Hard Lessons Learned on the Road to Representation

On February 17, 2021 (I Read Canadian Day, at that!) I received an agency agreement from Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. And I could barely believe it was real. But no matter how many times I tested it, by closing my email and reopening it, it didn’t disappear. It was still there. 

It was real. 

Tears filled my eyes as that single document instantly made all the hard work of my long – and often painful – journey of revising, rewriting, submitting, revising, (giving up) rewriting, revising, and submitting my manuscript all worth it. Someone loved my work! Someone wanted to represent me! 

Maybe one of these days I’ll share a more in-depth retelling of my journey – but today, that’s not what’s important, and I don’t have the energy for that anyway. But what I do want to share, while it’s still fresh, are the two main things I learned through the whole process. This is especially relevant for people who feel their journey might never reach a destination. I’ll try my best to make it concise, as I know you probably have little energy for extraneous things these days as well.

So, my two main learnings:

  1. Trust your gut.
  2. Pause. And adjust.

Trust your gut. Only you can write the story you need to write. Get it down on paper. Stick with it. Have confidence that you know your story best and that it will connect with the people for whom it’s meant. One of the reasons my journey ended up being so long (and painful) was because I didn’t have this confidence. I invited in too many voices as I was writing, voices belonging to people more experienced than me, voices belonging to people who I thought knew better than me. And I tried revising my manuscript based on them. ALL of them. One new idea sparked another new idea and before I knew it, my manuscript had morphed into a completely different story. And not in a good way. In a way that got it rejected when before, it had shown promise. 

Finish your work and be clear on its purpose before inviting other voices in. There’s always room for improvement, yes. Always. But that comes after. After you’ve told the story you want to tell and understand fully why you wrote it to begin with. That reason belongs only to you. Trust it. And write with the door closed.

This is a favourite quote of mine, by Barbara Kingsolver:

“Close the door. 

Write with no one looking over your shoulder. 

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; 

figure out what you have to say. 

It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”

And I have nothing more to add to that.

Pause. And adjust. You’ve heard it said, “Never give up!” You’ve also heard it said, “Know when to give up!” I’d like to say, “Pause. And adjust.” 

For my day job, I have the privilege of focusing my time and energy on personal and leadership development for staff at an LTC/retirement community. Even without all the extra work and stress of a pandemic, these people work their butts off. They are selfless and gracious and generous. (Let me just say, there’s a certain kind of person who chooses to work in LTC/healthcare and if they end up presenting as anything other than what I listed above, then I believe they have 100% been broken by the system. But that’s a topic for entirely a different time.) It’s these people’s determination, commitment, and constant giving of themselves to care for others that makes me often encourage them to create consistent spaces for themselves to reflect, absorb, and learn; and also, to get in the habit of pressing the PAUSE button from time to time. To step back and away for clarity and a re-evaluation of purpose. To see the bigger picture by rising up to free themselves briefly from the entanglement of the day-to-day weeds of tasks and responsibilities and deadlines. To determine if the direction they’re taking is still the best one. And to modify their attitude and/or approach as needed. 

We, dear writers, dear artists, dear humans, are also in danger of being broken by the system. We create and create and create, giving of ourselves over and over and over, often with little – if any – recognition or affirmation. Sometimes, we just want to give up. Sometimes we just want to walk away, leave it all behind, and find something new to fulfill us. But we can’t. Can we? Because we were wired to create. So instead of force quitting ourselves, let’s give ourselves permission to pause. And adjust.

When you’re frustrated, when things are not going as planned, when you think you’ll never arrive at your destination, take some of that wiring of yours and create space for yourself. Create a way to step back and rise up; free yourself from the entanglement of the expectations you’ve put on yourself, or that others have put on you. Seek clarity to re-evaluate your purpose.

Decide if the direction you’re taking is still the best one. 

If the answer is yes, maybe you’re just plain exhausted. Maybe you just need a little extra self-care. Maybe you need to find a way to pace yourself. So do it. And then, carry on. 

If the answer is no, maybe you still need a little extra self-care and to figure out how to pace yourself, but maybe you need to pause for longer. For quite a bit longer. Until you find that new direction. It might feel like you’re quitting. You might even call it that. But if you’re anything like me your wiring to create will pull you back. Eventually. Maybe in a month. Maybe in six months. Maybe in a year. Eventually has many timelines. But it doesn’t matter how long it takes, what matters is that when you feel that pull, you don’t just dive back in and pick up where you left off. First, re-evaluate your purpose. Then free yourself of expectations, self-imposed or otherwise. Finally, modify your attitude and approach to your work as needed. Then move forward.

That’s what I did. That’s what I had to do. After nearly a year of not touching my keyboard, the writing pulled me back. But first, I sought clarity, and rediscovered my book’s purpose. I changed my approach. I simplified and stripped everything down to the basics – no grand expectations. Just worked from the heart. Trusted my gut. And kept the door closed.

February 17, 2021 was the day I knew that I’d made the right decision to pause. And adjust. And that it was well worth the time it took to do it.

I wish you affirmation along your journey. And the courage to pause and adjust when needed.

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