2011: My Year of Firsts

I’ve been a writer my entire life, but this year I became a Writer—I stopped writing manuscripts and putting them in drawers and started writing manuscripts and sending them out the door. It has been a great year, and here are some of my personal first highlights:

I finished my first romance novel. I’ve “finished” at least three other (literary and women’s fiction) novels, but this one felt finished in a way those others didn’t.

When I finished it, I knew it wasn’t going to be content (like its predecessors) to live in a drawer for the rest of its yellowing, two-dimensional life, so I sent my first query. I even know who I sent it to, thanks to The Writer’s Scribe software I use to track all my queries.

Unsurprisingly (from a statistical perspective), I also got my first form rejection. It was not my last form rejection of 2011, either. Still, soon thereafter, I got my first genuinely encouraging, personal rejection letter (also, blessedly, not the last of the year). Okay, strictly speaking, it was not my first-EVER encouraging, personal rejection letter, since I’d subbed a bunch of short stories to literary magazines eight years earlier and been told that one was terrific but too much like Tom Perotta’s Election for them to consider publishing it. (It wasn’t. Really. Nothing like it. Still, I absorbed the compliment and moved on.)

Sometime in there, I got my first request for a partial, followed by my first request for a full. That was also the first time my husband had to peel me, hysterical with joy, off the ceiling.

Writing in near-solitude had become increasingly unpalatable, so I attended my first conference, sponsored by the New England Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. I went with a friend of mine who also writes romance, and I made some new romance-writer friends. I also had my first-ever meeting with an agent, who’d read the first ten pages of my book, not to be confused with my first-ever pitch meeting, which comes later. In case you are on the edge of your seat about how that first meeting went: Um, yeah, not so much. (Later in the year I did my first-ever substantive revision of the first fifty pages of a novel. Also known as rewriting it from scratch.)

To make up for that less-than-shining moment, at that same conference, I finaled in my first (informal) contest, a “scribble your pitch on this index-card and we’ll pick the three best and invite you to submit” affair. I had my first phone conversation with an editor and made my first submission to a publishing house as a result.

I went to my first—and second—pitch meeting, at my second conference of the year, the Romance Writers of America National conference. I got three requests—the agent I met with wanted two partials (by then I’d finished a draft of my second book) and the editor wanted my full.

Going to conferences and making romance-writer friends was such heady stuff that I couldn’t bear for it to be a twice-a-year thing, so I went on Twitter for the first time. There I met some of the coolest people I know and also reconnected with some people I’d met at conferences. I’d list all the people, but the list is really long, and I wouldn’t want to forget anyone. You know who you are, and I couldn’t do this without you. And that applies to those of you who have just happened to tweet that one much-needed supportive tweet at that exactly right moment. Or just been yourselves in your funny ways. Or yourselves in unfunny, lovely ways.

I also went to my first meeting of the New England Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, where I met more incredibly cool people, including several who made me feel a part of things from the very beginning—you guys know who you are, too.

All these firsts have been wonderful. And satisfying. And fun. (And I’m not excepting form rejections here. They can be wonderful and satisfying, too. Especially the excellent, succinctly worded, “Thanks for the look, but this is not for me,” as I’m a huge fan of brevity when it comes to form rejections. I DEEPLY appreciated that one. Says what needs to be said and moves right along.) Still, the really big first, the one that makes 2011 so fabulous (and again, couldn’t have done it without the peeps and tweeps), is that for the first time in my life, I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Yeah, there are some challenging days. Days when I am pretty sure I’d get similar results if I let my kids write the manuscripts. Days when I have four thousand words worth of ideas and only one thousand words worth of wrist endurance. Days when envy gets the better of me. But overall? First and foremost? 2011 is the first-ever year of being who I’m meant to be.