one year later

I am about to email my second revision for Julie. Cross your fingers for me. In the meantime:

Twenty-One Steps to Writing A Novel

1. Every morning before work, chain yourself to the computer and peck out a few paragraphs. Do the same when you get home at night. Ask yourself: who needs sleep?

2. Nine months later, ask yourself: Do these Microsoft Word files add up to a book? Wake up in the middle of the night, wondering the same.

3. Email your ex-professors, friends-who-write, distant relatives, and beg them to read the book. Ask yourself: would anyone bother without getting paid?

4. Find a "critique group leader/ genuine published novelist/ guardian angel" to read the thing. Pay her. Ask yourself: Why didn't I do this before?

5. Revise the book according to mentor's notes. Kill off the main character's ex-boyfriend and non-essential family members. Ask yourself: who needs them anyway?

6. When nobody's around at work, print out three hundred pages and mail them to a zillion random editors and agents. Ask yourself: Maybe I should've narrowed the list?

7. Three months later, accumulate your rejection letters and try to figure out what they have in common. Make a list. Discover that their notes have nothing in common. Ask yourself: Are these people crazy?

8. Attend writing conferences across the country, stalk agents and editors. Take notes. Fly to LA for the annual SCBWI convention and repeat. Finally meet that Big Shot Agent who asked for an exclusive read. He’s not wearing a nametag. He says, "We'll be in touch." Ask yourself: What the hell does that mean?

9. Six months later, call Big Shot Agent on the phone. Ask him why he's still holding out. He says he's not interested anymore. Three days later, receive coffee-stained manuscript in the mail. Sob for a few hours, revise the manuscript according to his notes, then email a thank-you letter. Ask yourself: Am I crazy?

10. Attend Rutgers One on One Council. Discover that your assigned "agent mentor" hasn’t bothered to read your sample chapter. Make uncomfortable small talk with her and a gang of teddy bear-loving picture-book devotees while staring at Megan McCafferty across the room. Stalk her after lunch with armloads of hardcover books to sign. Mumble, "I'm not worthy…" until she cracks up. Ask yourself: Why couldn't she be my mentor?

11. Read "how to" books regarding the art of querying. Revise letter to editors, mentioning names of interested agents from conferences. Revise letter to agents, mentioning names of interested editors from conferences. Cross your fingers. Ask yourself: Will this get me past the slush pile?

12. One week later, receive a handful of "yeses" and a mountain of "nos." Make a list and keep track of their responses, color-coding in red and green. It looks like Christmas, which is just around the corner.

13. Receive a form letter rejection, courtesy of the agent/mentor who hadn’t read your manuscript. Toss it in the trash. Keep updating your list. On the day before your 30th birthday, receive a call from Kate at ICM. (Isn’t she that blogger-girl?) Kate says, "You're working with me now." She wants an exclusive read (been there, done that). She wants you to revise the manuscript. (ditto). She wants you to put back all the stuff that everyone told you to remove. Ask yourself: Is she crazy?

14. A few months and several revisions later, Kate says, "I'm sending it out now." That first-novel contest you entered? Pull the manuscript out, despite the fact that you're a finalist. Receive email updates from Kate, some as short as, "They said no." Ask yourself: Will anyone say yes?

15. A week later, Kate says, "We're having an auction." Hit the Internet to find out exactly what this entails. It entails good things. Ask yourself: Is this happening to me?

16. That weekend, Kate calls and says the auction closed. HarperCollins won. The book will be published in two years (Two years?) She passes along the editor’s email and phone number and says, "You're working with Julie now." Ask yourself: Who is Julie?

17. Fly up to New York. Meet everyone before they leave for Memorial Day weekend. Discover that you genuinely like these ladies. Ride the subway back uptown with your bag loaded with free books. Ask yourself: How am I going to carry this on the plane?

18. Six months later, receive Julie’s revision letter, along with a box of biscotti. Send Christmas cards and Cuban pastries to everyone in New York. Study the letter over vacation until you've memorized it. Ask yourself: "Will people stop asking, 'When is the book coming out?'"

19. Spend the rest of winter revising "Untitled OCD Novel" (as it says in the contract). Write new chapters to answer Julie's questions. Spend the beginning of spring waiting for her response. Receive the second revision letter in April. Those additional chapters? They need trimming. Ask yourself: Will I ever finish?

20. Track down guardian angel / novelist, Joyce Sweeney and beg her to read the new-and-improved novel again. Those additional chapters? They need re-organizing. Ask yourself: Will Julie dig TOTAL CONSTANT ORDER'S revised order?

21. Write a grant letter and score a plane ticket to Prague. Start writing Novel Number Two in the morning before work. Ask yourself: Do these Microsoft Word files add up to a book? Would anyone bother to read it?

Never ask: Why am I doing this?

Repeat steps above.