Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Thrill of Rejection

A month ago, there were no literary agents who had ever heard of me or my writing. That changed earlier this month when I sent out about ten query letters in the form of emails. I really should have been more dilligent about sending queries, but it was a HUGE step for me to even send out the ones I have sent.

Of those ten queries, I've gotten back seven rejections. This is absolutely to be expected. In fact, I would be shocked out of my mind if someone had actually shown interest at this juncture. That's not to say that I think my writing isn't worthy of being published, but realistically, rejections are what I should expect. I am, after all, an unknown writer.

Still, there is that tiny glimmer of hope that comes when I check my email and see that I have a response. I have two separate email accounts: One that I use to send my queries to agents, and my old email account where I send and receive everything else. So when I check that very special email account, I automatically know whether or not I have a response from an agent as soon as I log in.

More often than not over the course of this past month, I've logged in to that email account only to find that no one has responded to my queries. These are the worst days--when nothing happens. Then come the times when I log in and am surprised to see that I actually have an email waiting for me. Then comes that beautiful, glorious feeling of anticipation. I click to enter my inbox. I see that the email is indeed from one of the agents I have queried.

And I hesitate. I hesitate because I want to savor the moment. This could be the email that changes my life. This could be the email of acceptance. This could be the email that launches me into the career I'm so desperately hoping to have. This could be the email that terrifies me the most, because it will mean that I have succeeded. And success can be a lot scarier than failure.

Something else could happen after I open that email. It could mean that there's another rejection, another slammed door in my face. I've prepared myself for those slammed doors, but that annoying glimmer of hope won't let me be completely realistic. So I hesitate.

But then, I know I must open that email. If I don't open it, I'll never know. So I open the email... far, I've only found rejections. Some have been a lot kinder than others (Alec Shane, assistant to Jodi Reamer, really knows how to let a girl down easy. I like him!) People have given me advice to try to self-publish and save myself this agony of getting rejected.

Well, first of all, I've only been at this a month. I'd feel like a whiny quitter if I gave up so easily, for that's what I would be. Quitting is for sissies and pansies and people who never get published. Second, fear of rejection is not a valid reason not to try. Why would I deny myself the pleasure of checking those emails, hoping against hope that the next email I receive will be the one I've been waiting for?

Even if it's another rejection, I have the opportunity to learn something. And I'm having a lot of fun in the process.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Red Ink

I completed a rough draft of my second novel in May of this year. Remarkably, and quite beside the point, I finished a rough draft of my third novel only about 2 weeks later (woot!). I put aside all of that for a couple of months, but yesterday I finally sucked it up and unsheathed my proverbial red ink pen.

I don't really use red ink pens. They belong to teachers. If you haven't figured it out yet, I don't like being identified with teachers. :-D Rather, I went through all the old files that contained the 32 chapters of my second novel. And now I find myself faced with the daunting task of shortening those 32 chapters down to 30 (at the most--I'd like to go lower).

I'm also faced with the task of shortening each of those chapters to no more than seven pages (I'd prefer five or less). The good thing is, I've already managed to do this with the first five chapters (I had a day off yesterday). The bad thing is, I've only gotten started. I know for a fact that I'm going to have to cut out and rewrite several segments of the next three or four chapters. These were chapters I procrastinated with when I originally wrote them, mainly because I didn't know how to write them. And now I have to rewrite them.

Unless I am struck with some ingenius idea, I'm not sure what's going to happen. I've never liked editing, but I'm learning that it's a huge part of the writing process. Whether I learn to like it or not, I'm going to have to do it.

This is one of those times when I really start wondering how God puts up with all of us. He has never had one of those moments when He doesn't know how the story is supposed to go. He always knows. He had it all planned out before we were ever born. The thing is, He also knows that we're just not going to follow the story line He put before us. It's not that God isn't sovereign. I'm not saying that at all. In fact, I'm saying the opposite.

When I have to edit my story, it's usually because I'm flawed. When God has to edit our stories, it's not because He's flawed. It's because He made us in His image and breathed that spark of life into us that enables us to make our own choices. He made us well. He made us to be good, but we don't choose to remain that way. We choose to go a way He didn't plan for us. And so, God does get that red ink pen out. And He does edit our stories. He edits them all as they interact. When we mess up what He has for us, He is able to bring good from it. He's able to redeem us and bring Himself glory in the process. That red ink He uses is His very own blood. Grace weaves through everything.

As for me, I just have to keep being faithful to the work He's given. I trust that He's going to bring good from it, too. Just keep writing, just keep editing, just keep writing, editing, writing...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Great Expectations

I used to be annoyed by other people's expecations for me. There are times when I still am annoyed, but I can understand it all a little better now (I think). If someone doesn't expect anything of you or for you, it's a pretty reasonable assumption that the person doesn't care anything about you.

A wife expects her husband to love her, to help her with things around the house, to take care of the children, etc. Likewise, there are things a husband expects from his wife. There are things a parent expects from their children, and there are things a child can expect from a parent. In school, teachers are expected to teach, and students are expected to study and do their school work. Expectations are not necessarily bad things. Expectations, however, can be distorted when someone expects something of another person that isn't a reasonable expectation.

The annoyance I have of other people's expectations is that sometimes people expect things of me that aren't something I've ever really wanted. In the past, I often made decisions based on what I thought other people expected me to do. The first time I went to college, I only went because it was expected of me. I drifted for two years, then dropped out for two years. I went back when I was ready to go. When I finally graduated college, I had accomplished the task I wished to accomplish. I wanted to learn, and I did. Some of my teachers', friends' and family members' expectations for me were to get a degree I could actually put to use. I didn't go to college for a degree; I went for an education. Even though five years later I'm STILL paying off the student loans, I don't regret it at all.

Some people expected me to use my degree to become a teacher (shudder!) or something similar. Still others have expected me to get married and have kids (as if I had a lot of choice in that matter). Others have expected me to move up in management in my current job at a drop-in childcare center (after all, I've been working there over four years). Others have expected me to abandon this ridiculous goal of actually trying to make it as a writer. They'd rather I do something practical... but I'm just not practical.

The thing is, anyone who expects me to be something I'm not isn't really helping me. At the same time, I realize that people who have expectations of what I should do with my life are only trying to show that they care. It saddens me that some of them don't know me well enough to actually realize they're hurting more than they're helping, but I do appreciate the fact that they care about me and what I do with my life.

But I'm a free spirit. I would stink at teaching, and I know I would stink at management. And if I'm happier chasing kids around at work instead of sitting behind a desk trying to do administrative stuff, who's to judge me? As for the marriage and family, I'm not sure what God has in store for that, and I'd be just as thrilled with anyone else if it happened to me. I'm all right if it doesn't.

As for the writing, I can give it up as easily as I can give up breathing. I know it's nearly impossible for someone who's never been published to get published. But I've got a couple of encouragements: 1. Book stores and libraries are full of books that were written by impractical people who were once unpublished--people who kept trying to do the (nearly) impossible until they succeeded. 2. If God is for me, then who can be against me. I believe He's called me to write and try this getting published thing. So I've got to keep trying, regardless of my doubts or other people's expecations.

People are still going to have expectations, and that's all right. I'm still going to be me. The ones that know me best are going to be okay with that. The ones that don't know least they care. Their caring means a great deal to me.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pain and Writing

"Pain is good for art." --Richard, Caroline in the City

There was a really lame television show in the 90's which I happened to like called Caroline in the City. Richard was a pessimistic struggling artist, who, whenever something bad inevitably happened to him, would repeat "Pain is good for art." That's pretty much the only thing I remember from the show.

It's a true statement, I suppose. I know there's definitely times when I'm struggling with something, and part of my coping involves writing a poem or short story. There are characters in some of my novels that have only developed as well as they have because I have experienced enough pain in my own life to understand their pain. Pain can be very good for writing, and I find myself grateful to know pain so that I can be a better writer.

At the same time, I have also found myself praying, asking God if there might be a better way. Pain is a great inspiration, but so is happiness. I can be inspired by the sunshine as well as I can be inspired by the rain. But life isn't just happiness, and life isn't just pain. It's the combination of both that make up this wonderful, ridiculous, amazing life.

And stories have to have elements of both pain and happiness, as well. No one wants to read a happy story that doesn't have any conflict in it. Well, maybe some people do, but I am not one of them. A good story, in my opinion, involves realistic characters that experience situations in realistic ways (even if the story is a fantasy). That involves conflict, and conflict involves pain. So when I write, I put my characters through a good deal of torment.

Now, I'm not one of these weird writers who leaves endings unhappy. A story with unresolved conflict is just as wrong as a story with no conflict at all, in my opinion. I like to tie things up neatly, but I like to take my time getting there. A couple of my characters probably hate me for making them go through all that they have to do (yes, I know they aren't real, but they're real to me). If they could speak to me, they'd probably ask me why I keep making them struggle and suffer.

All I can say is that I know how the story ends, and when it does, they will be happier than they've ever been before.

Part of me understands a little of what it must be like to be God. He knows the ending, too. He's revealed to us that it will be a happy, joyful ending, no matter what we're going through. Sometimes that sounds trite when we're in the middle of our struggles, but He always gives us the opportunity to trust Him in whatever's going on.

So whether I have to experience pain because God wants to use it to help me be a better writer, or whether He wants me to experience pain so that I can be a better Christian (there's certainly much in the Bible to support that idea!!), or whether pain is just one of the many experiences everyone has to face in this strange, beautiful story--I have the choice to trust Him.

So, God, I trust You.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I have two favorite definitions for the word "inspiration." The first is the obvious one that most people think of when they think of inspiration. It refers to that influence that causes a person to think or act a certain way. The other definition I like is a more scientific term that refers to the action of inhaling air into one's lungs.

The thing I like about both of these definitions is that I can understand perfectly how both definitions can apply to the same word. I think that, in some ways, the defintions mean basically the same thing. As a Christian, I believe that I am nothing more than animated dust--inspired dust. God has breathed in me, and that is the only reason I am able to breathe.

As a writer, I believe the breath of God is the inspiration behind everything else I do. I can't claim my writing ability as something I conjured up inside myself. In most cases, I can't even claim credit for a story idea. Every book I've written so far has been partly inspired by a literal dream--as in, I'd go to sleep and dream something that I've used as a story idea. A lot of more modernized, good happy little Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of God giving dreams and visions in this day and age. I guess I make people uncomfortable too, because I am okay with the idea of God giving me dreams and visions whenever He wants to.

I'm definitely okay with God breathing in me. He doesn't breathe in me the same way He breathes in others. There are many gifts, but one Giver. Writing isn't the only gift I have, but I can't deny that it's something I only possess because the Lord willed to give it to me.

It's kind of lame, but I first saw this quote on a "Piece of Flair" from that silly Facebook application. The quote reads: "God breathed the breath of life in me. When I write, I exhale." That silly "Piece of Flair" sums me up fairly well.

I also find it interesting that the word "expire" has some different/same definitions. It refers to the act of exhaling, of expelling air from one's lungs. And if one were to fail to breathe in again, that expiration would lead to another definition of expiration--death. At the same time, if someone were to somehow fail to expell air from one's lungs after breathing in, they would also expire. They would cease to live. And figuratively speaking, if we're not breathing as the Lord intended, then we're not really living--we've expired.

God breathed in us so that we would breathe. He inspires us and calls us to expire. We so often get all worked up over purpose and meaning in life. Well, I pretty much know the meaning of life. It's to live. It's to live abundantly to the glory of the One who breathes in us. All of us have different gifts, but we're all pretty much called to do the same things.

We are called to seek God and His Kingdom. We are called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We are all called to love our neighbor as ourselves. We're called to be peacemakers; we're called to be poor in spirit; we're called to be pure of heart. "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8. If we're doing those things and trusting the One who gives us breath, the rest is going to fall into place.

But after 30 years of breathing, I think I've finally figured out that God really likes me to exhale His breath through my writing. That's pretty much the purpose of this blog.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Twenty-Two Years

I knew I was a writer when I was eight years old. I'm thirty now, and have only very recently actually sent out query letters to attempt to get something published. It took me twenty-two years to get from the calling to the action. There are a lot of reasons for this, some good, some bad. Some are neutral--they just are. As pathetic as it seems that it's taken me this long to figure out what I already knew, I can't really allow myself to feel too much regret over it.

When I was in third grade, I had an amazing teacher named Mrs. O'Daniel. She encouraged me in anything I expressed any interest in at all. I auditioned for the school Christmas play--she encouraged me and offered to help me with my lines (and I ended up getting one of the main roles--Gladys in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"). If I asked a question about anything we were studying in class, no matter how stupid the question was, she praised me for asking it. When I started writing these really ridiculous, horrible short stories, she let me read them in front of the class every day after lunch. Every single day.

Now, not only did this allow her to have a 10-15 minute break from teaching every day after lunch, but it also gave me the opportunity to show off--something I believe that every writer secretly (or not so secretly) enjoys. I remember some of the stories ("The Adventures of Super Gary" was one of my earliest creations. I'm not kidding. I think his super powers must have been the ability to bore an entire classroom full of eight-year-olds). They were just dreadful. But I can clearly see Mrs. O'Daniel sitting at her desk, leaned back, her warm brown eyes full of excitement. She laughed at all the appropriate times. She always applauded. She was the one who helped me realize--I was meant to be a writer!

Having an amazing teacher like Mrs. O'Daniel also helped me realize early on that there are two kinds of teachers: those who are born to be teachers (like her), and those who just need a job (like the vast majority of the teachers I've had). My parents were both teachers. My entire childhood, teenage, and early adult years were plagued with the dreaded question: "So, Ruth, you're going to be a teacher like your parents, right?" *Shudder*

The fact of the matter is, while my parents both had their shining moments in the classroom, I got the impression from both of them that they were only teachers because they needed jobs. And I know that if I were to become a teacher, I would only be doing it because I needed a job. I have never wanted to be a teacher. The idea that being a teacher is all that I'd be suited for is extremely insulting to me. It's not because I look down on teachers. It's because people assumed that I'd never amount to more than a mediocre job for which I wasn't well-suited. The irony is, in working with kids now, I do often get called "Teacher." *Double Shudder*

But working with kids isn't like being a teacher. I've found I am fairly good at teaching preschoolers--mainly because I'm on their level. I know my colors. I know my numbers and my alphabet. I know what a circle looks like. These are things I can teach because they're things that are basic enough for me to relate them to small minds (like my own). But I've tried to teach higher concepts, and I'm afraid I just don't have any gifts for teaching. Not at all, really.

So I went to college, planning on being a writer, planning on getting married to a minister. That way I could just let my hypothetical husband provide for me while I watched our hypothetical children and wrote hypothetical books. The hypothetical husband never happened (STILL hasn't happened). I figured I'd study English and the Bible and just write to support myself. So in college, I was surrounded by men who planned to be ministers and women who planned on being missionaries. I wasn't like them. I'm still not like them. And it's really easy to feel inferior when you know you're being called to something, but it's not the same thing that others are being called to. People don't understand.

My third-to-last semester of college, I guess I panicked and figured that writing wasn't a very good career path. So I tacked on a psychology minor for good measure and figured I'd be a counselor instead. That's a nice, good, practical, sometimes decently paying job, right?

I went to seminary for Biblical Counseling. The seminary wasn't a mistake; the counseling was. I'm not supposed to be a counselor. I'm a writer. I was only in seminary a year and a half before my cash flow got too slight to continue. And that's okay, because I didn't really mesh with the counseling program anyway. Or seminary. I'm grateful for what I learned there, but it was time to part ways. It's not you, seminary, it's me.

So badda boom, badda bing--I work with kids now. And I've written three books. And I'm now, finally, seeking to get something published. And I still have some people say or imply that there's nothing worthwhile in writing. I've had people say or imply that God can't use writing to minister to others. I've had people say or imply that God couldn't possibly be calling me to be a writer.

Except I know differently. I've known differently since I was eight years old. I'm not proud of the doubts I've allowed to delay my efforts. I'm not always proud of the detours I took in this journey that made me stray from the path I've been walking. But you know, there's been a lot of life in between the eight-year-old Ruth and the thirty-year-old Ruth. I wasn't ready to write what I've written when I was 20 and in college. The things that I've written have come from the experiences of school and loss and heartache that life has given. I am not always proud of my actions--or my inactions--but I can't say I really regret it.

Because God has a way of knowing exactly how we're going to mess up, and He's pretty good about weaving grace into all of it. So whether we fail or succeed, it doesn't really matter much in the long run.

I'm not published yet. I have no idea how long it will take me to get to that point. I do believe I will get there someday. God has made me a zany, disorganized, often childish, sometimes childlike, tactless, sporadic writer. I don't know all the whys, but I know there are reasons. And I also know that I'm nothing more than a weak fool.

The thing is, God has always chosen the weak and foolish to shame the strong and wise.

I'll get there yet.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Contagious Creativity

"I go into the museum
and look at all the pictures on the walls.
Instead of feeling my own insignificance
I want to go straight home and paint."

--Madeleine L'Engle

Anyone who has read any of my writing in the past (especially "blog-style" writing) knows that I tend to quote three people in excess. Madeleine L'Engle, C. S. Lewis, and Rich Mullins. The first two are dead writers, and other is a dead musician. I quote them quite often because something in their writing and/or their lives has touched me. Something in their writing and/or lives has in some small way changed my life and influenced both the way I live and the way that I write.

I've learned that writers (and perhaps all artists--at least the good ones) are repetitive. I think there's a good reason for this. What writers write is important to them, and sometimes writers feel the need to emphasize over and over again what is important to them. The theme of creativity is something I see repeated throughout Madeleine L'Engle's writing. It was important to her, and it's become important to me.

When I was a fairly young child, perhaps five or six, I remember sitting in a Sunday School class at church, and the teacher asked us a question. She asked us why we thought that God created people. As a child, my childlike answer was, "Maybe God was just lonely." As a grown up--a Bible College/Seminary educated grown up, I know that answer is definitely not true. God doesn't need people to fill a void in Himself, because God doesn't need anything to be God. He already is. He always was. He always will be.

But creativity is something I understand because I am a writer. I know why God created the universe and I know why God created people. God creates because God is a Creator. Creating is what a Creator does. A writer writes because a writer can't help but to write. A singer sings because a singer can't help but to sing. A painter paints because a painter can't help but to paint. One might as well say that a breather breathes because a breather can't help but to breathe.

God creates because God is creative. The truly wonderful thing about God's creation is how complete it is. The world is imperfect, but that's not how it began. According to that first chapter of Genesis, God saw that the things He had made were good. The world is corrupted now, but corruption implies the deterioration of something that was once perfect. And no doubt, it would still be perfect if God hadn't included into creation the element that would allow for that corruption.

I'm not blaming God for the fall of mankind. That was all us. Putting the ability to sin in someone is not the same thing as causing someone to sin. But God did put that ability to sin inside of us--the ability to choose to serve God or to serve ourselves. He knew which one we would ultimately choose, but knowing someone is going to do something is also not the same thing as causing someone to do it.

But God is creative. God wrote (and still writes) the story because God is an Author. And in creating mankind, God did something remarkable. He gave us the power, like Him, to be creative. He made us into His image and breathed life into us, and we are not like the animals nor any other creature in all creation. His breath of creativity is inside us in a way that enables us to create, as well.

The Madeleine L'Engle poem at the beginning of this post is one of my favorite quotes because I understand it completely. Whenever I read something truly moving or hear a song that is particularly beautiful, my first instinct is to want to write something truly moving or particularly beautiful. It's the same thing that happens when I see a sunset or a starry sky or a green field or a powerful mountain. Instead of feeling small, I want to create something big. Creativity breeds creativity.

As a writer, I feel the best compliment is when someone tells me that my writing makes them want to write something, too. Sometimes I wonder if it's better to look at that sunset or starry sky or green field or powerful mountain and just meekly breathe out a prayer of gratitude for the beauty of it all, or if it's better to write a poem or sing a song or paint a picture of it. Perhaps the answer is simply YES. Yes to both. Because if God created us to be creative beings, then perhaps the best praise is humbly imitating His creative power in the knowledge that what He created and what we create is good.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Seeing Through the Dark Glass

I didn't really want to start this blog.

The idea of instant publication is an unsettling thing to me. It's not that I care so much that unedited writing ends up posted for the entire internet to see. I'm just not sure that it's good when people write without having an audience other than themselves. Blogging, it seems to me, is writing for oneself. Others might read it. Others might get something out of it, whether it be a good laugh or a provoked thought. But when you get down to it, if everyone has a blog, then everyone is probably more interested in what they've posted rather than in what other people post.

I have written blogs before on other blogging websites. I look back on them and shudder. They were so incredibly self-focused. Every post was about my life, about my situations, about my pain and happiness. I wonder why anyone ever read those posts and bothered to comment on them. I am not as interesting as I sometimes allow myself to believe.

I liken blogging to looking at one's own reflection in the mirror. I'm a vain person, so this analogy works rather well for me. It isn't uncommon for me to spend several minutes just looking at my own reflection. Sometimes I look at my face and figure, pleased that I've lost weight or delighted in how clear my skin looks. Other times I obsess over the new wrinkles or dark circles I've found under my eyes. Whether I'm happy or sad with my appearance, I spend too much time focusing on it.

Blogs seem like a self-obsessed reflection too, only then it involves publishing that reflection for everyone to see. I don't really see why anyone would care enough about me to spend time staring at the reflections I post on blogs.

But writers blog, and I'm a writer. So I don't know why anyone would ever want to look, but here's my poor reflections. I can only hope that somewhere in them someone might find a well-spoken truth or a bit of humor that might brighten the day. The only thing I can be sure of is that these poor reflections are all I really have to offer.

...until the day I see Him face to face, the One who shatters the dark glass and helps me know as fully as I'm known.