Thinking “Why Not You?” in Your Writing Career
What does writing have to do with sports? Sometimes a lot. In 2016, I wrote a blog post about Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson, while in high school and college, was outstanding at both baseball and football but really wanted to play football. Unfortunately, he’d been told by coaches and experts that he, at 5’11”, was too short to be an NFL quarterback.
Then his dad encouraged him to go after his true passion. According to Wilson, his dad told him that he was just as good as other college quarterbacks and that though he was short, he had every reason to try to turn pro. He’d say, “Why not you, Russ? Why not you?”
I’ve been inspired by these words for years. When I decided to write fiction seriously, I went to school and earned an my MFA, I wrote practice novels, I hustled to publish short pieces. By January of 2016, I had a completed, polished novel called Harvesting the Sky. But the novel was about a botanist in Paris and a speculative plant. It was one-part thriller, one-part literary emotional journey. I was unsure where it fit in the landscape of publishing. Sometimes it struck even me as weird.
Thankfully, my husband is my number one supporter. He knew how hard I’d worked over the years. He’d patiently listened to my frustrations and insecurities. So, when I hesitated to send the manuscript to agents, he shook his head and said, “You should send it out. There’s nothing wrong with this book. You’re a good writer. Why not you? Why not you?”
The Bravery to Fail
That year I queried about 30 agents and though I received a handful of full manuscript requests, all agents passed. I felt devastated. Rejection after rejection tore me apart. I doubted my ability, I doubted the manuscript. I felt battered and lousy, like the crown would always pass to some other lucky soul, not me.
I was unsure what to do next. Get a book editor and hammer away at the novel some more? Try querying more? Give up? I did have a glimmer of an idea for another novel but the idea of starting over again was daunting. I took a break and focused on my gardening business for a few months.
Still, I had the urge to write. I’d always felt empowered when I did. Creating stories centered me, put me in a contented zone, a place where I felt like I’m driving a car to my destiny. Plus, writing stories is just plain fun. So, I decided to explore that earlier glimmer of an idea.
A New Creation
I’d been thinking about how it would be interesting if someone had a plant whose scent a person couldn’t inhale. We plant lovers are always reveling in the scent of a rose or lilac or daphne, but what if there were a plant whose scent was dangerous? Or made you forget the last thing you thought of? So, I decided to outline a novel about that. When I was done, I thought the outline was pretty good so I decided to write the story. After I drafted it, I edited it, again and again and again. And then my husband read it and I edited again. Then I worked with a book editor and other beta readers, and then edited some more. The more I worked on it, the more I liked my new creation.
You can guess what I did with The Forgetting Flower. When I felt it was polished and ready, I queried agents. And received lots of rejections. I even received apologetic rejections like, “Karen, I so believe in what you’re doing but I’m not the agent for this book,” or “I love gardening and I think I may be your reader but I didn’t connect with the characters.” Gawd, those replies hurt. The really near-misses.
Finally, a Yes
This fall, as I considered working with another book editor, I got an email out of the blue. The editor of a small publishing company called Magnolia Press said she “absolutely loved” the book and wanted to include it in her 2019 catalog. I was shocked. What day was it? When had I sent the submission? With other submissions in the last few months? At that point, I’d been accepting the fact that this novel too may never be published. Then someone said, “Why not you? Yes, of course, you!”
While it took longer than I expected, I will finally publish a novel next year. My husband was right. After being passed up during the first few rounds of queries, just like Russell Wilson was passed up in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, I was chosen. Someone saw my potential and invited me to join the team, to share my talent with the world. And though I’m not expecting to go to the Superbowl of literary fame, I’m now happy to have the opportunity to play the game.
If you ever see Russell Wilson play, you’ll notice his attitude is always ridiculously positive. He’ll throw an interception or a Seahawk will fumble the ball and he’ll run back to the sidelines clapping and yelling encouragement. The coach, Pete Carroll, is the same way. They’ve been made fun of for their titanium attitudes, their unwavering optimism. But their ability to shake off failures and move on is what has made the Seahawks mostly a winning team these last years. I hope that if you’re a struggling artist, you’ll remember that 2019 could be your year of “Why not you?” So don’t drop the ball and keep going!