It would pain me to begin this post with an overused sentiment (non-conforming is an elusive dream for me) so I’ll let the cake do it for me.
Now, the truth. I am deeply proud of my 2020.
This year, I lived an entire character arc. It’s very rare to accomplish something like that in such a neatly defined time period in real life, but I have done it. 2020 was the year.
Lisa Cron says a story is “how what happens affects someone in pursuit of a difficult goal and how she changes.” Have I got a story for you.
It begins with a gingham-designed Franklin Planner* in January 2020 because I had used the same girl power-focused Franklin Planner design for many years and as I told a friend in the early pre-COVID days of this year, “I want to change EVERYTHING.” My friend wisely reminded me that even if you change everything, you’re still there, thereby foreshadowing everything to come.
The thing I wanted in 2020 was very specific: a traditional book deal with a big-5 publishing company (I think it’s big-3 or -4 now, but I don’t really know and it doesn’t matter for the story). The book deal would be so awesome that I could switch to a part-time day job or at least plan for day job retirement within a year or so. Doing what I love for a living: that was the goal. Not the written goal, of course. The written goal was: “Finish After She Was Anne and send to agents.”
CHECK. I accomplished my [written] 2020 goal by April. And to be fair to the accurately-disparaged 2020, COVID had nothing to do with the rest of this story.
A traditional book deal is all I’ve wanted for a long time. It had gotten to that scary point when I didn’t think I could ever want anything different and nothing less or different could suffice. You can’t try for something that specific that long and settle for less. That’s what I thought, anyway.
I sent the novel to thirty-three agents. Query Tracker says you should not even consider giving up until you’ve sent it to at least one hundred agents, but what can I say? My story arc reached Act III before that.
Out of thirty-three agents, I only got twelve rejections (the rest did not respond at all), and only four of those were personal. The personal rejections all said exactly the same thing, and when the fourth one came, I could no longer consider the issue as subjective as they all try to tell you it is. It felt like truth. They complimented my writing—I can continue writing for decades on the kind things they said about my writing. The problem was the story. It wasn’t a concept of which they felt equipped “to make busy editors sit up and take notice.”
It was after that fourth thoughtful rejection that I calmly set aside the novel formerly known as After She Was Anne without a hint of despair. I’m moving onto the next, writing it with as much fun and joy as I can muster, and without any hurry this time.
Maybe that seems like the obvious next move to you. Maybe it doesn’t seem radical or life-changing at all. For January 2020 me, who’d already set aside another novel before this one, getting this novel rejected by my current agent and a number of others, was the death toll on the odds that I would ever be a novelist. January 2020 me did not possibly have the emotional fortitude to calmly set aside this novel and move on. It was now or never, this novel or none.
Thank God sometimes I’m wrong about that of which I am made.
I have been fighting writer angst much longer than this year, but this is the year I fixed it. I thought the only way to fix it outside of a book deal was to give up completely. I was wrong. Somehow this crazy, challenging year, including its rejections, led me to a balanced place I didn’t know existed. I should have known it existed. Elizabeth Gilbert told me it did in Big Magic. It’s a place where I still have writing goals (otherwise I only write when I feel like it which is never or only in my journal**), but I don’t despair. I don’t need a certain outcome, and I won’t starve because I’ll keep the day job. “My art” becomes a thing that makes me happy instead of a thing that makes me alcoholic. In fact, my goal for 2021 is much different. Robert Hass says “you can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.” My goal is something like that—to spend time every day doing this thing that belongs in my life. It “makes my soul happy” as they say, but I have to do it for the happiness to ensue. Thus, the goal.
To round out the list of things I accomplished in 2020 that make it, surprisingly, a year of which I am deeply proud, I also lost extra weight, exceeded my reading goal, paid off a credit card, and got a different day job. Basically, despite changing my New Year word from Revolution to “Radical Acceptance” sometime around July, I managed to make 2020 pretty revolutionary, after all.
*My 2021 planner is from my father-in-law and entitled I’d Rather Be Watching Friends. It’s my favorite ever.
**It’s really hard to explain how a person can love a thing as much as I love writing and yet never “feel” like doing it. Writing is not something I love like I love watching romantic comedies, Gilmore Girls, and Friends. It’s a freely chosen task, and tasks will always be tasks even when it’s a task you love, a task that makes your soul happy.