On Not Giving Up: The Ten-Year Journey of Ready for Air
October 17, 2013 § 27 Comments
Kate 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.
For more information about Kate Hopper’s writing, retreats and classes, visit www.katehopper.com.