Friday, March 16, 2012

That Second Manuscript

My first novel was published in June of 2011. I tell people it took between two and fifty years to write. The manuscript itself took two years, but I had been gestating the story for most of my life, as I listened to stories my mother told of growing up in a large family on the South Shore of Boston, in a weathered-shingled house overlooking a cove. I imagined what it would be like to have sisters, and then, what it might take to drive them apart and what might bring them back together. 

"Her Sister's Shadow" had deep roots and many branches: a mature tree, you might say, before it was reduced to pulp and sandwiched between two covers. I carried the story around with me for years, while I attempted to write it first as a novel (unsuccessfully, as I had characters but no plot) and then as a screenplay for a graduate program. (Screenplays are perfect vehicles for characters in search of a plot.) I loved my story, my characters, the setting... When it was being turned from a manuscript into novel, I loved the cover art and the revision process, and I have loved doing readings at bookstores and discussing my book with book clubs. 

And then it was time to start that second manuscript. 

What, I wondered, as I sat, pen in hand, staring at a blank sheet of paper, was left for me to write about? I had used up every one of the stories, character foibles, and interesting conversations I had heard or dreamed up over my lifetime, and I didn't have another fifty years to capture more. I have an agent and an editor who, while perhaps not begging for another novel, are hoping to see one. 

It turns out that writing a second novel is a bit like applying for your first real job. Not the job that your parents or friends helped you get, but the one you got all by yourself. 

My first job, which my father got for me, was as a collator at a printing company. Everyone in the office joked that I should have been paid by the mile, as my job often required me to walk around and around a table, collating pads of numbered invoices. I was thirteen. (Very Dickensian, no?) At fifteen, I took myself down to a local diner and applied to be a waitress. I was apprehensive, but knew (because I'd done it before) that I could show-up on time and do the work required. They hired me. 

I took the same approach with my second manuscript: I showed-up, on time, every day, and did the work required. I figured out where the story was set, who was involved, what they wanted, and what or who was standing in their way. It took most of a year, but I now have a second manuscript. It's still in draft form, but I think it just might take root. 

So, be bold, show up on time, and do what's required.