For about the past six months I’ve been telling people that my book proposal is almost done. I’ve been saying this the way you tell the kids you’re almost at the Grand Canyon once you’ve crossed the Mississippi. In my mind, I’ve been so close. I’ve known what is needed, and this seemed like enough to get the thing done. But each step has proven more timely than I’d expected. I’ve been stuck in mud.
When I finally got all 68-pages of it printed out and seven double-sided copies made, it was the day before I was going on vacation to Florida. I didn’t celebrate quite yet, but I was sooooo close. I could taste the margaritas. All I had to do was print out individual letters to the agents at the top of my list, collate everything, address labels, and then head to the FedEx store. (“Put as many brightly colored stickers on it as possible,” a friend whose been through this rigamarole advised. “And make sure they have to sign for it.”)
One of the agents – a good friend of a good friend – only takes online submissions, so I’d sent one to him that morning while I continued to monkey with the other stages. Within a few hours I got a reply. (If you are reading this and hoping to find an agent soon, please know – and know it deep in your soul – that for this guy to read my proposal in a few hours was a fluke and nothing but. He either owes my friend a huge amount in poker or was having an uncommonly slow day. Or maybe he got me confused with Joyce Carol Oates.) His comments were more than polite: Great writing. Astute ideas. But [which is where my heart sunk] you should change it a little. It doesn’t exactly look like a proposal.
A little turned out to sound like an awful lot. He outlined several changes that were not content related but which would be a major pain to shuffle. It was like manuscript Twister: Take this section and cut it in half; move half of it over there and divide the other half and put it under Part L, which should come after the second part of Part B in actuality. And so on.
My heart sank. My much anticipated vacation began to feel cloudy and cool. Who wants to sit by a pool knowing that there’s a giant stack of worthless manuscripts sitting at home waiting for you? Not to mention the $50 copying bill for paper that was going to end up in the kids’ drawing bin? Bah.
The friend who had introduced me to the paperless agent – an editor who I’ve long known should really be working in the diplomatic core, so calm is his tone, so sensible his advice – came up with a solution that met the agent’s suggestions without quite so many taps on the cut and paste commands. “That shouldn’t take you long, should it?” he asked, hopefully. (When he’s a diplomat, I can imagine him saying the same thing to Israel while a Palestinian delegate sounds behind him – That shouldn’t be too bad, should it?)
“No, I don’t think so,” I said, truthfully. But the problem was that I was calculating the time in real hours, not adding in the Kids Handicap. Kid Time is akin to how people operated in the Middle Ages. It has a syrupy quality to it. When you’re in the midst of it, it doesn’t feel like slow-mo, of course, because you’re with these hyper creatures and you’re picking up/bending over/trying not to scream/screaming/soothing/singing/feeding/driving. But when you compare your output as a worker of the contemporary world to what can be accomplished without all of that picking and feeding and screaming, well you positively feel as though you’ve been operating on another Universe. Or least a different continent. One much closer to the equator.
I should know this well by now, but so often – too often – I forget, convinced that I can pump work out as quickly as I used to, just like a 40-something guy estimates his points and playing time on a basketball court according to a reality that no longer exists.
The most glaring and comical example of this was the time when I took my kids, then two and four-years old, with me to xerox, collate and mail applications to three different writers’ retreats. If all applicants had been required to include a a short video of themselves completing the application, it would have been crystal clear that no one needed the retreat more than I. There I was chasing my kids around the store as they took apart the entire stand of greeting cards, opened doors on copy machines and pulled out stacks of paper, then ran behind the counter where the workers looked at them as though wild, biting ferrets had just been released into their store.
It’s been three and a half weeks since the negotiation for a new and improved proposal was hammered out. Is it done? Nope. But it’s almost done! Any day now. Really.
My calendar just laughingly revealed to me a commitment to speak at a nearby college for not one but four different classes over the next two days. (What was I thinking?) Then there’s the “light” article about ethics and fertility that’s due tomorrow by 5:00 (ideas? anyone?). So MAYBE I can get the proposals in the mail by Wednesday. Maybe. If no one gets sick. If school isn’t cancelled. If the cat doesn’t run away. If my head stays on my head. (Ok, yes, that was a typo, but I think it works. Too well.)