Most writers have heard of the 40,000 word slump — that point about half-way through a novel when you find yourself weighed down by writer’s block and questioning whether the project is even worth finishing. However, I find that I struggle more to maintain my enthusiasm later in the writing process than I do at 40,000 words. Half-way through a book, I’m still excited about reaching the end, even if I am having trouble getting there.
My battle comes after the book is written, after I’ve heard back from my critique partners, after I’ve polished the manuscript and queried a number of agents. Suddenly, I’m more excited about my next project and how I’ll pitch that once it’s done than I am about my finished manuscript. I think it’s because I don’t want to let myself get too worked up about anything when I know I’m likely to get several rejections before anyone even requests the full manuscript — and then there’s another round of waiting and probably more rejections before someone finally offers representation.
Sure, I daydream about that call from Mr. or Ms. Agent saying he or she loved my book and wants to pitch it to top editors and big publishing houses. But I’m also a realist, and I’ve heard enough from others who have gone through this process to know that it involves a lot of waiting, a lot of editing, and a lot of rejections. So I try not to get too emotionally invested. Instead, I focus on new projects so I won’t end up obsessing over whether I should have used a semicolon or a dash or whether it has been enough time for me to follow-up after sending a query letter. (Usually, it hasn’t, and I don’t. Agents get a lot of queries, and the last thing they want is more emails asking if they’ve looked at one specific email out of the hundreds in their inbox.)
But at the same time, I feel like I’ve lost enthusiasm for the project. I tell myself, okay, there’s nothing I can do now but wait, and then I immerse myself in something new and exciting. When people ask me how my book is, I’ll reply with something like, “Oh, yeah, I’m waiting to hear back from some agents, but meanwhile I’ve got this shiny new idea…” So, folks who have been here before, how do you maintain enthusiasm for a novel after it’s finished? Is there a trick to being cautiously optimistic that won’t make rejections seem completely soul-crushing?