I remember a couple years ago I asked my husband if marriage was what he expected. He said he hadn’t really thought about what it would be like beforehand, so he couldn’t answer properly. (Of course, I thought “Really? You jumped into a lifetime commitment without any consideration of what it would mean? How very…male.”) After a few minutes, he asked me whether it was what I thought it would be. I told him there was rather a lot more baseball than I had expected.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, I think we all have certain expectations of each step in the writing process. For those who outline, they may expect that once the outline is done, the writing part will be easy. Those who sweat out a first draft expect the editing process to go more smoothly than the drafting. Unagented authors frequently believe that having an agent will automatically take the burden off. Authors with a few books under their belts may expect their series will keep going. Reality, however, has a way of confounding expectations.
I don’t outline. I do expect that the editing process for me will go relatively smoothly, and most of the time, it does. Sometimes, however, an edit has completely confounded me. I know people whose publishers have folded with nary a word of warning. I have published author friends who believed they’d be writing mysteries forever and have switched genres or left writing entirely.
Three years ago, I got an agent. A great agent. But she couldn’t sell my book. And when I wrote another one, she didn’t like it. In fact, she said it was fatally flawed, couldn’t really be fixed, and I should move on to another project. So I did. Now, I am on the third revision (fourth version) of that project. She still doesn’t like it. It’s not fatally flawed, but she believes it needs a “complete overhaul.”
More than one person who has read the manuscript has told me I should just find another agent because the manuscript is publishable. I’m grateful for their confidence in my writing ability, but I have a feeling their comments come from their expectations of what an agent can–and should–do. I remember what my own picture of the future looked like before Jessica took me on. I thought “well, once I get beyond that step, everything will get easier.”
So what would happen if I left the agent I picked out so carefully? Would things get better? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. How do I know I’m not ready to leave? Well, I live in fear that she’ll give up on me, so I guess that’s a pretty clear indication.
Also, I have other options for this manuscript. I can try hiring an outside editor. I can think about further critiques. I can put it away for a month and look at it again later. It’s not dead, at least not yet.
Of course, what all that means is that at the moment I am starting over. New manuscript, career overhaul. Not quite what I expected, but then, life rarely is.