You've heard it a thousand times: "writing is rewriting." Yawn! But actually, it's so true that it's punch-you-in-the-gut frustrating.
I’ve documented the writing process of my first manuscript, Welcome to Straightville, ever since I started this website, and it’s a process that is still in motion.
In a nutshell, I started writing the book during a semester break in graduate school back in 2008. I worked on it slowly over the next few years before I decided that a writer is what I wanted to be when I grew up and finished a workable draft in 2011. I started submitting it to agents that fall and, after a whole lot of rejection, eventually signed with Stephan Fraser at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency the following year. I assumed Straightville would be available at your local bookstore shortly afterward.
Yeah…that didn’t happen.
The book went on submission and got plenty of good feedback that always had a “but” at the end of the response. “I like this, this and this, but here’s why I’m passing.” This happened a lot. It was around this time that I developed an appreciation of good red wine. Coincidence? Hmm… Also, I began to fear that the story I was telling would become dated. It’s a sweet love story and a coming-out tale set in a place where, well, you just don’t do that. But we’ve made some wonderful advances in equality since I wrote this book. Did the world need another book about a kid struggling with acceptance of himself? Were we past that as readers? The answer is of course "no, we aren’t!" It’s still tough. There are still people struggling, fighting, hating themselves…killing themselves. Any book that can show that struggle in a positive light is always going to be necessary.
Meanwhile, the rejections led to all kinds of great feedback from editors that helped me make the manuscript better. Steve would send it out to a few folks, we’d wait on that to trickle in, and I’d work the feedback into the book.
Time kept passing and I kept writing. I have since written two more books all the while tweaking Straightville from time to time. I attempted to be open about how it feels when your book doesn’t sell and focused on whatever new project I had at hand as Straightville lingered. Secretly, though, it’s always been my favorite of the books I’ve written, so I’ve never intended to give up on it. And it has gotten better. In fact, last summer I arrived at what I thought was the best version of it. We had another project on submission, so the new-and-improved manuscript hadn’t gotten out there yet.
Meanwhile, I started a brand new project late last year that I’ve kept busy with through the holidays. I hit the inevitable wall with it and had to step away, deciding to give Straightville another read while I shook off the struggle on the new book. It’s funny being a writer and creating these worlds. I’d been so engulfed in other projects since finishing that last revision that, as I reread it, I was excited to see what happened to these characters. I’d forgotten some of the changes I’d made. That’s always fun.
I edited as I went, fleshing out some weak scenes, punching up some dialogue, fixing typos. And I’ve arrived – yet again – at a new version of Welcome to Straightville that I hope to get into submission soon. It’s so very different from that version I queried with a few years ago, and I’ve fallen in love with it again.
As I said, I’m not giving up on this book. I adore these characters and the world they exist in. I look forward to seeing where this book ends up next and to the day I can finally welcome all of you to Straightville.