Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Scared Me and Still Sorta Does (Jody Casella)




For many years I was afraid. Afraid of pursing my dream to be a published writer. Afraid to work on books that people might not like--might not ever read. Afraid to submit my stuff and risk rejection. Afraid even to say OUT LOUD to anyone that I was a writer because then the next question would be, "So where can I buy your book?" and I'd have to say, Nowhere.

But the thing is, I really like writing and it's been a constant part of my life for as long as I can remember. In the end I came to the conclusion that it was what I was going to do, regardless if any of my stuff ever made it officially into print.

This angsty thought process took a freaking long time and probably annoyed the heck out of everyone I know. Many days my husband and kids tiptoed into the house wondering if they'd find me boo-hooing over a rejection letter or ranting like a maniac about the unfairness of the publishing industry or flying high about an exciting lead (that inevitably went nowhere).

The house was a disaster area. We all struggled through multiple nights of chocolate chip pancakes. (Side note: I didn't even realize this was my default meal until my then eleven year old daughter asked if I could make chocolate chip pancakes for her school's Family Cultural Food Day. I thought she'd want me to whip up my famous spaghetti sauce--see, I do know how to cook other things--but no, she said, Pancakes is the dinner that represents us, Mom.)

Anyway, over the years I came to grips with the roller coaster submission process by suffering through my own version of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief. After those first rejections, (for horrible manuscripts that will never see the light of day, and shouldn't) I was in denial--ME? How could they reject ME? Later, I grappled with anger--that it was taking sooooo long, that those heartless editors and agents just didn't get my stuff. And bargaining--I'll revise! I'll do whatever you suggest! Just give me a chance! Then came the depression--why am I doing this? What's the point? What if this silly dream of mine never comes true?

Until finally, I reached Acceptance. Somewhere along the way it simply occurred to me that I feel better when I write. The publishing part of it is out of my control and has nothing to do with the Me that sits in front of the computer every day writing. So, five days a week I set a word count goal and I don't shut my computer down until I do it.

This worked. I faced my fear of failure by writing my words. When I got rejections, when a deal that seemed so close fell apart, when my agent quit--I wrote my words, and always felt better. It was like magic.

And then my magical solution was truly tested. It happened when I least expected...and I got a book deal. Someone wanted the sixth book I wrote (it was three years after I'd written it and I wrote four more books in the meantime. This is another consequence of writing your words.) The day I got the call, I was stunned.

I walked around my messy house in a daze. I called my family and friends. I cried. I did laundry. I started thinking about dinner. Chocolate chip pancakes? Until a friend suggested that I take my family out to eat for crying out loud and celebrate. Good idea. I cried some more. I did more laundry. After a few hours of that I didn't know what to do with myself. I had been in the middle of my usual word count goal when the call came and suddenly it hit me that I had to go back to that. I had to write.

It was hard to concentrate. My mind kept wandering to my book deal. Wouldn't it be okay, on this day of all days, to not write? But something told me no. I was the person who wrote my words no matter what. I'd written through tears before, and sickness, and bone-crushing depression. What was I made of if I couldn't write through success?

Let me tell you, they were very hard words to write and the section I worked on was basically crap, but I felt great anyway. That night when my family and I celebrated at International House of Pancakes (I am totally kidding. We did not eat pancakes.), I was prouder of myself for having completed my word count goal than for getting a book deal.

Okay, I'm kidding about that too.



 

11 comments:

  1. Hmm, our lives sound frighteningly similar :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. well...I'm honored, because I'm a huge fan of yours, Cheryl!

      Delete
  2. It's true that success can throw us off track just as much as setbacks can. Writing provides that calming center ... but yeah, we're allowed to celebrate a little, too! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right about celebrating--still hard for me though!

      Delete
  3. This made me laugh (pancakes for Cultural Food Day!) and tear up. I'm glad you kept at it and that you got the deal. And I'm glad you wrote the words even on that day. Somehow it makes my own 20,000 word I-have-to-figure-out-what-the-bleep-I'm-doing first draft of a 2nd book worthwhile. Oh, yes, and my messy house. It feels better, too. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 20,000 words is not too shabby! Just keep going (even if you don't know WHERE the end is yet) One of my favorite writing quotes: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” --EL Doctorow

      Delete
  4. I loved this post! We do the chocolate chip pancakes in our house too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks! I keep looking at the picture of those delectable pancakes and wonder if that's what we'll have tonight...

      Delete
  5. I love this post, Jody! What I love most are the details about your day when THE CALL came. I had TWO magical first-yes moments in one day: I accepted my first book deal, and a couple of hours later, got a call from an agent. (Not kidding.) I remember hanging up the phone from my second "yes," feeding my dog, cleaning the kitchen, and getting back to my WIP, filled with butterflies and the words, "Did that even really HAPPEN?" buzzing in my head...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks, Holly. These awesome moments are so rare. Have you heard the story about Stephen King getting his first deal--it was for CARRIE and he and his wife were dirt poor. He dropped the phone when the agent told him the advance amount then wandered downtown wanting to buy his long suffering/supportive wife something, but all he could think to buy her was a hair dryer. After my call came, I bought my longtime writing partner a hair dryer, and I am fully expecting one in return soon.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What a moving story, Jody. Your friend was wise to send you out to celebrate :-)

    ReplyDelete