when the waiting pays off

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Eight and a half years ago, I went to the coffee shop near my house, ordered a decaf coffee, and sat down with paper and pen. I hadn’t written in months and wasn’t even sure I had the mental capacity to still string together words into sentences. It was cold outside, February in Minnesota, streetlights illuminating silver streets and gray snow below. Stella was five months old, and I was exhausted beyond recognition. It seemed futile, in a way, to write. But I turned to my paper anyway, and began with this: Stella, two days old, tethered to a ventilator, wires snaking across her pop-can chest. And then this: my daughter’s too-small body beamed through the television set into my hospital room, a block away from where she lay, writhing on blankets, stretching her spindly arms into the air, struggling against something unseen.

Those images were the beginning of my memoir. Week after week I vomited out memories and images and random reflections until I had pages and pages of writing, writing that began to take shape. The following fall, when Stella was one, I returned to graduate school, and those pages became my Master’s thesis. A couple of years later, a full manuscript.

I found an agent and took a step back from the book as it was shopped around. And during that time away from the book, I realized what the real story was. I realized that it was a memoir about learning to live with uncertainty, a memoir about how narrative—stories—connect us to one another. I told my agent to stop sending it out, because I knew I had work yet to do on it. I printed out the 307 pages and put them to the side. Then I opened a new Word document and I started writing the book again, from the beginning.

In the five years since I had begun working on the book, I had (luckily) become a better writer. I also had a more intuitive understanding of narrative arc, a better sense of when I needed to go deeper into scene, or give the reader some breathing room with reflection or backstory or humor.

It took me two-and-a-half years to write the book again. In the meantime I was teaching and working on Use Your Words. I was thinking about craft, growing as a writer. I found a new agent, whom I adore. But still, I wondered whether the subject matter would still be deemed too difficult (even with our happy ending). Would I find someone who could see past the subject of motherhood and understand what the book was really about? There was nothing to do be wait, to be patient, to have faith that the book would fall into the right editor’s hands (and by “fall” I mean placed there by my brilliant agent).

Well, it’s happened. I’m thrilled to announce that my memoir (which I’m just calling the “memoir” right now because of a possible title change) has found a home with the University of Minnesota Press. It will be out fall 2013. Whoop! Whoop!

Thank you, Todd Orjala, for understanding my vision for this book.

Stay tuned, friends, for more information. And remember to never give up.

24 Comments

  1. Huge congratulations, Kate!

    What a great story about the benefits of allowing writing to take its time, and letting it sit while you figure out what it’s meant to be.

    And then putting the time in to *make* it what it’s meant to be.

    Putting your story in my back pocket, for when I need inspiration.

  2. Yay! SOOOO thrilled for you! We’re cheering you on from MI (with a little Prosecco) and waiting impatiently to read your memoir when it makes its debut! Bravo!

  3. that’s great news!! again, you’re an inspiration…. always. much love to you.

  4. Kate, congratulations!! Ýou’re such an inspiration. I am so thrilled for you. Now you can bring into your teaching and writing even that much more wisdom about how to hang in there. I can only hope to have even half of your faith and perseverance. All the best!!

  5. This is good news for all of us, Kate! I’m overjoyed!

  6. OK, Kate, first of all, you didn’t “luckily” become a better writer–you became a better writer through lots of hard work! Secondly, yee-haw! Congratulations! I’m doing a happy dance for you. You are an inspiration and I can’t wait to read your book!!!

    • Okay, Andrea, I realized after I wrote that that I made it seem like I bought a “better writer” lottery ticket. But you’re right. I worked my butt off. There. I said it. Thank you for keeping me honest! And thank you for the happy dance!!

  7. Excited for you (still smiling), excited to read the book.
    East coast book tour this time, please!

  8. Kate, my friend sent me the link to this post and it sat there for a week, while I’ve been buried in work and life. When I finally clicked over, I read the post in tears, because it found me at the perfect time. My memoir has been finished for a year. I’ve since had my third child and have just let it sit. I’m headed to a writers conference Friday, to have have the first 30 pages critiqued by an agent. I know the writing is good. But I’m wondering if I’ve told the real story. And like you, I’ve become a better writer. Parts of the book were written years ago. This post has helped me trust and respect time and distance.

    • Dear Angie,

      Thank you so much for your message and for stopping by. Letting our work sit is sometimes so good for it. I’m interested if, when you dive into it again, you will feel the need to write parts over again (which would be okay). But for now, enjoy the conference and your meeting with an agent. I look forward to hearing how it goes. (And if that agent decides to pass, send out queries to ten different agents. Someone will snap you up!!)

  9. Angie linked to this post on facebook and I too am in tears. I love how this post shows that patience and perseverance pays off. Too many people look for quick fixes. I am just getting back into writing after years of neglecting this part of me and find so much hope in this. Congrats!

  10. Congratulations, Kate! The last time I stopped by here after meeting you at AWP ’11, it was a different blog — how much happens in a year and a half.

    • Thank you, C. Troubadour! Great to see that you are back in Seattle again.

      It’s actually the same blog with a different name. My advice to writers/bloggers: Trademark. Trademark.

  11. This is so wonderful Kate. Congratulations! You continue to do so much for writers and I cannot wait to read your memoir.

  12. Congratulations, Kate! Your patience and vision are inspiring. I look forward to a good read!

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