When Writing Feels Like a Competition

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First off, I finally finished Draft(s) Three and Four of my novel. The fourth one was just to fix a small plot thing that I had found while writing Draft Three and couldn’t resist fixing before I sent it out to my readers this time around. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, but also not, and this post is pretty much to talk about why.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately as fellow writers’ manuscripts come in and out of my inbox that at some point, writing becomes this weird competitive thing. Especially coming out of a MFA program, where almost all of your friends want the same thing.

We’re a year out. It’s sort of hard to believe that we’ve been out for a year, and honestly, I’m still not sure what I’ve done with that time. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been feeling extra uninspired lately, and a little off-kilter. I’ve spent so much time thinking about who I was then and who I am now, and reliving many of my mistakes. That’s a post for another time.

But, right now, I’m thinking about my class as a collective. At the end, we scattered, the wind blowing many of us in different directions across the country (and maybe other countries because one or two have fallen off the radar). Some are published, some are teaching, some are writing blogs, some are making music, one for sure is agented, some are running amazing indie presses, some are living together, some are working in bookstores and in marketing, some are actively writing, and some have given up on writing altogether. For a short two years, we shared classrooms and airplanes, Pittsburgh and bars, cigarettes and tequila, jokes and tears. We gave the most personal bits of ourselves on the page, only to have other people critique us. And now, now many of us don’t share anything except Instagram pictures and short texts.

I try my hardest to keep in touch. I read manuscripts when people send them my way, and most of them are from my fellow children’s writers. It’s getting to the point where we all have manuscripts, almost complete ones, and we’re hyping ourselves up to query. Or, at least, we want to be querying.

As I talk to them about their desires for the future, I find I’m both happy and hesitantly disappointed. Jealous, really. Because though none of us will be the first from our year to land an agent–that honor has gone to one of my critique partners who is seriously a writing goddess–it seems like there’s a weird storm brewing.

Some of my friends from the program are actively querying, and I’ve been reading a lot for them–query letters and summaries and first ten pages and author bios. And as I continue to read, I panic. Because I thought I’d be further than this, thought I had finally found my footing in this damn novel, but, like all writers, I’ve experienced several setbacks.

I thought I had a strong manuscript, thought I was making good progress and getting closer and closer to querying. I say this all of the time, but this is the story of my heart. It’s the story of my soul. I would be all cliche and scream it from the rooftops so the whole world could hear it. I can’t. It’s scary, because I’m ready to share this oh-so-personal novel with the world, but the novel isn’t ready to be shared.

And as my friends continue to write and as they get more excited about querying agents, I panic more. It’s really freaking stupid to be honest, because it’s not like there aren’t a lot of agents out there, and the time it takes for me to get one isn’t a reflection on me as a writer. There are a whole lot of variables that come into play when querying–I’ve seen it firsthand, as I was an intern for an agent for the past year–and sometimes, it has nothing to do with the writing, and almost never the writer. (Unless they do something stupid, like not read the guidelines or CC several agents on one query.)

I know who my dream agent is, have a nice long list of ones that I feel like I could not only grow an author/agent relationship with, but someone who can help me learn, who will help me navigate not only my (hopefully future) writing career but also life. These are the ones who resonate with me not just as agents, but as people. I’ve read their bios and websites and their Manuscript Wishlist posts and their blogs and I can see my novel in their hands and trust them to make it better.

I don’t know, though. I’ve posted before about not rushing the process, about taking my time, and despite the urge that I feel to just send out my novel, I won’t do it. It’s just weird, because I don’t want to feel like I’m in a competition with my friends. When one of them (and they all will) lands an agent and then a book deal, I want to be happy for them. Their biggest fan.

So, for now, I guess it’s about the writing. Knowing that I’ll get there eventually, too.