I spend a lot of time thinking about love, and what I’m about to discuss here is in the vein of love. But a love for cohesiveness, a love that desires modalities in cooperation rather than competition. Certainly, it took the very pessimistic concepts around Baudrillard’s philosophy to engender my thoughts on this subject. But without Baudrillard I would’ve never reached this conclusive ending: competition is a mere copy of a copy. I hear you asking “So then what’s the original source?” My answer: inspiration.
I’ve spent the last 14 months adding to and then revising a novel. It jumped from approximately 30,000 words to 73,000 words inside of a few short months. Then came all the revisions. I dove into each story and read and reread sentence after sentence, smoothing out the edges and slicing deeper details. Unsettled Between has changed dramatically and in the most beautiful ways. The thematic concept is much cleaner. The stories are further developed. The characters have richer personalities–all the characters–whether static or dynamic. And how was I able to alter a few stories into a full length novel? Inspiration.
I’m going to be real honest here. Before I found representation for my novel, I had lost a great deal of inspiration. As many writers can in the ups and downs of life. I had written a couple of the stories in Unsettled Between from 2008 to 2010. They were published in journals (“Our Day” in American Short Fiction and “Time Like Masks” in South Dakota Review”). It was enough to give me a surge of inspiration. Success, even modest success, can give a writer enough fuel to burn for a full length novel.
I sent one of the stories to Oxford American, which is a journal I dream of getting published with, and the editor turned it down but he wrote a little note in the corner saying something to effect of “Please submit more fiction in the future. I enjoyed your story,” and this little note gave me additional inspiration to continue. So I completed a few more stories, and then a few more, and soon I had enough stories to call this a novel. But it was weak. It needed a lot of development.
It was 2012 and I wanted some type of success. I needed inspiration. I knew if I could get someone to grab onto my book I’d have renewed energy. So I started sending out queries and got a request for a partial but the agent never even gave me a “No, thank you.” The request came quickly in my querying process so I stopped sending out queries, which turned out to be a mistake. The agent never returned my email. And I emailed a few times asking for updates. But nothing. I was young in my career and took this as a defeat. In hindsight, I should’ve just kept querying. I hadn’t submitted to very many agents. But I was naive and new to the game. I was defeated, or felt defeated, like maybe giving up was the only option. Soon I stopped carrying around my laptop and I forgot about the flash drives.
A few years passed. I got divorced. Moved back to Oklahoma. Started raising my kids as a single parent. Life swept in like a tornado and carried me into a version of myself I didn’t recognize.
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” — George Orwell
Then in 2015, I got this idea for a novel. Not the collection of stories I had written. Those stories I couldn’t even look at. In fact, I couldn’t even slide the flash drive with those stories into a USB. There was something psychological keeping me from going back. I told myself I needed to move forward. Keep thinking positive. So I wrote another novel, Uncle Called Him Spider. You can find posts on this blog where I work out kinks in the storyline. But this new idea was enough to get me believing I was a writer again. 60,000 words later. I had no doubt.
So being in awe of my accomplishment. Writing 60,000 words is heavy lifting and it took me about six months to complete the first draft. Then I started the revisions and deepening the novel. After a year I had a solid “draft” of Uncle Called Him Spider. It was solid enough to call a draft and had interlaced subplots with protagonist and antagonist battling for top spot in a very esoteric field. It was different. I hadn’t read a novel like it before so it left me feeling good about my hard work.
“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” — Doris Lessing
So late 2017 and early 2018, I start thinking about those stories. I’m like, “Maybe I should try to reread a few of them.” Then a friend asked if I was working on any fiction. I told him about the new novel, but in the back of my mind I thought about those stories. His very considerate and thoughtful question was a springboard. Suddenly, I started thinking about the collection of stories again.
I decided to try to slide a “certain” flash drive into a USB. And it worked. After reading the collection, I suddenly had a new vision for the book. So most of the stories were booted. They either didn’t fit into this new concept or I felt like they just weren’t good enough. So I wrote new stories. Then I polished them to a point where they were more than solid. They were ready to be published in journals. But my earlier defeat left me too frail to consider putting myself on the line. I couldn’t handle the rejection, or the repeated rejection. Maybe one or two. But the dozens it can take to get a story published was going to be too much.
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” — Elmore Leonard
Then I heard of this event on Twitter. It was called #Dvpit (Diverse Voice Pitch) event. It was a simple but brilliant concept. You developed a twitter sized pitch of your novel. On the day of the event, you post the tweet. If an agent clicks on the heart icon, then you send them their requested material. I thought, this isn’t nearly as brutal as the traditional querying process. I told myself, “It’s a one time pitch,” as opposed to the numerous I was visualizing. More importantly, it avoided the numerous rejections. Plus, it was new, different, and I got a little excited about it. So I marked it on my calendar and wrote a pitch. I polished over several weeks, reading and rereading until it was tight and succinct.
I was surprised when multiple agents from large literary agencies started clicking on my tweet. What I liked most was how this pitching event gave me a sense that I was on the right track. It gave me inspiration. Long story short, I landed an agent. I couldn’t believe my luck. The excitement carried over into the revision process. I was so beyond inspired that when my agent asked me to more than double the novel, I did so in a few short months. It almost felt easy. Likely because I was inspired by the success of working with an agent and speaking with someone who cared as much about my novel as I did.
I can’t tell you how lucky I am to be working with my agent, Allie Levick. I highly recommend querying her if you have a full manuscript to offer. As I reflect back on the last 14 months, she has asked me to look at specific pieces of the story in new ways. She’s very hands on with the development and cares a lot about her work. I have high standards when it comes to professionalism. Allie carries herself as a true professional and I highly respect her opinion. A good agent will offer creative feedback, but one steeped in the rigors of her profession will inspire.
So over the last few weeks, as I disappeared into revision work, I’ve thought a lot about things, like Baudrillard and love, cohesion and cooperation. I’ve seen people using “competition” to work themselves up. But I find inspiration to be the most impacting on art and life. In fact, from the competitiveness I’ve witnessed, I can see how inspired people energize themselves and the uninspired feed off the inspiration of others. Competition is only a fading copy of inspiration. Personally, I simply seek out inspiration or wait for it and trust it’ll find its way toward me. Then once my spirit has risen with its power, I hold onto it as long as I can.
(Images were borrowed from wikipedia, columbus,af.mil, and pxfuel)