Journey’s End

Where do I start a story about the end of the journey of my first novel? I could start it a few months back when I received the last of a final trickle of (admittedly encouraging) rejections from agents. I could go all the way back to last year, when I first joined up for an online critiquing community, Critique Circle, and promptly forgot about it. Or perhaps two months ago, when I started getting involved by giving a few critiques to others.

It’s a scary thing, putting the baby you’ve laboured on for so long into the public eye. It’s different from your friends and friends of friends who beta read, because this is a test run where you ask, Will it read well? Will it attract readers?

I’ll admit, I had modest hopes for it. After all, a few agents had requested the full manuscript based on the strength of the first few chapters. Surely it would garner some interest. This wasn’t some rough, hastily pulled-together first draft. We’d been through a lot, this manuscript and I, from that triumphant moment when it emerged for the first time, full of holes and badly misshapen. There were the months that turned into years as I tugged and stitched and patched and added enhancements so it would resemble something respectable–before ripping it apart and trying again, multiple times.

But finally, finally, I’d shaped it into something I was proud of.

At the end of the critique cycle of one week, it garnered exactly two critiques. One was from a person who I’d managed to build up a pretty good relationship with after providing a few detailed critiques on his work. The other was from someone who didn’t even manage to make it through the entire piece.

Not a good sign for any kind of commercial hopes. Much as I’d hoped otherwise, and steeled to expect rejections by agents and people who simply have different tastes, I had to face the facts. It was solid writing with a bland voice. No matter how much of myself I’d poured into it–the love that demanded late nights after work, the social life that consisted of just me and my characters, or the tedium of combing through it word by word–my novel was still wholly unremarkable. It wasn’t distinctive or gut-hitting enough to get anyone’s attention.

I’d suspected it from the beginning, but didn’t want to admit it, because I didn’t know how to fix it. How does one suddenly gain an intriguing voice? So I focused on my characters, my plot, and even changed the point-of-view instead. I read book after book on good writing, read book after book of good writing, and refused to give it up–because it’s painful to acknowledge. It goes against all the messages of “Aren’t you a special little shining star cookie unique in all the world!” that we get since childhood. Except, if you don’t deal with the core problem, all the polish in the world isn’t going to do any good.

So now, almost three years after I first started working on it, I’ve decided it’s time to put my baby on the shelf. It’s time to move on; time to get serious about new and different manuscripts outside of this little world that’s taken up most of my life since the day I put pen to paper. It’s time to start exploring, and discovering just who I am and what I want to say.

But this isn’t a goodbye at all. Instead, it’s a promise. A promise that when I’m more experienced, and when I’m worthier of telling that story, I will return.

I haven’t given up, quite yet.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

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