It occurred to me that I haven’t yet detailed a timeline of what happened after the day my face went numb on my morning commute except to share that I found yoga, writing and a happier way of life.
In a moment of despair, I googled “MFA creative writing” and instead found a less life-altering and cheaper commitment than three years of higher education: an online Stanford University writing class titled “Novel Writing Back to Front” taught by novelist Caroline Leavitt. I typically suck at endings (blog posts or relationships) so it sounded like the perfect class for me.
Except I didn’t register in time. My heart sunk. “I just need to incorporate writing into my daily routine, like exercise,” I told myself. Did I do that? No. A month later, I was contemplating how to hold myself accountable when my phone buzzed with an incoming message. It was Stanford University. The universe had intervened. I was in off the waitlist.
The course had started. I immediately emailed the instructor to ask what I had missed. “Oh, nothing,” she assured me. “We’re getting to know each other on the message board. The first assignment is due Friday. Just 750 words from anywhere in your novel.”
Oh great, you mean the novel I hadn’t started writing yet? I got to work. Eventually those first 750 words evolved into the second chapter of my book. I used each assignment as an opportunity to deepen the storyline. And while I’d convinced myself I couldn’t possibly write the final chapter of a story before I had the rest of the plot figured out, I soon devised the perfect ending. By the time the class concluded, my novel was halfway written. In the two months that followed, I finished it. I devoted two more months to revisions and edits, with the continued help of Caroline, who doubles as a manuscript consultant.
“Start pitching it to agents,” my father (also an author) advised. And I did. All summer and fall. I had some nibbles, but publishing is a tough industry and fewer than three percent of debut novelists emerge from the “slush pile” where manuscripts from unknown writers linger. To take my mind off the disappointment, I started writing a second novel.
In November, I received the most thoughtful rejection in the history of rejections. Literary agent Barbara Collins Rosenberg loved my (first) novel, but thought she’d have a hard time selling it to publishers. She’d been following my blog and read about my second book in the making. “If you don’t have representation by the time you finish the second book,” she wrote. “I’d love to read it.”
I finished writing the second book in January, and in February, I re-pitched Barbara. She requested the full manuscript and a week later, she offered me representation on novel number two. Yes, my second novel written could be the first published.
Reader, I have an agent!
At any step of the way, I could have thrown in the towel. But I didn't let rejection interfere with my dreams. Even with an agent, the road ahead remains steep. However, with Barbara advocating for my story, I can worry less and instead direct my energy toward a productive use of time.
That is to say, I’ve started writing the sequel.
Chelsea Henderson is an aspiring novelist and recovering Capitol Hill staffer. When she isn’t sneaking time to finish writing her second book, she advocates on behalf of clean energy and environmental policy, reads, practices yoga, and single parents her perpetually hungry pre-teen boys. She also periodically contributes to her lifestyle blog, the Chelsea Chronicles and is intermittently good at Twitter.