I warm my hands on the doubled up paper cup of steeping tea, and people watch. Two young men discuss yesterday’s surf over coffee. The bearded one catches my eye and lowers his voice. I hear a whisper of a woman’s name and look away, pretending I was not eavesdropping. In the center of the coffee shop, a miniature Boxer quietly whimpers while her human reads a glossy covered paperback. Passing customers give her affectionate pats, and scratch her head. Excited by the attention, the pup leaps onto the sofa and surprises a patron with a sloppy dog kiss. The woman laughs, then checks her t-shirt, and the contents of her cup. Somehow she managed to not spill a drop. Other people stare into their phones. No one notices my subtle spying.
I am procrastinating. I should be revising the query letter and synopsis for my book, documents required for submitting my manuscript to agents and publishers. I’ve already drafted several versions, but I don’t like any of them. I hate this kind of writing. Limiting words to one page and being concise are not my strong suit. Add my inability to confidently speak about my story’s strength and marketability and it’s easy to see why my book remains unpublished. I’ve been working on this project for so long that I’ve almost forgotten the exhilaration I felt when I finished my first draft over four years ago.
Since then, I’ve enlisted the expertise of three editors, stripped my manuscript of 30,000 words, and agonized over changes to the beginning and the end. Finally publisher ready, I sent queries to fifty literary agents in hopes that one would ask to read my entire book. A dozen, or so, gently worded rejection letters have trickled in. But, for the most part, I’ve been ghosted. This is expected. A memoir is a hard sell, especially if you’re a first time writer, not famous, or weren’t raised in a cult. I wanted so badly to be the exception. But, so far, I’m not.
For weeks, I’ve racked my brain for a clever hook, something to distinguish my memoir from a zillion others. I ruminate over words and ideas day and night. In hindsight, writing the entire manuscript was easy compared to this nonsense. I could skip the drama, and go the route of self publishing. But wouldn’t that be giving up? I convince myself that first I must exhaust my options with traditional publishers. Now, I’m exhausted.
I have never doubted my ability to get shit done. My professional past had been successful. Setting goals, nose to the grindstone, and a strong work ethnic always got me exactly what I wanted. I was certain that if I applied the same formula to my path as a writer that my book would be picked up by an agent. But, creative endeavors are different. At least that’s what I tell myself. Otherwise, my inner critic will whip up all kinds of doubt. Maybe, I’m not a good writer. Maybe, my story isn’t so great. Ouch . . .
I can always count on fellow writers to encourage and support me. Sending out a fresh, new query letter, and anticipating possible interest, always gives me a boost too. But that tiny euphoria only lasts until a rejection letter arrives, or the comment of a virtual stranger stings my ego. Someone recently asked, “So, why would I want to read your book?” He wasn’t trying to be hurtful. He was genuinely curious. It’s the question that every agent and publisher want answered. I fumbled a bit and gave a reply so lame that I don’t even remember it. That moment was telling though. If I don’t know why someone would want to read my book, how can I convince someone to publish it.
I search my heart for the reasons I wrote my story. I always said I had something to say. But what if I don’t? Maybe the sole purpose of writing it was to work through the baggage I’d been dragging around for years, the crud that stood between me and happiness. It’s a great reason. But, it doesn’t have to be the only reason.
I want more. I want to hold the hard copy of my dream in my hand.
I sip my tea and take another look around. Everyone has settled into work. I should do the same.
I open my laptop, and rest my fingers on the home row keys.
I’m not giving up.