The first time I fell in love I was sixteen years old. It was the kind of love you read about in story books, a fierce flame burning bright in my heart to the darkening of all others.
And it didn’t last. Because hey, I was sixteen. Well, eighteen by the time it ended, but still.
Of course I did not have quite such a pragmatic view of the situation at the time. I was heartbroken, utterly devastated. I thought that my life had somehow lost meaning. I told myself that if true love meant risking this kind of pain it wasn’t worth it to love at all.
Yeah, I was a total emo kid back then.
But in a way you can’t really blame me. I was eighteen. I had lost what I believed to be the love of my life. I didn’t have any perspective. Looking back though I can see the problems, the fault lines in both of our psyches that might have led to even worse heartbreak if the relationship had continued.
But back then I was too close to the situation to be able to see the potential problems it might have been forming. Then, two years later, when I was finally starting to get over that relationship when it happened again.
I fell in love. And I was too close to see the problems that were right under my nose. Only this time it wasn’t a girl. This time it was my manuscript.
My first manuscript. I can still see it in my head. I can see myself sitting in that college library between classes pounding out a fantasy epic that was sure to be the next big thing in young adult fiction. And when I finally finished that first draft I went to the story, bought a three ring binder and put all those printed pages inside. This was it, the moment I had been waiting for. I was finally holding all those hours of hard work in my hands.
I knew it needed editing. I had read all the books I could get my hands on. I even knew I was supposed to wait, to let my work sit for a while before I came back at it with the red pencil. Only I knew better. Maybe other authors needed to wait three or four months before they could look at their books objectively, but not me. I was special.
Except I wasn’t. No one is. If you ever learn anything in life, learn this: you are not special. That’s a whole blog post of its own, but I’m just dropping it in here for good measure. Trust me when I say it’ll save you some heartache in the long run.
And speaking of heartache guess what I got? Yup. I edited and edited until I couldn’t edit any more, and when I sent those first five pages off to an agent, and…nuthin’. Just a cold form letter advising me that my work was “not right” for whichever agency I had chosen.
So I got discouraged. I stopped writing for a while, and put my manuscript in a drawer somewhere.
Only I couldn’t turn my back on it. Because writing is like a drug. You tell yourself you can walk away any time you want, but you really can’t. It’s up there in your mind tweaking at you with story ideas and sentence structure.
So eventually I went back and looked again. And wouldn’t you know it, there were still all kinds of things that still needed fixing. So I worked and I worked and…well I’d love to tell you that this story end with my book being published, but you all know that’s not how it goes.
But I did learn a valuable lesson. When you write a book you invest so much time and emotional capital into it that there’s no way you can be truly objective about it. You need to step back, put the story in a drawer for a few months and let the embers of passion cool a little. Then you can go back to that draft and see it for all of its flaws.
And who knows? You may go back and find that that passage that you hated writing actually reads rather nicely. The pendulum swings both ways.