needed.

Tears. My mom, my dad, my cousin, and one of my high school English teachers cried when they read the manuscript. Knowing I could make people feel something was hugely gratifying. I’ve also cried over the novel myself. Just last week, I got teary at the ending as I finished up my latest revision, and I also cried when my critique partner helped me revamp my query letter and managed to showcase all the feels that were previously missing.

Twitter Contests. In the midst of a batch of queries that resulted in zero requests for the full or partial manuscript, I entered a contest via Twitter to win eight weeks of professional editing and coaching on my novel. I didn’t win the prize, but I managed to make the shortlist of one of the editors. She graciously offered me some more feedback, this time on a polished version, and she gave me great pointers on how to change my query letter and first chapter to be more appealing to agents. She also rated my premise 5 out of 5 and my writing 4 out of 5 (the highest she typically gives), so maybe I’ve got something here! And of course, as I mentioned last week, getting agent likes in the pitch contest made my day.

Full Manuscript Requests. When trying to break into the publishing world, a full request is the ultimate confidence booster. Someone is really interested in my book! Someone thinks my writing is decent! Someone thinks my concept might be sellable! While there’s no guarantee, and actually very little chance, a full request will turn into an offer of representation, the good news is that something is working. When I planned to write this post, I had just one full request under my belt, but in the week since, I received my second one, and the novel is currently under consideration!

This process gets grueling, and some days I am really, really sad and hopeless. I feel like I’m chasing a string that always remains beyond my reach, whether it’s far away or just out of my grasp. Above all else, I believe in my book, and every time I can get my claw on a shred of hope, I’m clinging to it for dear life.

Punky, at least cute when sleeping.

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