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“The Night Was Humid:” Breaking that Writer’s Block

October 20, 2012

My favorite movie about writers, and also one of my favorite movies of all time, is THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN. In it, Billy Crystal’s character suffers from a nasty case of writer’s block. For months he stares at his typewriter, desperately attempting to find the perfect first line of his new novel. “The night was humid” is the best he can do.

Billy Crystal has a good excuse for his writer’s block. His nasty ex-wife Margaret stole his first novel and made a fortune from it. He is so blinded by hate and self-pity that he is worthless behind a typewriter. (Back in the ’80s, kids, that’s how people wrote).

For a little while, very recently, I walked around saying “the night was humid” and shaking my head. This began at approximately 2:30 PM on Thursday, September 6th. This was the exact moment that my agent sent his pitch to the first publishing house. Yup, that’s right – my writer’s block coincided exactly with the time I went on submission with my first novel.

Going on submission with your first novel is an absolutely nerve-wracking experience. Honestly, I think it is worse than taking the Virginia bar examination while working full time, which was a treat I experienced in 2009. (I passed!). I hate those stories about writers who go on submission, and over the weekend an editor reads it, loves it, and offers a ton of money for the pleasure of publishing it. I know those stories are few and far between, and that some books will take six months to sell (but they do sell), but those are the stories that are told and retold. They’re the exciting ones.

I don’t know if I expected a sale in a crazyshort period of time, but the waiting took a massive toll on me. Every day that ticked by signaled disinterest, every rejection meant I had no talent, and every Publishers Marketplace deal reported was meant to taunt me. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat…and I couldn’t write.

After a lot of sniveling and self-pity, it occurred to me that I could rise above the stress of the submission process. This is because I have survived stressful situations before. In college, I was mugged and all of my notes stolen (incidentally; they were in my bag) the weekend before three of my final examinations. I received a 4.0 that semester. In law school, I literally walked through a blizzard to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Test when Case Western refused to cancel it. I was practically a popsicle when I arrived, and I scored off the charts.

The way I looked at it was that if I could handle those incidents, I could handle being on submission and writing at the same time. I mean, geez – being on submission is technically a great thing. I’m on submission because I am an agented writer. My agent is fabulous, and he loves my book. It’s going to take some time to find a publisher who loves it just as much, that’s all.  I just needed to suck it up and find a way to distract myself. PROMISE ME YOU’LL COME BACK, the book on submission, is out of my hands at the moment.

That’s why I am now focused on WOUNDED, my next middle grade project. This novel is about twelve year-old Shawn’s reaction to a brother who comes back from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. It gives a voice to military families, conveying that recovery from mental disorders caused by war is possible with a strong support structure. Yesterday I hit 15,000 words with it, meaning that I am almost a third done with the first draft.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still absolutely terrified about being on submission. I have simply  managed to separate this from the craft of writing itself. Thank God, because writing is such a beautiful distraction.

“The night was humid.” Yeah, I think I can do better than that.

 

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One Comment
  1. Hang in there, sistah! I like your pluck. Acknowledging that being on submission IS quite an honor, but is ALSO very stressful is right on. Good for you for jumping into the next project. It will save your sanity. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway. 😉

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