"I just want this so badly," she said. "I don't think I've ever wanted something so badly in my life."
I could relate. I've said those very words myself before. In fact, looking back on my journey toward publication, I felt the same anxiety-inducing stab of hunger many times: the first time I ever finished a book, the first time I ever edited a book, the first time I ever sent out a query, the first time I got a partial request, the first time I ever had a full request, the first time I had an agent phone call, the first time I spoke to my editor . . .
Each time, the same thoughts turned over and over again in my head: this might be it, the day that my career finally happens. I'd be practically salivating over the thought of it, but also terrified. Deep down, I felt sure that this book, this chance, was my only chance.
It's only with a little bit of distance that I've been able to see how silly that kind of thinking really was.
The manuscript that finally got me an agent, and finally sold, was my fifth manuscript. Over the course of a year of querying, I sent out well over 90 query letters. If you asked me back in 2009 about my chances of snagging an agent with my then-current project, I would have shrugged--but told you that if it was going to happen with any of my books, it was going to happen with this one. After all, the book I was querying in 2009 was the best thing I'd ever written! I'd grown as a writer so much, and if any book was worthy of being my debut, it was this.
But the truth is, I look back at that book and blush. Oh, I don't regret writing it. I don't regret querying it either. It was a necessary step in my development. But compared to my writing now, it's not very good.
Had someone told me that later, I would grow so much in terms of skill and ability, I would have scoffed. But it's true! I'm growing even now. Looking back, I always looked at my career as a straight trajectory to an apex called "publication." But what came after was called "????" I couldn't conceive of a life beyond it, because I just wanted my book to sell.
In the Doctor Who episode "The Girl in the Fireplace," the Doctor falls in love with Reinette Poisson, a French courtesan. He visits her at various points throughout her life, while she's stuck living all the little moments in between. She says, "There is a vessel in your world where the days of my life are pressed together like the chapters of a book so that he may step from one to the other without increase of age, while I, weary traveller, must always take the slower path."
On the surface, that sounds very sad. But while the historical Reinette Poisson lived a relatively short life, that "slower path" was an incredibly rich one. She was educated, refined. She played the clavichord, acted, and sang. She was the mistress and dear friend of Louis XV until her death. If she had known the Doctor, it wouldn't have been as if the moments in between their meetings were meaningless.
And that's what I try to remind myself when I get too anxious about my career--about whether or not I've "arrived" yet, whether this is it, whether those years of trunk manuscripts were wasted or not. I'm hoping for a long career, one that doesn't peak with one book, my first. That means that there will be times when I stumble, and fail (failure is inevitable when you're learning!). That's okay, though. Like Reinette, I'm traveling the slower path. But I hope not to just walk it, but to rock it while I do.