Saturday, December 11, 2010

Writer Trauma! And Why It Was Probably Good for Me: Part One

So far, I haven't really talked about my novel on this blog. Even though this site is but a humble little corner of the Internet, to the point where it's almost my private space, I don't plan to discuss what my novel's actually ABOUT for many months. Why? Well...

You could say I have trauma. Writer trauma. Unpublished writer trauma, stemming from my first novel-writing experience. See, lots of writers will tell you that trying to get published can be a scary experience. And it is, of course. Most people already know about the odds of getting tons of rejection letters. But sometimes, writers just have bad luck. Really bad luck, even before they get the chance to submit a manuscript. That was the case with me.

See, once upon a time, Seventeen-Year-Old Me was sitting in class and had an idea. But it wasn't just any idea... It was The Idea. The perfect idea for a novel that had never been written, as far as I knew. It was original and romantic and interesting, and once I managed to get it down on paper, it would surely give me a chance to break into the writing business, the very thing I had secretly dreamed of for years! Or so I thought, as naive and optimistic Seventeen-Year-Old Me.

Years passed. I became an undergrad in college and was swamped with coursework. I didn't have much time to write, and when I did I felt exhausted and uninspired. I think I must have started and restarted that novel at least three or four times during this period. Eventually I said to myself, "Enough already! I'll just take a year off after college, write it all down, and then submit it and see if it's publishable!" So that's what I did. After receiving my B.A., I took a year off from school and used that time to draft my first novel. To my surprise, it only took six months! I was so excited to move on to the editing process. Then, just after I finished the first draft... It happened.

The Traumatic Event. The one thing I HADN'T counted on, as I prepared myself for brutal edits and harsh criticism and mountains of rejection letters...

You see, this was when I discovered my brilliant idea had already been written. Not just written, published-- as a very popular, highly anticipated, and VERY recent release. What's more, the basic mythology I had used (the same mythology I was drawn to because "it hadn't been done before") quickly became the new trend in 2009-2010 YA literature, specifically the Paranormal Romance genre-- exactly the same genre as my first novel.

It was an especially bitter pill to swallow, because I realized I was right. My idea was a perfectly marketable, popular idea! Here was the proof, sitting right in front of my face on the bookstore shelves. Even now, it's still a huge trend in the genre. Obviously, I'm not going to say which book made it impossible for me to submit my story. Suffice to say that it not only used the same mythology, but had exactly the same plot twist at the end. (Yeah... Really bad luck, right?) So my options were as follows: rewrite the entire book, give up completely, or move on to something else.

Honestly, I thought I would be forced to give up. I didn't want to, but the truth was I hadn't had a decent idea since that first one seven years ago. I was haunted by all sorts of questions and regrets... If I'd just written down my idea sooner, would I have been published by now? Was my first attempt at a novel going to be my last? Would I ever find something to write about again? Then something strange happened... But that's a story best saved for Part Two. Here's a hint: I moved on and managed to write a second book.

But how have I dealt with the whole another-writer-beat-me-to-it situation? Answer: Not as well as I'd like. The experience has made me pretty paranoid, honestly. Now that I have another novel ready for submission, I've been checking Amazon obsessively, hoping and praying that no one else has written it yet. Every time I discover a novel that's even slightly comparable to my new manuscript, I panic. This is especially pathetic because the new novel would be much more difficult to replicate... But that doesn't mean it's impossible for someone to publish something similar. Then I might find myself where I was before: stuck with a useless manuscript and an unfinished dream and not even the fragile satisfaction that I was rejected for something within my power (i.e. my own work), but instead was once again headed off at the pass by Really Awful Luck (tm).

Yeah. It's not exactly something that helps me sleep better at night. It's all the more terrifying because I am hopelessly in love with this second novel, and I don't want to give it up! I want to have a chance to share this book with other people. I want to write the other books I've planned for the series. I want to keep obsessing over and loving these characters. I don't want to consign them to my writer's dustbin of ideas that didn't pan out. I've had to do it before, and it was terrible then. It would be devastating, no, heartbreaking now. That's why I don't talk about my new idea online. I'm too paranoid someone else will see it and maybe try to write it themselves.

It helps to know I'm not alone. The more I read about other writers who are struggling to get published, the more I realize I'm not the unluckiest person on earth, just another writer who's dared to chase a difficult dream. It also helps to know I'm not the only one dealing with disappointments and insecurities-- and all the anxiety those things can bring. It's nice to know I'm not losing my mind, as I scour the YA section at Borders yet again, heart pounding, palms sweating, terrified I'll discover my dream has been yanked out of my hands for a second time.

But what helps the most is the knowledge that my first experience in trying to write a novel led directly to my second. Simply the process of drafting and editing the new project has been a joy. And that brings me to Part Two, which deals with why my disappointing experience was probably a good thing in the long run.

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