I’m lucky today. It’s my turn to talk about the call.
For me, as is true for many writers, I think, the call was a part of a much longer process. My agent sent out my middle grade novel manuscript at the end of February 2014. By the second week in March we had high interest from one editor. She made an offer a few weeks later. Then a few days after that we had another offer. So that meant that the manuscript was going to auction. Whoa. On April 3, 2014, after many emails back and forth, as well as a few phone calls with my agent, I had a book deal. My the call was from my then-brand-new-to-me editor, who phoned me literally minutes after we sealed the deal. That moment was all about my heart racing, my breathing loud and dog-like pant-y, and my vocabulary instantly limited (Oh my gosh, Oh wow, Oh man, Oh oh oh…). It was spectacular.
But it isn’t what I really want to talk about here. I want to talk about, not the call but, instead, the calls. Plural.
It took seven years for me to get that aforementioned call from my editor. Seven years of revising, sending the manuscript out, revising again, sending it out again. Seven years. This is not long in the grand scheme of life, I know this, and it is not an atypical time frame for a first book deal either. But regardless of these facts each year, each month, each day, and, truly, sometimes each minute was filled with the deafening sound of the clock ticking and—this sense of longing.
My longing took up residence inside me, somewhere near my heart, lodged against the curve in my ribs. I felt it in my heartbeat, I felt it when I breathed. I’ve written about it before (here and here) so I won’t go on and on, but I do want to say that after a lot of contemplation and conversation, I finally figured out how to be with my longing. Much easier said than done, but so profoundly worth the effort. Because, in the end, longing is not a bad thing. It might not be the most comfortable feeling in the world (think a slightly-too-sharp object stuck under your rib), but if it is given a place to call home, longing kind of smooths itself out, and is even kind of sweet looking as it rests there. Longing lets us know what matters in our lives. It keeps our dreams in focus. It reminds us that we have hearts and minds and that they are beating and buzzing all the time.
It also reminds us, plainly and simply, that we are human. Each one of us feels longing after all. And if we choose to, we can share our version of it, listen to other people’s versions of it, and connect. Writers spend a lot of time alone, right? Of course, right. We need it to do our work. We even like it. But our secret, in my humble opinion, is that we desperately need our connections with other writers, and other people too. For me, this connection—and especially the one centered on longing—became, quite literally, a lifeline during this long process.
Those connections happened on a regular basis, in the form of calls and emails with my grad school-mates, my agent, my agency-mates, my local friends here where I live, my husband, my family, and even my kids. These amazing and generous souls kept me afloat as I worked and waited and worked some more. They offered me advice, ideas and critiques. They gave me support, empathy and energy. On more than one occasion, I lost faith in my ability to do this—this thing that I so deeply longed to do—and they told me: You don’t need to hold faith right now, I am holding it for you.
And after the call—oh my gosh—well, then there were more calls and more emails from those same folks who had held my hands, offered me their shoulders, and looked me sternly in the eyes, only these were full of congratulations, affirmations, and amazement that I had finally done it. I don’t quite know how to articulate this clearly and strongly enough, but these calls gave me a breathtaking understanding of the ways my writing, my community, my daily life and my very self are woven together. For all of those seven years that I had been working on my manuscript, I had also been building a life.
This epiphany brings me to my knees.
Tamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane will be published by Schwartz and Wade in August 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at www.tamaraellissmith.com andwww.smithwright.blogspot.com.