So where were we? Ah, yes. I was now a full-time writer. I had one year to prove I could support myself on advances and (hopefully) royalties.
After I started getting contracts in advance of writing the books, I became a disciplined writer. I maintained a set writing schedule, built around family and office hours. Suddenly I had forty more hours a week at my disposal. I should have been able to write a lot more than I’d written when I had a full time job. Right? Hmm. I found that when I had more time it just insisted on being filled – and not necessarily with what I was supposed to fill it with.
But despite that, I did eventually find my rhythm.
In the meantime, I was being challenged by my new agent. That was a good thing. She helped me see that I had the habit of bringing the internal/emotional conflict in my novels to a conclusion too soon, leaving only the external/action conflict to play out to the end. Well, I’ll be. She was right. Way too many chapters of external conflict only. So I learned how to keep the internal and external conflicts working together and resolving them both as close to the end of the book as possible. Major improvement.
And like I said, a good thing. Because my agent had negotiated a two-book contract with a second publisher. I wrote the first book for that contract and sent it to the publisher in the spring of 1990. Less than a week before the RWA conference in San Francisco, I not only received my first revision letter (9 pages, single-spaced), but I also got back my manuscript with blue pencil marks on every page. (So that’s how editing was done!)
I used to joke that every published writer’s greatest fear is that one day she will wake up and discover it was all a dream and she really can’t write her way out of a paper bag. As I stared at that revision letter, I thought that day had come. I really couldn’t write. And now publisher #2 would call publisher #1 and tell them, and publisher #1 would say, “By George! You’re right. She can’t.” Then both publishers would demand back their advances, they would pull my novels from the shelves, and my career would be over.
And it was in that frame of mind that I headed to San Francisco to meet with other writers, my agent, and the editor who sent me that 9 page revision letter.