It Helps to Have Brilliant Friends

Check out any acknowledgements page and see that every writer benefits from a little encouragement now and then. There are moments when we writers doubt our work. Sometimes something needs to change in our manuscripts. Sometimes we just need to be a bit braver and press “send” on our submissions. (Eek!)

 

I am fortunate to have friends who can deliver in both situations. And who happen to be brilliant, as well.

 

One of my most trusted writer friends is a friend of my husband’s from college, whom I have since claimed for my own. David is one of the most articulate people I know. Plus, he indiscriminately loves ice cream, which is an obvious sign of good character.

 

In the years following undergrad, David and I pursued different career paths, while working up the courage and the credentials to make a go of writing. We checked in with each other from time to time, whether at an informal reunion or another mutual friend’s wedding, and the first question we asked each other was always, “What are you working on?”

 

David writes nonfiction; he’s interested in the intersection of sports and society. I find his work fascinating, despite initially knowing little about the figures and situations he investigates. I, on the other hand, wrote a novel about a twenty-something upending her prestigious financial career to pursue cooking (and find love along the way). David is not exactly my target audience.

 

And yet, while I was writing and editing, again and again he offered to read a section of my work. When he did, he was both full of encouragement and able to point out areas that could be improved.

 

I’ve recently been working on a nonfiction article, sparked by David’s mention of a new journal a professor he knows is launching. He laughed when I told him it would be a good chance to “flex my nonfiction muscles,” but hey, even if I don’t write about athletes, I can make sports jokes, too. Ann Patchett is proof that contributing nonfiction articles to other publications can be a boon to successful fiction.

 

David gave me notes a week ago, and I am still in awe that I am lucky enough to have such a fabulous mind among my friends. Despite the fact that our bookshelves have nary a title in common, we share a passion for good writing and good storytelling. Finding the intersections between fiction and nonfiction informs my work and makes me a stronger writer.

 

So does having a brilliant friend who is always ready to cheer me on.

Induction into Club Rejection

A few weeks ago, I got my very first rejection from a publisher.

And I was thrilled.

I’m finally in the club! Every legitimate writer has been rejected—and now, so have I!

The rejection was initially complimentary, and noted a couple of things I had been trying to do with the manuscript were working. What I took from this was that I am capable of writing well enough to be published; this just wasn’t the right story for this editor’s list. I have written this type of response from the other side of the desk, and I respect it. Sometimes there is something intriguing, but it’s just not enough to go all the way.

The reason to pass was not a surprise, and I was grateful that it was a critique I could see and understand. As much as I wanted to send out something absolutely perfect, my agent and I had agreed that the manuscript does have a shot, and I’d gotten it as far as I was going to get it at this stage, for a variety of reasons. It was time to see whether anyone was going to fall in love with it.

Thus far, two editors have not, and I am surprisingly okay with it. It’s easy to say whatever will happen will happen, but it’s a lot harder to legitimately feel that way when things don’t turn out as you’d hoped.

I attribute this to a couple of things:

  1. A novena to St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers, which helped me gain mature perspective on my life as a writer. The prayer is not explicitly focused on writing, which made it difficult for me to say at first. Over time, I’ve found that because it reaches more broadly, I can better see how writing fits in to the whole of my life.
  2. My agent knowing not only when the manuscript was ready, but also when I was truly ready to let this one go.
  3. Encouragement from family and friends who remind me that writing a novel and getting an agent are pretty big deals in themselves (it’s tougher to remember this once you’re on to the next thing).
  4. Being super excited and slightly intimidated by my next project.

Now, I hope, it’s not too far fetched that sooner or later I’ll make my way into another, more coveted club. There’s a whole lot of hard work between here and there, but it’s work I’m more excited than ever to do.