Monday, February 11, 2013

February - DO NOT GIVE UP!

It's easy for writers to get into funks. This week I've heard from no fewer than four writer friends who are in FUNKS (and I was also feeling a bit funky last week too ... it happens)

"Why did I just spend FIVE years of my life writing this book that nobody on the planet seems to care about?"

"If I see ONE MORE positive announcement on FB I'm going to DIE!"

"I am a hack. My ideas are unoriginal."

"I just read the absolutely worst, contrived, idiotic book -- and that author got a three book deal AND her first book sold at auction! And I can't even seem to sell a poem to my mother!"

February can do that to a soul. January is all about "This is going to be MY year! I am going to be ON FIRE!"  But February is when you realize that you've fallen into the same old pits that you've always fallen into -- be it family*, work, Downton Abbey -- critical self-talk -- whatever it is -- it's easy to slide down into the darkness, eat chocolate and watch far too much PBS.  It's easy to put everything on the planet before writing. It's easy to say, "I'm not good enough."

Here is your rope: (no, not to hang yourself with! For heaven's sake... to help you climb out of the pit!)

I want to read your book.  I want to smile, cry, laugh-out-loud, shake my head, grin, frown -- and be amazed by what you write. I am a reader first, a writer second. I want to read another ghost story. I want to share another bedtime story. I want to see ANOTHER amazing non-fiction book about a subject that I didn't know a thing about before I read it... I am waiting for your book. I really, really am. Please don't give up. Not yet.

Now -- all that other stuff I wrote above may very well be true.  This is so not a business for the faint of heart. A friend recently shared this rejection from an agent with me: "We have plenty of Newbery writers -- and we don't need another one." WHAT???!!! This, I cannot explain.

The good news - she could win a NEWBERY in the opinion of that agent. The bad news - so far, she hasn't sold a book.  That does seem to be a bit of the roadblock, granted -- but to be rejected for being too amazing? Well ... wouldn't we all like that? (No? We just want to be accepted ... yes, I get that ...)

Here's a story that I hope to be helpful and not depressing. Let's give it a go ...

I started writing seriously at age 30 (I will not tell you how many non-serious years preceded this).  I joined SCBWI. I went to numerous conferences and took a multitude of notes. I suffered at the hands of evil critiquers, and less-evil/more helpful critiquers. I went to the Highlights Workshop at Chautauqua. I wrote in every spare moment. I read and read and read - craft books, picture books, novels, and my own chicken-scratch. I went and suffered (and loved every minute of) an MFA program.

I worked my butt off. And I sold ONE magazine article to SPIDER in SEVEN YEARS.  ONE. And it didn't even show up in the magazine for THREE years. And then I had to call and ask for my check... but, we won't go there right now ...

People looked at me. They shook their heads. They noticed that my dishes needed doing, my weeds needed weeding, and my laundry needed folding.

And still, I wrote.

And then I was about to turn 40. I looked back at a decade of writing with next-to-nothing to show for it, except a pile of manuscripts that were getting the nicest rejection letters you ever read.

I thought I should quit. Cut my losses. Fold some laundry.

The day before I sent out the ms. that was accepted I really was ready to quit the whole thing ... yes, I had graduated with an MFA six months prior. Yes, I had been told by numerous well-respected folks that, "it will just be a matter of time now."  Time -- how much more time, energy, money was I suppose to spend on this? I had every dark thought -- "Why am I doing this? My house is a mess and my kids think I talk to myself ... which ... technically, I do ... but only when trying to work out a rhyme scheme!"

The day I sent that ms. I cried as I put 5 copies to 5 houses into the mailbox. I cried my eyes out. I did. Because it was the last one I would ever send out (in my mind at that moment). Tears were literally running down my face when I popped those envelopes into the box.

And then -- NOTHING.

I heard NOTHING.  I was still writing, but in my heart I knew that when all five rejections returned to me, I would be done with the writing life. 

Never, never put this type of ultimatum on yourself. It's painful. And it's not fair -- because you cannot control where that ms. lands. All you have control of is knowing it's your best work, and you've sent it to houses that MIGHT like it ... but you can't make the fates smile upon you.

I mailed that batch in Oct.  And never heard a thing back from any of the houses.

And then, about a day before the "If you don't hear from us, assume we don't want it" from FSG was up -- I got this amazing email from an editor who wrote me an apologetic (sorry it took so long to get back to you), wonderful message -- "Could you please send an electronic copy so I can share it with my colleagues?"

You can imagine how I felt at that moment ... going from one of the lowest spots mentally to "YES! HERE IT IS!"

And then, time passed again. And I waited. And waited.


The rest, at this point, is history now ... but all of this happened in January/February 2010.  That ms. is currently being illustrated and will become a book soon...

And in the meantime, I have a different book coming out in May of this year. And yet another book coming out in January 2014.

And I was ready to throw in the towel.  How silly of me.  And some days - when it's hard - I still want to throw in the towel. Maybe it's my nature -- maybe it's the nature of this crazy profession. I don't know.

The point is -- even though every fiber of my being wanted to quit -- I didn't quit. There must have been some tiny fiber somewhere making me keep going.

This is what I do know -- if you are doing your part -- learning your craft, working hard, creating the very best story you know how to create ... it will pay off. I will admit that I didn't always do my part. I would go for long stretches not submitting a thing, and then wonder why I hadn't sold anything yet ... (huh. hard to say...)  I also went through seriously pig-headed times when I refused to learn something craft-related because it was painful to admit I could get better. But everyone can get better. You are probably wishing that I could get better right now (since you've been reading this, you know I have room for improvement!).


You see, we just don't know when someone is out there reading our words and smiling and dreaming and crying and shaking her head and saying "YES!" this is the one for me.

So, don't give up.  I want to read your book. I really do.  Hang in there. February is a short month. And March is all about new beginnings.

* For the record, I do not consider family time a BAD THING. I have rarely put my own writing before family time. Especially when my kids were little. On that same note ... I know many a writer who uses his/her lovely family as a big old EXCUSE for not writing ... if you are doing this -- it's a PIT. You can love your family, be a good parent/spouse etc... and still find some writing time every single day. The dishes will wait. The laundry will wait (or amazingly, someone in your family will take it upon his/herself and learn to fold it ... it happens!).

Hey, when your book comes out - let me know - I want to read it.


  1. Well stated, Jamie. Thank you for sharing your journey and your doubts. I think we all have them, and you're brave to talk about them. I, for one, am so glad you kept with it - I can't wait to read your books when they come out!

  2. Thanks, Tamera ... it is a bit scary to admit that I still doubt myself at times. ;)

    Can't wait to read YOUR book on March 5th!