Thursday, July 22, 2010

Forgiving Myself and My Writing

Elizabeth Gilbert’s birthday was the other day (July 18th). She wrote Eat Pray Love, the bestselling book about the author going to Italy, India, and Indonesia on a soul-searching journey after her divorce. The Writer’s Almanac had an interesting quote by Ms. Gilbert that I found thought-provoking.

She said that discipline, for writers, is “important, but sort of overrated.” She believes that the “more important virtue for a writer . . . is self-forgiveness.” She says that a writer’s “writing will always disappoint." She added, “Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn’t take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness.”

A while back I began sending out my futuristic mystery to agents. I was confident. When the first rejection came in minutes after I had emailed the query, I told myself the agent hadn’t even bothered to read the first pages of the novel and, equally important, she was but one agent.

While I was waiting for the other agents to respond, I continued researching query letters, agents, etc. I reworked my query letter (see my blog “Query Advice that Makes Sense” As each rejection arrived in my email inbox, I dutifully noted the date of rejection, added it to my spreadsheet tracking the rejections, and continued to send out queries.

Still the rejections kept coming. I blogged about “Rejections Limits & Moving On” ( I emailed more queries.

After about the 15th rejection, I blogged about “Abandoning Writing” ( Things were getting serious. I was contemplating laying down my pen so to speak.

In the midst of all this angst about being rejected, I started a new novel - a historical set in 1900 - that had been spinning around in my head for a couple of years. It wasn’t writing itself though. I felt like I was slogging through a dense patch of mud. I stopped writing for a week, but the main character kept whispering in my ear.

Then I read Ms. Gilbert’s quote. I had to think about self-forgiveness. I thought, “I’m not sure what she means.” What do I have to forgive myself for? I wasn’t the one doing the rejection. I had done my best and my best was obviously not good enough.

Then I asked myself, “Was that mystery the best you could do?” I answered, “I don’t know.” I do know that my writing improved with each book I worked on. So maybe it wasn’t my best. Maybe my historical would be my best. So I went back to writing. It is going slowly, but that’s more, I think, because it’s set in a foreign country in 1900 than my reluctance to write. I can’t afford to throw in a random piece of modern slang or put a modern convenience, like a toilet, into a house when those conveniences were unavailable. The research was, and continues to be, time consuming because the information I need about the time and city in which the book is set is practically non-existent.

In the meantime, I gave Ms. Gilbert’s words about forgiving yourself some more thought. Then, like the proverbial cartoon light bulb being turned on, I finally got it. My writing disappointed me because it was being rejected by agents (who weren’t necessarily commenting on my writing in the first place) but were saying that my book wasn’t what they were looking for. So I forgave myself for writing a book that no agent wanted to represent. I’m still waiting for a few agents to respond, but I’m being realistic and not holding my breath.

While I wait for the last few agents to respond, I’m moving forward with my historical. Will it be the best I've ever written. I don't know, but I hope so.

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