Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ask O Wednesday: How Can I Conquer my Obsession with Being Published?

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends! 

“Give me a quarter, Mom.” My six-year-old boy has grown fond of money lately.
Always looking for a chance to impart the Protestant work ethic, I answer, “Well, what are you going to do for it?”
“Aw Mom, just give me a quarter. Don’t make me do anything!”
This reminds me of a tendency I’ve seen in writers. We like to seek out shortcuts. Some desperately chase after trends, or search for the big trick to see their name in print. I absolutely relate to this consuming desire to be published because I lived in that swamp for many years. Like my son who wanted a free quarter, I craved the reward without the work (or at least as minimal work as possible). Can’t I just be an author, already? What’s with all this training, learning the craft, and “paying my dues”?
Thing is, although some people have overnight success, producing publication-worthy prose normally takes commitment…and time. It’s not an easy road, but it’s rewarding.
So since you’ll probably have to wait it out anyway, how about enjoying the journey? I’ve learned some obstacles to avoid along the way. Maybe my journey can clear a path for you. 

Give Yourself Enough Time
            Years ago I heard Jack Cavanaugh say it took him thirteen years after he started writing to get a book published. Thirteen years? I thought. Lord, please don’t let it take that long. I couldn’t imagine waiting, waiting, waiting for my dream. Thirteen years seemed like forever. Well, in God answered my prayer. It actually took twelve years for my first title to come out. I didn't have to wait as long as Jack Cavanaugh, but it still seemed like forever. I should’ve been more specific in my prayers!
A recent book called Outliers presents the 10,000-hour rule. It says if you want to be successful, you must spend around 10,000 hours of focused practice on a specific task. 10,000 equals about eleven years. (Guess I needed a little extra.) Now, looking back, I see how those twelve years functioned as a classroom where I grappled with the craft of writing. I’m grateful for the chance to labor with the language and examine the elements of story and character.  

Rejection Is a Blessing
           I know what you’re thinking, blah, blah, blah. Heard that before. You’ve heard that even a "no" from a publisher can be a yes from God. You know this. But, man, I wish, years ago, I’d believed the concrete truth that a rejection letter is good news. So many times I went to conferences, got all psyched when an editor liked my project only to receive a rejection letter many months later. “Oh, I can’t write!” I lamented. “I shouldn’t even call myself a writer. It’ll never happen for me!” But now I finally realize one simple truth.
I don’t want my writing to be published if it’s not ready.
I recently received a rejection for a novel I’m working on. The editor said the project wasn’t up to their standards. (Yes, it happens even after you’re published). I’m not going to deny that it stung. It did. But rather than wallowing in despair, I’m incredibly grateful my not-yet-ready-to-hit-the-shelves book isn’t going to print. Why? Because readers deserve a tale crafted with excellence; I only want my most stellar work out there; and…I desire to honor the Lord with my best.
            Also, the rejection gives me time to go back and spruce it up. Ask questions like, “Did I really put my heart into this?” “Is there enough depth in the characters?” “Does the plot carry?” What a great opportunity to gain a fresh perspective. Yay for rejection!

Do the Work
Finally, while you’re waiting, why not learn the craft? Read writing books, go to workshops, hire a writing coach, check out writing blogs. Glean everything you can. And use it! Write every chance you get. Not only for the practice, but even if it’s not selling off the shelves at Walmart, you’re writing can still bless others. I have a friend who sends out lovely cards, rich with encouragement from Scripture. Her simple card-writing ministry blesses me and so many. How can you bless others and glorify God with your writing? Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
And don’t forget the business aspect of the writing world. Learn about Christian retailing, market trends, what publishing houses want, how to pitch an idea, how to write a back cover… so much fun stuff to do while you wait, you may be too busy to worry about being published.
As we trek this writing path, remember we’ll get to the prize, but first, the work.

How do you fill your time waiting for publication? I'd love to hear!

Happy writing! 
 (This piece was originally published in the Northwest Christian Author.)


  1. Ocieanna, One of the first things my agent tried to tell me was "Don't be in a hurry to hit 'send.'" Of course, I didn't listen--but if you hit me in the head often enough, the lesson begins to soak in. So now, I keep working on a book, even when I think it's ready for submission. I guess I beat you and Jack by a few years, but that was just God's timing, not a function of my talent or yours. Thanks for giving us this reminder.

    1. Great advice, Richard! I can think of many times I hit send too early. If we're able, it's a blessing to have the time to be really happy with our work and not in a rush. Once the contracts start coming, that luxury goes away. God bless!


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