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I am sitting in a coffee shop, staring out at the ocean and reflecting on life and writing and the nature of things. The reason I am so far from my natural habitat is the life changing event of launching my eldest child into independence. He is hanging out on a college campus getting initiated and registered, while I am face to face with reality once again.

Once upon a time this young man did not exist. Even after he made his appearance in this world he was, for a space of time, still an extension of me: under my control, subject to my rules, knowing only the things I allowed him to be exposed to. Now, he is a fully autonomous being, about to go his own way in the big wide world. He is a creator of songs, stories, and original ideas. The world will be different because he is in it.

At fifteen, his younger brother is also an autonomous being who thinks his own thoughts and creates his own chain of events. But, like a work in progress, he is still subject to revision and polish.

In the synchronous way of things, my writing is at the same stage of life as my kids. Once upon a time, none of my books  had existence.

If you write, you know how it is. A moment of chemistry, the meeting of ideas on the right day at the right moment, and a story is born. In the beginning of a new novel things are under my control – to write, or not to write. To allow this character to live and breathe, or to shut her up. And then, somewhere in the writing, the book takes on a life of its own. It insists on certain things, refuses others. My job becomes one of listening and shaping. Sure, I could insist on full control, but this stunts the writing just as it stunts a growing child.

Swimming North is complete, and has somehow taken on a life of its own, much like my eldest child going off to college. I can sign him up and help him pay his way, but what happens from this point is entirely up to him.  The book is crafted, shaped, completed. Queries have launched it out into a larger world, to succeed or not to succeed, while I look on and try to catch my breath.

The current WIP, like my second son, still at home, has a personality and a will of its own and is no longer fully under my control. It is my responsibility to work with it – to see its strengths and weaknesses, to shape and polish and redirect and prevent it from going down paths I know lead to disaster. And when it is complete, to let it go out into the world as well.

I have no intentions of creating any more children. Books are a different story, so I guess I’d better get used to this.

I’m sitting in the backyard with a cup of coffee and the remains of the traveling brownies (shh, don’t tell) looking at the very green world around me.  Lots of rain this summer, and the trees are happy.  Son Two has recently mowed the yard and it smells green and fresh.  Dragonflies are sailing around, bees buzzing.  Sadly, no humming birds, as the booming business we were doing in sugar water was commandeered by a colony of bald faced hornets and the entire operation had to be shut down.

Clouds pile up on all four corners of the horizon indicating yet more rain to come, but for this moment the sun is warm and this is a good place to be.

I’m cherishing this moment, practicing the art of contentment.  A difficult art for me these days, because I want things that are out of reach.

I want to write a brilliant book.  I want every agent I query to respond with enthusiasm, request that I send a full, and then offer to sign me up. I want a publisher and a release date, and my wonderful, magical book on the shelves of all of the book stores. While we’re at it, I’d also like to be independently wealthy and travel a lot. In the words of the rock band, Queen, “I want it all, and I want it now.”

As my friend Jamie used to say, “it’s good to want things in life.”  In case you missed it, the correct intonation of this phrase involves irony.  Wanting is a long journey from having, and most of us want what we can’t have. The reality is, the chances of getting what you want depend on what you’re after, which leads to my current problem.  In the whole laundry list of things I want, there is only one that I really have any control over – the part where I want to write a brilliant book.

I don’t quite believe that if I just keep writing and learning and revising I’ll write a novel that the world will fall in love with.  I do, however, believe that my writing will continue to get better, and that every book I write can be better than the one before it. This is not an immediate reward and there is no magic wand involved.  Long, hard work over a period of time will be required.

As for the rest of it, who knows? We’ve all seen the statistics on rejections: talented writers and beautiful books get passed over all of the time.  There are no guarantees in this business. And once an author’s books do make it onto the shelves, there are new hurdles, new goals, a whole new set of things to want.

And so I am practicing contentment. Here, in this moment, with what I have.

Attention: I now interrupt this Blog Post to redirect you to Deadline Dames, where Lilith Saintcrow puts me to shame with a moving and heartfelt post that reminds me, once again, of the realities of this writing life. Nothing I can add to that.

It’s been an interesting day.

Early this morning I took my eldest offspring down to the DMV so he could take his written test.  Yes, I am going to have to cut him loose soon.  There have been moments of panic about this, usually in the middle of the night.  What if he gets in a car wreck?  What if he gets lost, or has a flat tire, or his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere at 1 am? What if?  

But here’s what I know, learned the hard way by experience: you can’t live life by the ‘what ifs,’ because what actually happens is usually something you didn’t even think to worry about.  And there’s really no control over what happens anyway.  If you locked your kid up forever in their room in order to keep them safe, there would probably be some ironic tree that would fall on your house and take them out while they slept.  Or a prince might come a long and scale the wall, by means of the princesses’ long, long hair.  My point is, life is what it is, and both the the probable and improbable will happen despite your best efforts at control. 

As I write this, people are stomping so loudly on my roof that the windows are rattling. Normally this would be cause for alarm, but since there is a roofing project in progress, I’m trying to ignore what would normally send me out the door shrieking, “are you okay?”  This was another one of those ‘sometimes you just have to do it’ projects.  There is a long story here,  involving shoddy construction by the original owner and the unfortunate consequences thereof, and the project requires literally taking off a section of the roof and replacing it.  We were going to tackle this bit of fun and excitement on Monday, but the weather was oppositional.  It sulked, it stormed, it precipitated. Consequently, the weather for today was a topic of concern and debate.  There was angst, there was hesitation.  Should we do it now, or should we wait?  The contractor won’t be available again until the end of the summer.  What if, what if, what if?  And finally the decision was reached to boldly roof, a process which has been going on all day.

As for me, weaving in and out of the kid driving, the alarming roof noises, and rescue runs to the hardware store for roofing supplies, I’ve been working on a query letter.  If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know that this is not my first query letter, nor is it the first time this novel has ventured out into the world.

But this time there is an important difference.  The extensive and painful revision and restructuring process I undertook has paid off.  I love this book.  There used to be a little niggling doubt, a reluctance to let people read the manuscript.  Now I can’t wait to show it off.  I want to run around accosting total strangers and saying, “hey, you want to read what I just wrote?”  Consequently, when it comes to writing the query letter, the fear is deep and laced with a sense of responsibility.

There is so much to lose this time.  Don’t get me wrong: last time around I sent the novel out in good faith.  I truly believed it was ready to go. The novel wasn’t bad, the query was good enough to garner a partial read and some invaluable feedback.  But part of me really didn’t want to succeed because subconsciously I knew the novel wasn’t as good as I could make it.

Now I’m in a different place altogether.  I feel responsible to this novel – I owe it the best possible chance of making its way in the world.  Which means that so much more is at stake.  And I find myself lying in bed in the middle of the night, asking “what if, what if, what if?”

But there is no what if.  There is only what is.  Along with taking risks, and living life to the fullest, and writing the best story that is in me.

So that is what I intend to do.  (Once I get a green light from my absolutely fabulous query consultant – you know who you are.  I know you don’t want my firstborn child, or I’d be tempted to offer…)  When the query is ready, off it goes.  And I go back to writing, which means tackling Swimming North again.  Frankly, I’m looking forward to it.

Please feel free to share your ‘what ifs’ here in the comments.  Writing them for all to see kinda takes the energy out of them, I think, and opens the way for accepting both ‘what is’ and ‘what could be.’

“All experience is an arch where through gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades forever and forever as I move.”  Tennyson, from Ulysses

I’m sitting at the desk in my fully customized mudroom, reflecting on the nature of the Elusive Writing Goal.  This mysterious creature, the EWG, flits across every town in every country across the face of the planet.  It is a chameleon creature, ever shifting, ever changing, and has beckoned many a weary writer onward to an untimely death.  Some have ignored its enticements completely, enduring the consequences of  a bleak and unsatisfying life.  Others have quested to the ends of reality and beyond, losing themselves and their sanity in a never ending pursuit of perfection.

A problem, then, for the conscious writer.  What is the safest way to deal with the EWG?

Ha! Safe? If you consider yourself to be a writer, abandon the concept of safety at once.  Myth, my friends, pure myth.  We are risk takers, venturing off of the established paths.  We delve into the nature of human emotions, one of the most dangerous pursuits known to man.  We spin our minds and souls into words and send them into the public domain where anybody might read them. 

All in pursuit of the mysterious EWG.

What does your EWG look like?  Can you even answer that question?   When you think you have captured it at last, it morphs between your very fingers and slips away, hovering in the distance, daring you to catch it one more time.  

At the moment, mine has alighted on my shoulder and is singing promises in my ear.  Almost, it says to me, almost.  A little more polish on this manuscript, just a little more, and then you can send it out to agents.  

Even under the enchantment of the EWG I recognize the hidden dangers in this casual statement.  Agents.  A promise of rejection; a hope of validation.  And always, unspoken between the EWG and me, the hope of a published novel just out of sight around a corner in time.

I know that the instant I believe this MS is done, the sweet little EWG will grow claws and scales and become a dangerous beast.  Foreknowledge is not much protection, however, and so I linger in this phase of the almost done.  I am cherishing a sense of completion before the novel is complete, because when it is I will believe that it is not.

And still, even knowing, I will pursue the EWG into the weekend.  We will polish Filling in the Blanks, one word at a time.  And when this month is done, we will query.  That’s what it says to me now, and I am compliant, complicit, to follow the margin that fades “forever and forever as I move.”


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