Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My nine weeks in Hell...

On July 9th, 2010, I finished my first (and only... so far) novel. I was elated. I felt like I’d just discovered the meaning of life, given birth and had been launched into space, all at the same time.
In short--I was a badass.
Fast forward a month. I’d put out some queries and had felt the sting of rejection… and realized that 750 pages was a bit heavy for a thriller. I began to cull—or rather, I wanted to cull, but how to do that when every word you write is breathtakingly crafted? How do you kill your darlings when each is perfect? It was an impossible task...  not one I could manage on my own. Perhaps if I got a second opinion, they could tell me where to make cuts, maybe help me with typos… you know, just clean it up. Get it ready to wow the literary masses.
Now, fast forward a few weeks. I signed up for a college writing course (which took some doing considering I’d never taken a CRW class before in my life). The instructor seemed nice enough, so even though I was nervous, I felt confident he would recognize my brilliance. I logged onto the school black board and posted my first submission. And then promptly had an anxiety attack. Even though my head was between my knees and I was breathing into a paper bag, I was positive that my instructor would read my work and promptly nominate me for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Instead, he told me that I sucked… over and over and over again. Weeks rolled by--I no longer believed I was brilliant.
I grew frustrated. My instructor was no longer nice. He was vile—the very axis on which evil spun. He told me my prose was the color of eggplants. That I was melodramatic. Cryptic. A writer in love with her own words. He started rambling about modern story structure. Inciting incidents. Proper beginnings.  I started banging my head on the wall. My husband bought me a helmet.

But I held on, and I’ll tell you why… somewhere, buried deep in the weekly hack and slash he’d delivered to my submissions was this sentence:
Maegan, obviously you’re a good writer.

There was a light at the end of my deep, dark tunnel. It was faint and far, far away but I was desperate enough to hang on to it. I cut and pasted it into a blank document and printed it out. I stuck it to my cork board and stared at it for a while. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
I was a good writer.

I kept at it. I kept producing crap. I’m pretty sure my instructor wanted to kill me. That’s okay, the feeling was mutual. The shine of those words—Maegan, obviously you’re a good writer—began to wear off. I began to think he was yanking my chain. I wanted give up, but two things kept me from pulling the trigger:

1)      I’m way too stubborn to give up. Ever.

2)      If I quit, I’d never be able to write again without feeling like a complete fraud.
So I kept at it… and somewhere around week 9, all that banging my head against the wall knocked something loose. I delivered a workable inciting incident that was neither wordy, melodramatic or the color of eggplants. I used proper punctuation and shared important information with my reader.

I’d actually done it… and I kept doing it. Every week I got better. I stopped banging my head. I canceled the contract I took out on my instructor’s life. I gained confidence. I stopped feeling like I was going to pass out every time I sent in my weekly submission.
I wrote better.

I finished the final re-write on my novel on January 6th, 2012 and when I sent it in, I got this in response:

Hi Maegan,

 I just finished reading your reworked chapter one. I got chills. Do I need to say anything else?
This is ready to fly.

 I read this e-mail about a million times—unable to believe that what I’d started so long ago was finally ready. That I was going to have to let go. I started to have doubts, felt the sting of those earlier rejections—from the agents I queried years ago and from the instructor that had become my friend… and then I saw that piece of paper stuck to my cork board, read what it said:

 Maegan, you’re obviously a good writer...

And for the first time, truly believed it.

don't forget: Let me help you solve your plotting woes...


  1. Maegan!! You're not a good writer... you're an AWESOME writer!! Your novel is gonna be a best seller and I'm gonna say I knew you when! Anyone out there who is struggling with plot issues needs to find this blog. The plot doctor is in!!

  2. Thanks, Mary! Can't wait for Writer's Police Academy this year, we're gonna have so much fun!

  3. All I can say is I got chills when I read this post. So... we're even on the chills meter, Maegan. And you are a terrific, gifted writer!