Yesterday, I met with one of my students for what will be the next-to-last tutorial session before her graduation. She has a solid manuscript that’s ready to be marketed. I have no doubts about her abilities or her determination to leap into the world of publishing.
She, so steadfast up to this point, is suddenly facing the big bad world of publishing and finding it scary. To use the cliche, the little bird is afraid to leave the nest.
I know that feeling well.
Six years ago, a family of wrens built a nest in a fern hanging over my backyard patio, just outside my writing office window. When it came time for the fledglings to leave home, I was surprised to see that they still lacked their distinctive, up-turned tail feathers. Why were their weary parents forcing them to fly when they still lacked some of their essential steering gear? Dunno, but Mother Nature usually knows best. It was an all-day trauma of baby birds sailing out into mid-air under mama-bird’s insistent urging. They plunged, wobbled, and tumbled to the ground. My patio had a low stone wall around it for people to sit on. Who knew baby wrens were going to find this wall the Mt. Everest between them and the shrubbery where mama-bird wanted them to go? Some made it over. One little guy hopped up and down along the base of the wall, cheeping frantically for help. I finally succumbed to the “thou-shalt-not” transgression of rescuing him down the steps and into the grass. Of course, that’s when mama-bird returned for her last baby and then couldn’t find him. I was never so exhausted and never so glad to see that bird family disappear around the corner of the house and out into the big world. It was time for the little guys to head out, sans tail feathers, and take on the challenges of life.
Back when I was an unpublished student, camping outside my writing teachers’ offices either waiting for my tutorial appointment or just hoping to somehow soak up the aura of their published success, I came to dread graduation only because it meant I would no longer have a coach. I would have to do everything on my own in terms of fixing manuscript problems or even realizing I was on the wrong path. Although I was very well trained by the time I left the University of Oklahoma’s writing program, I didn’t feel confident.
A few weeks following graduation, I met my literary agent for the first time at a writer’s conference. We were chatting on a park bench and getting acquainted. I expressed some of my fears of no longer having my coach to rely on. The very wise Robbin Reynolds said to me: “You’ll have to stop depending on that crutch.”
Oh, the bluntness of the publishing industry! It was exactly what I needed to hear. From that moment, I pulled up my socks and got my professional on.
Through trial and error and through reliance on my training in the writing craft, I learned exactly how to evaluate my own ideas, how to gauge my manuscripts, how to untie the knots of plotting problems, and how to trust my story instincts as well as my professional judgment.
In the series to come, I’ll be sharing some of that expertise with you by showing you how to make your own diagnosis and what to look for in your manuscripts.
Fully feathered or not, we all — sooner or later — have to jump, wobble, and fly.