THE BLOG
09/13/2010 04:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Making of a Novel: Gut Punched

My agent emailed about the 50 pages I sent her. The news is not good. Well, that's not exactly true. The news is sobering. She really likes the story, really likes the writing, but she's not convinced that this novel is the right novel to be writing at this particular moment in my career. I keep opening the email and re-reading it, to make sure I've got the news right. I do. And it's not easy news to hear. I love this story about the violin player and the music critic and this family in turmoil. I feel invested in it. I have reams and reams of research. It felt like a living thing -- moving and growing. The thought of setting it aside -- which is very different, I keep telling myself, than trashing it or shredding it or shooting bullets through it -- feels a bit like being punched in the gut.

I could disagree with my agent. I could argue. I could point out all the reasons I think she's wrong. But I trust her. I trust her implicitly. And in this crazy fast-changing publishing business, she's the only one who's 100% on my side. She only succeeds if I succeed (well, and her other clients, too) which means that her incentive for me to succeed is high. Why would I ignore that reality?

Students sometimes ask how you know when to accept criticism and when to ignore it. I tell them that if it resonates with something they've been secretly worried about, or if it confirms something they sort of knew in the back of their head but were afraid to admit, that they should consider accepting the criticism. If their response is more along the lines of, "This person has no clue what they're talking about," then you ignore it. My agent's comments strike a chord that resonates with something that's been in my head about this story -- something hard to name, but which felt like a small hesitation.

She and I will talk about it -- what it means to set a book-in-progress aside, what it means to choose a different project whose timing might be better suited to this moment, how I will do that, what benefits might result -- but I already feel the inevitability of letting go. I'm already planning how I will handle my grief and my sadness and my panic. My head is already swirling with other stories that have caught my attention. Ugh.

I set out to chronicle the making of a novel, and that novel might not be made right now. But I suppose this is part of the process, too -- letting go, finding a way to change course mid-stream -- and I suppose it can be an instructive part for people who've never experienced it, or who may be going through it now, too. So stay tuned. I have no idea what's coming....