Have I ever told you about that time my agent said the first 100+ pages of my novel were unpublishable? Swear to baby black Jesus, those were her exact words: unpublishable. I was working at the Biscuit Mill in Cape Town that January day, popped out real quick for some sun and what I thought would be an encouraging chat with my No.1 champion.
Unpublishable has to be the shittiest word to hear about your writing. And yet…
I swallowed hard and said very little. It seemed smartest, even in the anguish, to just listen. Of course, she had valid points to back such harsh words. So I made myself listen. She also had some real fcn cajones laying it straight and bare-assed, just like that. No varnish. No saving face. Basically just: Hey, Magogodi. This sucks.
I got off the phone and gave myself a little pep talk. Keep going, I said.
Keep going meant a really fancy pizza and fine wine that night.
Cape Town will never let you down on good wine. Neapolitan Pizza? Meeehhh, Not so much 😂. The next day and the day after that, I heard my agent’s voice loud and louder again every time I sat to write. Going back to that project was hard AF—now I could see what made it ineligible, what made it “unpublishable.”
So I started all over again. Threw out all 100+ pages and got in on the ground floor.
Talk about humbling! And the smartest 100 pages I’ve ever burned through. Because here’s what happened: the newer novel came with clarity where the last draft had failed. I could feel a bright spark in the writing that I knew was missing in the first draft. AND I could feel something else I’d long ago intuited about my agent: I could trust her. If she could be that brutally blunt and straightforward, I could trust her to never bullshit me about my most important work: writing.
Moral of the story?
It’s January again. The anniversary of that call I had, learning about my unmentionables—my 100+ unpublishable pages. I learned a lot about what it actually takes to write a great novel: the willingness to burn through hundreds and hundreds of failed first attempts.
I also learned about hearing hard truths and how to keep going in the face of seeming failure.
And so, that’s what I’m doing and all I have to pass onto you: Keep Going. The book waiting on the other side of your “unpublishable” first draft is worth the fight.