I Mean It This Time

When it comes to my book journey, I feel like the girl who cries, "DONE!" I made this proclamation in March when I finally finished writing my first draft. After two years and three months, this monumental accomplishment was worthy of a blog post, and I knew that revision was my next step.

Last Spring I followed my revision plan and gathered some beta readers (my closest friends and family) and used their feedback to start refining my draft. My words were still so precious and perfect because I worked so freakin' hard to find them, so my "revision" was more editing--even though I know better. My plan was one round of "revision" and then I would start the query process in the summer.

Then I'd really be DONE.

In May, I asked my writing Obi-Wan, author Courtney Stevens, to read my first chapter. Honestly, I thought she'd make a few suggestions and then I could keep clipping along in my "revision" and start querying. But Court took a light saber to my chapter and revealed the utter mess that I had made. (Even though it was hard to take at first, this was the BEST thing that happened in this entire process. If I ever get the chance to write Acknowledgements for this book, Court will be one of the first people I thank.) Court's honest critique made me realize that revision was more than just taking out a few words and rearranging paragraphs. True revision is rolling a grenade into your work, blowing it all up, and then putting it back together--one word at a time.

That's when:
The words lost their warm-fuzzy preciousness.
The words started to taunt me.
I wondered why I had written 
I realized that the words strangled my story;
I had to save my book from my own words.

So I started over with revision and Purged the $#*% out of it.

To give you an idea of the Word Purge:
1st Draft: 146,805 words (395 typed pages)--LAWD it was LONG...
2nd Draft--124, 684 words (332 typed pages)--It was still so LONG...

After I finished that first round of intense revision, I felt like I was finally DONE, so I started querying literary agents in July. I was so ready to jump off the cliff because the longer I stood there looking over the edge, the better the chance that I would lose my nerve. Court told me to only query a few agents for this first round and keep revising. So I wrote a query letter, which was agonizing because it must be short and sweet--NOT in my skill set as a writer, obviously. I had to include a "pitch"--comparing my book to other well-known works. (My pitch is THE SCARLET LETTER meets FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS with a twist of David Levithan.) A query letter should also include a brief summary (like what would be on the book jacket) and some information about the writer. All agencies have different guidelines, but most ask for a query letter, as well as the first five pages or the first chapter of your work. Very rarely does an agency ask you to submit your full manuscript. If they like your first pages, then they will request the full manuscript, and they might still reject your work even after reading the MS. Some agencies respond in a day; others take four to six weeks. (Querying literary agents is not for the impatient.) I queried seven agents last summer; I got six rejections. I knew rejection was an inevitable part of the process, but I'm not going to lie--it still stung. Here is the first rejection I ever received:

But one agent gave me a ray of hope--on my 40th birthday. She said she was going to pass on my project because it "wasn't quite ready yet." But then she went on to give me praise about my first chapter (narrative flows well, pacing is good, a lot of heart in my writing), as well as extensive feedback about things that concerned her. She then wrote, "If you ever decide to revise your work with my feedback in mind, I would absolutely love to see your pages and reconsider your work."

It was August, and school was about to start. According to my "plan," I should be querying and moving on to start writing another book. But I knew what I had to do: I had to go back in and revise. I was far from done.

So that's what I did. I spent the Fall hacking away. Again. In September, I attended the SCBWI Conference in Nashville, at Court's urging, and that experience changed my writer life. I met the most amazing writing community and received valuable advice from agents and published authors. That conference gave me the strength to dig deep and push through to continue revising when all I wanted to do was quit. In November, I finished that 3rd round of revision:

FINAL DRAFT: 106,122 words (289 typed pages) 

During revision, I cut 40,683 words. The typical YA novel averages 80,000 words (yes, mine is still very long). So I basically cut half a novel. But I knew I wasn't done yet.

In December I met with a critique group. I knew this was a crucial part of the process, but the thought of reading my work to strangers terrified me, which is rather ironic when you think about it. I survived and received positive feedback. I also reached out to an author who I met in Nashville at the SCBWI Conference and asked her to critique my revised first chapter. She gave me some things to tweak, but she also really liked my characters and story, which was HUGE to me. I even asked a trusted student to read my first chapter. It was important to get a teen perspective since my book is about teens for teens, and she was very gracious with her opinion.

So I guess I'm really DONE now. But the truth is that I don't know if I'll ever be finished with this book. Honestly, I could spend the rest of my life "revising" and still feel like it's not quite ready.  In the summer I felt so antsy to submit to agents, but lately I've been terrified to take the jump because I know there's no turning back now, so I've found myself using revision as an excuse to avoid the final jump. Even though it's an essential part of the process, I've realized that revision has become a trap for me: it's my way to avoid the reality that I might fail.  In revision, my book is still under my protection; it's still loved by me and me alone--not off in the Big Bad World to be judged.

But I want my book on a library shelf. That's all I want. Not fame. Not money. I just want my book to fall into the hands of a reader and make them think and feel and love. I want my beloved characters (these are my KIDS) to live on in the hearts of readers. In order for this to happen, I must release them to the world. 

I've used a lot of metaphors to compare this process, but here's the one that sticks:
Writing a book is like raising a child. 
I gave birth to the idea. 
And then I held it close in its infancy because it was so fragile.
But then it started to grow and gain its own identity with every word;
we got to those self-sufficient years when it almost felt easy. We got in a rhythm with the words. 
But revising is like the teenage years. I realized that the "kid" is a pseudo-adult, so it's time to start teaching it how to stand up for itself.
So I had to hack off the rough edges.
And it was HARD.
And it SUCKED.
And we didn't like each other very much during that part of the process. 
But there comes a point for every parent--
when you are ready for the kid to pack her bags and move away to college
because everything you've done has lead to THIS. 

Parents are supposed to let go of their babies and so are writers. 

So I mean it this time...I'm releasing WHEN THE WORDS FALL OUT to the world.

I'm now in full query mode. No turning back. I queried four agents last weekend. I already got one rejection, but I also got a request for chapters. This agency only wanted the query letter, so the fact that they asked for the first three chapters is HUGE. It's one step closer to a YES.

All it takes is one YES--ONE person to see the potential in this book. So I will query the masses. (The agent who gave me the Hope in August is on maternity leave. We have emailed, and she wants to read my revised work once she returns. She's my ace...) 

Exactly three years ago, I whispered my book idea to the blogosphere. So it seems fitting that I write this post now.  Thank you to all of you who have supported me on this journey. Your sweet words of encouragement have given me the fuel I needed to pursue this crazy dream.

I hope that my transparency has inspired people to chase their own crazy dreams. I know we aren't all writing books, but I think there's one common denominator that is keeping us from doing the HARD THINGS. And that's FEAR. So kick Fear's ass. Don't believe its whispered lies. Because here is what I've learned...

It's time to send WHEN THE WORDS FALL OUT into the world and see what happens next.

I'm ready for the next story to take root in my mind and grow.

I'm ready to start the process all over again.
Because that's what writers do.


  1. It has been amazing to watch you grow through this process. I am so proud of you for chasing your dreams!

  2. Love this, thanks for sharing! This is so encouraging and I am cheering you on while I'm thinking to myself...ok what is my big dream that fear is holding me back from??


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