When it comes to keeping up with must-see television, I am way behind. I haven’t even crossed the starting line. Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Big Little Lies, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The Office: I’ve never seen any of these. Someday I’ll catch up. I’d like to experience the golden age of television before I’m in my golden years.
But there’s one show I’ll watch from time to time, and that’s HGTV’s Love It or List It. Every episode follows the same formula: a couple, frustrated with their current house, seeks help from an interior designer and a real estate agent. The designer, working with a limited budget, tries to improve the couple’s home so that they’ll decide to stay there (love it); meanwhile, the real estate agent, similarly restrained by a set budget, searches for a new place that will better suit the couple’s needs and prompt them to sell their house (list it).
Maybe it seems strange that, of all of the amazing programming out there, this is the show I’ve gotten into. But I like it for a few reasons: the banter between the designer and agent, the tension between the homeowners, the unforeseen expenses relating to the renovation. And I suppose I like it for a writerly reason, too.
I’ve been thinking about this show quite a bit lately. In fact, I was thinking about it this morning. I’m wrapping up the revisions of Meet You at Five Corners, a middle-grade novel about thirteen-year-old Molly Knack who lives with her grandma at Five Corners Inn in the fictional town of Homer, New York. My main character has a lot on her plate: estranged family members, the loss of her best friend, her school’s new antibullying friendship initiative, a blizzard, a demon-possessed cat, a mystery, a school project from hell, and some magic muffins.
Working on this novel has been fun, and I hope my agent enjoys reading it. That she’ll suggest changes, maybe even huge ones (the subtraction of a character, the addition of a scene or two), I don’t doubt. But hopefully she’ll decide the novel has enough redeeming qualities to warrant the hard work of improvements.
When I first started writing, I had no idea that some of the fictional worlds I would build would never get shared with readers. I just figured, once a novel or story got written, it was only a matter of time before it got published. Now, years into this rocky but passionate profession, I can look back and see ghost towns: the novels of my pre-agent era, the flashes and poems I couldn’t quite bring to life, and the stories I had finished but couldn’t find homes for in journals.
On this front, I’m not remotely unique. Every writer risks failure and faces rejection. And I’m lucky. I’ve also experienced success.
As for those eventually-abandoned projects? They weren’t a waste of time. They count as writing practice. More than that, I had the pleasure of dwelling in those fictional worlds, loving the characters, enjoying their victories, following their struggles, and feeling their hurts and joys. Sometimes the writer of a tale will ultimately be the tale’s only reader. That’s okay. Not every story finds a foothold in print, just as not every love affair ends in marriage.
Regardless of their ultimate status, my writing projects, at one point, filled me with delight. They all did.
But when is it time to quit pushing a project down the publication path? How many agents does a writer query before she decides her novel isn’t going to win her representation? How many journal editors should a writer send her story to before she comes to terms with the possibility that no one is going to accept it?
There isn’t a magic number, of course. I guess it all depends on how much thanks-but-no-thanks a person can take.
If an editor is kind enough to offer feedback along with the rejection, that’s a good sign. It oftentimes means he or she felt the work had good bones. I try to take heart from the feedback and revise the work with the editor’s suggestions in mind. Sometimes the altered piece will get accepted elsewhere afterward.
Sometimes it won’t.
Then what? Do I keep tweaking and trying? Do I keep hoping? It’s so hard to know when to give up. When to pack up and leave. No writer wants her beloved fictional worlds to become Chernobyls.
Maybe what I like best about Love It or List It is the ending—when the interior designer throws open the front door of the original house and leads the way through the living room she made bigger, the kitchen she transformed, the screened-in porch she added, the basement she finished, while the couple oohs and ahhs and marvels that this gorgeous space is actually their house, only made prettier and more finished and better suited to their needs.
It’s worth noting that, more often than not, the couple decides to love their home rather than list it.
On the rarer occasions when the couple opts to sell the house and move, not once have I cheered. Not. One. Single. Time.
I never want them to list their house. I always want them to love it.
Don’t leave, I’ll think during those final moments of the show. Your house is beautiful, and the designer has sunk so much time and money and work into it, and there are memories here, and it’s your home.
Dammit, it’s your home.