Today I’m going to reveal something that I haven’t wanted to talk about on this blog: I lost my agent. To make a long story short, he quit his job and started working elsewhere – he is no longer a literary agent. He did this for personal reasons, and I certainly can’t fault anyone for quitting a job for personal reasons, having done so myself numerous times.
Except that it sucks. For me, personally.
Because he was about to submit my middle-grade novel to editors. He had the list drawn up; he showed it to me. Random House, Scholastic, Little, Brown, Puffin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury, Macmillion — editors from all the major publishing houses were on there. He was actually going to send my manuscript to New York hotshots!! But he didn’t. Because he quit his job and is no longer a literary agent.
Which means that I’m no longer on the cusp of getting a book deal. Now I’m back to the drawing board. I have to, once again, begin the arduous and soul-crushing process of finding an agent.
I’ve been trying to look on the bright side of things. Maybe this was meant to happen. Maybe now I’ll find the agent I was truly meant to have. I’ve started querying again. While I wait to hear back from agents, I’ve been trying to let go of my disappointment so I can focus on finishing an adult novel I started a while ago.
But things have not been going well. First of all, because I’ve gotten rejected by a few of the agents I queried, which is depressing. (Others are taking their time getting back to me.) Second of all, because I’ve been hardcore struggling with this adult novel and unable to figure out how to finish it.
The other day, I shared the premise of the novel with my friend Daniel, author of the blog The Incompetent Writer. He pointed out some major flaws to the underlying structure of the story. And the thing is, he’s right. I knew about these problems, but I didn’t want to admit to them to myself because it meant a major revision. It meant scrapping most of what I’ve written so far and starting over, which I didn’t want to do. But now I can no longer deny it… It’s back to the drawing board with this novel.
So that’s where I am with all of my writing projects: slumped at the drawing board with a stubby pencil and a heavy heart.
I kind of hated reading the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (here’s a post I wrote about it), and I’ve forgotten much of it by now, but one part that resonated with me was the chapter about gumption.
Pirsig says that gumption (a spirited resourcefulness) is vital to the success of a task, but “gumption traps” can drain a person of their motivation (and thus their gumption). He suggests two types of traps: external setbacks and internal hang-ups.
Losing my agent was an external setback that drained me of some gumption. But now I’m also suffering from internal hang-ups. Getting rejected by agents and struggling to finish my latest novel… these things have made me worry that my writing is not good enough, that maybe it never will be good enough. Maybe I’m not smart enough or creative enough; maybe I’ve lost some muse or spark I used to have. And I worry that until I have a published book, I’m going to be seen as a fraud. Pirsig might say I’m suffering from the hang-ups of anxiety and impatience. And these hang-ups have zapped me of even more gumption, so that I often feel I’m lacking the necessary motivation and excitement I need to sit down and work on my writing.
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Pirsig gives several suggestions for dealing with gumption traps. They can be summarized in the following way: slow down, organize first, take breaks, use the proper tools, be modest, and let go of the pressures of time.
Good advice, though it’s easier said than done, particularly that last one. Plus, Pirsig warns that understanding gumption traps and how to prevent them isn’t enough to guarantee flawless motorcycle maintenance.
But there’s one thing that Pirsig doesn’t mention as a way to refill your cup of gumption: talking to friends and getting advice. Even though Daniel confirmed my suspicions that there was something wrong with my novel, it was also incredibly helpful and motivating to discuss my story with someone else. Hearing his thoughts triggered new ideas, and even though I’m still feeling low, talking to him gave me a shot of gumption. I also started thinking about new projects I might work on while I put this novel on the back burner, and it’s been helpful to discuss these ideas with friends as well.
I’m also motivated by the following quote from literary agent Claire Wheeler-Anderson, on writing: “If you have a whale of a time doing it, you’re probably not doing it right. It’s supposed to be hard work. Rewarding hard work, but hard work.”
This advice really comforted me. It’s nice to know that perhaps the fact that I’m struggling is not a bad sign.
And so, while I sit at the drawing board, I will do other tricks I know to increase my gumption: read, take walks, talk to friends, free write, and remember that there’s really nothing else I’d rather be doing.
P.S. Interested in reading more about gumption? Here’s a post I wrote about it 3 years ago.