The Need for Taking Your Time

Wednesday was supposed to be my deadline to send Draft 2 to my critique partner. It didn’t happen. My work schedule was all over the place, I had to read and critique manuscripts/queries for other writers, and I was exhausted. All excuses. But what I forget when making deadlines for myself is that I tend to make them unattainable. I always rush things, and they end disastrously.

Take, for example, the novel I wrote for my thesis. During boards, when I had to defend this book, my child, and listen to critiques that, in the moment were helpful but looking back are now discouraging, I knew the book needed to be put away. I had been writing it, workshopping it, crying over it at Panera Bread with my writing friends and in my advisor’s office for the entire course of grad school. And when it was all over, I was proud of myself for being one of four students to turn in an entire novel before boards.

My life during that final semester of grad school, was amazing. I mean, I wasn’t working, so that caused me ~insane~ anxiety, but I was living on my own in a cute apartment with my even cuter dog. I was eating pizza and writing all of the time. I had multiple weekly writing dates with people in my program at various indie coffee shops across the city, had made amazing friends when we all traveled to Peru the summer before, whom I went to AWP with in D.C. I was accepted into and attended the MadCap Writing Cross Culturally Workshop in Gatlinburg, TN, where I spent four star-struck days learning from established YA writers like Leigh Bardugo, Julie Murphy, and upcoming debut ones like Nic Stone and Ashley Woodfolk. I got to eat lunch with Nicola Yoon and talk about her writing processes for Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star. And, on top of all of that, Dhonielle Clayton read the beginning of my manuscript and her critique was so unbelievably helpful and kind.

Back in the Burgh, we were doing monthly readings for the program. I found my voice that semester, not just in writing YA, but in finally writing non-fic pieces about past failed relationships, about my broken heart and traumatic moments. I read aloud and felt on fire each and every time. I found my group of my writers, and we danced Friday nights away, and did many shots of tequila before readings.

I’d never had a friend group like this, people who stayed, people who loved me despite my mess of a heart, how easily I cry, how much I feel things. The love and respect was mutual. Iceland was awaiting my arrival in a few short weeks, I was admittedly starting to develop feelings for someone in the program and it was scary and wonderful and terrible all at once, and somehow, I was the happiest I’d ever been in my entire life.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened once I followed the sharp bend in the road. The end was nearing. People were getting ready to move away from Pittsburgh to chase their own dreams, and I wasn’t excited for graduation. I was absolutely terrified. It came and it went, and it was a few months later when I woke up and realized my life had blown apart.

I stopped writing. I read through my thesis novel without really reading it. I had my heart broken, went to amend things, made it a thousand times worse, and broke it myself. I burned bridges, embarrassed people I respected, and cried more that I’ve probably ever cried in my life. (And honestly, that’s saying a lot.) I was depressed, living with my parents, had no job, no prospects of a job. All I had was this “finished” book.

Even though it wasn’t anywhere near ready, I needed so desperately for someone to say that all of this pain was worth it. That my voice was compelling, that in months when I felt like I could never be enough for anyone–as a friend, as a lover, as a student, as an intern, as a writer–this manuscript was exactly what they were looking for. I just wanted to be wanted in return. I wanted someone to stay.

I rushed it. I wrote a query letter, sent it out to a list of agents I had researched, and was not surprised or even crushed by the rejections. But then one of the agents asked for a full, and even though I knew this book was terrible, even though I’d done everything I’d been told not to do, I sent it to her in a haste. It was rushed and I’m embarrassed and still mad at myself for it. Needless to say, I never heard back from that agent.

All of this is to say that you shouldn’t rush things like this. Sure, sometimes, the daydream of being published and having my books on the shelf is so visceral that I can’t wait a moment longer. I get ahead of myself a lot. So this time, I’m taking it slow. I’m going to forgive myself for the missed deadline, and I’m going to keep writing this draft. I think this attempt will be different. Because this is the book straight out of my heart.

Hopefully, one day I’ll get to share it with you all.

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