It is finished… again. 😏
On July 1st, I finally finished the third full draft of STILL THE STARS, (formerly THEY ARE THE LAST). It was an oddly fitting day to do so, seeing as exactly four years to that day was when I decided to do my first Camp NaNoWriMo, and my project for that challenge was the earliest full iteration of this book. Everything’s a circle.
It’s become a tradition for me to blog when I finish a draft. I did so here for the first, and here for the second, and so I thought I should keep that alive, especially given what a journey in and of itself this particular draft was. This draft, almost everything changed.
The title is different, entire swaths of the plot were erased and replaced, the perspective went from 3rd person to 1st, and I introduced Piper’s poetry. Gone are a lot of the bigger sci-fi elements, and in their stead are more nuances about mental health and quieter moments between characters working through their pain. And all of it is peppered with really personal moments to me, some as small as a notebook Piper has, and some as important as a scene where she loses someone. It’s a radically different book, and I am so much happier for it. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what brought about much of these changes.
It all started with a rejection.
When I finished that second draft, I took a step back from the story for a few months, and then spent NaNoWriMo of 2017 writing a first draft of the second book in the series, which kept me busy until February of the following year.
That was when I threw myself into working on UNRAVELING LIGHT, and also did my first round of querying, sending the manuscript to 6 different agents. Looking back, I’m not surprised at all that the first five were unanimous form rejections. My query later was shaky, most of the story wasn’t as ready as it could have been, and I hadn’t even gone through it and done a proper edit. As much as it did hurt to get those rejections, deep down, a part of me knew I deserved them, because the book wasn’t where it needed to be yet.
But the sixth rejection was the first one in which instead of just saying “sorry, no thanks” an agent had something to say. While doing so kindly, she pointed out a number of the glaring issues with my early pages, which caused some intense introspection on my part. But the biggest takeaway was this—the book was too impersonal.
Those notes where what caused me to really rethink things as I headed into the fall. I submitted the manuscript for consideration in Pitch Wars, and was absolutely beside myself when one of the writers I submitted to in hopes of them becoming my mentor requested the full manuscript. As I waited to hear back from them, I finished publishing UNRAVELING LIGHT, which was a huge boost to my confidence. I was starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, I could make this whole “published author” thing work.
And then came what felt like a bit of a death blow. I didn’t get selected for Pitch Wars, and the devastation I felt after having gotten so close with that full request was so much. Almost immediately after, my grandmother’s health took a turn for the worse. But I persisted.
I went into November with plans for an entirely new take on the story. One that added poetry. One that would set the story’s start in my own hometown. I changed the POV to first person per the advice of my rejection I’d gotten months before. It would mean a whole rewrite, but I felt ready to tackle in. I was making incredible progress during NaNoWriMo. I was on track to finish the month out with a manuscript I was far prouder of, and which would have been my biggest NaNo word count ever.
Then I got the news Thanksgiving morning that my grandmother had passed away. To say I was heartbroken and depleted would be an understatement. She was my last grandparent, and as I wrote in a poem around that time, “losing you means losing the last person I came from”. I didn’t even hit 50K, and spend the next few months trying to pick up the pieces of myself and my manuscript.
With the new year, came a renewed drive to finish. I started talking more and more with an internet friend who to be completely honest, has become one of my closest friends through all the word sprints we have done together and all the encouragement we give one another. It gave me a sense of purpose and hope I didn’t know I could have again after losing yet another close family member. It took me what felt like forever, but I made it through. And this month, I saw the fruits of those labors. A finished draft at last. One I could not be more proud of. One I excitedly have begun to query.
I wouldn’t have guessed that a rejection would send me down a road like this with so much hardship, but paired with so much success. This draft… it is to a point where I love it. And while I know obviously there is room for improvement and errors to be fixed in revisions and more to be done to polish it, the meat of the story, and so many of the moments, are to a place where I look at them and feel proud of what I’ve done. If I am being honest, it is the first time a draft has legit felt like a book. That might seem a dumb statement, because duh, obviously my book is a book. But as the person so close to it, the person who knows all the faults of previous drafts and attempts… to be able to be this joyful about a finished product is just… oof, makes my heart wanna burst.
Right now, I’ve got more queries than ever out there pending. There’s no way of knowing if this draft will truly be the chosen one, but for the first time, I feel like I’m awaiting the replies with some confidence. Even if it ends up being straight rejections, I know I’m at least on the right path this time.
So for now, I’m stepping back a bit. Taking an Alteria break to focus on a few other things while I await word on these queries. As ever, I’ll be sure to keep y’all posted on things here on the blog. Prayers up that I have exciting news soon. Until then, thank you as ever to those of you following along on this strange and exciting journey. I’ll leave y’all with this encouraging reminder I got from one of my heroes while in the trenches of writing this draft…