Monday, October 25, 2010

When do you cease writing your novel?




Last week was a rough one. I received three agent rejections plus a tear-inducing edit. The reader told me they liked my antagonist more than my protagonist. That my characters were not acting like Christians at all.

Not a happy day.

But I didn’t blame the messenger.

It made me rethink this writing a novel thing. Obviously, I hadn’t presented my MC the way I’d hoped. What goes on in my brain isn’t coming out on paper. I might have improved my technical skills but my plot was full of holes.


Of course, I emailed my supportive critique partners, some writer friends and others who know how much I love to write. I prayed that God would show me what I was missing.

But the time comes when you wonder how many more times you can tell someone you are starting another new book without them asking,” What about the other ones you wrote…”

I tossed them.

Because their only worth to me are as learning tools, stepping stones to writing better. I also ordered a book on Goals, Motivation and Conflict and promised myself I would not finish another book until I have read and understood this aspect of writing fiction.

So when does a writer say this isn’t for me? I will never get it? I will quit wasting my time, money and efforts on something I will never get?

Is there a magic number of rejected books?

I’m writing book number five. Because that same day I pulled out a short story I’d written about six years ago for Faithwriters. Oh my goodness was I embarrassed. But I was also thrilled that today I know how to improve all those mistakes.

We’re growing every time we put our words down on paper. Is there a moment when it will all come together? Hopefully.

But in the meantime, how will you push yourself forward when you find yourself swirling in the muck and mire like I was? Do you have a scenerio in your head when you will call it quits or is that not an option?

54 comments:

Teresa aka JW said...

Many well known writers received many rejections and harsh criticism for years before being published.

DO NOT GIVE UP--EVER unless you do not enjoy the writing but I think you love writing.

Sarah Forgrave said...

So sorry to hear about your rough day. It sounds like you're keeping a good perspective about it all.

I got some pretty tough critique on my wip early this year, and I questioned whether it was worth rewriting. But I found that the actual rewriting wasn't as difficult or time consuming as I thought it would be. In fact, it was easier to write once I nailed down the motivation, goals, and conflict.

You may find that with your wip...that you don't need to toss it, but that the fixes really are pretty easy. :)

Linda O'Connell said...

Terri,
Everyday God provides us learning experiences. I have taken classes and read books, but I am an on the job learner. I write personal essay, have written two books,have had my work widely published, but fiction is difficult for me. When I hit the wall, I feed myself negative messages: "Admit it! You are not a fiction writer. You are such an imposter. You say you wake at five to write; what have you written in the last two weeks? Blogging isn't writing. Why don't you just find something else to do?" Then, unexpectedly I am renergized. Intellectually I accept rejection and my muse going bye-bye, but emotionally I want to give up too. We all do. You will get past it. Allow yourself to feel. Shelve it and return later. Those Chicken Soup guys wanted to give up too, and look at their empire now.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I STILL want to give up--and I'm published! I'm looking at my current WIP and thinking this will NEVER come together!
I know you're feeling pretty kicked around right now, but take heart that we've ALL been there and know exactly how you're feeling.
I don't think there is a "magic number" of rejections or a certain time period to shoot for. As long as you want to keep writing, you should.
By the way, Debra Dixon's book helped me A LOT when I first started writing. In fact, I think I should whip it out again and re-read it.

Heidi Willis said...

You ask a great question, Terri. I think it's something only you can know, something every writer, even published ones, have to answer for themselves.

If you love to write, if you want to write, then don't stop. The fact is that we only get better with time and practice, so if it takes five books, or ten, or thirty to get it right, but we enjoy the process and want to do it, then keep doing it. I love that you could look back at your old writing and see how far you've come. That should be huge motivation for you.

One critiquer once told me they wouldn't stand in line in a grocery store checkout behind a woman like my main character, let alone voluntarily sit and read her. Ouch! I had nearly a hundred rejections before my book was published. But now it's taking off, getting great reviews, and landed me in an MFA program, where I'm sure the whole "My writing stinks" will start all over again.

The point is no one can tell you when to stop but you. Not readers. Not agents. I'm not against quitting if it seems like I'm banging my head against a wall that I hate every single minute, and I think somehow I've veered off the path God set for me.

But even God sent his people through the desert. Sometimes we just have to keep trudging because we know that's what we're supposed to do, no matter what the outcome.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Pray and be true to your voice. Don't let rejection stop you from writing your next story. Brave through the rapids. The ride will ease.
~ Wendy

Lin Floyd said...

You are making progress and improving. Each book gets better but there is a price to pay-our pride but humility never hurt anyone. You haven't failed till you stop trying, keep writing. I'm on book #3 and hope to get published this time...

Carolyn said...

I think writing is like a good marriage. Lots of advice, lots of suggestions, but only you and your spouse can make it all work...just like you and your characters. Most of us can get the technical stuff - eventually - I'm working on that. It's the stuff that makes you want to turn the page and like or dislike the characters that sometimes allues us. A good marriage is like that...I want to see what each day holds for us. Most of the time it's better than the last! I like turning the page!

Saumya said...

A large part of being a writer is handling this constant barrage of rejections. I tossed my first 2 novels after spending so much time on them and worried what to say when people asked questions. The bottom line for that is, they don't matter. Nobody except a writer understands the value of when to let go. That being said, you are already putting in so more effort into your craft and it is just a matter of time before it finds a home. Don't let anyone's opinion pull you away from what you love. You inspire others with your encouraging blog posts and I am very confident that it will carry over in your novels! There are always other agents, other stories, other lessons...you are never finished so don't let ANYONE make you think otherwise.

Lynn said...

I'm glad to hear you are growing in your writing. And will CONTINUE to do so. I try to live by the mantra "even if only one person reads it, write it anyways." I've left jobs, just knowing it was time to go and think a God-nudge to stop writing would be similar. Take it day by day, moment by moment, and may it all hopefully come together for all of us!

Diane said...

Keep looking for your thing. God will lead you to it! :O)

Gaia said...

I would not know the magic number (never wrote one before), but if all writers were to give so soon, we would not have all these wonderful, inspiring books made available to use.. You go girl!!

Julie Gillies said...

Oh Terri, I'm so sorry about your rough week. But I DO know that we learn and we move forward, we learn and we move forward. Nothing in our lives is wasted when God is in it.

A quote for you: "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
- Thomas A. Edison

Joanne Sher said...

So sorry sweetie. Praying. I really have no answers for you. Hang in there.

Rhonda Schrock said...

Wow, Terri. I have no answers for you as I'm not a fiction writer. But I do know this, that I pray for you as the Lord brings you to my mind.

Thinking of you today, my friend.

paulgreci said...

Rejections are tough to handle sometimes. I'm sorry you've been experiencing that lately, Terri.

I don't think there is a magic number of novels I'll write or anything like that. I think I'll just keep writing regardless of whether I get published. And part of the fun of writing for me is pushing myself to improve, even if sometimes I feel like I'm walking in place in deep sand. I think I had a similar experience teaching. Sometimes I felt so inadequate but over the years I saw those feelings come and go so many times. And now, at least so far, I'm finding that to be true with writing. Well, those are my rambling thoughts for today. Thanks for a thought provoking post!!

KarenG said...

This is a tough one. I know what you mean about the stuff in the head not coming out on paper. My novel Uncut Diamonds took 10 years to get right. I had never written a novel before. But I believed in this one, it was the one I wanted to write, so I kept at it until I got it right, keeping it in the drawer for many of those years. The one I'm writing now, a followup called House of Diamonds, took 3 months to write, and is now in editing. It's all a learning process to get it right. Don't give up. You will do it. If you have the desire and the passion, you can reach your goals. But it's never easy.

Katie Ganshert said...

oh Terri, that is no fun. What a rotten week. I had one of those recently and they just plain stink.

As far as your first set of bold questions. My answer - I will stop as soon as I don't feel a passion to write anymore. But this passion is here and strong and thriving. I long to tell stories. I love to tell stories. And as long as that passions alive and kicking, write on I shall.

Heidi said...

Hello there, Terri! Just popped in to say hi. I'm not online much any more, but have some great stuff in the works (in real life, not online life :) )

Hope your day is wonderful...

Yolanda said...

I think perhaps this might be the very reason, I've never had the confidence to even get started.

Love YOU!

Jeanette Levellie said...

Would it sound trite if I said I Know How You Feel? I thought so.

I had a horrible month when we got back from our trip to Colorado. No muse, no motivation, fighting demons of anger and despair. God brought me out of it, and He'll do the same for you, honey.

You love to write. Don't quit until you hear the Holy Sprit--not people--say "quit."

T. Anne said...

Hmm.. I heard that once about my novels, that my Characters were not acting like Christians. That's when I decided to write secular novels with Christians in them. It works much better for me that way and my crits agree! BTW, the bible has way too much real life strife in it to probably qualify as a 'christian' novel if that makes you feel better. You are in great company. ;)

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Terri, I'm sorry about the timing of what happened last week. It's easier to take rejection a little bit at a time.

It sounds to me as if you are ready to learn about some plotting techniques, then perhaps start something completely new! You have learned so much from the novels you have been writing that it should get easier soon. Novel-writing is like juggling: we have a lot of story elements to keep in the air when we consider plot, character, and style, and we all drop a few as we write.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

I'm so sorry you had a bad week. Isn't yucky the way bad news appears in bunches?

My scenario goes more likes this: "I was doing okay as a non-fiction writer. Why am I beating my head against a wall with this fiction thing?" Then, I remember. God gave me this assignment, and until He tells me to stop, I keep going.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Catherine West said...

Terri! LOL, had to laugh at the 'not acting like Christians' comment. Erm. Maybe I'll contact you privately about that. :0)
Don't give up. If you know you are where God wants you to be, just keep going. Try to enjoy the journey. Rejection is just one part of it - I know it sucks, but it's how we learn.
You can do it!

Natalie said...

I've thought about quitting before. Writing is hard. I like telling stories, but I'm not brilliant with word. Every rejection stings and critiques are hard to take. But at the end of the day I know I want to do it--not just the writing, but pursuing publication. It's a challenge and I like a good challenge.

You can do it Terri! You are obviously committed to your work. You've written 4 novels and that is no small accomplishment. I have plenty of old writing hidden away too. Every piece made me a better writer, so I try not to look at them like they are wasted.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I know your pain. And I definitely know that question. I'm starting book number six. The first three were just for me, to learn. The last two definitely need some editing. I'm hoping one of those (or the one I'm working on now) will make it.

Karen Lange said...

Even when we want to quit, I think we have to keep going. Writing is tough, but if that's what the Lord's put on our heart to do, we need to press ahead. I don't know when it's time to let a novel rest - haven't completed one yet, but I'm cheering for you! :)
Blessings,
Karen

Michelle said...

We're all doing the Lord's work and increasing our talents by writing. I think that if my writing moves one person to live a better life in Christ, then I've succeed. And someday, maybe an agent and publisher will grant me a greater voice.

Fiction is a powerful tool for good, in the right hands. Hugs, Tiffani!

Jessica Nelson said...

Boy, I wish I knew the answer to your questions! I'm sorry about the edit. Did you get a few more opinions?
Ouch.
I hope you'll be able to choose what you think works best for the story. :-)

Susan said...

Hi Terri...For me, not writing is NOT an option.Never, ever, ever.

Sorry about the rejections but you know what? They help us revise and rework and become even BETTER writers.

By the way, Terri, thank you so much for always visiting my blog and commenting. Love having you. Hugs. Susan

Jolene Perry said...

I write because I love it. If everything I write gets rejected. I'll still write because I love telling stories.

Susan Panzica - EternityCafe said...

Terri,
So sorry about your tough week. I don't know the "right" answer to your question, but I do know this:
- We are not to bury our talent. As long as we invest in Kingdom work, we will hear "well done."
- Rejection serves a purpose other than teaching us how to improve our craft. Jesus Himself was rejected and when we are rejected, we are given opportunity to develop Christlikeness.
You have been an inspiration in your writing, and I'm sure you'll continue to be so. Even after your tough week, your perspective is an example to follow.
I pray that you will have an awesome week this week!
Blessings,
Susan

Dayle said...

Hi, Terri,

I clicked over from Susan's blog. Good luck with your writing. I've been writing non-fiction since 1987, but have always wanted the courage or know-how to push out into the fiction market. I don't think I have the imagination needed to pull it off, though.

I see we have at least one thing in common ... Chicken Soup. :)

Hope Filled Living said...

Quitting is not an option! When I feel like quitting, I take a break for a few days and put writing out of my head. I usually come back with gusto!
Blessings,
Mary

Jill said...

Calling it quits is not an option! Not for me, anyway. I propel myself forward with action. I revise or begin anew. I know--I know, rejection and what we view as failure is not easy to take. But it makes us stronger, right? That's what I tell myself. I allow myself my little cry in the bathroom, and then I pray and then I work on something else. And then I'm back in the saddle again, writing.

B. WHITTINGTON said...

IF you're five books in, you ARE IN. There is no turning back or quitting, not in your vocabulary, girl.
Look at last week as the storm. It's always CALM afterwards.
You are so close to being published with five manuscripts under your belt all you have to do is hang in and keep honing your craft. I can't encourage you enough.
I've teetered so many times on the verge of quitting. At least novel writing as I'm not sure that's where my talents lie. I love short story form and essays as well. Soooo. We'll see but I'm praying you pick yourself up and dust yourself off and get back on that writing a book horse. GO GIRL. Blessings. God is good.

Nancy said...

I hope you get it all worked out. One thing you said is the key, your writing will be better with each effort. I'm glad that you have partners that can help you decide what to do.

Jill Kemerer said...

To give up would be to pack away your laptop, but at a larger level it would be to pack away your dreams. Don't give up on your dreams. Just don't do it.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Terri, DON'T EVER GIVE UP. I have realized that you love writing, okay so things are not falling into place right now, but it doesn't mean it will never work for you. Remember that all the practice ( five books) is pushing you closer and closer to writing that perfect book. :)

Don't worry about rejection. Everyone goes through it.

Just Be Real said...

Teri, thank you so much for your support and prayers dear one.

Jayne said...

It's a tough call, but I think if you write for enjoyment then you just always carry on. I've written umpteen stories - long, short, teenage, adult - and no actual published joy (yet!) but no stopping me either.

Linda said...

Don't stop! Don't give up!
A few years ago, I know God was calling me to write, and I kept putting Him off (because I was scared, self-doubting, not trusting Him). Now I don't even know if I still have His call anymore and I wish I did. So, please, keep trusting Him and keep writing.

Lydia Kang said...

Terri! Will you please get your butt over to Omaha so we can give each other a hug?
I could have written this post because I've been feeling the same way about my WIP. It's been really upsetting! I wondered if I should quit or not. But today I feel better, and reading this helps me remember that we all go through this sometimes. The stings hurt, but we will better writers after the pain recedes.

Deb Shucka said...

I'm sorry you're going through this rough patch. I can relate so well. I think you know that you're a writer and that quitting isn't the answer. It sounds like lots of learning is going on and each thing you write is better than the thing before. Perhaps you just haven't found the story that wants to come through you, yet. Maybe it's not about your skill as a writer. Whatever it is, I believe in you and your ability to find your way through this fog.

Melissa Marsh said...

Hugs, Terri. Once upon a time, I wanted to write short stories instead of novels...it didn't work. I am not suited to that format. Although I did manage to get a few short stories published, that is not where my "niche" is. Novel writing is. So perhaps that is how it will be for you. Or perhaps you will just keep learning and growing and keep writing better and better. Just don't quit writing...whatever that writing may be.

Lynda Young said...

You hear stories of people getting published on their first attempt, but that's just not the norm. I've been writing most of my life but I never pushed myself or persevered for publication. It was a very off and on relationship because I gave up too easily. So now I've given myself a firm 10 years to get it right and to keep going. If by the end of that time I still don't have a novel published then I'll toss it in and try something else. But I love writing, so who knows.

Sandra Heska King said...

Oh, bummer. (((Terri)))

I sometimes think I should give up right now. I'm too old. But then I hear of 70- and 80-year-olds with their first book.

Please tell me you shelved or drawered or filed--not tossed.

Julie Musil said...

I wrote this super long comment, but I don't think I sent it right. I'm so sorry!

This time I'll keep it short...DON'T QUIT! If you need a break, take one. But don't quit! You'd always wonder "What if?"

Now, let's see if I can post this comment correctly....

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Terri--I'm so sorry you've had such a rough week...For me I'll write until it's not fun anymore. I loved teaching with a passion. When I lost that passion, I stopped. I expect I'll do the same with writing...

If you can get lost when you are writing, then you should keep writing. If you find joy when you talk about writing, then you should keep writing. If you can't imagine doing anything else, then you should keep writing....

I'll be thinking about you and making sure I check back in on you later this week... (((hug))))

Heather Sunseri said...

Sorry, you had such a tough day, Terri! I. have. been. there. I'm glad you're finding ways to lift your head and persevere. It takes so much mental and divine strength to get through what we are attempting to do on a daily basis, doesn't it?

Patti Lacy said...

Oh, Terri. Girl.
It is so hard.

You are a wonderful writer.
If God is telling you to write,
do so.

Sigh. He never said it would be easy, huh.
Patti

Carol J. Garvin said...

I know you're taking a break to enjoy your family right now but I apparently missed this post when it first went up and I just have to reply.

I don't know a single writer, published or not, that hasn't gone through periods of self-doubt and discouragement. The bottom line for me is that I love writing and will continue to love it whether or not my fiction is ever published. God has given me that love, and it's my job to find ways of making use of the words He gives. It's not my job to decide how the public will receive them. I fully believe He'll look after that part as long as I keep looking to Him for guidance in what and how I write.

I hope the time spent with your family refreshes you and renews your enthusiasm, and that you'll once again find joy in the journey.

Nehha N Josshi said...

You know, every time I read some struggling aspect of yours I am reminded of some struggling aspect that I was/am going through...tell me is it so so common? I am sure you'll come through, you've come so far...All the best!!! :))