88,931 and Done

Today I finished the largest writing project of my life when I sewed up the final hole in my second novel. The manuscript comes in at 88,931 words, which is roughly 300 pages of A4 double-spaced. Any way you slice it, it’s a serious chunk of writing, and it took me over a year to complete. Like most of my projects, finished and otherwise, it was in the piecemeal planning stages long before I sat down and began to commit everything into one document. Of course, it’s not really complete – it will undoubtedly be subject to untold hours of editing – but the biggest hurdle is behind me. Spellchecked (How does Microsoft Word not know tikka masala?), saved, and sent to the UK agent I’ve been casually working with for about a year and a half. Now comes the waiting. No first draft is ever anything remotely near publisher-ready, and I know the constructive criticism is coming. And I need it. But still – you invest so much time and effort into work that it’s never fun seeing all its flaws pointed out! 

Writing is both a comfort and a source of anxiety. No matter what life throws at me, no matter how disappointed I may be with certain circumstances, I know I have this dream and this hope. But at the same time, there’s always the nagging worry that nothing will ever come of it. After all, millions and millions of people want to be writers. I’m 29 years old now, and I laugh when I remember wanting to have a book published before age 20. A few years ago, when I polished my first novel manuscript, I wrote to probably 100 literary agents before one showed real interest – and this was with a pitch that won a competition at San Francisco’s annual literary festival, beating out dozens of others. Most of the agents never replied. Some gave outright form-letter or one-line rejections, which is totally reasonable when you consider they get hundreds of submissions a day, many from people who don’t follow their guidelines for formatting or who are utterly deluded about their ability. Four other agents asked for my full manuscript of my first novel, but never replied after that. It is frustrating (and skin-thickening) to the extreme. With the state of publishing being what it is, there’s a high likelihood of never getting a book deal even with an agent. But, eh, I definitely won’t get a book deal if I don’t start with the first step of getting the manuscript completed. And all you need is one bite. That’s it. You can get rejected a million times, but if you get one person to say yes, that’s all that matters.

(“Second novel, Kite? But you don’t have a first one published.” If that’s what you’re thinking, good point. With the state of publishing right now, if you’re a total unknown, you can be pitched to a publisher much easier if you have more than one possible book ready to go. That’s the agent’s plan, and I’m hoping that if this is good enough, the ball can start rolling. Publishing is a business, and doing business takes marketing skills. The idea of myself as a brand is foreign to me, but also kind of intriguing. Becoming a product and making yourself sell – that is the epitome of editing. Nobody cares about the little things. You find your tag line, your unique selling point, and you try to convince people within five seconds that you’re worth their time and money. It’s frightening and exciting and if I ever get that far I’ll be grateful.)

The book is a love letter to West London, with a protagonist consumed by fear of a mediocre and unremarkable existence as she tries to come to terms with her partner’s sudden disappearance. Certain scenes are based on real events, certain characters have shades of actual people, but it is truly a work of fiction. I love writing fiction for the power of creation – to form people I have never and will never know, but who can do just about anything so long as there’s a believable logic to it. All the what-ifs of real life, all the half-formed ideas and ambiguous situations, can play out fully just fine on paper.

I hope I can give you a follow-up to this. I hope this isn’t the end of the story, and that the work I’ve spent so much time on this past year doesn’t disappear into the ether. Here we go…

Working title is The Hope and Anchor.

By Julia Kite.