Friday, August 19, 2016

Darkest Before the Dawn?

A popular post from February 2010

A friend of mine, J. Scott Savage, is doing a class on writing at a conference. I'm not exactly sure what his class will contain, but knowing him, the class will be twenty shades of amazing. I have an inkling of what he might say at this class because he posed a question to our online writer's group. The question was, "Could any of you who found success at the brink of giving up on writing e-mail me personally with your story or respond to the list?"

Finding success on the brink of giving up . . .

I know a lot of authors who've found success at nearly the same moment they decided to give up. Because at the same time they've given up, they also decided to give it one last push, to take one last step, to try one more time.

It's a strange place to be when you know you write well, you know you have talent, you've workshopped your manuscript and edited the thing until you could almost see your reflection in its polished shine, you know your story is sound, and yet the rejection letters keep rolling in. It's almost enough to make a writer more crazy than writers are prone to be naturally. It's almost enough to make us give up.

Madeleine L’Engle decided she was done writing. She had a couple of books published and then went nearly a decade of rejection after rejection. Throughout her thirties, no one seemed to want to publish what she wrote. She covered her typewriter and walked away in a huge show of renunciation. She wrung her hands and paced in circles and cried over her lost career. As she paced and cried, she realized that she already had a plot forming of a woman on the brink of giving up, but the story arc would be that the woman DIDN’T give up and finally succeeded. She realized that even the act of quitting brought plots and characters to her. She realized this wasn’t something she could just walk away from. She uncovered her typewriter, and went back to work. A couple of years later, she won the Newbery for A Wrinkle In Time.

Jessica Day George had many rejections. She had been to countless conferences and writing retreats and editor meetings in her attempts to break into a seemingly impossible market. The last conference she attended before getting a contract, she’d decided she’d had it. She told her husband that she was done—no more. He told her she had to finish the conference she was at because they’d already paid for it. The next day at the conference, she was at a critique group. Someone whispered over to her that they liked hers best and would she be interested in attending a by-invitation-only editor retreat. At that retreat, Jessica’s editor offered her a contract. Jessica had said that she was done and she’d meant it. She felt finished competing in a market she *knew* she was good enough to be part of, but that rejected her at every turn. If she hadn’t gone back to that conference, she wouldn’t have been invited to the editor’s retreat. If she hadn’t been at that retreat, she would have never been offered the contract that gave the rest of the world Jessica Day George. Jessica's newest book, Princess of Glass, comes out in May and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

For myself, it does seem that every time I think I’m done, something happens—even if it’s a little something. I think I’m done—I can’t go further in this maddening career choice, and I get a request for a partial manuscript. I think I’m done and I get a request for a full. I think I’m done and an agent says she’d like me to sign a contract. I think I’m done and my local publisher says they want another book. I think I’m done and SOMETHING happens to keep me in the game. Something happens that makes it impossible for me to walk away. And I finally realized that, like Madeleine, the stories won’t leave me alone just because I walk away from the computer. They’ll still be there, waiting for me to write them.

And *what if* the day you decide to quit, what if THAT day is like Jessica’s day—where there is only one more step to take to make it to the finish line?

You know you're good enough to compete, you've worked your manuscript, you've taken the pains and efforts to really learn how to write, you know you're good enough to play in the big sandbox called the national market. You just have to take one more step.

Well? What are you waiting for?

If anyone else has darkest before the dawn stories, feel free to leave them in the comments. We'd love to hear them.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wish I had one of those stories, at least if that brink you talked about really can foreshadow success. Bring on the brink!
-Nate

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Thanks, Julie. I needed to read this today to be reminded. I guess my Darkest before Dawn story is that I'd given up on publishing and was about ready to give up on writing when I was chosen to write When Hearts Conjoin, with a built-in publisher. Then I'd given up on publishing in a big name national market when The Writer accepted my year-old query and I got the lead story and my name on the front cover of the February 2010 issue. The last few weeks I've felt buried again when it comes to writing, but now you've made me realize I have a new book coming out in the spring, and the one I'm working on now is poised to sell more copies than I can imagine. Okay, so the market is exactly where I imagined I'd find my career, but the money spends the same. ;-) And it's a great feeling to at last see my name on the front cover of a book--exactly where I always wanted it to be!

Kimberly said...

I'm still in the finding the courage to try stage. I found it just yesterday. Finally admitted to myself that I'm serious about this. Boy was that terrifying.

Thank you for this post. It's good to know this in advance. Remind me when I'm whining about my first rejection letter, okay?

Shari said...

Thanks, Julie. This coincides really well with my whole day.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Wow, Julie. What a powerful post. It moved me. Sad to say, I didn't have that kind of moment. In some ways, I don't feel like I've paid my dues. I've only written for almost 2 years, but I have worked my butt off trying to learn it all fast. I write, write, write, and go to all the conference, sign up for one on ones and I have a nail hanging on my wall with a bunch of rejections, but I never got to the point of saying,"I quit."

Man, that was a long sentence.

I think the secret here is to keep going. Especially when you know you're good enough. There's always room for improvement with your next project. I feel so grateful that I'm having a book published. It's miraculous to me and I have worked hard for it, but like I said, I wasn't at that point where I felt I could go no further. Great post. LOVED it! Very inspiring.

L.T. Elliot said...

Right now, I'm in that not-giving-up moment. Tomorrow, I might really want to though. Even if I do, I know that I can't ever walk away because just like Madeleine L’Engle, the stories won't leave me alone.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling especially down right now.
I can talk about my novels.
People who read them say they love them.
But I can't seem to write a query letter, at least not one that gets a response. I'm floundering here badly. It's either is too full of the story or it's too simplified to stand out.
A writer in my critique group just got a request for a partial from her first query ever. She's a good writer. So I asked her for help and she told me she hired help to write the query. Now, I'm thinking about doing the same for mine.
Not getting any responses from agents hasn't made me quit writing, but it has slowed it down and really given my confidence a perpetual bad hair day.

Julie Wright said...

anon, my first query letter sucked muddy rocks. I read over it this last year and laughed, thinking, "Yeah, I wouldn't have requested anything off of that thing either." I think it's easily as important to work shop your query letter through people you trust as it is to work shop the manuscript.

query writing is a tough business. Have you sent your query letter through the monday mania for query letters here at writing on the wall? I try really hard to get to these to be helpful, but sometimes, life gets insane busy. If you haven't tried that, you definitely should. Janet Reid also has a query letter critique that she does at her blog.

I know your frustration with the process. That first query letter got me the majority of the rejection letters in my file. I would have been better off letting a few other sets of eyes have a look.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Julie,
Thanks for the nice comment back.
I'm way too timid to stand before an open public dismantling. Snarkers (not you) can really hurt, especially in front of the www.
I read those and learn from them, but also wonder if by going public, the query then becomes "out there" to the point that it is not usable.
As a compromise to going public with my blundering attempts, I have been seeking out fellow writers with successful query letters and actively asking for private feedback and help. I am also considering hiring an editor, like my newly successful critique group member.
Reducing a whole novel into a few paragraphs that shows the writing, the protagonist(s), and the story hook is painfully hard.

Annette Lyon said...

Anon, I've been exactly where you are, and I know the frustration. Part of mine was that I did seek out plenty of feedback--including from writer friends who'd had GREAT success with their queries--and even they couldn't give me suggestions for improvement. But I still wasn't getting requests (but I did get lots of "You're obviously a strong writer, but this idea isn't right for my line" kind of rejections).

A lot of the time it's finding the right person at the right time--the perfect fit.

Another possibility is that since a lot of agents have writers submit a few pages with the query, that your opening page or two might have issues. I finally clued in that my opening was my problem, not my query: the first page all by itself wasn't hooking agents. I fixed that, and now I *am* getting requests on that piece. Finally.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Annette, and congratulations!

Krista said...

I love this blog! I learn so much and gain a little more confidence every time I visit. Thank you!
My story is a little different, but still fits. I wrote a personal story that so many people have told me needs to be published. I tried and tried and though the rejections were mostly positive, I finally put it away and thought, "Okay, this is for my posterity." And that was fine. But I still went to writing group and they challenged me to try fiction. I did. I submitted. It was accepted (!), and my first thought was of my own little story, and maybe this will be the way to get it out there. I'm learning so much in this process... Especially that there is a timeline and a reason. Don't give up!
By the way, I gave your blog an award: http://kristalynnejensen.blogspot.com/2010/02/tuesday-edit-crunch-scene-it.html

Thank you for all you do!

Precision Editing Group said...

Thanks for the award, Krista!