How long does a first manuscript have to “cook” in a drawer before we admit defeat? And, of course, by “cook” I mean, “gather dust”. Is there a limit to how long we can wait before we rewrite the first chapter? How do we revive personal passion for the story and the characters we’ve created – or is it better to let them quietly fade to nothing?
After all – we cut our teeth on our first novel. We learn grammar we forgot when we were twelve and we learn about hooks and plot devices and discipline and story arcs. We fight to make our characters real and their journey believable. Our first novel teaches us that we’ve got what it takes. Shouldn’t the accomplishment of writing a cohesive ninety-thousand word first novel be enough? After all, how many people, determined to dedicate themselves to that novel inside them, never get around to it?
The problem is, I sorta kinda fell in love with my protagonists and I can’t abandon them. I lived with Maggie, Ben and their families for over a year. I watched their story take shape. How can I turn my back on them, even as I plunge into the second book? Is it possible to bring Maggie’s story to a level where an agent may take an interest while working on The Growing Season? Is it possible to date two people at the same time? I don’t know, but I can find out. Because here’s the thing – as much as I love hanging out with Cora and Rose (the protagonist and her sister from The Growing Season) I can’t stop thinking about Maggie and how badly she wanted to fly. Don’t I have a responsibility to make sure she does?
When I began to write the story about Maggie and her romance with Ben Nakada at the start of World War II (she joins the Women’s Airforce Service Pilot and he is interned until they reunite in 1945) friends were eager to ask ‘how’s the book going‘. And I usually answered ‘not bad’ or ‘plugging away‘ or sometimes – rarely – ‘I don’t want to talk about it‘.
When I declared the book ‘finished’ I headed to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference and piqued the interest of a few agents. Friends then asked, ‘When’s it comin’ out‘ or ‘Is it published‘ and the wonderful ‘Have you sold the movie rights yet‘.
But they grew tired of hearing me say ‘No, not yet…I’m revising…it’s resting for a while‘. And they were definitely bored when I tried to explain how difficult it is to find an agent and to have a book published – that it can take years. My very well-meaning and supportive friends (and I mean that – thank you!) began to suggest self-publishing. But my reasons for avoiding self-publishing will wait for another blog post.
And so, here I am, almost three years from the day I walked into the writing group at Avenidas and said, “I know this woman who was a WASP…”
Fortunately, it’s that time of year when life’s pace slows. Four of the yoga classes I teach are approaching a month-long hiatus. I’ll have a few spare hours in the week to look over my research, read Maggie’s story for the first time in almost eight months, and decide, once and for all, what my next step should be. My heart wants her to fly.