The Big Sur Children’s Workshop is only two days away.
Right. Okay. How did THAT happen?
Last time I checked, I had three months before the workshop. It was September. I’d just moved back to California and the heat was nauseating, I’d yet to wander around Europe with a giant pack strapped to my back, my Ohio trip was only barely planned, and the mere idea of moving to Humboldt County didn’t even exist. I had time, all the time in the world to “prepare” myself for the workshop. I’d polish my writing — spruce up AFOT ( A Fear of Tears, Novel #1) and finally finish that damned FIY (Falling Into Yesterday, Novel #2) revision that’s been stop and go and stop and go and stop stop stop and go for the last year — and drive into Big Sur like a beacon of gold.
Well, the workshop is two days away and my writing has never felt more tangled.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite my traveling and frantic decision making, I’ve done a lot of writing. I completed a full read through/line edit/random revise of AFOT, which was ultimately productive, because it eventually led to a fabulous conclusion: AFOT is done. Done, done, done. But not done in a good sense. It’s done in that I’m done with it until I have the time and inspiration to completely rewrite it. It’s time to set it aside, bow down, and thank it for its time.
And I’m fine with this conclusion. It was my practice novel. I wrote it when I was thirteen. I’ve revised it seven times in the six years since. The book literally followed me through my entire teenage career and instilled that I AM a writer, I do write, I do want to write, and Iwillwrite. Plus, AFOT has seen a lot of glories. Stephenie Meyer (long story) read it. Jodi Reamer (thanks to Stephenie Meyer) read part of it. Another literary agent read the full manuscript and adored it. A lot of people have read it and it receiveda lotof praise. But it’s also seen the shadows — while there was great agent interest, it has ultimately (obviously) been turned down (and RIGHTFULLY so — I wrote it when I was THIRTEEN).
But regardless, AFOT taught me a lot. I learned how to write a book, how to edit, how to revise, how to cut the most darling wonderful scenes that do absolutely NOTHING for the story, how to query and be thick skinned in this cruel business. And not only that, but in a sense, AFOT taught me how to live. (Shhhhh. We don’t know I’m this pathetic and cheesy.) AFOT was (and okay, it still is) my identity. The silly story built me into who I am today and, quite honestly, I can’t fathom the last six years of my life without AFOT. During all the struggles — family disasters, religious disasters (did you know I was raised Mormon?), a splenectomy (AKA having your spleen sucked out of four holes in your stomach), crazy (but beautiful wonderful) boyfriends (who I still consider friends), a thousand doctors, months of ED treatment, several moves, depression, loneliness, the usual fifteen year old’s angsty absurdities — AFOT gave me something concrete to stand on. It defined me.
I mean, who would I be if I hadn’t composed those silly Hayden in the rain scenes when I was just thirteen? What would I be doing if I hadn’t played around on Word, wrote that first paragraph, Audrey dialing 411 in search of a cab company at that smoke filled Coto De Caza party? Would I be who I am now? Would I even be GOING to Big Sur this weekend? No. No, I honestly don’t think so.
But none of this changes the fact that I firmly believe the book is unpublishable. I wouldn’t want it to be published. I can do better. It doesn’t portray my potential. It’s stilted from all the editing, still stuck in the mud of what I penned when I was thirteen, and the flow is all jacked. Plus, I no longer agree with some of the “ideas” the story portrays. The things I want to change are heavy, concrete, threaded in every page subliminally. And while I could continue revising, I know it’s time to set it aside. It’s done. I’m not giving up on the characters or the story, as I do plan to one day start back at page one and rewrite it, but when I do return to it (maybe in a few years?*), it’ll be to LITERALLY rewrite it. From word zero and on.
Farewell AFOT. It’s been a long beautiful and stormy road. I wish you luck. Forever yours, Momma. Side note: The only reason this photo is at all relevant is because one of the first AFOT scenes I ever wrote took place on this canyon road. Sigh. Good times, good times.So, where was I?
After I finished that AFOT read through and came to the above conclusion, it was mid-October. I still had time to get gritty and wordy before the Big Sur Workshop. So I stepped up to FIY. Oh dear, FIY. I knew you were a mess, you’ve always been a mess, but what a brutal mess you are. And I’ll be honest, that’s partly (totally) my fault. I kinda got a tad bit dismayed when a certain agent disappeared with no explanation. It led to a writing depression and blockage and I was frustrated (this was the second agent who’d shown severe interested, “loved” my work, and requested revisions only to eventually disappear with no proper rejection). And while I did work on FIY a bit last autumn, really loved the process, I was distracted by my agent angst. And then I moved to Colorado, where I barely wrote a thing. I was busy. I was in a relationship. I took a college course. I worked full time. I had friends. It snowed a lot. I let FIY brew, I told everyone the story was brewing. I was full of excuses. I’m a master of excuses when I need to be.
And so, last month, when I finally dived back into the manuscript of FIY, I was prepared for the mess.
FIY is a baby. While I started writing “scenes” for it in spring 2007, I didn’t write the first draft until late 2008. I tweaked it randomly in Berkeley, a lot actually, and then wound up doing a complete huge epic two-week spree rewrite in May 2009 for that interested agent. I’d originally planned to complete another revision last autumn in 2009 (with the aid of said agent’s notes) but ultimately didn’t. Like I said, the notes never came and I proclaimed I needed a break. So, FIY is only in its second draft. A second draft that feels like a first draft because it’s such a fresh draft.
Two drafts is not many (AFOT has had more drafts than I can count and I just went over THAT mess). So FIY is raw and messy and undeveloped and I love it to pieces but it is by NO means something I want an agent to see. I love the story. I can see its potential. I know that if I can pull it off, FIY could actually be something. And I’ve been deep in its clutch this past month. I can see my progress, see that I’ve done a lot, and moved far along in the story…
But my “progress”? Yeah. It only leads up to page 42. There are 320 pages in the manuscript and after page 42 it kind of deteriorates and becomes a big squeamish mess. The simple fact is that FIY isn’t done. It’s in its second draft, yes, and is “completed” at sixty-six something thousand words, but there’s so much that needs to be fixed. And honestly? I haven’t touched 70% of the book since May 2009.
It’s a very dusty manuscript.
So, am I ready for the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop? A workshop “designed for writers whose works are nearly ready for publication”? You know what? I think I am. As odd that may sound, after writing this relentless ramble in which I went off on how much my books suck, I do think I’m ready. I’m going to show up and just rock the workshop to my fullest. And while I don’t believe I’m necessary “nearly ready” for publication, I do think I’m at the right level to be attending. And come on. It’s a workshop. Meaning, I’m going because I know I need work and I want to learn and I want to grow and I want to jump into the fucking mud of criticism and roll around for a bit. I LOVE harsh critique. I LOVE having my work blown to bits. I’m not kidding. I love hearing the gritty truth about my darlings, so I think now — when I feel the most vulnerable and out of sync in terms of writing — is the perfect time to attend.
I’ll have thick skin. I’ll be open to critique. I’ll enjoy the ocean and the trees and not pass out from glee at being surrounded by my dream agency. I’ll listen. I’ll mingle. I’ll pretend I’m in my upper twenties and not still in the teens. I’ll write. Write a lot, even when it’s not flowing, and enjoy the experience. Hopefully, I’ll sleep. And drink lots of coffee. I do love coffee.
Plus, I’m going to be in Big Sur. Big Sur is rather beautiful. So, it’ll be impossible the have a bad experience, right?
* Confession: I have a full copy of AFOT printed and ready on my desk as I type this. I’m bringing it this weekend JUST IN CASE I get struck by sudden inspiration to workshop it. But shhhh. It’s a secret, because I’m DONE with it, remember?