Lessons from the Querying Trenches

When I first started the writing thing, I think my parents were a bit bewildered. My siblings were, too.  Several friends were in the same boat. 

It wasn’t that they were unsupportive. Far from it. They just didn’t know how it all worked. (I didn’t either, but I was researching my happy little butt off, learning it all for myself at the time.)

Heck, co-workers and colleagues always seemed just a little be befuzzled when I started talking about query letters or writing a synopsis or edits or revisions or getting ready for a conference, but I kept talking.

You know why?

Well, there’s the peer pressure for one thing. If they all knew what I was up to, they were going to ask if there had been any progress. This, of course, makes me feel like I need to be able to have progress to report. It motivates the Butt-In-Chair instinct to actually sit down and DO IT. Writers write. Wanna-be writers talk about wanting to write.

I actually went to the county fair last year with a friend and was walking around looking at exhibits and stuff, telling stories of high school escapades, and just enjoying the trip down memory lane. We went to the pig and calf scramble that night for the same reason. (I caught a pig when I was in high school; my grandfather used to do the announcing for the event, and now my cousin does it.) At the scramble, one of the law enforcement officers (I know him from my day job, of course) working security at the event stopped me and asked what I was doing there. I’m sure I gave him a dumb look, and muttered something about watching the scramble, when he smiled and told me that I should be home writing, “because I’d never finish my book if I didn’t go home and write.”

My jaw just about hit the ground. I hadn’t realized he even knew I wrote fiction. And then I remembered that I’d friended him on Facebook and I’d been updating my word count and posting writing updates. There’s a lesson there on social media, but it also served to motivate me to be able to post later that I had made progress, even if I did stay to watch the scramble that night.

I wasn’t the only one learning. My brother sometimes reads my stuff. So does my cousin. Mom has read some of it, and has asked for more. Dad’s read some of it, but it’s really not his thing. My sister’s not really a big reader, but she’ll ask from time to time if I’m writing on a day off.

They are NOT my critique buddies. I’m actually in two different critique groups, and I go to workshops and conferences, and have beta readers and writer friends all over the place. Family members reading are not doing so because I want them to pat me on the back and tell me how awesome I am. I love them, I trust them, and if they ask, I’m okay with letting them read stuff. I don’t ask them for critique; I have asked Mom, a former teacher, for copyediting grammar mistake type help. Brother has read some things and helped brainstorm ideas. So has Dad. But they are not the ones I go to for “make it better by making it bleed” revision. That’s not fair to put them in that position, and it’s not necessarily going to help me as a writer if they could be uncomfortable doing so. Better to just avoid it altogether.

The amazing part is that my parents and non-writer friends have all started asking questions about submissions and progress. I answered them, at first because I’d let them read some of the early stuff and then started panicking that they’d go out and self-pub it as a birthday or Christmas gift, something I DID NOT want to do. Probably an over-panic on my part, but I wanted to make sure that this didn’t happen. So I began telling them, a bit at a time, over dinner, or in passing, where I was at, and what my goals for publication were. And I explained specifically, the whole “money flows toward the writer” principle.

Fast forward a few years. Just the other day, I ended up telling Mom just how frustrated and disheartened I was with the writing in a phone conversation. I indicated some frustration with the query process, the “positive rejections” and hey, it was a bad day, with multiple rejections coming in. Let’s just leave it there. No matter how thick the skin, multiple rejections on the same day hurts. I was thinking it was a night for cookies and a glass of wine. Oh, and maybe some video games where I could kill things.

Her response, without qualification or hesitation? “You just gotta find the right place to send it, right?”

Spot on. Took the wind right out of my sails. And an answer I should have said first. And she’s right. She’d been listening to some of my talk about the querying process, and all the research and how it all works.

I’ve been at some gatherings with my parents recently, and they asked how it was going. Well, I made some noise about some frustration with market trends that had been cited to me in rejection letters, and some of the reasons I’d gotten for the “no.”  I was venting about it. (I’ll note…it’s way okay to vent, bitch, rant, rave, or otherwise do this in private, or with trusted friends and family members, but not okay to do this on your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the crowded bar at a writer’s conference.  Please note that I’m NOT going into the reasons for the rejection, or how many there had been, or WHO had rejected my writing. Also, please note, I said, rejecting my writing, not rejecting ME.)

My father listened to my rant, and didn’t say a whole lot. Then he asked me some questions.

“Do you want to write the stuff you’re complaining about?”

Honest answer for me was “No.”

His response? “I didn’t think so. I didn’t think you wrote stuff like that, and I can’t see you writing stuff like that. Don’t give up and don’t write stuff that isn’t you.”

Gulp. He was right. And it shut me down pretty hard. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.

He’d been listening. Mom had been, too. In fact, they’d been listening to me more than I had been. Talk about a reality check.

Respect for writing time only happens when people know it’s writing time. If you don’t tell them you’re writing, then you really have no grounds to get annoyed at the phone ringing, people talking to you, questions being asked, the doorbell ringing, or invitations to go, well, anywhere.

If they don’t know you’re writing, you can’t hold it against them.

I talked to a friend on the phone recently, and she wanted to know if I had weekend plans. I had indicated to her that Saturday I’d planned to write, but otherwise I didn’t have any other plans. Her reaction? “Oh, that’s okay, we’ll make plans Friday or Sunday then.” Color me surprised. I didn’t have a deadline to meet. I could have easily worked in Saturday plans, and write before or after I met her for dinner. She wouldn’t hear of it, no matter how much I protested that I could change my schedule.

There’s a lesson there in that the people who care about you are listening to what matters to you. If writing matters, they’ll see it. It might take a while, but they’ll see it. And they’re learning as you are. They might have advice. They might have some kind of help they can offer.

Even if it’s as small as weeding your flowerbeds while you write the next chapter.  And that’s not a hint, but I certainly wouldn’t turn that down!

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