Friday, May 31, 2013

Embrace the Wait

photo credit: eye of einstein, Flickr commons
Coming to terms with times of waiting is inevitably part of most writers' journeys. Mine too.

I started "seriously" writing in December of 1991

I wrote several novels, queried many publishers (back in the 90s you could do this without an agent in the Christian market), and got many an encouraging letter... of rejection. For every single manuscript. Every single query. Every single proposal.

Then in 1999 I was diagnosed with cancer. I thought I'd jump right back into writing when the treatment was over, but I didn't. I struggled with chemo fog. God didn't heal me right away. He allowed me to me wait. Nearly five years.

In 2004 I began retraining myself to write--sitting at the computer for hours a day typing words (ones that made sense anyway) was something I was woefully out of practice at. "The fingers... they are rusty." Even rustier was the brain.

While I was at it, I decided to try my hand at historical fiction set in the late 18th C. At the time I wasn't even sure when the Revolutionary War ended (1783, officially, in case you were curious). I knew almost nothing about the time period I wanted to portray. I only knew one thing: I wanted my hero in knee breeches, not long trousers (how profound, right?) and a quick look into the fashions of the time made it clear that meant pre-1800.

It took four years to write that novel, while giving myself an unofficial degree in 18th century (particularly North Carolina) history.

In 2009 I began querying agents (times and the publishing world had changed) at the Mount Hermon Writers conference, meeting with them face to face. I was ready. The manuscript, however, wasn't so much. I'd written a sprawling epic, and though I'd cut it by half with the help of a gifted editor friend, it still needed to be trimmed by a third again.

Back to the cutting board I went. A few more agents sent me their regrets. But the one I really wanted had balked at the length of the manuscript and hadn't invited me to submit it.

Back home I spent the following year trimming like crazy again, and writing another novel (it wound up being called Burning Sky). 

A few months after that Mount Hermon conference, a group of novelists who were represented by the agency my dream agent was part of held a first chapter contest. They would pick six entries and land them on that very agent's desk and she would pick the winner, and that winner would get to submit the whole manuscript to her, and that winner was my long-labored-over historical novel.

I signed with my agent, Wendy, in April, 2010.

And I waited again, while she submitted my work to editors. While I waited I wrote another novel (it's called The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn). While I wrote it, it was being submitted too, on the strength of an early chapter and a synopsis.

In December of 2011, exactly twenty years after I began "seriously" writing to maybe someday if it was God's will be published, we got the word that WaterBrook was offering a two-book contract. Not for that novel I'd labored so many years over, but the two I wrote while waiting (the second of which I'd just finished a few days previous to the offer). 

Times of waiting are inevitable in this business. But the further in I go, the more precious they are to me. I want to use them wisely. Embrace them as the gifts they are. Once a contract is signed, there comes a lot of distraction and time-consuming activity that are all about the writing, but aren't the writing.

If you're stuck in a time of waiting in regards to writing, be glad. Try not to fret. Dig in. Plant all the stories you can and let them grow. Take the time of waiting to nurture them. Play in that garden. Run down the corn rows in a rain storm. Whatever.Waiting is the best time to be wholly consumed by a new cast of characters with their own story to tell.

Trust me, it will go so much easier if you can do this.

During my seasons of waiting, especially during the years after recovering from chemo fog, I came to terms with many things besides waiting: trust, surrender, acceptance, and joy. The joy of writing, not of being published. During the years between 2004 and 2010 I examined my heart and listened for God's voice as I wrestled with the question: what if this period of waiting is forever? Do I still want to write? Is the writing enough?

It took some time, but the answer eventually came. Yes. It is enough.

Make the writing your joy. You may very well need that joy later to sustain you through hard, hard work, and stress, and being stretched out of your comfort zone in more ways than you can now imagine. If you are a shy, introverted writer like me. 

But if the writing is joy enough, then the times of waiting will be so much sweeter.

16 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Lori. It is so inspirational to so many of us. There have been plenty of times I've been ready to chuck in the towel, but God has made it clear I wasn't supposed to do that. Now I'm in another waiting phase...wondering what to write next. Thank you for the encouragement to write whatever we want in that wait time!

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    1. When I decided nothing could take away the joy of writing and decided to keep my focus there, and let God deal with the rest (just keep knocking on doors so He'd have something to open if He so chose), did that ever lift the pressure. Glad my journey can be of some encouragement. :)

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, Lori. I'm going on just over ten years with a few stops and starts in between due to children and potty training and moves. I've learned that I'm a far better writer now just because I've got more life under my belt. There's so much more to draw from now, and I hope my books are better for it.

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    1. I feel the same way, Sally. Me and my writing needed to mature.

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  3. Hi Lori, what an encouraging and heartfelt post! Thanks for telling us more about your writing journey. It is so interesting to read how the books you wrote while you were waiting are the ones now being published. Congratulations! I am very excited to read Burning Sky!

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    1. I still have hope for that earlier novel seeing a pub date, but am content to keep writing more, and we'll see what happens next. This writing journey is never boring!

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  4. What an incredible story. Thank you, Lori, for being the gracious and deep-hearted person that you are, making this story a possibility... and offering it to us who are in the waiting as encouragement! I'm blessed by your wisdom, and blessed by you.

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    1. I'm so glad anything I've experienced and learned can encourage you! That's a blessing, right there.

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  5. Lori - thank you so much for sharing this part of your journey with us. I'm so looking forward to reading your books - God obviously has you in this time and place for a reason, and I believe it has a lot to do with who will be reading the words He gave you.

    blessings, my friend!

    Becky

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    1. God's timing is always best. I look back and am so glad those earlier stories weren't published. It took me a long time to find a deep passion for a time period, though the essential themes that resonate with me have always been there.

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  6. You are such an inspiration, you do realize that, don't you? Thank you for sharing your heart and your hard earned wisdom. I am SO looking forward to reading Burning Sky!!

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    1. I can't wait to know what you think of it! You inspire me as well, and you know what a great help you've been in God answering prayer. :)

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  7. Beautiful post--thanks for sharing! :)

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  8. Beautiful! And true. Thanks, Lori

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  9. It's good to hear more about your journey. I won one of the arcs of Burning Sky and I LOVED it.

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    1. Sara, I'm so happy you enjoyed it! Thanks for letting me know. :)

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