On Careful Fear and Dead Devotion

‘Careful fear and dead devotion‘ is a line from The National’s Don’t Swallow The Cap.

The alternative title to this post is My friends are amazing, my agent and her team are brilliant, and you’ll get it done, I promise.

Today I emailed a Serenade/balletbook project to my editor and met my first deadline. Yay, fire the confetti canons!

In related news, my editor also has several pints of my blood, sweat, and tears. And also, all of my feelings.  Okay, sit down again. Put away the confetti. Let’s talk.

I think sometimes the post-agent-book-deal-life becomes a bit of a mystery. I certainly felt a little unprepared for it. And by “a little unprepared”, I mean, I had no idea that it was going to feel and work differently, and it does.

Friends are the Actual Bee’s Knees

First, your friends, both your critique partners, and just your other writing friends? They are your lifesavers. Sometimes literally.

Writing on contract to a deadline kind of feels like being in a shipwreck where you’re trying to grab everything you need for survival and they’re pushing the little bits of wood at you so you can make a raft, and then they push tins of food at you because rafts don’t help dead people, and then they help you dry out pieces of the salvaged map so you can find your way to land.

And when you’re all like ‘A DESERTED ISLAND’S BETTER THAN THE OCEAN’, they’re there, sighing, and pointing to the mainland just a few meters and telling you it’s worth it to row a little longer.

To the friends who helped me piece together the map and encouraged me to keep rowing–Christina, Becka, Bekah, Dahlia, Paula, KK, Nita, Paul, Blair, Marieke, and others I’m sure I’ve missed–thank you. Seriously, thank you.

Especially my critique partners who read multiple drafts on super short turnaround and answered questions like “What if I did this? But what about this? Oh my god I can’t do this don’t make me do this okay I’ll try again”

Sometimes friends just sit on the raft with you because misery loves company and no one knows this more than writers. Especially in the last few days, Audrey Crass was right there lamenting the revision cave with me. Fist bump of solidarity, sister. May your lesbian princesses give me so much less trouble than my ballet dancers did.

Sometimes The Revision You Thought Was The End of the World Isn’t

I turned in a draft to my agent. She and her assistants emailed me an awesome brainstorming email. I mean awesome. They understood the heart of my book should be way better than I did.

At first, I was like ‘OH MY GOD, I HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH’ and Agent was all “STOP. No. You don’t.” and I reread everything calmly the next day, thought about it, and then reread it again (thank you, forever, Blair, for talking me off two cliffs in one weekend!) and said, “Oh. I get it.”

I rewrote almost the whole book (okay, let’s not get all flaily hands on me here, it’s a novella) and you know what? It’s way better than the first version. As one of my CPs said, we didn’t know what the book could be until I put her revisions into action. It sparkled where it hadn’t. It felt like the first book again! It felt like breathing.

Sure, it still could change. But I’m proud of the draft I turned in.

Writing Under Pressure Sucks But You’ll Probably Survive

As Becka, one of my CPs I lean on heavily, reminded me the other day, everything came together for me very quickly. Don’t get me wrong–I’m so grateful, and lucky, and happy to be where I am. But writing on this side of the fence? All of this bizarre insecurity you thought you conquered because you survived the slush rises to the surface and chokes you.

You spend time thinking that your agent will realize she’s made a mistake and fire you.

You spend time thinking that what you wrote was a fluke. And you’re never going to write like that again.

You spend time thinking that you’re an impostor and someone’s going to figure it out soon, that you’re not actually good at this and they’re going to take everything away from you.

You spend a lot of time over-thinking how your writing is going to be received by readers. You didn’t think about this before. Before you thought about how the agents were going to receive it, but you probably didn’t think about readers. But this is going to be for sale! What if readers think it’s a waste of money? What if readers feel betrayed? What if readers feel like they came looking for fluffy romance and you gave them angsty romance and what if readers want—you get the point. It doesn’t matter how your brain fills in the blank, it always–always–sets you up for failure.

I could spend time talking about creative brains and how we writers tend to operate in the world, but I think that’s a different blog post. Here, I’m going to tell you a thing:

I cried a lot during this process. I’m not someone who cries often, but I had a lot of very dramatic meltdowns over email, gchat, DMs, and text messages. I don’t think that this is particularly unusual.

I know that it’ll get easier. That I’ll learn to write clean, solid first drafts on a short turnaround. But right now? This one? This one was hard. And from asking around and different conversations around the internet, I know I’m not the only one.

So here’s my open letter to new writers writing their first contracted book: it’s okay to meltdown. Lean on your friends, but know they aren’t crutches. Ask stupid questions of your agent and agented/pubbed friends, because the only bad question is the one that isn’t asked.

And flip the bird to anyone who tells you that your feelings are anything less than genuine. Because even if they’re driven by insecurity and stress and anxiety, feelings are always valid. So cry.  Spend too much time playing the Kim Kardashian game (DON’T JUDGE.) Do whatever you need to do to keep writing.

Because ultimately, those words need to be written. I don’t know if it’s my perfectionism or my competitiveness, but even on the days where I felt like I couldn’t do it, I kept telling myself, “Well. I’m not missing that deadline” and trudged ahead. And it was trudging.

Do not stop moving. If you stop moving you will die in the swamp of sorrows. You must keep moving. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Don’t stop. You can’t fix what isn’t written, and your editor and agent can’t help you if there’s nothing to wrestle into submission. You have to get the words down so cry, and stomp, and lay on your little raft with your unreadable map in pieces, but at least paddle with your hands or something.

And when your friends circle around you to help, and they will, surprising you always, accept their help and their virtual hugs and their virtual cupcakes. Writing is too often a solitary path. Revel in the moments of community and solidarity.

And in the end, reward yourself. She says, as she finishes this blog post and eats chocolate cheesecake before noon because hey. I earned it.

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