Monday, October 4, 2010

I Confess

My goals are clear. I want agent representation. And I want to be published. But those two goals, they're not so easy.

I've been writing with books in mind for something like five years. Since the beginning I've been honest with those around me about the feat that it is. It takes time, time, time, to write and rewrite and ready a book. And then it takes time to prepare for agents, and seek them, and get the right kind of attention from them. And then to compete against other writers, and carve your way. And then do it all over again with editors and publishing houses. So many steps, and not a one is flawless.

It takes practice, lots and lots of practice, and hard work and growth.

I've wanted my friends and family to understand all this--it's like I'm saying, See what I have to go through?--so that they're prepared. So that when months and years have passed and I'm no closer to novel publication they know why. So they don't see it as failure, that I simply wasn't good enough, or that I wasn't doing my best and trying my hardest, but so they knew it came down to more than my own accountability. Because it was merely the way of the literary world.

Somewhere along the way, I've stopped being honest with myself.

Somewhere in my head I've shoved that reality and accountability away. Inside I've thought haughtier thoughts. Secretly I've somehow thought it wouldn't be that long and arduous for me, that my path wouldn't follow the rut of so many others. I'm ashamed to admit it, but here. I'm admitting it.

Even at this early stage of my journey--so so early, friends--I've already begun looking past the practice, the learning, the writing, and I've projected myself to the next level, and I think it's been without fully realizing the work that's due. I might have a chip on my shoulder. Like somehow my writing is already where it needs to be. Like, somehow, I've just happened upon a marketable storyline, or that I've captured an awesomely awesome character, or a print-worthy written voice. Like maybe I could skip through all that work I've told everyone else to expect, because my writing's that good.

I've lost sight of so much. (I think it's why I connected to what India Arie had to say.)

My efforts first need to be about the writing. Because I love words and the things they mean and the messages they relay. I love the stories and themes and life that can be drawn from them, and because I can write. And shouldn't that be enough?

I've made myself believe it's about the end of the race, and claiming the gold medal. Saying I won, instead of focusing on the conditioning, and endurance.

How about I just write? And then I decide how good it is, and whether I can make plans to finish the race. Instead of at the outset saying, It's lap 1, Janna. See that finish line way out there? It's yours.

I made a brave claim in September that I'd have the current draft of my novel-in-progress finished by November, so I could send it to beta readers and research agents. I believed it for a time, that I could make it happen, but it won't happen.

Now I see I'm not ready. I love my main character in this novel, and I love the story, but I've got to set it aside. I need a healthy distance, and I'm starting to see that maybe I've gotten out of it all I was meant to. It was more practice, you see? I really found my style with this book. I learned a lot more about the craft through it, and because of the other things I wrote and read simultaneously.

But I had myself convinced of perfection, or near-perfection, anyway, and I shouldn't have. I'm not ready.

I still believe in myself. My goals are still the same, and I will keep at this until I make it happen, because I know it is in me. It's just I have to peel back those assumptions I've allowed myself, and see the real work beneath. With humility, and a big pile of elbow grease. And really good running shoes.

Maybe this explains the questions and struggles some of you have seen in me of late. It's starting to make sense.

I've a long journey ahead. That's my confession.

40 comments:

Christina Banks said...

I can so relate, Janna. I too am making that long journey. We'll get there if we keep going.

Janet Johnson said...

It is a long journey. I have definitely started books that still lay unfinished. But they all bring me a step forward (I hope!). Funny, the further I get, the more I realize how much work I have to do to get to where I want.

But don't we all hope that the easy path will be ours because we're just that good? I'm sure you're in good company . . . at the very least, I'm with you. :)

Good luck with your journey!

Slamdunk said...

Pushing forward is one thing, but arriving at the wrong destination or failing to perceive the importance of the journey makes the pressure all for nothing.

Glad to hear that you are reevaluating your goals and modifiying them to what is important for you.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

It is a long journey - so don't stop moving toward it. The more you write, receive constructive criticism, and rewrite...again and again, the better your writing will be and you will be closer to your goal. It's also somewhat beyond our control - it's a business, it's a numbers game, it's the right story at the right time with the right agent and the right editor.

Keep going. You'll get there.

Stacey Graham said...

I'm saving you a spot on the shelf next to me and Hoo. <3

Joanne said...

With every day, and every writing project, we learn and grow and change. It's such an intricate process, but it's also the unwavering dedication that I hear in your words today that one day gets us to the place we want to be. Keep on writing :)

Rhonda Schrock said...

Hmm. I think I see some of myself in this post. You've given me some things to think about.

I'll bet this wasn't easy to process.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Wow. I so admire your vulnerability, your honesty, your humility.

For me, it's come down to obeying the Lord one day, even one minute at a time, not worrying where He's taking me, but holding His hand and trusting Him to get me through today. It sounds sappy, but for me, it's the deepest lessson I've had to learn.

Love. You.

Jan Cline said...

Great post and a reminder for all of us that we are never done learning. I can hear in what you have said that you have already come a long way. You are probably farther along your journey than you think. But the goal is what we become, not what we learn.
Blessings on your journey.

Terri Tiffany said...

I was thinking about you this morning and had planned in fact to email you to see what was going on with you. Thank you for sharing today. I know I've gone through similar times of self-refection about my writing. I've had to distance myself from any real love of my work so that I could keep on with the next one, trying with each new book to improve my craft. Sounds like you have a plan:))

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Janna, I think this post proves you've grown as a writer. When I decided to set aside my first novel it was a lot easier than I expected but I think that's because I knew I still needed to grow. I have doubts about my current novel but I'll test the waters and see what happens.

In the meantime I'm excited to start a NEW project for nano.

Diane said...

Thank you for sharing your heart. I think a lot of times when we surrender things, God jumps in and makes things (possibly even better) happen. Hugs and prayers to you and this long journey. :O)

Travis Erwin said...

Have you been reading my mind? Seriously I could have written this so I feel your writerly angst.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

So much of this life--living is about the journey.

Thanks for boldly admitting when I know many of us feel.
~ Wendy

Karen said...

I'm right there with you. My first big attempt never made it past the agent to editors. They liked it, but said the audience was too niche. Me, I was thinking, instant success! HA.

If you love the journey, the length of road does not matter.

You are not alone! Look behind you! :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Thank you for this post, Janna. There have been so many times in my writing journey that I thought I was ready for publication, that I thought I'd worked so hard and deserved that next step. It took until recently to know that I still had a long way to go but now I KNOW I'm ready for that next step instead of just thinking it.

It takes courage and reflection, probably even a lot of humble thoughts, to recognize where each of us is at in this journey. It sounds like you know where you are and where you're going--and that's inspiring. Thanks again!

Deb Shucka said...

This is one of my favorite things you've written. I can relate to every single word, and have found myself in this place more than once. It seems to be part of the ebb and flow of being a writer. Because I'm older and feel like the clock is ticking faster and faster, I thought I might be able to speed up my own process. Which of course has not worked at all. So, I write. And remind myself that it all begins and ends there. Writing and telling the stories that are given to me to bring into the world, and getting out of my own way.

Christine Fonseca said...

I love this post - the honesty in it. Personally, I have been there - heck I am there, where you are, much of the time. We can do it though...just gotta persevere!

Susan R. Mills said...

I have the same confession! Keep it up, though, Janna. You'll get there.

Melissa Marsh said...

Wow, Janna. This was so honest and heartfelt and REAL. I can relate to it, as well. I've lost that love of writing and been so wrapped up in the GOAL. I needed the reminder today that it's the writing itself that matters. Thank you. *hugs*

Jackee said...

WONDERFUL post, Janna! I understand each emotion because I feel the same way.

I've been so close so many times, but still nothing monetary to show my family and friends. But could I quit writing even if I wanted to? No. It's a part of me and so very important for my wholeness.

Thanks for sharing! So glad I've found your blog!

Melissa Sarno said...

Well said. I needed to read this post today, so thank you. I've felt like I'm in a race to reach a writing goal that requires a lot more time and endurance than I've given it. Giving yourself the time and distance you need is so smart! And it was a good reminder for me :-)

Melissa Gill said...

That's an amazing realization. This resonated so clearly with me, I just needed to hear someone else say it.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Janna -

Your transparency is so refreshing. It makes us look at our own expectations.

I remember taking the first draft of my book to a writers conference, thinking it was ready. Now, I take each baby step, thrilled to make some progress.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Tamika: said...

What an eye opening truth for us all. I struggle with wanting the prize more than the price! I've decided that no matter what, I love to write. So, why not enjoy the journey:)

Carrie Link said...

I so get it.

Kaylie said...

Yeah, I thought my first novel was perfect once upon a time. It's a good thing I have writing buddies to set me straight.

Capri K said...

I hope you get to where you want to be!

Written Not With Ink said...

"I've made myself believe it's about the end of the race, and claiming the gold medal. Saying I won, instead of focusing on the conditioning, and endurance."

I love this... so true! What a mental headgame we have to endure for the long haul of the novel journey. Someone else posted my sentiments already, but it bears repeating: sometimes when we least expect it, after we've already moved on, God can take a project and make miraculous things happen with it! Hope that'll be the case with you.

Keep on keeping on :)

AvDB said...

I think most of us fell into that, "Yeah, but MY journey will be different," trap at the outset. Maybe as writers we have inordinate faith in ourselves. That's not necessarily a bad thing, considering how much of our faith gets eaten away over the ensuing months and years. It means we'll still have a shred of it at the end of it all.

False starts also happen. I've got a few. Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong everything. Doesn't matter what the problem is, only that you recognize you weren't getting anywhere. And, there's no law saying you can't take the protagonist you love and shove her in another story.

Rebecca Nazar said...

Beautiful post, Janna, hands down your best. A true message for all us writers.

WendyCinNYC said...

Well, said, Janna. I'm right there with you.

Jill Kemerer said...

I've been there and I'll be there again. I have three levels. Delusion, calm, and despair.

Delusion is when I convince myself that "this book will be the one."

Calm is where I'm at now: maybe I'll get good news, maybe I won't; either way I'll keep writing.

Despair is when I know I've been an idiot for ever admitting I want to be a published writer because it obviously won't happen for twenty more years.

Yeah, I get it. But listen, you have a talent for writing, so don't convince yourself you won't get published with this book or the next book. We don't know which book will be the one.

Janna Qualman said...

Wow, I didn't expect such a solid, connective response. For me this was just a raw and freeing post. I'm pleased it touched a nerve with so many of you!

thedomesticfringe said...

Cheering for you on your journey, no matter how long it takes!

-FringeGirl

Duane Scott said...

We should all be this honest. Thanks...

Lola Sharp said...

I love, LOVE, the honesty and bravery of this post, Janna.

The 'funny' thing about getting deep down honest and real with ourselves (and even better that you opened up all the way and shared it publicly) is that it is not only humbling, and a huge personal growth in itself, but it also opens us up to what's real and writing the story that is about something, that matters and resonates.
You're committed to the WORK now, the real journey.

Man, I love this post.

Melissa Gill said...

Hi Janna- I gave you the One Lovely Blog Award on my blog.

Angela said...

Janna, I love your voice. With my busy schedule it's hard to hold my attention, but I just found myself reading your blog for a half an hour to catch up when I was supposted to be starting my exercises. I just can't seem to get enough of your writing and I'm glad you are holding on and still churning out stuff. Save it all, because once the right person gets ahold of you, everything you've written will be worth it's weight in gold.

myletterstoemily said...

that sounds very wise. sometimes we have
to take a step away from our projects to
see them through.

i am looking forward to your book, whenever
it arrives!

blessings,
lea