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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Risk and Reward and the Writing Life

by Julie Tollefson

Facebook recently reminded me that it’s been a little more than two years since I joined Writers Who Kill and made my first post. I wrote then about risk and reward and how I’ve grown more comfortable, little by little, with taking chances, at least when it comes to my writing.

The message is still relevant, now more than ever. Sometimes, the writing life feels like one step forward and two steps back. In the two years since I joined this blog, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine bought one of my short stories. Another magazine rejected two more.

As I was thinking about the nature of publishing and the persistence it requires of a writer, I glanced through the acknowledgments of my book club’s January selection, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The novel is an epic, amazing tale that traces many generations through two branches of the same family, one in Ghana and the other in the United States. In her acknowledgments, Gyasi thanked a number of organizations and individuals for supporting her work on the novel over seven years. Seven!

It’s easy to become mired in the negatives—the rejections, the days when the words simply will not flow. Most of last year was not a great year in my writing life. My creativity took a serious hit from the one-two punch of the presidential election followed too closely by my son’s car accident one year ago today.

But I kept writing. Though most of my words fell flat and colorless on the page, I continued to revise and rework and rewrite until something shifted. By the end of the year, I felt like I’d emerged from many dark months of creative hibernation. I began to feel confidence in my writing again and finished a couple of short stories and a novel-length manuscript.

I believe 2018 will be even better, even more productive. I am, deep down, an optimist, and I believe that every turn through the submission-rejection-revision-acceptance cycle of publishing makes me stronger, as a writer and as a person. It’s part of what motivates me to keep writing every day, to continue to take chances, to persist when it would be easier to quit.

What motivates you when you face challenges and barriers to your goals?


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Julie, 2017 was a rough year for me, too. At the end of December, I wrote down a double digit list of rejections, and then made a submission plan for 2018. I also joined an on-line book club lead by an experienced writing teacher which is forcing me to read and analyze outside my comfort zone.

A Chumbawamba song is in my head:

"I get down, but I get up again/You are never gonna keep me down..."

Warren Bull said...

Writing is one way I use to slog through tough times; even when the tough times include what is not happening in my writing.

carla said...

Persistence is the key. Persistence is the key. Persistence is the key (she keeps repeating so she starts to LIVE it!). Carla

Julie Tollefson said...

Margaret - I love that song. It's a good one to have on repeat as we persist!

Warren - I find writing helpful in that way, too.

Persistence, Carla!

Gloria Alden said...

Julie, I hope your son is doing well now. Because of a hospital stay for pneumonia in June, and a camping trip with my sisters the month before that, and then a visit to my California daughtr in September and a trip out of state to a niece's wedding, it took me awhile to finish my ninth and even longer to get started on my tenth book. I did get a seven chapters written before Christmas and then didn't get back to it until yesterday. Writing a blog a week also makes it harder to keep at writing my books. In a way, though, living alone except for my numerous critters gives me more time to write.Also, because I'm self-published, I don't have to worry about deadlines only those of people who can't wait for my next book.

Grace Topping said...

Good for you, Julie, continuing to write during the tough times. I wish I could do the same thing. I started out with a first manuscript at the same time as several online friends. They have gone on to publishing several books each, and I am still revising the same manuscript. I know I need to start something else, but I feel I need success with my current work to confirm that my work is any good. Hopefully I'll do better in 2018.

Julie Tollefson said...

Gloria - Your energy is amazing. Just reading about all you do makes me tired!

Julie Tollefson said...

Grace - Wishing you a successful and productive 2018. I know from experience how hard it is to let go of projects that just aren't working, but sometimes it's the best thing you can do for yourself and your work.

KM Rockwood said...

I write because I love it. It's even better if I can share it with others, esp. if it's published and available to a wide audience, but I'd write even if I knew no one else would ever read any of it.