I greatly enjoyed this post about keeping the faith by Jennifer Haupt and hope you will too. Jennifer’s debut novel In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills (Central Avenue Press) is available now. In Seattle? Jennifer Haupt will be in conversation with novelist Jennie Shortridge at the book launch for In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills at Elliott Bay Book Company on Friday April 6th at 7:00pm.
Create Rituals to Keep the Faith in Your Work-In-Progress
by Jennifer Haupt
I’ll never forget when I finished the manuscript for my novel. The first time.
Eight years ago, I sat in a cafe with a friend from my writing group who was also under the mistaken impression that her novel was fully baked. We clinked glasses of chardonnay and toasting to our imminent success. Six-figure advances! The New York Times bestseller list! Maybe even Oprah’s book club! None of that happened. Instead, all 35 editors who my agent sent my manuscript to said in one way or another: “Nope, this isn’t even close to finished.”
In fact, it would be a total of 11 years from the time I first stared at a blank “page one” on my computer screen until publication of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills. How did I keep the faith during all those years? The truth is: I didn’t, not at first. It was a daily battle that some days I won and some days, well, I ate a lot popcorn and guzzled ginger beer (my comfort foods).
There were many days during those first three years and beyond, if I’m honest, when I beat myself up pretty thoroughly for not writing enough or deleting more than I saved (despite Ann Lamott’s blessing to write crap). At some point, though, during the year after 35 editors rejected my manuscript, I realized I need to develop some self-compassion skills, not just writing skills, if I really wanted to finish this novel — and sell it.
I know, it sounds cliché to say, “Success is found in the daily process of writing, not just the end-game of publication.” I’m not saying having a publisher finally — finally! — accept my manuscript wasn’t cause to pop the champagne cork. But if you measure success only by publication, the odds are high you will be disappointed. You will, without a doubt, beat yourself up on a regular basis. Worst of all: you may quit long before you reach that champagne-worthy end goal.
Creating rituals, not just for writing but for a writing life, can be to keeping the faith in your work in progress (WIP). It was for me.
Beginning to write has become a mindful process: sitting in a leather Barcalounger, my designated fiction chair, lighting a candle, patting the head of my pink quartz Buddha, turning my amethyst crystal so that the eye is toward me, setting the timer on my phone for 30 minutes, taking three deep breaths.
I get very little accomplished, as far as putting words on the pages of my manuscript goes, during those first 30 minutes. I hold my mug with both hands, swirling coffee. I read a passage from The War of Art, which has become my bible. I write in my process journal, maybe puzzling a piece of troublesome plot or getting better acquainted with a character. These rituals are all signals to my soul and also, I believe, to a higher power — I call it my WIP muse. (You may choose to call it something else.) I am ready to enter novel-land.
These rituals, while they may seem unimportant or even obsessive-compulsive, served to keep me grounded me in my work during the past 11 years. They helped me to keep the faith. Hopefully, they’ll help you — or you’ll make up meaningful rituals of your own.
Jennifer Haupt went to Rwanda as a journalist in 2006, twelve years after the genocide, to explore the connections between forgiveness and grief. She spent a month interviewing survivors and humanitarian aid workers, and returned to Seattle with something unexpected: the bones of a novel. Haupt’s essays and articles have been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Rumpus, Psychology Today, The Sun and many other publications. In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills is her first novel.