By day, and many times at night, I’m a freshman composition professor. That means that I spend my days trying to teach bored, hung over, homesick 18-year-olds about grammar, arguments, and research. Then I go home, read their papers, and realize that almost no one in class has listened to a word I said.
But in my dreams, at night, I’m a writer. It’s my secret passion – one I don’t discuss with my colleagues at the university. Why? Because I don’t want to write the next “great American novel,” I want to write a romance novel. And I don’t even really aspire to be the next Nora Roberts or Janet Dailey (or Delilah Devlin). I just want to write a book that people who don’t personally know me will enjoy.
Well, a few years ago, my (sometimes) sweet husband told me to “put up or shut up” about the book I had been working on for 10 years. He gave me a summer to finish it and told me that if I didn’t at least finish the first draft that summer, I could never complain about it again. It was the scariest summer of my life. But I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote some more. And by the time my first draft (and the summer) was finished, I had a romance novel that was over a hundred thousand words. I had done it. I had written a romance novel. Now, I hoped that he would leave me alone and I wouldn’t have to actually DO anything with it.
Yeah, not so much. Because my not-sweet-anymore husband won’t shut up about doing something with it. So I’ve been forced to draw upon my other life, my composition professor life, to figure out what to do next. And so starts my journey back to my 18-year-old college freshman self. I know the process that’s necessary to improve writing – I just didn’t realize that it would be so hard to practice what I teach.
The first thing I did was find a writing conference. There are great ones all around me, but I never knew it. I ended up in Madison, WI, where I learned that everything that I was doing was wrong. First, my novel is too long. When I arrived at the conference it hovered somewhere around 101,500 words, but it should be less than 85,000 words. Then, I should have been part of a critique group, but I was never a “group” kind of writer. And finally, I never should have booked pitches so soon, but I did. But since I was there, I figured I’d practice what I had just learned, and so I pitched to two different agents and they each expressed interest in reading my writing – if I knocked down the word count.
So, it’s back to my roots. Write, revise, edit, and peer review. Writing is a joy. Revising and editing, even though it sometimes causes me physical pain to delete my words, is something that I have trained for my whole life. But peer review, which my students hate and I emphasize constantly, is my Achilles heel. Every two weeks I hand another chapter of my novel off to three people I have never met and wait for their comments. Every two weeks I wait nervously by the computer to get the email that says “here’s your critique,” and then my heart races as I open the attachment. But every comment helps – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Even those people who consistently hate my writing are helpful because they are helping me prepare for editors and agents who are going to feel the same.
So what does all of this mean? It means that every day I get closer to having my dreams become my reality – even if I have to face rejection and criticism along the way. And even better – closer to having my husband stop nagging me!