Dear Writers – I Am For You

It’s cold in here. I’m sitting in the corner, bundled up as I stave off the air conditioner that refuses to quit running. Thanks to an unseasonably warm Florida fall, most buildings are keeping their spaces unbearably cool. Perhaps this is our only means for experiencing fall weather here in the Sunshine State.

The cafe is loud, but I don’t mind because I can smell the stories in the air. The scent of imagination mingles with that of my Cinnamon Spice hot tea, and I feel heady with delight.

If I had my choice, I’d hunker down in more intimate location. Barnes and Noble is a chain, and the cookie cutter nature of this space is less delightful. But still…the books.

I love books. I love words. I love imaginative storytelling.

flowers

As a new author, I have such a deep appreciation for the work that went into these books. I had no idea. Writing looks romantic on TV. It’s grittier in real life.

Writing isn’t just sitting in front of a typewriter in a quiet, breezy room tapping rhythmically on a typewriter. Mainly because no one uses typewriters anymore.

But also because writing is awful lot of sitting in front of the screen and staring at a blank page until some muse chooses to show. It’s hard, and solitary, and feels an awful lot like bleeding openly for the world to see.

Then you put your book out there, and you ask everyone what they think. And they can choose whether or not to love this work of your heart.

In short, writing is a profession of vulnerability.

Writers pour their hearts and souls into their stories, and then, if they’re willing to wait and fight for their stories, they find a publisher willing to print their words on paper. After all that, they turn their books in to the waiting publisher, and it’s all VICTORY! YOU DID IT!

Now get to work.

Authoring a book is more than just writing pretty words, and finding a publisher. There is marketing and promotion, pulling together a launch team, and finding endorsements.

Writers have to get their books in front of people who are willing to read them.

Launching a book may be the hardest and scariest part of the publishing journey. It is the moment when writers feel the most vulnerable, because this is when others decide is the work is worthy of their endorsement.

 

In the rocky soil of Texas, there’s a yearly beauty that springs up. Bluebonnets carpet the hot ground each spring, blanketing the state in vibrant color, and they always spring up from the rocks.

In an environment that seems completely unconducive to growth, bluebonnets defy the odds and bring beauty to the landscape.

You writers are doing the same. The terrain is rocky, saturated with others already fulfilling publishing dreams, and it seems that everyone else is springing up, and you wonder if there’s any space for you.

Dear writers – I want you to know that I’m standing in the gap for you. I see more than ever before the fight it takes to get a book to market, and I want you to know I’m on your side.

You’re doing hard things. You’re writing every day, sharing stories and messages with a world that needs to hear them.

You’re facing rejection, fighting to get your words out into a void already full of great works. But you believe you have something to add, so you don’t give up. This is hard, and I admire your tenacity.

You’re putting yourself in vulnerable positions, emailing friends, and perfect strangers, to ask for endorsements. You’re asking people to decide if your words are worthy of a recommendation, and it’s terrifying. I see you, and I’m for you.

You’re sharing your gifts with a small group, but longing to see that message spread to a wiser audience. As you seek to plant yourself in this rocky terrain, I want you to know I see you and you’re doing a good job.

Writer friends – don’t be afraid of the hard things. Keep typing those words and sending those awkward emails. Keep putting yourself out there, because beauty grows in the rocky places, and your dreams are beautiful.

Where the Streets Are Not Marked

“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. 
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. 
A place you could sprain both you elbow and chin! 
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? 
How much can you lose? How much can you win? 

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right… 
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? 
Or go around back and sneak in from behind? 
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, 
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind. 

You can get so confused 
that you’ll start in to race 
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace 
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, 
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. 
The Waiting Place… 

…for people just waiting. 
Waiting for a train to go 
or a bus to come, or a plane to go 
or the mail to come, or the rain to go 
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow 
or waiting around for a Yes or a No 
or waiting for their hair to grow. 
Everyone is just waiting. 

Waiting for the fish to bite 
or waiting for wind to fly a kite 
or waiting around for Friday night 
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake 
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break 
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants 
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. 
Everyone is just waiting. 

NO! 
That’s not for you!”

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Dr. Seuss 

darktrees2

Let me tell you a little story about what it’s like to write and launch a book.

It’s a process filled with waiting places – places where you can choose to sit back and hope good fortune stumbles over you, or where you can take matters into your own hands and walk to the good fortune.

The beginning of this journey is filled with excitement. You head down these long wiggled roads at a break necking pace, and it’s exhilarating and terrifying, and you sort of stumble your way through the process until you reach the other side. Finished. A completed manuscript in your hands.

This is when you enter the first Waiting Place.

You hold in your hands a tiny piece of your heart, and you have to decide if you’re going to let anyone read it. So you timidly hand it over to strangers, hoping they like it. And you wait for the “Yes” amidst a whole lot of “No.”

If you’re not content to stay in that waiting place, you persist and push through all the “No.” Because eventually, with a little dedication and refusal to give up, you find your “Yes.” Someone agrees to bind up that piece of your heart, and put a title to it. This, it turns out, is where the real work starts.

Launching a book is like running a marathon in the dark. You sort of stumble along pitch black roads, feeling your way toward the finish line, hoping you don’t peter out and die before you get there. That’s where it’s imperative to have running partners by your side.

Last weekend, I headed up to Greenville, South Carolina for the Allume conference. This is the third time I’ve attended this conference, and it holds a special place in my heart. This is the place where I found my running partners.

There’s a confidence that comes from being with a group of people who understand this crazy journey of publication. They understand the rejection and the fear. They understand the extreme exhaustion that comes from pouring your heart out on the page, and the utter terror that you feel when you must submit those pages to be judged.

The first year I attended Allume, I went all alone. I had the unedited manuscript for my novel tucked away in my bag, and I met with several agents, all of whom loved the concept, but “fiction is a touch sell,” and on they went.

Except for one.

She agreed to at least read the first 50 pages and give feedback. “It’s too long,” she said, and she was right. 150,000 words was a ridiculous length for a debut novel, so I spent the next year editing, and cutting, and shaping it up.

I went back the second year with my edited novel, but I was also joined by Wendy, and together we had a proposal for a new book – a book for creative moms, meeting them right there in the mess of motherhood.

This time, we heard “Yes!”

Then our agent took my novel and said “Yes, again!”

I went to Allume this third year with two books in production, and the weekend was spent trying to learn the ins and outs of marketing and launching. It’s intimidating and overwhelming. I’m running a marathon in the dark.

But at least I’ve got running partners by my side who are cheering me on. Several of them have already walked this path, and so they offer advice and wisdom, lighting the road before me just slightly.

It’s exhausting and overwhelming, this journey I’m on. But I’m glad I pushed myself out of the waiting place and onto this path. Dr. Seuss was right – waiting isn’t for me. The journey is so much more fun when you move forward…even if you’re moving in the dark.

So, what are you waiting on? What’s stopping you from moving forward?

The Novel AND THIS IS A HUGE ANNOUNCEMENT PART II

I don’t really know where to start this story. Julie Andrews says we should start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.

So maybe I should start in 1995, when I was a junior in high school and I visited Kiev, Ukraine for the first time. While there, I was invited to dinner at the friend of a friend’s house to meet her grandmother, a World War II survivor.

That dinner changed the course of everything.

I sat at the table of a small, grey haired babyshka named Maria who told me her story of survival in a German slave labor camp. Maybe it was the twinkle in her eye, or the way the light glimmered in her silvery hair, but something happened inside me that evening.

That was the night I fell in love with the Ukrainian people – the night the story was born.

***

But maybe I shouldn’t start there. Maybe I should start 1999. I was twenty-one, and I sat behind the desk as the professor explained the goal of our two semester course.

We would leave Baylor with a finished novel.

He encouraged us to begin brainstorming what we’d like to write about, but I already knew. I wanted to tell the story of Ukraine, of the devastation at Babi Yar, the darkness of those desperate years, and the partisans who pushed back against the Germans.

I also wanted to encapsulate Maria in a character, right down to the way she tutted over a plate of food.

***

Of course, I could easily start the story in 2003, when my mom and I (and my five-months pregnant belly) hopped a couple of planes and returned to Ukraine where we would tour the country for a month interviewing countless veterans as I continued on my quest to publish this book of stories.

I already had a publisher lined up at that point. It would all end up falling through at the last minute, but the stories I pulled in that month would simmer a little longer. They waited for me through the birth of three children.

The story needed me to tell it, but first I had to live a little.

***

Technically, I could start the story in 2011 when I finally found the voices of each character. I knew, in the flourish of a few sentences, that the book was taking the shape it was always intended to take.

I tapped away at the stories in the tiny slivers of my day. Nap time. Early morning before the kids woke up. The occasions now and then when I was able to sneak away and write. It was a slow process.

Signing Contract1

I guess I could start the story in 2012 when I attended the Blissdom conference, and I sat in Jeff Goin’s break out session on writing. I sat at a table with Anne of The Modern Mrs. Darcy, Megan from Sorta Crunchy, Ruth from The Better Mom and Laura, the Hollywood Housewife, and I sort of vomited out my dream of finishing this book and having it published.

They were all beyond encouraging, and supportive, and genuinely sweet. And perhaps slightly baffled by my tangle of words trying to explain my need to finish this project?

***

I can’t tell the story without looking at 2013 when we saw the collapse of our adoption. Writing was the only thing that pulled me out of depression. Tapping into the heartache of others healed my own wounded heart. I typed THE END in 2013.

Signing Contract2

The only other place I could see beginning this story is last fall. Two years after finishing the book, I still hadn’t been picked up. I’d queried so many agents and publishing houses, and was always met with the same comment:

“Love the concept, and the writing is great. But fiction is a hard sell.”

So I waited, and I sent more query letters. So many queries. And last fall, someone took a chance on me. A literary agent saw potential, and she appreciate my passion. She took the manuscript cautiously, and two weeks later I received a text:

“Just finished your book and WOW can you tell a story. We’re going to see what we can do with this.”

typewriter3

But that’s a lot of beginnings, so maybe I should just begin with the phone call I took three weeks ago with Kregel Publications when they told me they would be publishing my book next spring.

Did you hear that?!

My novel will hit bookshelves in the Spring of 2016.

After our conversation, in which we spoke of the novel and topics for potential future books, I hung up and walked out to the kitchen. As soon as I saw Lee, I burst into tears.

It all felt overwhelming. Twenty years of dreaming, of writing, of perfecting and refining the story all came to fruition in a minutes long phone conversation.

I’m a novelist.

I can’t wait to share this book with you all. Stay tuned for more information!

(And for more on my publishing journey, check out this post where I share the news that my second book will release in September next year. 2016 is going to be crazy!)

 

Momentum

“Are you excited?”

His voice reached through the phone pressed to my ear and I took a breath to give the expected response, then stopped. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes, and I felt the wind sort of escape in a small sigh.

“I don’t know,” I said, voice trembling slightly.

A month ago, I signed my first contract with a literary agent. For over a decade, I have been trying, without success, to secure a literary agent. It is a very big step toward my dream of publication – this is what I’ve been waiting for, what I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager.

I should be excited.

I am excited.

But I’ve lost momentum.

When I began blogging seven years ago, I had no idea where that journey would take me. Very early on I came across one of the Compassion Blogging trips, and as I read through those posts I felt a deep longing for my words to matter. As much as I loved chronicling the humorous moments of mom-life, I knew I wanted my site to become more.

I very prayerfully began chasing that heart desire, and in 2012, the Lord answered my prayer and I was invited to go to Tanzania with Compassion International. I didn’t know that trip would change everything.

It was the catalyst that led Lee and I to finally commit to adoption – an adoption that would be terminated.

I would walk through a year of grieving and heartache, and I couldn’t find my footing in the blogosphere anymore. I had accomplished my goal, and while writing has always been an outlet, at that point in time I found more solace in working on my novel, because blogging began to feel too painful. I was so very raw in those days, and I felt exposed online.

It’s been such a journey these last two and a half years. And now here I am, on the cusp of seeing another dream realized, and I find myself wildly overwhelmed.

excellence

If it weren’t for my husband, I think I would have given up a long time ago, because this process of doing what I love hasn’t been easy. Success, however you may measure it, hasn’t fallen in my lap. I’ve worked for it – I’ve worked really hard, and I have a stack of rejection letters to prove that what I do isn’t for the faint of heart.

Maybe I shouldn’t have kept the rejection letters. Maybe the folder full of “No” is a little bit of a downer, but it does make the “Yes” a little sweeter. And inside that folder full of “No” are little glimmers of hope. Editors who took the time to write me a personal note on their typical form letter response.

“Love the concept, and the writing is beautiful, but it’s not a good fit for us.” 

“Keep working on this. You have the beginnings of something really special, but it’s not there yet.”

When I got those notes, I placed them on top of the stack of rejections to remind myself that I really can do this writing thing. Because the truth is, when you fight for something for so long, and you are constantly pushed backward, you start to question whether or not you’re cut out for this gig.

But now, there is someone else out there who believes in me. An agent who believes me capable of telling the stories I long to tell. I have a writing partner who, like my husband, has always been my cheerleader, and she’s right beside me in this new journey. She’s helping shape a message that the Lord placed on both of our hearts so many years ago.

I’m overwhelmed by it all. This is where the real work starts, and there’s a small part of me that is just scared. I’m afraid to get too excited. I’m intimidated by the need to gain blogging momentum again – to rebuild a platform in an already saturated market.

And that ever present nag that tells me I might not be good enough to pull this off likes to prick at my ears in the quiet moments when I’m most vulnerable.

Dream chasing is hard. It will always involve rejection. There are so many “No’s” that make up a “Yes.” And we’re all prone to look to our left and our right, and to see the people who are doing the things we want to do and assume that the success just fell in their laps. But 9 times out of 10, that’s not the case.

They worked hard for it, too.

If you’re chasing a dream right now, and you feel overwhelmed by it all, can I urge you not to give up? Don’t look at the “No’s” as a finality, but as the stacking point for the great big “Yes” waiting in the wings.

Maybe it won’t look like you thought it would, and maybe it will be more work than you assumed, but at the end of the day your dream matters, and the tenacity with which you’re willing to run after it will be the tipping point between excellence and mediocrity.

Let’s be excellent together.

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