# of literary mags submitted to: 1
# of hours spent thinking about/working on my novel: 1 (and hopefully more later this evening)
Recently I’ve been reading my diary from when I was nineteen and living in L.A. It’s bizarre and dizzying– like going back in time. I feel like I’m reading about a girl I used to know — someone I lost touch with ages ago.
And yet, despite how much things have changed, I’m also astonished at how some of my thoughts and feelings are just as relevant now as they were thirteen years ago. For example, here is something I wrote on April 15, 2000:
Here’s what I daydream… It’s really selfish. I think about how I want to write a book, and I imagine the praise it will get. I imagine the quotes … on the back of the book. “Langston writes a poignant and accurate tale. This book will change the way you look at (filll in the blank.)”
…I guess I’m just a selfish freak who yearns for that huge recognition. To finally have something that can assure me that I am…smart and special and really spectacular at something.
I still have this daydream sometimes. I’ve tempered it, of course, with a more realistic daydream of writing a book of which I am proud, getting it published, and enjoying some moderate success in writing. But let’s be honest, I would gladly take the praise and recognition, too.
When I was nineteen, I had no idea what my book would be about. I only knew the feelings I wanted it to evoke in myself and others, and the outcomes I wanted it to bring me. A lot of us have these vague daydreams. Instead of thinking about what we want to do as a career, we think this is how we want to feel. Instead of thinking about the specifics of what we will be doing day to day, we imagine spectacular outcomes, whether they are money, or fame, or prestige.
* * *
On Friday I got some very helpful feedback from a publisher about my novel. She said perhaps I’m having trouble finding an agent because it’s not clear whether the book is middle-grade or young adult fiction. If I want it to be YA, I should make my heroine a few years older and punch up the romantic elements. If I want it to be middle-grade, I might drop the age by a year or two and downplay the romance and angst.
So I’ve been trying to figure it out – what exactly do I want my book to be?
I want my book to be dark and a bit disturbing, but shot through with a ray of hopeful light. I want it to be mysterious and adventuresome and otherworldly. I want it to be a page-turner, but I also want it to have a deeper essence to it. I want it to be one of those books you can read over and over again because it feels like an old friend. I want it to be one of those books you can get lost inside. I want it to make people feel the way I feel when I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or Tuck Everlasting. I want it to be made of magic.
The question is, how do I do that?
My boyfriend told me yesterday about a husband and wife who were fighting over where to go on vacation. She wanted to go on a cruise. He wanted to go to Vegas. Finally they ended up discussing not where to go, but how they wanted their vacation to make them feel. She wanted to relax and be pampered. He wanted to gamble and have excitement. They ended up agreeing on a spot that was neither Vegas nor a cruise, but a place they could both have the type of vacation they were looking for.
Sometimes it’s important to think not about the where or the what, but about how it will make you feel and what you want the outcome to be.
Maybe those are the most important things to consider when you’re trying to figure out your career, or even what your life should be.
So I know how I want writing to make me feel. I know how I want my novel to make people feel. That’s the most important part. But that’s only the beginning. Now I have to decide how to accomplish these feelings and outcomes. Unfortunately, a novel is written with daydreams. At some point, you have to wake up and do the work.
I enter this contest every year. NPR’s 3-minute fiction contest. It’s fun.