Best-Laid Plans, or How It All Went Down in a Month

piles of paper with printed text and post-it notes laid out in three rows on a gray carpetediting chapters, December 2015

I’m a planner, a chronic list-maker. I use a paper planner, a digital calendar, and make weekly/monthly to-do lists on my laptop and daily lists on post-it notes that I stick on top of my paper planner. (I love the satisfaction of crossing things off.)

When it came to the novel I’d been working on since 2009, you better believe I was planning. In fact, I’d had to let go of a lot of planning in order to get to the final draft. Early, wildly optimistic, and possibly delusional plans were to finish it in two years, then three, then maybe five. Around the four-year mark I stopped labeling folders and Word documents with names like “novel-final.doc” and “novel-finalFINAL.doc” and “novel-FORFUCKSSAKEFINAL.doc.” I just put in all a desktop folder and called it “X.”

I let go of a lot of expectations, and thought I had a pretty good idea of how this next year would pan out. After a year of hardcore edits, I was planning on sending the manuscript out to my trusted readers in the spring of 2016. I was planning on spending this summer editing and polishing. I was planning, hopefully, by the fall, to start the process of finding an agent and eventually, a publisher.

On February 29, I accidentally left my cell phone in an AirBNB in the Bahamas, flew back to NYC, and eight hours later, checked my email to find a message from Barbara Kingsolver’s assistant saying they’d been trying to call me all morning, and to please call her office immediately. It was about the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, which I’d submitted a draft of my novel for on a whim back in October and figured I had no chance of winning. I called, using my boyfriend’s phone, and Barbara told me congratulations, the decision was unanimous, they loved my novel. I won the award, and with it, a book contract. What? Whoa.

I was too jet-lagged to feel much for the rest of the day except a dazed shock, but that night I woke up at 5 am and was like, Wait. Holy fucking shit. I mean, I’m 40 years old, I’d been working on this book for nearly seven years, thinking about gradually moving from the writing and editing phase to the business phase in the next year or two. I hadn’t expected it to happen so fast. All of sudden, it was time to build a new website, find an agent, take an author photo, start editing for publication, not to mention get my phone back – as soon as possible. It was time to stop dreaming about the book someday being out in the world, someday being read by others, and planning for the reality of being it out in the world – by next year. I’ll be writing about the journey as it happens.