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2020 in Review: Writing My Way through a Pandemic

Here we are at year’s end. The pandemic mucked up so many plans and routines, but as I look over my shoulder at 2020, resilience shines brighter than darkness.

My novel “Sisters of Aguamiel” continues to be one of the most challenging intellectual endeavors of my life. My friends and family ask, “Did you finish it this year?” And I hear the “finally?” tacked on in their minds, though they are too kind to say it out loud. I thought this would be the year, but it’s still cooking.

I made four decisions that kept me from finishing it, and now, in all honesty, I’m glad. I had completed yet another draft (I’ve lost track of how many drafts I’ve done at this point). The difference was, the edges had rounded. I felt like I was holding something buoyant, something nearly capable of releasing.

Decision One

In June I decided to send my manuscript to a sensitivity reader as I’m “writing the other:” my story takes place primarily in Veracruz, Mexico, with Mexican characters. I was born in Mexico and spent time there in my 20s, but am not Mexican. I’ve also found Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl an invaluable resource.

The sensitivity reader’s feedback was so helpful, and I reworked a few scenes, combing through once again with a critical eye. I felt ready to query, and sent several queries to literary agents in July. Later that month, what a thrill—one agent requested my full manuscript. Though it was rejected, I was heartened that maybe, one day…

At that point I wielded my axe for one more revision. I hacked away at any remaining eye-candy darlings, and was surprised to find a fair number. There they were, loitering on corners, flapping their gums but not serving the plot.

Decision Two

August had arrived. Dead month for querying, so I let my novel rest and breathe yet again. I used the time to take a short story class with the marvelous Hannah Tinti, award-winning author and founder of One Story magazine ( Between work on my manuscript, short story ideas have been percolating. The class was amazing, and opened up a new toolbox of strategies for story writing. I’ve since written a couple of short stories related to the pandemic.

Decision Three

The latter part of the year, between pecking away at revisions, I revamped my website and prepped for a newsletter launch: The OWL Letter, inspiration for the Older Writer’s Life (sign up on my website—it’s free!). These projects took much more time and energy than I would have imagined, but time well spent. I also dove back into Twitter as a resource for connecting with other writers.

Decision Four

After completing the next phase of revisions, I sent my updated manuscript to three beta readers. I’ve received feedback from two, and am awaiting the third. Their commentary has already exceeded my expectations, as far as key areas to strengthen/clarify/fine-tune (and also an encouraging dose of praise). Of course with the feedback comes a humbling sense of “Wow, I have more work to do.”

So, that's where you find me. What I thought was finished is not. But I know my effort will pay off with a stronger story. Next year: time to send out the next batch of queries! I’d love to hear your experience or tips for revisions and querying. What have you found helpful?

Keep writing, and cheers to 2021 around the corner!

Ondine Alegra

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