This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Amy Spalding, debut author of The Reece Malcolm List and one of my Anticipated Debuts for February 2013, sharing hers…
Guest post by Amy Spalding
I used to write for fun. I didn’t really want (or understand) real notes, and I had no idea how to actually edit. I had a blast creating stories and characters, and that was enough. I knew I wasn’t really ready to have these things published and I felt safe in that.
In the mid 2000s, I discovered Young Adult literature, and despite that I was really mainly interested in writing about people in high school, I’d never realized there was a whole genre for books like that. I fell for it, hard. I consumed books like it was my job. (Note: It was not my job.) I was excited about it. And I knew I wanted to do it, for real.
This wasn’t my turning point, though of course it sounds like it.
I buckled down. I tamed my ideas into real plots. I learned about word count and manuscript formatting. I exchanged my work in progress with a critique partner who scared the hell out of me with her talent, and discovered getting notes from someone you respect is the smartest gift you can bestow on your book.
People said getting an agent was a tough journey, but it just wasn’t for me. It was scary and the rejection stung, but within a few months I had a sleek and revised manuscript and the agent at the very top of my want list. Things were happening! Big shot editors wanted revisions! Things were really happening!
Aaaaand…then they weren’t. The book would get this far and then rejected. Again, again, again. This was when paranormal romance was at its hottest. I heard lots of, We already have our contemporary title. We can’t consider contemporary right now. We like it, but it’s quiet. We can’t buy a quiet book.
I didn’t know what to do because I don’t have a paranormal romance in me. I don’t have a big book in me. I like exploring the inner lives of girls and their friends and their families and the people they fall in love or like or lust with. This is what I like reading too! These are the stories I remember most from my own childhood. All I recall from Narnia is, I think, Jesus is a lion? But I remember Mary Anne Spier finally undoing those damned braids. I remember when Meg Chalmers awoke to her sister Molly’s nosebleed. I still think the swooniest literary moment is when Joe Willard writes to Betsy Ray, “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re a good dancer?”
So, I kept writing. I’d tried, several times and very unsuccessfully, to work on a story I couldn’t get out of my head, but this time I made it work. I was so, so proud of it. But then it went just the same way. A lot of people liked it. Some editors even said they loved it. But, quiet, small, contemporary, not edgy, etc.
I kind of fell apart. These books were what I loved. These books were books I would have killed for as a kid. And no one wanted them. The people who liked them didn’t even want them.
I cried a lot. I watched as all my friends got book deals. I felt ashamed and terrible, sometimes on a daily basis. I went to therapy. I escaped into other types of media because books were too heartbreaking.
I wanted to quit.
It’s hard to overstate how much I wanted to quit. But that thought scared me. Could I keep my writer pals if I was no longer a writer? Would people only look at me and see my failed dreams? Would I ever be able to be happy for other people without feeling sick about wanting something that wasn’t for me?
I wasn’t sure, but I also knew life wasn’t for hating myself at every turn. If the literary world had no room for what I loved, then I knew not to overstay my welcome.
So I quit. I decided not to write anymore. I put it out of my head that my first two books would be read by another soul.
The really annoying thing was, though, that it didn’t stick. I kind of missed writing. I really missed my work in progress. I didn’t know if anyone would want to buy it, but my friends—my insanely supportive but brutally honest friends loved it.
So I’d write a little more. I’d quit again. I’d write even more. I’d quit again. For, you know, ten minutes while I was in a bad mood.
It’s hard to explain how much I wanted to quit. I imagined the world in which an email would never contain devastating news about my talent—or lack of—in the middle of my day. I thought about never feeling guilty for rewatching all of Parks & Recreation Season 3 for the twenty-seventh time instead of meeting my daily wordcount goal.
But I couldn’t actually quit.
It wasn’t a big exciting moment when I accepted that. I didn’t immediately buckle all the way down and finish the draft. I didn’t feel like all the years feeling rejected melted away when an editor offered to buy both of those books that I’d thought were forever shelved. In fact, honestly? I still quit all the time. Mean-spirited review, I quit! Work in progress going badly, I quit! Quitting, I wish I knew how to quit you.
Actually, I’ve come to accept my love of quitting. It feels satisfying to tell myself I can just quit when something isn’t going right, because the truth is I know I won’t. The truth is I know I’ll take the time I need to get it together, and once I’m there I’ll keep going.
You know. Until I quit again.
Amy’s debut novel, The Reece Malcolm List, was just published this month from Entangled Teen!
- Buy The Reece Malcolm List at your local independent bookstore
- Add The Reece Malcolm List to your shelf on Goodreads
Amy Spalding grew up outside of St. Louis. She now lives in Los Angeles with two cats and a dog. She works in marketing and does a lot of improv. The Reece Malcolm List is her first novel, and Merrily We Roll Along is her favorite Stephen Sondheim musical.
Visit Amy online at www.theamyspalding.com.