Writerly Resilience & Novel No. 2

I won’t lie: The past few days of writing have required a healthy, heaping dose of courage. Why, you ask?

Because I’m finally returning to NIGHT GARDEN, the novel I started way back in 2015.

I know–that doesn’t sound particularly terrifying. But between now and then, my novel-writing life has been a roller-coaster-y one. When I started NIGHT GARDEN four years ago, I’d just finished writing and editing PROHIBITED, my 1920s novel. NIGHT GARDEN was meant to be my work-in-progress while I shopped PROHIBITED for literary agent representation.

There was just one kink in my glossy little plan. At 700 pages, PROHIBITED was literally twice the size it should’ve been. If novels can be likened to sharks, PROHIBITED was a whale shark instead of a sleek, speedy mako. 🦈

(Somewhere out there, at least my brother Hunter gets this metaphor.) But if you’re not so into sharks, here’s a visual: PROHIBITED’s first draft.

Image may contain: Lauren Michelle Peltier Derby

Yep, waaaaaaaaay too many pages in that stack.

So instead of gleefully typing my way through NIGHT GARDEN, I instead found my ensuing years occupied with word-slashing, re-writes, and re-re-writes. Along the way, queries for PROHIBITED met with rejections, partial requests, and a handful of full requests. Several lovely agents took the time to provide encouragement and helpful, substantive feedback. A few fulls are still out there under review, and I have more queries planned.

But even if PROHIBITED never nets an agent, I’ll always be grateful to it. Every novel I’d drafted before, I’d given a quick copy-edit, then abandoned. PROHIBITED was the first manuscript I faithfully massaged across years, around the margins of two international moves and several day jobs. It was the novel that taught me to edit myself. To approach editorial issues creatively instead of just grammatically. It taught me writerly resilience.

Now I have my little mako, at just over 400 pages. And there’s a lot of pride in the book it’s become. But it’s also a book that’s eaten 7 years of my life since its 2012 inception. And I’d be lying if I said the process hasn’t involved lots of weeping and teeth-gnashing. (Just ask my long-suffering husband, who at least pretends to listen to every mope-fest.)

The battle scars are real, my friends; I know now the blood/sweat/years it takes to make a book its very best. And it’s intimidating stomach-knotting, the thought of starting that all over again, when I don’t yet have the security blanket of literary representation. Jen Beagin expresses it well in her article, On Dogs and the Unique Hell of Writing Novels (the title of which says it all):

“This novel-writing business was for the birds, obviously, a unique hell I didn’t ever want to revisit. I told my friends, ‘If you catch me doing this again, do me a favor and throw a rock at my head.'”

But it turns out W. Somerset Maugham was equally right:

“We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.”

So last week, I prayed for courage and dug out my old NIGHT GARDEN notes. Pulled up the 150 pages I’d managed to pen between plastic surgery sessions on PROHIBITED. And over the past few days of writing, the fear has begun bleeding off, replaced by the joy of creating again.

But now I guess I need to invest in a helmet, because I have only myself to blame if rocks start pelting my head. After all, I specifically asked my friends to do it.

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