(Due to unusual circumstances, please forgive the length of this post.)
The summer of 2008 I wrote a book.
The same summer, I almost died.
My family says I’m melodramatic, but the near-death incident happened at Holiday World. Now, you need to know in high school I lived for roller coasters. I couldn’t wait until dusk at theme parks, when most folks headed home and those of us who lingered took advantage of short lines and rode the monster wooden coasters over and over and over again.
Fast forward twenty years later to our family vacation at Holiday World, 2008. As the gates opened, people exploded into the park like race horses. We were no exception, and sprinted to the back of the park to the world’s most wicked wooden coaster: The Voyage.
Little did I know a lot can change in a body over two decades.
My then-seven-year-old and I climbed into our seats and buckled in. As the cars climbed the first hill, we gripped the safety bar tighter. I looked to the right and left to see if there was a way out. And I really don’t remember much after that. The first plummeting hill knocked the wind out of us. I could barely turn my head to look at my son because of the G-force, but when I did, I was sure he was not breathing. Hill after jarring hill and turn after jarring turn, it seemed the ride would never end. Five minutes after stepping off the ride, I passed out and took a wheelchair ride to the park’s infirmary, where a 70-ish EMT helped me to a cot.
“Happens all the time,” said the EMT. “People think they’re the same as they were when they was youngin’s and end up in here flat on their backs.”
Ok, so I’m not young anymore, and I’ve vowed to never again ride roller coasters. My kids laugh hysterically and tell everyone they know, “Mommy’s favorite ride is the wheelchair!”
Pride aside, I tell you this story because it is, in fact, quite similar to receiving “the call.”
The call = when an agent calls an aspiring author and offers representation
Which brings me back to the book I wrote in the summer of 2008. It was a nonfiction book I’d really been writing all my life, but I put it all on paper that summer. All 45,000 words of it. And it was amazing.
Or so I thought.
In reality, it stunk. I knew nothing about the publishing industry, and even less about writing a marketable manuscript, particularly in the nonfiction narrative genre. So I did what most aspiring authors do: I started scouring the internet.
One of the most useful and interesting stops on my internet journey was Michael Hyatt’s blog, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. I polished my query according to tips from his web site, and started querying agents on his recommendation list. (Mr. Hyatt has an ebook now about writing proposals. I bet it’s pretty good.) In the fall of 2008, I queried over 30 agents, including Rachelle Gardner at WordServe Literary. (I also started reading her blog religiously.)
I received 29 rejections. Including one from Rachelle.
One agent requested a proposal. She might have felt sorry for me, I don’t know. While she did not offer representation, she said she thought I had promise and suggested I attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. (How I got there is a miracle in-and-of-itself, but I’ll write about that another time.) I was petrified, knew no one, and spent most mornings praying alone in the chapel. By the end of the week, I’d found friends for life in my “coincidental” roomate, Sherri Sand, and my writing mentor for the week, Mary DeMuth. (By the way, you really, really must buy their books, Leave It to Chance and Thin Places, respectfully.)
At Mount Hermon, I learned so much and felt God so intensely among the giant redwoods, I cried all the way to the airport when it was time to go home. I even tried to convince my husband to move there. (Here’s a photo of me and a redwood at Mount Hermon.)
Once home, the first thing I did was form a prayer team to support me and my family along the writing journey. (Spouses and children of writers are the true saints of the world.) Then, I started re-writing. And re-writing. And re-writing. And I read. Fiction and nonfiction. And every book about the art of writing I could get my hands on, including those by Brandilyn Collins, Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and William Zinsser. I started tweaking my web site and seeking more opportunities to speak (platform-building). Then, I submitted a new proposal to an agent I met at Mount Hermon.
And was rejected.
So, I started re-writing and re-writing again. I bought Nonfiction Book Proposals that Grab an Editor or Agent by the Throat (in a good way) from Mary DeMuth. Then, at the suggestion of a friend, I submitted a query and proposal to Rachelle Gardner.
I was doubtful. (Remember, I had queried her before.)
And strung out on anxiety.
Anyone who follows Rachelle’s blog knows she’s tough. Really tough. But I knew I had to try. I’d written a totally different book, and I’d become a different writer.
I didn’t want to check my email. Yet, I checked my email obsessively. I didn’t want to follow Rachelle’s tweets, yet I checked them 5 times a day (sorry, Rachelle). If she tweeted about “crushing a writer’s dreams” or blogged about “horrible proposals,” I was sure she was writing about me (because if you’re a neurotic writer like me, it’s always “all about you”).
Three months later, I’d pretty much given up.
But it wasn’t.
She called later that week and gave me assignments. She said she hoped I was writing down her suggestions. I promptly scooped myself up off the floor and tried to remember what a pen looked like, grabbed one, and started taking notes.
She was calm and professional, and I squealed like a school girl.
She tried to rein me in by making small talk, asking when I got married. I couldn’t even remember my husband’s name, let alone when we got married.
Yeah, it went sorta like that. (Clearly I’ll never be her first choice client for live interviews.)
A couple weeks later (and thanks to my friend Kathy Richards), I’ve calmed down enough to write this all down for you, although I’ve violated every blog-length rule in the process.
And this is what I’ll say in summary: If you are a writer, don’t give up. I thought my writing sucked. I thought I sucked. I thought the time and re-writes and prayer requests were all vain and purposeless. But each time I started rolling down that hill of self-pity, I heard God whisper, “I gave you a gift. I gave you a story. Now it is your responsibility to use those. And use them wisely.”
Which is what He requires from each of us, after all. To use our gifts for Him, no matter what those gifts may be.
The roller coaster ride’s not over. In many ways, it’s just beginning. And so I press on . . . deeper into God . . . to Whom I credit this strange and wacky and wonderful journey. It is, after all, for Him I write. And for whomever needs to find hope and joy from the words He helps me pen.
As my now-eight-year-old said the morning I danced around the kitchen after receiving Rachelle’s email, ”There’s no turnin’ back now, Mama!”