On Not Giving Up: The Ten-Year Journey of Ready for Air

October 17, 2013 § 27 Comments


RFACoverWeb2Kate Hopper, author of the new memoir Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood, examines the pain and perseverance that we meet along the road to publication:

Just over a month ago my doorbell rang, and a FedEx driver handed me a thin package. I turned it over and saw that it was from the University of Minnesota Press, my publisher, so I tore it open. It was my memoir.

I started to cry. And let me be clear: I did not gracefully shed a couple of tears; I sat in my tiny office and sobbed. The dog came in and looked at me, sniffed my legs, wondering, I’m sure, what the hell was wrong with me. And I wondered the same thing: Why am I crying now? What’s going on? Yet, I couldn’t stop.

When I described this later, someone said, “Tears of happiness!” But that wasn’t it exactly. Yes, I was thrilled to finally hold my book—so smooth, so carefully designed—in my hands. I was relieved. But that wasn’t all.

I began writing this book, a memoir about the premature birth of my daughter, almost a decade ago. I spent a few years writing it and revising it. Then I spent a year or so having it rejected. Some agents and editors thought it was too dark, others said there was simply no market for it. One said it needed to be funnier. Another claimed the content was just too challenging. (Just so you know, my daughter is fine—she’s a healthy ten-year-old.)

Each time I received a rejection, I hung my head for a bit. A few times I cried. I often laced up my running shoes and went for a rejection run. And then I came back to my desk and asked myself these questions: Why have I structured the book as I did? Why is it important to have the hard and gritty parts of motherhood woven in with the beautiful parts? Have I written the best book I can write?

The answer to that last question, at first, was no. I knew I could do better, put more pressure on my sentences, cut scenes, expand others. I knew I needed to thread the various narrative lines more carefully through the book. I knew I needed to push myself as a character on the page, to make sure I wasn’t letting myself off the hook.

So I wrote the book again, from scratch. That took another two and a half years, but when I was done, my answer was yes, this is the best book I can write. Yet the rejections continued to come—the book, they said, was still too dark, too challenging, there was no market.

These later rejections didn’t make me hang my head; they made me angry. And there’s nothing like a shot of anger to convince you to persevere, which is what I did. I knew I’d find a home for the book eventually; I wouldn’t give up. But here is the thing: submitting and writing and rewriting are exhausting. Constantly hoping is exhausting. Not giving up is sometimes exhausting.

So last month, when I finally held that book in my hands, it wasn’t just joy I felt. All that other stuff came rushing out, too—all those years of trying not to be discouraged, of not giving up, all the energy it took to keep diving back into that manuscript. It all whooshed right out of me, and that’s why I couldn’t stop sobbing.

I realized I wasn’t going to get anything done in that state—I was a blubbering mess—so I laced up my running shoes and headed toward the river. I let all those rejection runs seep into that one, and then, step after step, I let them all go. It started to rain, and I shivered as I ran over the Mississippi River, picking up my pace. Then I shook out my arms, let out a couple of boisterous whoops, and pumped my fist into the air. Because all of that hard work was worth it.

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For more information about Kate Hopper’s writing, retreats and classes, visit www.katehopper.com.

 

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§ 27 Responses to On Not Giving Up: The Ten-Year Journey of Ready for Air

  • Melissa Cronin says:

    An inspiration! Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for this inspirational and encouraging story. I hope someday to sob when I see my published memoir.

  • laura tamakoshi says:

    Wonderful! I can feel the rain, the joy, the anger, the sobs, the exaltation. Congratulations

  • Thank you Kate. This is so inspirational and encouraging. I almost felt like weeping as I read as I’m in the midst of that same struggle. Just what I needed to hear today! I’ll be sure to pick up your book.

  • Sara says:

    I’m so glad your book has made it out into the world. We need “challenging” stories out there.

    “Constantly hoping is exhausting. Not giving up is sometimes exhausting.” In a very different way, I’ve done this, and yes, it is exhausting.

    One more congratulations on the pay off for all that hard work.

  • Judy Defeo says:

    Congratulations! Thank You for reminding me that it is worth it!

  • Sue LeBreton says:

    And I love how running helped. I have said on more than one occasion that I am running for my life. Thanks for inspiring us all to keep trying and believing.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience – well said and perennially timely for those of us endeavoring to persevere with our writing through the tough times!

  • Thank you for sharing your journey. I look forward to reading your memoir.

  • Linda Avery says:

    I have already read this and it’s a poignant, beautifully written story. Your book was recommended to me by my MFA faculty mentor this semester–but I had to pre-order it and wait for it to come just a few weeks ago. He also recommended your book Use Your Words which has become one of the most useful and helpful books about writing I’ve ever read.
    The inspiring message I take away from your writing is to “persevere.” This word, persevere, is also the tag word used by the non-profit foundation established for Neimann-Pick Type C disease, a genetic disease my son died from several years ago. I am working to use my words to tell my story and I am grateful for your memoir and wisdom as I work my way through it.

    • Kate Hopper says:

      Oh Linda, thank you for this. I’m honored that your faculty mentor recommended my books, and I’m so glad they have been helpful. Where are you getting your MFA?

      • Linda Avery says:

        Ashland University in Ohio. Thank you again…thinking I can get anything close to a complete book (and what I hope would be my best work) finished in the 2 1/2 years of this program is pretty silly. As William Stafford says “lower your expectations.”

  • Finding this post, today, was a synchronicity for me. Just this morning, I was revisiting my list of agents I’ve contacted about the memoir I’ve been writing for the last three years. While I’ve gotten some positive feedback (“I admire the writing but don’t feel passionately enough about the topic,” etc.), it’s not enough to hang a hat on, and I’m nearing the end of my list. There are only a couple more agents I have hopes of hearing something positive from, and I’m the most discouraged I’ve been since the beginning. I won’t stop writing, obviously. But I loved this book. I wanted THIS book to make it into the world–and before I get too many more gray hairs!

    In the midst of these reflections of mine, it was inspiring to read your story of persevering despite rejection after rejection, standing by the artistic choices you made. I don’t know if I would make it through ten years for one book, but if I did, I would certainly sob as you did. :)

  • Kate Hopper says:

    Thank you all so much for your lovely comments! I’m so glad that this has resonated with you!

  • Also, I wanted you to know I just bought your book through Amazon. I read the first two pages online and can’t wait to read more. Cheers!

  • AncesTrees says:

    Thanks for sharing your joy with the world. Glad your perseverence paid off.

  • This is so inspiring and honest. Thank you for reminding me that it’s okay if the road is long. xoxo

  • Suzy T. Kane says:

    What a great way to handle rejection–I love the “rejection run.” Encouraging article. Thanks.

  • I’m going to print this out and attach it to the next draft of my memoir.

    (By the way, I was two and a half months premature thirty-ever-increasing-mumbles years ago, and I’m alive and well, if a bit grouchy.)

  • Lovely! Thank you for giving me hope, as I am, right now, in that very cycle – I know I’ve written the best book I can write, and I’ve been hounding agents and publishers, raking in the rejections, trying to cling to hope. It is indeed exhausting, and it takes a lot of what seems like frivolous hope to keep submitting.

  • […] Kate Hopper on her memoir’s 10-year journey to publication. […]

  • Wow! I love this story. It’s so full of all the grit and grace of the writer’s life. Very inspiring both for rewriting and for stubbornly submitting!

  • […] the Brevity Blog, Hopper describes her difficult, ten-year journey to publication with this book. The manuscript […]

  • […] This quote is from a wonderful post on Brevity‘s blog last week, an article written by Kate Hopper, the author of a new memoir entitled, Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood. In it she details the process of seeking publication for her book, the numerous rejections and self doubt followed, finally, by success. This is a great little insight into the struggle that many writers go through, check it out here. […]

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