Our guest post is by Ginny L. Yttrup who is the award-winning author of five novels including her latest, Home, which released earlier this month. She writes contemporary women’s fiction and enjoys exploring the issues everyday women face. “Publishers Weekly” dubbed Ginny’s work “as inspiring as it is entertaining.” When not writing, Ginny coaches writers, critiques manuscripts, and designs websites for authors. To learn more about Ginny and her work, visit www.ginnyyttrup.com or www.wordsforwriters.net. I had the privilege of “discovering” her as an unpublished novelist at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers conference many years ago, but her journey to that point is incredible. She later won the Christy Award for “Best New Writer.” After you read this article you might laugh at the words “new writer.”
I pulled into the driveway of the cabin, put my car in Park, and turned off the ignition. I stared into the inky night. The giant redwoods that surrounded the cabin, boughs stretched wide, offered strength and steadfastness in the light of day. But at night, they loomed. My hand gripped the door handle, grief my only company.
I opened the car door, then reached for my book bag on the passenger seat. Did the bag weigh more than it had when I’d left this morning? I got out of the car, dragged myself up the steps of the front porch, fumbled for my key, then let myself into the quiet, musty foyer.
I flipped light switches to illuminate the empty rooms, but my soul remained a dark and unnavigable terrain.
I made my way into the living room where I set my bag, filled with materials from the week-long writers’ conference I was attending, on a chair. Then I dropped to my knees on the floor. I’d damned my tears throughout the afternoon and evening sessions of the conference. But now they flowed in rivulets down my cheeks. I dug my fingers into the carpet and grasped a handful of the shaggy strands.
I’d worked so hard. For so long. I’d chased the dream of publication for over a decade. My chest ached as I gasped for air between my sobs. I could run no longer, chase no further. I untangled my hand from the carpet and pounded the floor with my fist. “No more. I’m done!”
The rejection I’d received from an editor that afternoon would be the last.
I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, do this to myself any longer.
Nothing is Wasted on the Road to Publication
Twenty or more years and five published books later, the memory of that night stands as a marker on the map of my road to publication. A road I traveled for seventeen years.
Often discouraging years.
But not wasted years.
The lessons I learned over that seventeen-year span are lessons that serve me well now both in life, and as a full-time author and writing coach.
Here are my top five lessons from the road. Maybe they’ll help you navigate your own journey to publication:
Lesson #1 – Dare to Dream
Dreams are dangerous business. Dreams embody desire which leads to vulnerability. Surely it’s better to stuff the desire and focus instead on the realities before us. Just take the next step… While I’m a proponent of living in the moment, there is a time for dreaming. Without examining the desires nestled in our hearts and nurturing the dreams those desires lead to, our growth becomes stunted and the character arc of our lives remains undeveloped.
It was many, many years before I allowed myself to risk dreaming of publication. In retrospect, a dream may have propelled me forward rather than leaving me stalled for so long.
Are you taking time to dream?
Lesson #2 – Equip Yourself to Attain the Dream
While it would be nice if our dream, fully realized, arrived in a gift wrapped box, most often the attainment of the dream is the result of determination and hard work. If you dream of publication, how do you propose to reach that milestone?
Whether you choose to self-publish or seek an agent to represent your project to traditional publishers, the first step toward creating a quality product requires honing your craft. There are many venues, tools, and professionals to help you strengthen your writing and prepare it for publication: blogs devoted to the craft of writing, critique groups, associations for writers, writers’ groups, conferences, mentors, and coaches.
Set a few realistic goals and commit to honing your craft so you offer your best possible work.
Also commit to a lifetime of learning. I still attend, when possible, writers’ conferences and I still seek out mentors who will challenge me to continue my growth as a writer.
Lesson #3 – Persistence isn’t Optional
Persist. Persist. Persist.
The offer of a contract from a traditional publisher will come only after you’ve honed your craft, spent time researching and submitting your work to agents, secured representation by an agent, and after your agent has taken the time to shop your manuscript to publishers. Add the time each of these steps can take and most often you’ll measure the sum by years rather than days.
To say reaching that offer is a work of persistence is an understatement. It requires patience, determination, and…persistence.
Persist. Did I already say that?
Lesson #4 – Surrender the Dream
Why would I extol the virtue of taking the risk to dream, encourage you to equip yourself to attain the dream, exhort you to persist, and then encourage you to let go of your dream? Good question.
First, let me clarify what surrendering means: surrendering embodies the idea of giving over control to someone else. We surrender control of what happens, how it happens, and when it happens. When we relinquish something, we give it up. Or in the case of a dream, we give up. We stop believing in the possibilities and walk away from that which we desired and worked so hard to achieve.
In my pain and frustration that night so many years ago, I was ready to give up. But later, after my tears were spent, I recognized that giving up would lead to defeat. Instead, I surrendered.
In my case, I surrendered control of my dream and placed the outcome in the hands of God. I quit grasping and striving and instead accepted that if the dream was meant to come to fruition, then I would continue to do my part, but leave the results in God’s hands. I would trust.
With surrender came peace. And eventually, contentment. Whatever happened, I knew I’d worked hard, done my best. I could be satisfied with that.
When we find ourselves focused on our dream to the exclusion of all else, when we find ourselves striving, it may be time to surrender.
Lesson #5 – Trust the Timing
Whoever said “Timing is everything” was both wise and right.
After fifteen years on the road to publication, which included several detours, and a few near fatal accidents, I submitted the first twenty pages of a novel I’d begun writing to an agent through a writers’ conference I planned to attend. The day before the conference, I received an email from that agent asking me to find him as soon as I arrived on the conference grounds. He wanted to discuss my project.
By the end of that conference, I didn’t have an agent, but I did have the probability of representation once I’d finished writing the manuscript. I glibly promised the agent that he’d have the completed manuscript within six weeks. I went home and got to work. And then…
Somehow, in the midst of one of the most daunting and painful years of my life, I finished writing that novel. But rather than six weeks, it took me more than a year to complete and submit that manuscript.
It took almost another full year for me to edit the manuscript and for my agent to shop it to publishers.
By the end of that second year, year seventeen on the road, I’d nearly forgotten about the manuscript. I had other concerns: two young adult sons, a twenty-nine-year marriage that had come to an unexpected and disastrous end, and the task of figuring out how to support myself for the first time following nearly thirty years as a housewife and stay-at-home mom.
Two weeks after my marriage ended, I received an email from my agent asking me to call him “ASAP.” I’d barely had the energy to drag myself out of bed that morning, let alone make a call to my agent. But since I’d evidently missed a call from him already, I punched his number into my cell phone then stood dumbfounded as he announced the offer of a three book contract from my dream publisher.
Three years worth of work?
Sure, that’s just my story. But I’ve heard similar stories over and over as I’ve talked with other authors about their first contract. The offer arrived when they were ready for the offer.
The old axiom has proven true over and over again since that first contract. Timing is everything.
If you’re embarking on a journey to publication, pack these lessons with you. Refer to them when you reach a crossroad, or when you’re seemingly facing a dead end. They will lead the way…
Thank you for sharing your story, Ginny. I love the way you describe the difference between giving up your dream to defeat and surrendering your dream to God. I’m so glad you didn’t give up. Your books are wonderful.
Thank you, Robin. It is easy, at least for me, to confuse defeat and surrender. There is an important distinction between the two.
Good advice even for some of us who have been on the journey for a long time. This is one vocation where we never stop learning and we need to be reminded of these things from time to time. Thanks for the reminder.
Vickie, you are so right–we never stop learning. It seems writing affords us the opportunity for growth in knowledge of our craft and knowledge of God as our sustainer and hope. Valuable lessons.
Ginny, thanks for sharing your story with so may of us who have faced discouragement that seems overwhelming. Mine is similar, but not identical. My road to writing began with the death of my spouse, and was marked along the way by deciding that writing wasn’t for me. Now, ten novels and three novellas later, I marvel that every stop along that road was necessary. Bless you in your continued writing.
Doc, your story inspires so many! I hope to one day become as prolific as you. 🙂
Thank you for giving us a behind the scenes look at your life. We never know the journey other authors go through when they win an award and are suddenly “known.” (That was you as Best Newcomer at my first Mt Hermon conference!) I can’t tell you how encouraging this is to me in my journey. Thank you also for your transparency in sharing your heartbreak. Authors are real people with real life happening, and sometimes I forget that I’m not the only one with life, emergencies and pure survival interrupting my writing career. It’s also good to know that your amazing writing didn’t happen overnight, but took years of honing and persistence. I’m so glad you surrendered instead of giving up. Your books truly are incredible.
Thank you, Laura. You bring up such an important point–we all struggle and what we see on the surface of someone’s life isn’t always the full story.
Great post. Glad you’re here today!
As my dreams are slipping out of my physical ability to reach them, I realized that they weren’t mine in the first place, and that God sees them as something quite different from my ‘vision’.
They were not completed, in the temporal sense; they did not come true. But I am coming to suspect that the goal was not important to the Almighty; my dreams’ efect on my character and on those who shared my journey were their temporal raison d’etre.
For me, the dreams lie incomplete, partially formed but lacking the spark of their own life. God, I think, is seeing the project as completed. These dreams served their purpose.
“But I wanted to FINISH them!”
And so, I believe, I shall. God is collecting the unfulfilled longings, along with my tears, and when I get to Heaven I suspect He’ll be standing with a big box…and in it will be the dreams I thought lost, polished and bright, and waiting for me to pick up tools once more.
Sounds like you’re already familiar with surrendering your dream, Andrew. Thank you for sharing a bit of your journey too.
Fabulous perseverance, Ginny!
The long-haul of the writer’s journey and the needling questions about whether or not it’s worth it are exactly what I’ve been thinking about the last couple of weeks. Your post is fortuitous, to say the least. I appreciate your honesty.
Also, did you mean “damned my tears” or “dammed my tears?” It works either way, in my opinion, but I think you might have meant “dammed.” 🙂
Ha! Katie, yes,I meant dammed though there was a bit of the other going on as well. I’m the worst at editing my own work. ? I so appreciate editors!
Beautiful story. What a blessing. And now, look at you! Your work is read and beloved. Thank you for sharing so eloquently.
Erin Taylor Young
Great truth, Ginny. Thank you for sharing your story with such vulnerability.
Ginny, thank you for sharing your story. I could relate to it and have experienced the disappointments (and heartaches). Surrendering is freeing. It changes the conversation. I am convinced that God doesn’t waste anything. Bless you.
“It changes the conversation.” I love that, Norma. You’re absolutely right.
Amanda Cleary Eastep
What an inspiring story. Thank you! Writing has really been a journey of obedience for me. Saying yes to each post, edit, page, and and and… Joy, too, but lots of taking one step after the next.
Amanda, it is a journey of obedience sometimes! Keep taking those steps…
Ginny, I went to your “Words. For Writers.” site and read your February blog, “The Ultimate Rejection.” Wonderfully candid. You have a gift for wry, hopeful observation. I thought that particular journal entry paired so nicely with this one shared by Steve. I will add your website to those I visit regularly and your books to my “to-read” list. Blessings!
Thank you for your kind words. I had so many who encouraged me through the years I sought publication–I hope to encourage a few others making that same trek.
This was so wonderful! It is so encouraging to read about someone further along the path and know we are not alone on this journey.
I used to confuse giving up my dreams with giving them over as well, especially when I first started submitting small pieces for publication and faced rejection.
Thankfully, God gave me a picture to keep it in perspective. I began to write for Him, and Him alone. Every time I’d submit something, I would whisper to Him, “This is for you, Father, for your fridge.” And then if He chose to take it further, that was up to Him. My only purpose was to be a child making something for her Daddy to put on the fridge. It really took all the sting out of whatever happened to each submission after I released it. And every work that was published was like a special gift.
And, it gave me a new name idea for my web page!
Great story, Jaime. Rejection is part of a writer’s lot, that’s for sure. But God never rejects us. 🙂 That’s what matters.
Thank you Ginny for a wonderfully inspiring post that made me smile. So much of what you wrote I’ve heard many times before about learning and persistence and waiting on God’s timing. If it’s repeated by so many so often it must be true. Loved your book, Words.
Thank you, Ginny! This is so encouraging. I appreciate your vulnerability.
I have dreamed of publishing novels since I was a small child. My ex-husband left when my children were 4, 2, and six months, so my dream had to wait–and now that they’re almost grown, like you, I must find new ways to support myself. But I persist with writing. I live near Mount Hermon, and have attended two conferences there, which for me were encouraging. However, I wasn’t clear on my direction, and was still too swamped with parenting (one child has an incurable disease). I hope to go again soon, this time with clearer focus and more progress under my belt.
Columba, perhaps our paths will cross at Mount Hermon one day. Sounds like we have a few things in common. Blessings on your writing…
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Ginny, thank you so much for your encouraging words. I am in the “got an agent” category and the “shopping for a publisher.” Thanks for sharing your experience-your blog is a “keeper!” I will use it to remind myself of your words when the wait seems soooooooo long!
Thank you for your vulnerability, Ginny. Wise words. And hope-giving. A great reminder that timing is everything, and God’s timing rarely aligns with ours.
Grace, sometimes I wish His timing aligned with mine, but then I’d likely regret it later. 🙂 His timing is perfect.
“Persistence isn’t optional.”
I can add only one thing to your excellent post, and it’s something my twenty-six-year-old said to me when I told him about the toil of writing a memoir:
“The struggle is part of the journey.”
Grateful for the trailblazers and signposters and mapmakers! 🙂
“The struggle is part of the journey.” Isn’t that the truth!
Thank you for your honesty. My heart ached for you as I read what you went through.
Also, thanks for explaining so clearly the difference between “giving up” and “surrendering”. I got confused about that before. It makes sense now.
This is wonderful advice. Thank you for your wisdom. I will keep writing and pursuing my dream of being published. 🙂
I began my writing journey the year before I retired from a full career of teaching. That was almost ten years ago. I finally got tired of chasing after literary agents and followed up on a personal contact given me by someone who had attended my aunt’s memorial service in Canada. The contact put me in touch with a subsidy publisher. At first, I dragged my feet. Much money? Months, maybe years eaten up with marketing on my own? Did I really want to dive in?
A year later, I did. Seven months later, my first book was published. Now, marketing, marketing, marketing. Very little writing. Argh. But did I have twenty years to get myself published? Don’t think so. I am seventy-two.
Ginny, thank you for stating persistence isn’t optional. Everywhere I go, that message is highlighted! Also, I’ve always found it hard to believe God wants us to dream. It was eye-opening for me to hear that dreaming is equally necessary to propel us to persist. “Without examining the desires nestled in our hearts and nurturing the dreams those desires lead to, our growth becomes stunted and the character arc of our lives remains undeveloped.” Needed to hear this! Thank you!
Ginny, I just love your transparency here. Thank you for sharing this
“timely” piece of wisdom.