With movie version of THE HELP highly visible during this awards season, I thought about its road to publication. When I read Kathryn Stockett’s story of writing THE HELP and finding an agent, I was awed by her tenacity and faith in her story. My own luck in connecting with my wonderful agent seemed miraculous by comparison. As I read, however, I was struck one paragraph in particular:
“After rejection number 40, I started lying to my friends about what I did on the weekends. They were amazed by how many times a person could repaint her apartment. The truth was, I was embarrassed for my friends and family to know I was still working on the same story, the one nobody apparently wanted to read.”
I’ve been working on a manuscript for over four years. Sure, it’s been out on submission for a few months, but I re-wrote the story three times and revised extensively many, many more. I don’t even count the initial drafts or all the editing along the way. When I signed with my agent two years ago, I never imagined I had two major re-writes and a lot of revising to do before she was confident it was ready for submission. And all that time my friends and family kept asking if I’d sold my book yet. Even the other writers in the local RWA chapters looked at me askance when I said I was still re-writing.
While I didn’t go so far as to lie to my husband and sneak off to write, I was embarrassed that I was still working on That Story. As much as I believe in what I wrote, I avoided talking about it with everyone except my critique partner and my husband because I was sure the world was bored hearing about a novel that never seemed to be finished. It didn’t matter that it was “finished” in my mind a half dozen times. I understood that until it sold, my writing would never be more than a time-consuming hobby to my friends and family.
Kathryn Stockett’s success is an inspiration to any aspiring author. But for me, the feelings she had and the long, lonely journey she was willing to make—and share with the world—reassure me that the only failure is giving up on something you truly believe in and love. I'm not giving up on my writing and one of these days I may even mention to friends that I’m working on a follow-up story. Or maybe not.