I’m Grateful That My Novels Failed

Badzin130x222Welcome writer Nina Badzin, who is grateful for a dream that didn’t work out. She continues my guest writer series. Happy Thanks-giving, all:

In January 2007, when my second child was three months old, I started writing a novel. I imagined hardcovers, book tours, speaking engagements–the aspiring novelist’s dream. (I’m not sure why in my imagination, a writer only wrote novels.)

By the end of that year, I finished a book called The Friends of Ivy Stein. A woman from my Mommy and Me class, who offered to read it, used to work as a foreign rights agent before moving to Minnesota. The book had potential, she said, and she wanted to send it to a former colleague in New York. (We will refer to this colleague as Agent One.)

This was it, I thought. I’m going to be a writer. But in the four months I waited for Agent One to get back to me, I did very little writing other than a few short stories. I checked my email incessantly and obsessed about whether Agent One would ever read my book.

Finally the email I’d been waiting for arrived. “I’d like to set up a phone appointment,” Agent One wrote. Bingo, I thought. If it were bad news, she would have sent me an email stating exactly that. Instead, she wanted to speak on the phone.

The conversation started out positive. She liked my narrative voice and specifically said, “You’re definitely a writer.” But within minutes her tone changed. Ivy had seeds of a good novel, but the characters and the plot were not compelling enough. The reason she’d wanted to talk rather than email was to tell me that one of the story lines and characters drew her in more than any other part of the book. She suggested I keep one character, Jill, expand that story line and get rid of everything else. I quickly came up with a title–The Everyday Guide to a Joyful Life–and Ivy was history.

It felt good to work on a novel again. I was also thrilled that the short stories I had submitted to literary magazines while I was waiting to hear from Agent One were eventually all accepted. One of those stories was the first chapter of this new book, a fact that gave me confidence when I was ready to send out query letters for A Joyful Life.

Instead of trying Agent One again, I became a querying maniac. I researched agents and watched for the red blinking light on my Blackberry as if I had nothing else important happening in my life. (Just remembering that old Blackberry makes this story feel sort of quaint.)

There was a point when eight different agents had answered my query letters with requests for partials or full manuscripts. One of those agents (we will call her Agent Two) spoke to me at length on the phone and asked me to work on a revision with her exclusively. She wasn’t signing me, she said . . . yet.

I had an almost-agent! I worked on the revisions Agent Two had in mind and sent her my new and improved book weeks before my due date with my third baby. I was still in the hospital when I got the news from Agent Two that the revision wasn’t working for her. I had two choices, she said. I could rewrite the book for her one more time, or I could end our exclusive agreement and send this version to other agents.

I took a third option and put the book away. I had lost interest in Jill and her predicaments anyway. If I didn’t care what happened to her anymore, why would a reader care? Then I gave myself a writing maternity leave before starting another novel from scratch.

I wrote the first 25,000 words of about three new novels over the next year and a half. But I kept coming back to the same issue I was having with A Joyful Life. I couldn’t keep my own interest in the characters and ideas.

Enter the blogosphere. Every so often while working on these books, I would turn to writing blogs for advice. I became a regular reader of one in particular, a group blog called Writer Unboxed. When they had a contest in 2010 to fill their newest blogging spot, I decided to go for it. Although I didn’t win, I was a quarter finalist, which meant they would use of my contest submissions as a blog post. I submitted the other essay I’d written for the contest, “Confessions of a Query Letter Addict” to a different writing blog called Write it Sideways. Within a few weeks I had guests posts on two writing blogs I loved, but no blog of my own.

That quickly changed. On November 18th, 2010 I bought the URL with my name and the rest is history. I am so grateful for the writing life and routine that I have now, a reality that probably wouldn’t have existed if I had been able to get that first or even second novel published. I strongly believe that even if those books had made their way into the world, they might have been the last words I ever wrote. Those novels were not meant to be. Those agents weren’t meant to be. That’s not the kind of writing I want to do anymore.

What does the future of my writing career hold? I don’t know, but I’m certainly grateful that the answer is still full of possibilities.

Nina Badzin is a contributing writer for Brain, Child Magazine’s blog and a freelance writer with work in a variety of websites and anthologies, including The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and Mamapedia. She blogs at her personal site, www.ninabadzin.com, and lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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47 thoughts on “I’m Grateful That My Novels Failed

  1. Pingback: Gratitude For My Failed Novels | Nina Badzin

  2. I love this story. And as a Nina Badzin fan, I guess I’m glad your novelist career didn’t work out as well. I can count the number of gems I’ve mined in the things you write now instead of novels. Also, I have a similar story (though only one finished unpublished novel). I’m insanely grateful that my first path didn’t work out because this one I’m on instead is rocking my creative little soul. Life’s nothing if not surprising.

    • Thank you for such a kind comment! I feel the same way about your writing, as you know. And to think that you would ever have considered not doing the drawings and the shop. It’s seems like such a natural part of what you do. Sometimes it just takes time to have the courage to go in the right direction. I have some other little ideas up my sleeve that I want to explore. . . all writing related. Now I just need time!

  3. One thing I’ve heard from writer friends, over and over again, is that writing based on the prescriptions of almost agents almost never works out. So you’re far from alone. I for one am grateful you’ve stuck with the writing life through these inevitable ups and downs. I very much enjoy reading your blog.

  4. This was a lovely essay on the many roads available to those who love to write. I particularly liked: “I’m not sure why in my imagination, a writer only wrote novels.” Thank you for sharing the story of how you found a voice, format, and venue that brings you (and your readers) pleasure!

  5. Love this post – a great example of how (and why) failure shouldn’t be thought of as something negative. In many ways, it’s ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY (to help us grow, be, discover, etc). xox

  6. This is actually inspiring to me! I thing the writing world is filled with potential rejections, as well as potential successes. I think it’s important enough to put yourself out there, and sadly, I haven’t learned how to do that very well. Yet.

    • Oh yes, Tamara, there are probably more rejections than successes for writers at every level. I think we just grow thicker skin along the way and learn not to take either the failures OR the successes too much to heart.

  7. I love your story and admire you SO much for finding your space in the writer’s world. I suspect I may end up with a similar tale at the end of my journey (minus all the success – ha!) but find myself still stuck on the path of the novelist…for better or worse.

    You’ve accomplished so much, your words have reached so many; I’m proud to count you among the writer-friends I’ve made in this crazy process and grateful that this relationship has spilled over beyond the blogosphere.

    Keep it up, Nina. You’re a force to be reckoned with, for sure.

  8. That is such a reassuring post, Nina. My failure as a humor writer may indeed lead to bigger and better things. If only I didn’t have those troublesome few readers mucking things up for me! How dare they stand in the way of my complete and total failure?

    Seriously, though, your post quite well makes the valid point that when one door closes another one opens. Unfortunately the first door always closes on my foot!

  9. This is wonderful, Nina. I’ve seen you allude to your thoughts on novel writing before, but I didn’t know the background. I don’t have a novel in me at the moment, and I don’t think I ever will, although I know better than to ever say never.

    I’m so glad you’ve found joy, contentment, success and a voice with your writing. Cheers, friend.

    • Thanks, Shana. I definitely will not say “never” either. The fact that I still dabble in short stories even now shows me that the idea of fiction isn’t completely squashed in me.

  10. When I saw the title of this post, it reminded me of how I’ve often said that I’m grateful that I didn’t get into graduate school. Sometimes not getting the things we want leads us to things we really love. And even though it’s not always so clear in the emotional midst of rejection, all these things really are for the good. And thank you for writing about it so well, as usual.

  11. Nina, I also have some excruciating agent stories! It was hard for me for a long time to be happy that I ended up self-publishing – you can imagine – but, except for never getting rich or on NPR (lol), I’m so happy I did. There’s something so honest about showing your real face to the world, not cloaked behind others. I see that in you too. It’s always great reading your pieces!

  12. The writing life… like you mine has had many unexpected turns. Certainly never boring or predictable, and like you I’ve learned to try and relax and enjoy the ride and remember that as long as I’m writing, there are possibilities, maybe when (and where) I least expect them.

  13. I too, struggle with plot lines and moving a novel along….but I’ve discovered that I can easily move the story along with my character’s dialogue and action. The story is revealed through their words and how they interact with one another. I find this to be much easier that pages and pages of narrative. People are fascinating and their stories is what makes a story. So glad you were able to find your niche. 😀

  14. Nina, I think I’ve mentioned before you and I are on similar writing trajectories in our writing career. I too started our writing fiction (with far less success than you) and then discovered I LOVE writing posts, short articles and personal essays. I’m still working on the “making it pay” part, but in the meantime, I feel like I’ve found my niche. So glad you invested in the blog part.

  15. Isn’t it funny how we think we want one thing, but then life leads us in its own direction? This brings to mind a quote I love by Roethke, “I learn by going where I have to go.” So glad you ended up here–and not somewhere else–for the selfish reason that I get to read your writing regularly. xoxo

  16. This is truly inspiring! And gives hope to many aspiring writers that even if they can’t publish the book they wrote that they can still lead a writer’s life. Thank you for this post! It puts a lot into perspective.

  17. Pingback: Thank the folks who’ve rejected you–a radical suggestion for writers this Thanksgiving | Rebecca Klempner

  18. Pingback: Accepting Criticism: Something Every Writer Should Know | Typester

  19. Nina- I loved this! One of my goals has always been to write a book and just recently I realized that I am really more of an essayist/columnist. It is so interesting to make this mental shift. Thank you as always for sharing your perspective!

  20. Nina (and Jess),
    I’m super late to commenting here… but I want to say that I love hearing your perspective on the winding path that has become your writing career thus far. You certainly have the gift, and what I love and appreciate most is seeing you use those gifts best for where you are right now in life. You inspire me continually, both of you. Thank you. Cheers to writer friendships and to moving forward and onward!

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