In the spirit of the original theme of this blog, here's a tale of a totally impractical journey of ten (-ish) years that I'm still on, and why, despite logic and black & white facts and figures, I believe I'm not on this road for nothing.
Failing to find employment in any facet of my industry for roughly 18 months the year I graduated from uni, I threw myself into writing in my spare time.
I'd dreamt of creating worlds and characters and creatures and adventures since around age 5, and while I'd started and stopped dozens of stories over the years, around late 2010/early 2011, writing finally took center stage. I completed a first first draft. It wasn't in my main genre but was a crucial learning experience. It led me to read all the craft books and blogs, take all the online classes I could find, and make as many writer friends as I could.
Fast-forward through countless bootcamps, seminars, webinars, blog contests (remember those?), Twitter contests, pitch contests, charity critiques, critique partners (some of whom I'm still travelling alongside on this writing journey, with gratitude), conferences, classes, agent and editor one-on-ones, five manuscripts, and along the way getting married, losing my Mom, having a baby, making my transcontinental move (mid-pandemic) and planning my third, I am STILL HERE, still writing, still working, and yes, still seeking a literary agent.
If you're unfamiliar with traditional publishing, the first step on this path is to sign with an agent to represent you to publishers. (I'm not pursuing self-publishing at this time). And the first step to signing with an agent is normally the query letter, which consists of a short, enticing blurb about your manuscript and usually sample pages.
I can't even count the queries I've sent in the past decade because I no longer have the original email account I started querying from, but I've kept a spreadsheet for the past several years. And let me just tell you, if and when my day finally comes in this first step in the long road to publication, I will have the One How-I-Got-My-Agent Story To Rule Them All.
"Persisting in the face of all that seems reasonable."
While I've seen good friends and innumerable acquaintances reach their dreams and sign with agents and get book deals and take photos of their beautiful books on beautiful shelves in bookstores, I've been quietly whittling away at my work. I have three manuscripts (and a fourth in progress) that I am absolutely adore.
I have put my heart and soul, my experiences, the places I've lived and visited, life lessons, SO MUCH TIME and so many revisions and so much hard work into these last four manuscripts. Every time I stumble over a fresh, inspiring craft a-ha, I've returned to one of them to do a partial or full revision. I apply every new thing I learn that resonates with me to these stories, because to me, these stories are alive. My characters, their worlds, and their journeys are in my head at all times. Whether or not that's healthy! If you're a writer too, you probably know the feeling.
After a decade of trying, of dozens and dozens of full manuscript requests from agents that resulted in crickets, a form rejection, or some variation of, "I love your story and believe you'll find an agent, just keep trying!" with zero applicable feedback, I continue to persist.
Because a) I'm passionate about the work, b) I want more than anything to write stories that inspire others the way I've been inspired, and c) I believe this is the calling on my time and abilities. When I'm writing, as many others have said before me, it's the one time when I don't feel I should be doing something else (unless there's a crying toddler in my vicinity).
And maybe just a tiny part of it is d) stubbornness. "I've given up on every other path I've started down, my entire life, when things got too hard. So I can't give up on this. Not after all this time."
I could spend another 10,000 words describing this journey, the ups and downs, the dodgy small press deal I turned down, the horrors of self-doubt, the unbelievable support from my husband and family and friends, but I came here to say this: If you don't go all in on your dream, then it's not the path you're supposed to be on. And for whatever reason I've yet to know, I believe this is my path — toward whatever result. Because I can't control the result.
I've had other dreams before, but I never could convince myself to dive into them 100%. There was always something holding me back. That's why, at least currently, this one still feels right.
Out of Control
No matter how wonderful a book I write, I cannot control the industry, the trends, agents, or publishers. I can't control how someone feels when they open their inbox to see my query. I can't control who they might've signed who has a similar theme or voice just before reading my full.
I can't control how agents claim to want stories from minorities but then want to dictate what kinds of stories we tell.
This should be debilitating, right? I mean, sometimes it is. Some rejections leave me sobbing on the floor in the dark, wondering how I've spent the past ten years learning and growing and still being stamped with NOT GOOD ENOUGH in figurative red ink by legions of agents.
But the next day, I always get up and feel in my heart that I still want to do this. Even after all this time. I mean, no one wants to waste time climbing a ladder that's leaning against the wrong wall, right? But as someone who puts her faith in Jesus, I have to believe that at this point, all my prayers to be redirected if I'm on the wrong path haven't gone unheard. Otherwise my faith is void.
Today in my Chronological Bible reading (I try to read the Bible in a year every year with the Chronological Bible; I'm on my fourth year I think), I read this:
"...if you keep knocking long enough, he [a neighbor you have asked for a favor] will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for." (Luke 11:8-9 NLT, emphasis mine).
Firstly, to be clear, the thing one is asking for is meant to be a thing for good, not for pure selfishness. Not "to win the lottery," or "a brand new Aston Martin in my driveway tomorrow morning."
If you're unfamiliar, this is Jesus talking to his disciples about prayer. I've read this a thousand times. Today, as you might imagine, the phrase "shameless persistence" jumped out at me.
The word "importunity" is used in some Bible versions, and in the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, that word is defined as shamelessness, or "persisting in the face of all that seems reasonable."
WOW! What could be a better tagline for me? Not just relating to my writing journey, but of most everything I pursue. To the point where I've imagined people saying, "Oh man, she is BONKERS. Give it up!!"
Another commentary, by Albert Barnes, an American theologian born in 1798, says:
"...he [God] often causes his people long to wait. He tries their faith ... until they feel entirely their dependence on him, until they see that they can obtain the blessing in no other way... Let us inquire whether God has promised such a blessing, and then let us persevere until God gives it."
As touched on above, blessings are often ways in which we bless others (which in turn, blesses us with joy, contentment, etc.), or callings God puts on a person's life that he intends to bring about.
But whatever your feelings on Jesus or faith or callings or blessings, the point I want to share is this idea of persisting in the face of all that seems reasonable. It might seem the path of most resistance, and you might be tempted to feel an absolute pillock. Don't feel you're alone. Feel free to follow my journey and you can find out whether it's a fruitful path or not! Ha.
If you compare (ouch! That word!) my experience to other writers on Twitter any day of the week, you'd understandably think there's something wrong with me and/or my writing. You'll find so many writers tweeting excitedly about how they got their agent FINALLY after three whole months (!!!) and at age twenty-tree, which is, like, SO OLD. Or something like the fortunate Tweeter the other day who announced that she signed with the first agent she ever queried.
Reader, I'm telling you, if and when I have a story like this to share, it will include the phrase, "persisted in the face of all that seems reasonable." And will include a number with at least three digits.
But that is 100% okay. In fact, that's the kind of story I now want to tell. I want to be someone who persists in the face of all that seems reasonable. What better way to learn about yourself and who you want to be, and what better way to learn what we're willing to commit to to for the long haul?
Timing is something out of everyone's hands — you can know the right people, pull the right strings, write the trendy story, tick off all the tropes, and fit the box that the industry wants to put and sell you in, but you cannot control time. All you can do is your best, knowing your path is unique from everyone else's. There are reasons your path is the length and route that it is. Given the way the industry is going, particularly fantasy, honestly I believe that there is no other way that I could obtain the blessing of being asked to tell stories to readers who might be inspired by and enjoy them, other than through God making it possible. After all my attempts so far, after everything I've seen, all the deals I've read about, all the published books I've read, God is either going to make this happen, or it won't happen. I can't do anything different than what I'm already doing that would tip those scales.
I stumbled across these scriptures and quotes at a time when I most needed it, in order to say to myself, to God, and to the world, I can clearly see there is no other way for me, other than the Creator of the universe. And I hope that someone else out there might read this and realize that they aren't on their own long path for nothing, either.