I hear voices. I wish they were just the characters of my latest work-in-progress clamoring to share their opinions about a recent plot twist. But, no. Lately I’ve been hearing the voices of doubt and confusion and guilt to the point they’re blocking out the true voices of faith, wisdom, and peace. While I’m still learning to listen, I’m also quieting the noise so I can think.
The source of all this mental turmoil is a silly book. Well, not exactly a silly book but a story that I’ve been working on since the very beginning of my fiction-writing journey. The glimpse of a late-night diner waitress through a window while driving sparked a short story idea which grew into my first never-to-see-the-light-of-day manuscript and a few ideas about secondary characters who could turn the diner world into a series. I got connected with other fiction writers who soon critiqued my story about waitress number one back into a dusty drawer. However, in an experiment, I wondered if I could write an interweaving story about all three of the waitresses I had dreamed up…and that story was runner-up in a big contest in 2009.
Awesome. Except publishers had their women’s fiction slots filled for years and one agent kept asking me about my overall story question. (A question I had no idea how to answer at the time.) A writer friend suggested that I could pull the story back apart into three separate books and try to write them as straight romances. It felt like a lot of work, so I shelved the whole project and moved on to write two unrelated manuscripts.
Then on a whim, I picked up the character arc of waitress number two thinking—erroneously—that it would be easy to add the hero’s point of view amidst the existing scenes and slam-bam have a short novel length romance. It took more work than I thought but I was happy with the resulting story…which won the same contest in 2014…received requests for proposals and full manuscripts…and was also rejected over and over.
Since then, I’ve rewritten complete sections, rearranged scenes, deepened characters, revamped the opening, and continued to pitch the story idea to editors and agents. And continued to get rejections, with the “good” news that I’m open to resubmit if I rewrite it again.
All of which has led to my current paralyzing mental chaos after being rejected once again. What should I do with this story? These people? The series potential? This award runner-up and then award winner that’s going nowhere? Should I do the work in order to keep knocking on the traditional publishing door or make this the first in an indie-published series of my own? Should I start fixing it based on the input from the last rejection letter or should I get the advice of a few beta readers to see what they would suggest? Should I try submitting it to a couple small presses as-is or add another 10,000 words in order to meet the guidelines of a different publisher who would be a great fit? Do I even like these characters anymore and would I want to invest more years into their world? Should I toss the whole thing in the trash and call it a painful learning experience or should I…?
In the middle of all of the noise, I heard a whisper in my soul.
Be still. Set this aside and quiet the noise. And in the silence, I am finally able to think clearly. I’m reaching the finish line on a non-fiction project so that’s obviously my first priority. Then I need to dive back in to revise the rough draft of a book that will come after my next release in February. By the time that manuscript is ready and that series completely written, then—and only then—will it be a good time to decide which writing project to pursue next. God knows if, when, and how this story will have a voice of its own.
In the meantime, I have permission to wait.