First, for those of you who read and commented on one or both of Tiffany Lawson Inman's Emotional Barrier posts last week, Tiffany left a comment announcing the winner of a free slot in the Madness to Method class: JUDY HUDSON. Congratulations, Judy.
Writers in the Storm is pleased to welcome Kathryn Craft as a monthly contributing guest. She'll be sharing inspiration, writing tips, and much more. Thank you for joining us, Kathryn.
If you book a trip and everything goes perfectly, you’ve had a vacation.
If everything goes wrong, you have a story.
Of course you do, you’re a storyteller. You know a good yarn isn’t worth a damn to your readers if your characters don’t confront obstacles.
Only extreme pressures can force a human to change. It’s why we are so addicted to story—we need reminding, again and again, that we humans are not alone in the ways we are challenged. And then when all seems lost, we want to be inspired by our hero’s courage as he throws his back to the wall to fight for change. This give us great hope.
So why is it we keep resisting the story of our own lives?
To understand we must confront the great paradox successful authors must embrace.
- Authors must be capable of complete control and complete surrender.
The tug-of-war between these dueling notions will occasionally drag us off-center. We must expect this, and cultivate the resources needed to help us regain balance. These resources must feed a deep spiritual reserve from which we can pull when the going gets rough.
- If we are cognizant of the challenge, and accept it, we can come closer and closer to holding both control and surrender at the very same time.
I use the word “authors” advisedly, because I’m talking here about writers seeking publication and some measure of critical success. Writers who privately press pen to page can exert complete control, allowing their imaginations to manipulate the lives of their characters until they feel like minor gods. But at some point, those who seek publication—traditionally or self-published, and no matter how far down the path—must surrender control of their work.
That’s a tall order for someone who has devoted years to the full command of her craft. But you can’t control what is no longer yours. Once published, a story exists somewhere between you and the reader.
Let’s look at all the typical obstacles in the path of the growing traditionally published writer with this new lens. You know, the things that make us whine. An author can control none of these:
• number of years until completing the learning curve for the type of book she seeks to write
• number of submissions until she finds an agent that connects with her work
• number of agented submissions until a publisher decides the project meets his business needs
• fluctuations in market demand
• the national economy, news events, etc.
• similar releases by other authors
• publishers going out of business
• your editor getting a new job
• a health crisis while writing your next book
…and I’m sure you could list a bunch more.
I was moved this past month by the self-written obituary of Seattle-based writer Jane Lotter. Yes, you read that right: dying slowly of endometrial cancer, Lotter had the time, courage, and presence of mind to summarize her own life. She wrote to her daughters:
“May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.”
Let me leave you with a story.
A writer works for a year, lucks into an agent on her first submission, then gets a six-figure deal at auction for her debut novel.
Hmm…leave you flat? Give me one more chance:
A single mother toils on a novel for a decade, writing by night while her children sleep and slogging through work by day to support them. She soldiers on, believing in her story. Never willing to relinquish hope, she has submitted all those years, racking up more than a hundred rejections. Yes, she’s disappointed at times, but she takes what advice is given, seeks support from other writers, soaks up new techniques from favorite library books, and continues to write. The story takes on such brilliance that one day an agent offers representation. Two years later, after another developmental edit and numerous rounds of submissions, things look bleak, and the author settles for publication with a small press who offers no advance. But something happens over the following year. Sales steadily increase—the book catches fire by word-of-mouth and lands on the New York Times best-seller list.
Go live your obstacles. Make of your life a good story.
Anyone care to share some of the obstacles they’ve had to surmount on their road to publication?