Exactly 5 years ago today I wrote ‘The End’ on my first finished manuscript. I remember having this indescribable breathless feeling, with the fullness of having done something significant on one hand and the emptiness of having no idea what to do next on the other. I remember just sitting there and staring at the manuscript on my screen and realizing it didn’t have a title.
I also didn’t have a pen name, or a brand, or a genre. I didn’t know what a query was or a pitch or a request or an RandR. All I knew was that I had a book, and no matter how much I loved it I knew from having taken creative writing classes that it was a first draft and that revisions would have to follow. I had heard something about writers’ groups being a good place to start and did a search for local writing groups and found there was such a thing as the Romance Writers of America and the local chapter met five minutes from my home.
I sent the most formal, pathetically tentative email to the contact person listed on Windy City RWA’s website and felt like I had won the lottery when she invited me to come to a meeting for free. The first three people I saw when I walked into the conference room were Tracey Devlyn, Adrienne Giordano and Kristin Daniels. Now, if you’ve seen these ladies, you’ll know why my first thought was. “Seriously? How does everyone here look like a romance novel heroine?” For a moment I wondered if being gorgeous was a requirement.
But then someone gave us a writing prompt and we did a writing exercise. The prompt had something to do with the heroine having a remote control she could use to control the hero. Everyone started scratching away at their writing pads while I panicked and pretended to write. And then these romance heroine lookalikes started reading out their scenes one by one. Scenes they had written down in a couple of minutes. Scenes that were so funny and clever they made me laugh out loud and struck terror in my heart. As if needing to be gorgeous wasn’t bad enough, how was I ever going to be able to write like this?
But this was also the meeting at which Tracey announced her first sale. There were flowers and chocolate and I heard my first First Sale Story. I learnt what The Call was. A real person who had written a real book and then sold it to a publisher for real was standing right in front of me. If there was ever a moment in my life when playing at being a writer turned into dreaming of being published that meeting was it.
The first thing I did after coming home from that meeting was open up my nameless manuscript and write down the title. The Bollywood Bride. I remember feeling like it fit. Just like I remember feeling like I had fit too. There was no logic to this feeling, the meeting had shown me how little I knew (I mean, everyone there knew the names of agents and editors, and the agencies and publishers they worked for), it had shown me how much of an outlier I was, and how very far there was to go. But it had also flashed my destination before me, and given me this sense that there was a path, and help along that path.
In the three years that followed, magically enough, the promise of that meeting was fulfilled in every possible way. Yes, there was a path, yes there was the most generous outpouring of help. That roomfull of women didn’t just look and write like stars, they lit up the night of my ignorance at every turn. As for the manuscript itself, nothing else about chiseling it into shape was as simple as finding that title. I rewrote it, wrestled it, begged for it to leave me alone, walked away from it, rediscovered it a million times over and loved it until it loved me back. The journey of starting to feel like I wasn’t playing at this writing thing that had started after I wrote The End made stops at innumerable more The Ends commemorating each one of the countless revisions. But the journey ended where I had wanted it to. And what could be better than that?
Today while I was contemplating the date and marveling at it’s significance to me, a younger writer I recently met at a conference emailed me saying she had decided not to write anymore because she felt like she would never find a publisher or readers. Of course I told her she was being an idiot and told her to snap out of it and just write. But I realized what a blessing it had been to write The End on a manuscript before starting the publishing journey, before worrying about who would buy it and who would sell it. Part of me mourns that I will never be able to write with that clueless abandon again even as another part of me feels relief that that degree of cluelessness is behind me. And while I wish that relief upon everyone who desires it, I wish even more that your The Ends come before the start of that journey.