When Things Don’t Come Easily

Things always came easily to me. I mean in general. I’ve always had a lot of privilege: well-educated parents, middle-class upbringing, great school district. And I did well in school. I was always in the gifted/honors classes. I took APs in high school. I studied piano, and viola, and voice.

I excelled in math, and music, and science. Music came very easily, which is not to say I didn’t work hard at it, because I really did. But it wasn’t a struggle. I loved it, was told I was good, worked on it, was told I was great, tried out composition, studied music theory and decided to study music in college.

Here’s the thing, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to pursue a career in music, but there were other things I wanted to try, but had been too scared to. This is a problem for lots of people, I think. We’re told we’re good at things, and then, suddenly, when something is difficult we just don’t even try. We shrug our shoulders and say “well, that’s not for me.”

I was always afraid of writing. My confidence in that area was shot by the time I was a senior in high school. Hammered down by the previous three years of strict and rigorous classes, which were a bit like essay-writing boot-camp. I recently found a poem I wrote for an assignment in tenth grade. It wasn’t bad. It was about a girl sitting at a piano, feeling anticipation and hearing the music before she played. It was about that wave of nerves and the absolute rightness of playing those first few notes when everything is flowing. I got a D. I didn’t use enough adjectives. I didn’t tell the reader that it was a girl at the piano. Instead leaving an unanswered question of “why is this girl so poised? What is she nervous about?” It might be terrible. I don’t know. But I do know that that D made me feel like my ideas were bad and that I had no innate talent in that area.

But I did write. I wrote in secret. I’d go down to the basement, where my family computer was, and I’d write and write and write. I’d write stories and dialogues and dreams. I wrote for fun. I wrote embarrassing fan fiction, which I shared with only a few trusted friends. I wrote screenplays of movies I wish I could star in. Because that’s another thing I had been too afraid to try. I desperately wanted to be an actress or an artist, but I felt that because I didn’t audition for the first play my freshman year, I might as well not try at all. Because I hadn’t taken any art classes up to that point, I shouldn’t try now, because I’d be behind. It didn’t matter that I had been doodling horses since third grade, and could pretty well render anything that was in front of me.

I got to college, and something brilliant happened. I was a horrible fit for the music program. It was full of kids who wanted to be in the pop music industry. All of our assignments were to write drum loops and guitar riffs and to go to loud live-music shows. And, well, it wasn’t for me. So I changed majors.

I changed majors to playwriting. I was actually going to pursue this thing I loved. I got involved in theater. And once I was on a roll, I signed up for art classes, with actual art majors. I was unfazed. I took oil painting and printmaking and I acted in plays and student films. It was bloody brilliant.

College was ten years ago. (Holy shit, I’m old). And since then, I’ve had two jobs as a preschool teacher, I’ve gotten married, had kids, and become a stay-at-home mom.

Sure I had studied art and theater and writing, but I still hadn’t really gone for it. And then about four years ago, one of my best friends landed a literary agent. And suddenly all I wanted to do was ask her about her process, and about the industry. Pretty soon I was writing my first novel.

It felt great to be so into a story again. And since I had written a book, I figured, well, what the hell, I might as well try and get an agent. But I didn’t get an agent. This was not going to come easily to me.

So I wrote another book. And I got an agent. And it was a terrible fit. So I left that agent and wrote another book. That was hard. After feeling like Getting an Agent was the big goal and I had reached it, I was back at square one.

That next book also got me an agent. And we revised that book. I’m immensely proud of the work I did on it. I truly believed that was going to be my debut. I still loved my first two books, but this was my ticket to a book deal. We submitted it to publishers. And we got some passes and, mostly, we heard silence. That was so hard.

Harder still was the realization that that agent wasn’t a good fit. That I had one way I wanted to work and she had another. This time, leaving an agent was so much harder. It was awful. A kick in the gut. But while I was working with her, I had written two more books, the most recent of which, I’m back to querying with agents.

I feel like there are people on the outside, people who maybe don’t understand the process, who probably look at me, someone who’s been seriously writing and pursuing this dream and very open about pursuing it, for three years. Three years ago I signed with my first agent and shouted it from the rooftops. “I’m a writer! A serious writer!” But that next bit, that “I have a book deal!” announcement has yet to come.

It’s hard. Any writer knows that the path to publication is rarely a direct one. But still, sometimes I think “how can I be back to querying when I’ve worked so hard and when I’m such a better writer than I was when I wrote that first book?”

That’s the key though. I’m a better writer. And I’ll keep getting better. I have enough confidence in my work to take freelance jobs. Somehow I have the energy to bare my soul about parenting trials and tribulations. Somehow, I’ve kept going with writing novels, even though writing essays is now my job. That isn’t nothing.

And the big thing is: this might be my third time around with looking for an agent, but I know so much more about what I’m doing. I’ve struggled a lot to get where I am, and I’ll keep struggling to get better and to find publication. Because struggling is everything. Improving is everything. I’m hopeful about the future, and damn proud of my past, for doing things that scare the shit out of me.

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