My focus needs focusing.
You know why? Because I'm drinking a diet Coke that has been sitting on my desk for three days. I can't stop checking Twitter to see if anyone's mentioned me for #WW (Writer Wednesday) because I am just that needy, and because I used the word "focus" or some variant of it thirty-four times in my manuscript. Freaking THIRTY-FOUR times. (Granted, there are 119,000 words, so it's a frequency of only 0.000285%, but still. Thirty-four? Annoying as hell.) It's a sign. I need some focus.
My best friend is from South Africa. She says funny things, with her funny accent that for the life of me I cannot replicate, and she paints beautiful paintings. One of the more notable things she says: "Ohhh, that just made my ass go funny." She might say it if I tell her I just saw a cat get run over by a car (which I did), or if I tell her about smashing my finger in the door (done that), or if I tell her about these photos I saw online of this guy's leg after he had most of the flesh of his calf removed due to a terrible bout of flesh-eating Strep. You get what she's saying -- and your ass really does go funny when those images, those thoughts of "omigod" enter your brain. Right? (Maybe you're tougher than we are. My best friend is sorta squeamish, and it is rather like a party trick to say things that will make her blurt out, "Oooh, you just made my ahss go funneh." That's what her accent sounds like.)
There is definitely something making my ass go funny today: my manuscript is due at the formatter bright and early tomorrow morning. Omigod, you mean all this talk about turning this into a book is really going to happen? You mean, I'm going to be like the folks who have literally taken me under their wings in the last two weeks and pushed my Twitter followers into the triple digits, like Heather Hildenbrand and Megg Jensen and Angelina Kace and Tiffany King and Angela Carlie and Ashley Bray and Kara Helen, writers who have crossed over and are now called authors? Did you know there's a difference? Writers write. Authors publish. I'm freaking out a little, hence the lack of focus, and every time I think about the MS coming back to me in its finished form--yup, you guessed it. My ahss goes funneh.
So...yeah...after I wrote the post the other day about being afraid of stuff, I started to obsess (I do that) about another big milestone happening this year. I'm sorta turning...40. When I was in my twenties, I went through a divorce. I moved in with my parents, my then-3-month-old daughter in tow, until I could get my bearings, go back to school, get a job, all that. The woman across the street (super weirdo lady) had a bumper sticker on her crappy car that read "39 Forever." And guess what? She died. At 39. So she really was going to be 39 forever. I'm careful not to say stuff about not wanting to turn 40, because then I might jinx it and maybe I really won't make it to 40.
For my 37th birthday, I got a tattoo--William Shakespeare's autograph on my right forearm.
For my 39th birthday, I got another tattoo. This time, it's Joan of Arc's signature:
Maybe the tattoos are part of some lame midlife crisis. Maybe the desire to publish my book fits in there, too. I'm not getting any younger. And waiting for NYC to validate my existence is not helping the cause. I have to remind myself that this last year in the query trenches has not necessarily been a waste. I started querying a year ago Easter. Easter Sunday, in fact. The first one went out to Daniel Lazar at Writer's House. He answered me back in two hours and asked for the full. He read it, passed on it, told me to rewrite a few things, and then he'd reconsider. So I did just that, but I rushed it. I should've waited a month and brought in more beta readers/critique partners, but I didn't. I was panicking. I gave the MS another go-through, changed a ton of stuff, and then resubmitted. And he shook his head no again. Devastating. I think that one cost me two days hiding under the covers.
Things went on like this for the whole year. Suzie Townsend asked for a full (and I love her, so that was big). Then she said no. It sat at Random House Canada for three months, and I had high hopes because some important decision makers were reading it, one of whom told me that they liked it so far and were going to take it to the editorial committee. Then the rejection came in on December 12, and it stopped my life. Catastrophic is the best way to describe what it did to me. The kids tiptoed around me. Husband made pancakes. My youngest (6) wrote me a note that said I was the "best writer in the whole wide wrold," typo included.
A few other agents have asked for fulls, and partials, but most haven't bothered responding with even a thanks-but-no-thanks, the last of whom was just in February, an agent from Toronto. I was getting better at hearing no--not great at it, but better--when I started to consider the unthinkable: publishing it myself.
I don't know if you guys do this -- tell me if you do so I don't feel like the last kicker to be chosen for the dodgeball team, as per usual -- but writing anything can be very difficult if you slip into the mindset of No one's ever going to read this, so what's the point? My artist friends tell me that you write/paint/sculpt because you have to, because not doing it will eat you alive. Okay, so fine, yeah, writing keeps my Prozac dose lower, but moving forward with a project that is dead in the water? It sucks. NOW I feel energized, like there is something to write for, that I have to finish Book Two (and Three?) because someone might want it. Maybe. The point is, there now exists "hope" where before there was only "no."
I've stopped shopping for that perfect pen to use at book signings, stopped worrying about dyeing those new gray-ish hairs so people won't snicker at me being almost 40, and that energy has been redirected into where it should've been all along: in the words. Oh, and on Twitter.
I won't go on ad nauseum, but the thought of having the work out there is definitely making my ass go funny. And yet, I'm confident that the new contacts, dare I call them friends, I've made in this incredible community of writers and authors will make the transition easier, even if the book tanks.
And that, my friends, is enough to pull any sorry suck outta bed every morning. Now I'm going to go finish this flat diet Coke so I can hack at the word "focus" and send my baby for its day at the formatter. Tweep me: @JennSommersby.