Up until now I've felt kind of like a psychologist who just stumbled into this writing thing and has somehow gotten one lucky break after another (okay, the rejections don't feel that lucky, but the rest of it does.) I wrote a manuscript that was picked up by a publisher within a few months after its completion, the editing process turned out to be minimal and easy, and it's gotten great response and sold very well for a debut novel (from what I'm told). I've done book signings and events, even traveling to Boston. I've also written three other manuscripts with little difficulty, all of which are in various stages of 'play.' And still I feel like a 'dabbler.'
Now (through another series of fortuitous events), I've suddenly gotten strong interest in my Tulaby manuscript from a very important NYC-based literary agency, and they're even dangling potential buyers (BIG buyers) in front of me. The one thing they've requested is this: they want me to rewrite the Tulaby story to include a female protagonist, the argument being that 'in today's market', most buyers are women and stories are much more appealing to women if they have at least one strong, appealing female character.
It didn't take much thought (did I mention this was an important NYC-based agency?) to decide to go ahead and attempt to rewrite the 350 page manuscript, which I did over the course of one frenzied week. The approach I took was to expand the role of one of the existing female characters, making her as important as the other three main characters, who are all men. In the course of doing so, I rewrote and tightened the rest of the story, and wrapped things up feeling pretty good about the end result.
I finished the rewrite on a Saturday night (I have no life) and on the following Monday, I emailed the (very important NYC-based) agent with whom I'd been communicating and told him what I'd done. His comment was, "Wow...are you sure Twyla is strong and appealing enough to carry the ball as the sole female protagonist?"
Instantly, devastating doubt and anguish set in. Sure I'd made Twyla's character stronger, but was she strong enough? And appealing...well, suffice to say that Twyla is a late-50's thrice-divorced bleached blonde from Boca Raton who's come to Lake Tulaby to try and steal her high school boyfriend from his wife. Although we do see a more human side of her emerge by the end of the story, she's probably not someone particularly admirable. So what to do?
Back to the drawing board, where I reworked and rewrote, reworked and rewrote, progressively feeling worse and worse about the manuscript. Perhaps because I was darting in and out of the story to adjust different elements, it began to seem like there was now too much going on, and it was impossible to imagine that the reader would be able to follow the original storyline.
Depressed, I finally emailed the agent. He calmly advised me to set the manuscript down, chill out over the weekend, and call him on Monday. He reminded me that there was no deadline, and told me that he was certain the manuscript was going to be very appealing to publishers. In short, he's dealt with intense, neurotic, freaking-out writers like me before.
And do you know what? That's what I finally feel like...a writer.