How a Non-Writer Like Me Got Published (Part II)

(Continued from Part I)

I began writing my memoir by starting near the end. That first night, while sitting in front of a blank computer screen, I tapped out the images closest to memory, and likely closest to my heart. It was the account of a remarkable day… the day I delivered my daughter, Annie, to a drug treatment center in California.

 “It wasn’t at all the institutional setting I’d expected for detox… At that late hour, the street was quiet and still. A woman emerged from the far side of the darkened house, brushing by a wall of hydrangeas that cast an eerie glow of amethyst and silver in partial moonlight. Her hushed tones made it seem a clandestine transfer as she took hold of the pull handle on Annie’s bag and turned to escort her inside… Just before both disappeared into the darkness of an open gate, Annie turned around to me and mouthed the words, ‘Thanks Mom.’ I thought I might burst. “

Within a week, I had one, full chapter completed. “Not bad,” my college-aged son reported after a quick read. He showed all the enthusiasm of dry cement. My husband refused to read it at all.Image, post-its and pens

My brother, Paul, on the other hand, provided terrific support for my intentions with the book. He had been the smart one, the accomplished student. While I was sunbathing and reading Cliff Notes during our college years, Paul studied Comparative Literature as a graduate fellow at a top university. “So Goose,” he asked (yes, he calls me Goose), “are you going to write this sequentially or thematically? You also need to pay close attention to your voice.

My what?

I struggled with how to continue. What was a “voice” and where could I get one? Was I really capable of writing a book? What initially had seemed nothing more than a quick chronicle of a story I already knew, the magnitude of the task ahead started to overwhelm me.

Image, Book binder

I decided equipment would help. A lover of bins and boxes and anything organizational, I ventured into Office Max and filled my cart with a large black binder, numbered dividers, a year’s supply of yellow sticky notes, white 3×5 cards, and multi-colored mechanical pencils. Once home, I affixed a sticker to the spine of the binder with the word “Book” written on it in blue felt tip marker.

I placed my new materials throughout the house: at my desk, on the coffee table in the great room, at my bedside table, near the bathroom sink, and in both cars. Ultimately finding it perilous to jot notes while driving, I purchased a small recording device. “Don’t forget to tell them what happened in the garage,” I recorded into the mic.

Each night before I sat to write, I filed the day’s sticky note inspirations onto the dividers throughout the binder. Then I prayed. “This was your idea, God. Help, please!”

Six months later I had an outline and about six chapters written. This feat coincided with the weekend visit of a close friend, and one of the smartest people I know. Bright, articulate, and extremely well read, my friend-who-shares-the-same-name-as-me, demanded to read what I’d written. She in fact seemed hurt that I hadn’t yet asked for her input and advice. I knew better than to share my work so early in the process, and especially with someone who tends to be critical, but I yielded to her insistence. I really hoped for some encouragement.

You see it coming, don’t you?

My friend emerged from our guest room the next morning, with the “Book” binder in hand, avoiding eye contact as she headed to the coffee pot. Oh boy, I thought.

“So Barb,” she finally said, once settled in at the breakfast bar, “I, uh, think, uh, this is an important story for, uh, people to read. It’s not, uhhhhh, gonna be a best seller or anything, but it’s, uh, good.” She then looked up at me and added enthusiastically, “You sure have a great memory!”

I laughed. Kind of. “Memory isn’t exactly what I was going for. But I guess that’s something. Thanks for reading.”

Unable to leave well enough alone, she added, “You sure didn’t use many big words, did you?”

At that point my heart went “thunk”… and I stopped writing.

(Stay tuned for Part III when I share how the Jordan River helped me start writing again… and how A Very Fine House got its name.)

Rejecting Rejection

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Rejection is an important part of the publishing process—but it hurts! Here are seventeen quotes to inspire you after rejection.

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”
 C. S. Lewis

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison

“Do not waste yourself in rejection; do not bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.” Dolly Parton

“If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.” Isaac Asimov

“I wrote poems in my corner of the Brooks Street station. I sent them to two editors who rejected them right off. I read those letters of rejection years later and I agreed with those editors.” Carl Sandburg

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your dreams. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Mark Twain

“A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.” Bo Bennett

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” Ray Bradbury

“If you’re not failing now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
Woody Allen

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”
 James Lee Burke

“Failure is success if we learn from it.”
 Malcolm Forbes

“As a writer, the worst thing you can do is work in an environment of fear of rejection.”
Carol Leifer

“I wrote poems in my corner of the Brooks Street station. I sent them to two editors who rejected them right off. I read those letters of rejection years later and I agreed with those editors.”
 Carl Sandburg

“I think that you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours—so enjoy the view.”
Michael York

file0001179129151There.  Don’t you feel better?

How do you pick yourself back up after you are rejected?

Betsy and Laurie

www.WritingSisters.com

5 Ways to Drive an Editor Crazy

13761150586648bAs an aspiring writer, I thought editors had horns on their head and pitchforks perched beside their desks. After all, they sent me form “no thanks” letters after I’d slaved over an obviously brilliant manuscript. They ignored my letters and phone calls, and seemed to take joy in waiting months before replying to my oh-so-urgent emails.

Now, as both a seasoned writer and an editor for a large faith-based website, I’ve learned that editors are people, too. We love finding new voices to publish, and we try to be gentle when doling out rejections. Sure, we have our quirks, and we make mistakes. But mostly, we’re word-loving, gentle souls who find joy in a well-placed modifier.

When provoked, however, we can lose our literary minds. Several habits don’t just rub us the wrong way—they make us want to run down the street while still in our bathrobes, shouting Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” until we puke.

Here’s how you can speed that process along:

1) Treat Guidelines as Optional.

      Don’t bother reading writing guidelines; don’t even visit websites or read back issues of magazines. Send a totally inappropriate submission. In your cover letter, tell the editor that while you’ve never taken the time to familiarize yourself with their publication, you’re sure that your work is perfect for them. file3781288474089

       2) Respond viciously to rejection letters.

      When you receive a letter stating that “your submission doesn’t meet our current needs,” fire off a hateful email, chastising the editor for his lack of taste. Even better: use bad language and post your vitriolic thoughts all over social media. (This habit works well if you never want to see your work in print. Those bridges are so pretty when they burn!)

      3) Never turn in an assignment by the deadline.

Deadlines aren’t set in stone; therefore, ask for repeated extensions, paying no attention to the panicked tone of your editor’s responses. Don’t worry that you are one of several dozen moving parts in the publishing of a website, magazine or compilation book. Take all the time you want—the world does, in fact, revolve around you.

       4) Take up all your editor’s time.

Ask repeated questions about the contract or terms of your publishing agreement. Don’t get an agent or other professionals to weigh in on your questions. Don’t network with other writers so that you can learn from their experiences. Pester the editor with texts (preferably to her personal cell phone, if you can dig up the number) about when your piece will be printed, how many readers you’ll get, etc.

And finally:

5) Refuse to accept changes in your manuscript.

Since you have received your talent from God, treat every word as His direct quote. Don’t let an editor make changes to your beautiful masterpiece. Fight over each letter and punctuation mark. Don’t choose your battles. Take offense at questions. Die on every single hill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nasty email to delete…and I need to look up the lyrics to a certain parody song.

Facing Trouble with Courage

Photo/TaraRoss“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).

Have you faced trouble in your journey as a writer? Have you been tempted to give up on your writing dreams or career because of failure, rejection, humiliation, shame, or judgment?

Fear of judgment, criticism, or shame? When I struggled with some critical comments and judgment years ago, I expressed my frustration to my husband, Dan. I winced at his abrupt and honest response, “Karen, not everyone is going to like you.”

Photo/TaraRossDan’s statement shocked me, as he reminded me that not everyone likes me or agrees with my opinions. And I’ve revisited that story many times, when I try to encourage other writers.

I still grieve over rejection or criticism, and I prefer to walk away from all confrontations. But I’ve learned a lot from my failures—in relationships and writing.

Photo/TaraRossFear of writing process? In his book On Writing, author Stephen King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Even well-known writers must face rejections and criticism. The writing process demands prewriting, drafting, revising, and proofreading before any publication. You may become offended or embarrassed when someone offers constructive criticism. Some writers even give up rather than face more editing, critical remarks, or rejection letters.

Fear of rejection and failure? Do you see rejection as failure? Failure often points us toward changes in our direction and priorities. C. S. Lewis explained, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

Author J. K. Rowling agrees with the advantages of failure.

Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

Thomas A. Edison advised, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Tempted to give up? I’ve been tempted to give up more times than I’d like to admit. Have you given up on something because of a failure?

Matthew 26 describes a time when the disciples faced failure. They fell asleep while Jesus prayed, after He asked them to stay on the lookout for danger or trouble in the Garden of Gethsemane. They must have grieved over their lost opportunity and broken promise. But Jesus responded, “Get up! Let’s get going!” (Matt. 26:46 MSG)

There will be experiences like this in each of our lives … times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples … had done a downright unthinkable thing … gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, “Get up, and do the next thing.” If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.

Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step. (Oswald Chambers)

Embracing vulnerability. Finding the courage to risk failure requires us to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken ….”

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, “spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.” She suggests, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Brown concludes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Choosing to become vulnerable could be one of the most courageous things we can do as a writer. Writing about our opinions, our faith, and our relationships takes courage.

What lessons have you learned about vulnerability?

Video/TED (Brené Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability”)
Photos/TaraRoss

Coming Out of the Wilderness

Denabutterfly1The last half-decade has been full of changes for our little family. Stressors included the death of several friends, unwanted job changes for both my husband and I, health challenges, and a total of four moves in five years. We’ve bought and sold three houses (well, we bought three houses…one is yet to sell, so we’re renting it out). Finally, both my dad and my father-in-law underwent major heart surgery within a few months.

Whew. It makes me tired just reading that . . . let alone living it.

To add to the chaos, my writing career stalled. Ideas I felt were timely were turned down again and again, although my previous editors loved several of them and went to bat for me. I prayed, cried, doubted, and wondered what God was up to. He provided income through work for hire projects, magazine and editing work, and I was thankful. However, I longed to write books again.

I didn’t want to turn my back on God because I felt like I didn’t deserve my circumstances. I longed to be obedient, even in the difficulties. I prayed continually for strength, and I kept seeking Him . . . even when He seemed very, very quiet on the subject of when (or if) we might be done with the “desert” we were in.

Wanna know something? Every time I cried out to Him, He answered. Sometimes He reminded me of a Scripture passage that ministered profoundly to me. Songs came on the radio which seemed to have been written just for my situation. Friends and family members called, texted and emailed me at perfect moments, when I couldn’t seem to take another step or cry another tear. He was faithful. So, so faithful.

Two years ago, my friend Tina called me with a book idea, and I knew in an instant that we were meant to collaborate on that project together. Greg Johnson agreed to represent us, and (in a first for me), we actually had two offers on the project.

WoundedWomenIt came out this month, and my heart is full. Though the process of putting the book together was emotionally draining, it was a pleasure to write with such a kindred spirit. I couldn’t be more excited about the finished product (thanks, Kregel!).  Everything I’ve lived through, in publishing and life, has prepared me for Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts.

Six  months ago, God led my husband into full-time ministry and moved us back to a place we love. It feels as if we are finally coming out of the wilderness and into an oasis. We are grateful beyond words. And we can see in hindsight that He’d been honing and refining us all along to minister more effectively to hurting people.

Friend, are you suffering today? Do you wonder if God has something against you? And do you fear that you’ll ever feel joy again?In-Gods-economy-our

Oh, I’ve been there. My heart aches for you. But this I know: the path He has you on may seem lonely, and you might not feel His presence. But He hasn’t left.

He is up to something, even when we can’t see it. Until then, trust Him with your wounded places, for one day, they will become ministry spaces.

He promises.

Risking Rejection

Why are we afraid to fail? Often because we believe rejection exposes a gap in us. It points to something we don’t want others to see. It confirms what our suspicions tell us.

We aren’t acceptable.

As writers, we risk rejection from many different sources. Projects and people alike can make us feel unacceptable, and throw us into a pit of paralyzing despair. Any one of a myriad of things have the power to make us give up on our writing dreams. If we let it.Definition of Rejection

  • Literary agents can reject us.
  • Booking agents can reject us.
  • Publishers can reject us.
  • Editors can reject us.
  • Endorsers can reject us.
  • Influencers can reject us.
  • Reviewers can reject us.
  • Media can reject us.
  • Readers can reject us.
  • And through Self-deprecation, we can reject ourselves.

So how can you empower yourself to feel acceptable when rejection says you’re not?

Author Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall’s Blindness Didn’t Hold Him Back

Challenge your own viewpoint. Take a 180 approach and look at this specific moment as your personal catalyst for change, improvement, and a call to do better work. Jim Stovall, a blind author and movie maker, knows rejection well.

You’ve GOT to watch the video on his link to see what he says about giving up. Here’s a quote to give you a hint of the amazing story you’ll want to hear. “That big dream would not have been put inside of you if you didn’t have the capacity to achieve it.”

Author John Grisham

John Grisham’s Tenacity Made the Difference

Another powerful example of tenacity in the face of rejection comes from an author most of us recognize. Internationally acclaimed novelist John Grisham. He understands what it feels like to fail in front of professionals, but he chose to learn from his mistakes, and keep on keeping on.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you of the greatest victory that came from the greatest rejection of all. A book that was denounced, fought against, and even after publication, faced efforts to utterly destroy it. But yet, the words inscribed inside changed the world, and made it a better place. The book I refer to is The Bible. Aren’t you glad God didn’t give up.

So the next time you get a rejection letter, phone call, email, or text, remember these three things.

Anita Brooks Walking Bridge Photo

Is Success Waiting Around Your Corner?

1. The capacity to make your big dream reality is already inside of you.

2. Rejection prepares us for great things in the future, and reminds us to stay humble when we arrive there.

3.  Just because a few people fight against your efforts doesn’t mean you won’t come out victorious.

Maintain a teachable attitude, then act with integrity, humility, and tenacity. This is your big dream. Take courage, and don’t let anyone convince you it’s unacceptable. Risking rejection can turn that big dream of yours into something real. But only if you don’t give up too soon.

The Best Advice I Could Have Given Myself

SignatureCountry artist Brad Paisley released a song in 2007 titled “Letter to Me,” in which he gives his teenaged self advice for the future. It makes me think about what I would have advised myself thirty years ago when I began my freelance writing career. So, with a tip of my own cowboy hat to Brad, here’s my letter to my younger self!

Dear Jan,

I am you thirty years from now, and I want to give you some advice about writing.

  1. Get a day job. You are never going to be on Oprah talking about your bestseller. (Oprah is a person with a very influential talk show in the future. She has a book club, and Tom Cruise jumps on her sofa. Enough said.) Accept the fact that your writing habit will never financially support you. Fortunately, your husband will, so be sure to say “Yes” when a guy named Tom proposes to you. You’re going to think he’s just trying to cheer you up because your car’s water pump broke down, but he’s serious. DO NOT LAUGH IN HIS FACE, because he will never let you forget it. (Although it will make a great blog post. A blog is …never mind. You’ll find out later.)
  2. No matter what you think, your first and second book manuscripts are trash. Really, they are. It would be nice to just skip writing them altogether to save time and effort, but if you don’t write them, you won’t write your third book, which will find a publisher. Just thought I’d let you know.
  3. You’re going to meet a woman named Belinda. Don’t ever tell her you’ve written a book, because even though she’s going to be one of your best friends, she’s going to drive you crazy with her constant stream of ideas for books SHE wants to write. If she ever brings up that she’s thinking about writing a book, immediately change the subject. (You can thank me later.)
  4. Write a YA romance series about a vampire and a high school girl. Believe it or not, it will sell and launch a publishing trend. I’m serious.
  5. Speaking of serious – stop taking yourself so seriously. There are many, many writers out there. The bad news is that you have to compete with them for contracts. The good news is that the writers you meet will absolutely enrich your life, if not your pocketbook. (Reread #1 above.)
  6. Don’t give up writing. You will get published. You will also get rejections, but that’s part of the package, so get over it and get it out of the way. It will give you more time to write and more confidence in your writing. Writing is your gift, so enjoy it, develop it, invest time and effort in it, and it will reward you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
  7. Finally, if you ever have a chance to buy stock in a company named Apple, you might want to do that.

Love you!

Jan

What advice would you give your younger self?