Monday, October 28, 2013


(For those of you too young to know, this is the late Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles. Check her out on YouTube singing "I'm Tired." She was AMAZING!)

I'll let you all in on a little secret. For the past six months or so I have seriously considered giving up on my writing career. I've been at this since 2008. I'm finishing up my fourth book. All four of my books have won contests and received accolades. And how many offers of publication have I received? None. Zero. Zip. Not. Very. Encouraging.

I had reached a point in my writing where I knew there was something missing and had not a single clue as to what it might be. I read voraciously, mostly historical romance. I know good writing when I read it. I know great writing when I read it. Mine is good. Mine is not great. I've searched high and low in my writer's spice cabinet and that damned jar of GREAT is simply not there.

Losing your "GREAT" is one thing. Losing your desire to keep writing is something else entirely. I've been the creative type all my life - music, painting, acting, needlework. The occasional explanation to a state trooper as to why I was doing 98 in a 55. (You do NOT get points for creativity while talking to the police.) Writing has been the one constant in my creative life. It is part of my soul and I have a feeling losing it might just push me over the edge.

(Those of you who think I have already gone over the edge and am making my way back, just keep that little tidbit to yourselves. The guys in the white coats have been trying to throw that butterfly net over me for years.)

A couple of things came together in the past several weeks and I sort of gave myself an ultimatum. I wanted a sign, any sort of sign, that I wasn't supposed to give up. I was a finalist in a big contest and my dream editor was the final judge. I was attending a really great conference and the workshops and my pitch appointments looked promising. Well you know what they say about the best laid plans, don't you? FUGGEDABOUTIT!!

Didn't win the contest. Came in dead last. Pitch appointments went really well. Workshops were fantastic. The synopsis one alone was worth the price of admission.

'Nuff said !!

BUT, I came to the (briefly) devastating realization my dream editor, who has placed all four of my books first in several contests, while she may like my work, or my voice, or maybe just the fact I can spell, is never going to buy one of my books. She just isn't. SOB!

BUT, knowing who isn't going to buy your book is a handy piece of information to have. It saves a lot of wasted time and effort. (Hey, I'm trying to be Little Mary Sunshine here! Those of you who know me know how difficult that is for me. I'll probably sprain something if I keep it up.)

I won a couple of things in the fund raising raffle at this conference. One was a Scottish themed bag donated by Scott McKinley. Let me tell you, the mouse pad in the bag is one of the most inspirational pieces of swag I've ever seen. You could bounce a quarter of the guy's .... never mind. Where was I? Oh yes! 


Writers get that way. Especially aspiring 'really want a contract with a publisher writers.' You get tired of rejection. You get tired of the ups and downs. You get tired of sitting there staring at a blank page or staring at a page of crap that stares back and tells you you're ugly and your mama dresses you funny. (Hey, they're my pages! I'll write their dialogue however I want to!)

I won something else at this conference. I won a critique. Not just any critique, but a critique by a published historical romance author whose work I love and admire. I was truly surprised I won as a number of people wanted this critique. But I got it! And I sent my partial and synopsis off to this author and prepared myself to be handed my head. We writers are masochistic that way. 

And she did hand me my head. She ripped through my pages like Jason chasing Jamie Lee Curtis. And her critique was ... nothing short of a revelation. The thing that's been missing from my writing, that thing, she nailed it. She challenged me to rise above the cliche, to get creative with some of the most ordinary things on those pages. She nailed those changes which will take my book to the next level. Those problems I just couldn't see she saw. She gave me suggestions and ideas and insights to improve my craft, not just my story. And she did it with humor and intelligence and with the clear understanding my writing was good, but these things could make it great. So THAT's where my great was hiding - in another writer's cupboard.

And how do I feel about all of this?


BUT, I've decided I can't give up. Not just yet. I want to see what these insights will do to my stories. I want to try. I want to do this. Because another writer, someone whose work I admire, took the time to read my work, to tell me what she loved about it (and there were things she loved) and then told me how to make it better. I owe it to myself. I owe it to my characters. I owe it to all of the people who have believed in my work all of these years. And I owe it to the writer who took time out of her schedule (She writes and has a day job.) to show someone else the way.   

This is not an easy gig. And I think each and every one of us reaches a point where we have to decide if it is worth it. We reach a place where we wonder what else we can do to improve our craft or take our work beyond just good. The difference between good and great is often grit - the willingness to admit our own shortcomings and sometimes even our own laziness. Writing is not for sissies. Anyone who tells you it is, is selling something. 

I'm reminded of a line from a David Allan Coe song about an Alabama-born master storyteller.

"Cause if you're big star bound let me warn ya, its a long, hard ride."

Have you ever thought about giving up on your writing dream? What helped you to stay in the game? Has anyone ever given you a critique or advice or a pep talk that helped you to stay on the long, hard ride to publication? Tell us about it!


Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

Not long after I started writing, when I might have been able to stop, I got told by an agent that she was positive I'd be published. I've never finaled in a contest, but one published author judge, said not to pay attention to the score, it just showed I need to learn craft, but that I had a strong voice.

I'm so glad you won that critique Louisa! And, BTW, get rid of the aspiring part of romance writer. You have to believe you are one. Tweeted.

Louisa Cornell said...

Now see, folks, this is why Ella is one of my critique partners. She is not afraid to give me a boot in the butt when I need one. Changing aspiring as ordered. It is amazing the things people say to us that may seem small at the time, but when we hang on to them they move the ride from probably to reality. Thanks, Ella!

Paula said...

I have this theory that when you reach the point of seriously considering giving up, that's when you're on the verge of selling. It happened to me quite literally. On August 2nd, 2005, I got a devastating rejection of a revised & resent manuscript to the editor I desperately wanted to sell to. I became convinced at that point that this editor, who'd given me so much encouragement, was never going to buy my books. This came on the heels of coming to that same realization about an agent who kept asking to see fulls before rejecting them. Wasn't. Going. To. Happen.

So, there I sat, thoroughly demoralized. I'd been winning contests and getting requests for fulls. I'd been getting revise/resubmit letters pretty regularly. But I was tired. I was smarting from all the rejection. And I didn't feel as if I was ever going to be able to get over that last hump.

So I thought that terrible thought. What if it's time to just stop banging your head against that wall? You have a good job. You have a pretty good life. Maybe it's time to stop trying to be a writer, too.

August 3rd rolled around, and I hadn't quite committed to quitting. Then, an email popped up in my inbox from an editor of my favorite line at Harlequin, asking for an alternate phone number, since the one I'd put on my manuscript wasn't working. (Yes, I was so certain I was never going to sell that I hadn't even bothered to let people know that my personal line had stopped working. It wasn't like anyone was going to call, after all).

Y'all know the rest of the story. I sent the phone number, she called and offered me a contract on the book that would become FORBIDDEN TERRITORY, and now I've sold over 30 more books to her.

And since the plural of anecdote is data, I'll add that the same thing happened to someone else in this chapter. Not that exact sequence of events, of course, but I remember talking to her one day at a Southern Magic meeting and being alarmed when she broke into tears and confessed that her latest rejection had just about convinced her it was time to stop trying to get published.

I told her my August 2nd/August 3rd story, and she looked at me as if I was just humoring her, but you'll not be surprised to learn that it wasn't very long before she got The Call and sold her first book to one of the big NY publishers.

I've yammered on long enough, so I'll stop here with the reminder that they only way you'll absolutely, positively guarantee you WON'T get published is to stop writing and trying.

Collette Cameron said...

What a terrific article! I shared.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you so much for sharing that, Paula! I'm tucking it away in my Never Give Up! Never Surrender! folder.

I have been in such a dark place over the past several months with my writing and this critique and series of events have given me that kick in the seat of my determination to stick with it.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you so much, Collette!

Callie James said...

Great post, Louisa!

This journey can be so frustrating. I’ve experienced so many variations of this post, I can’t tell you. It feels nice not to be alone!

I’ve been writing books since 1990, I’ve written over 10 books (I stopped counting so don’t ask), and I still have not published in any format.

I’ve wanted to quit so often, tried several times, and couldn’t. That’s when I decided to look at other places in my life for changes. I needed to empower myself again. To remember what I loved about writing in the first place.

First, I stopped putting energy into things that no longer benefited me. I stopped writing genres I no longer had an interest in writing. With so much time and research invested, that’s more difficult than you might think. I quit volunteering for my chapter so often and I even quit entering contests. In fact, it probably looks like I dropped off the writing grid, when, in fact, I’m enjoying writing now more than ever and I’m still not published!

I think the biggest change for me came when I redefined my idea of success. I used to want the obvious—-sign with a big 6 publisher, eventually write for a living, and every once in a while read a nice review of my work.

With the tough economy and difficult times, I eventually realized I’d be working the day job until retirement. When I resigned myself to this (it seems depressing, I know), it took a large burden off of The Dream. Making a large income from writing is no longer a priority. It would be nice, but hey, it’s not my focus. Now I can look at the smaller publishers, e-publishers, even self-publishing.

What’s important to me is that I ENJOY the writing.

I would love to chat sometime to hear the comments this author gave you. Those pieces of advice are worth gold. :)

Lexi said...

Great post, as always, Louisa. My life has been such a crazy mess the past six months, it's seriously hard to find the time and energy to write. I so feel your pain! Keep on keeping on. You'll get there!

Louisa Cornell said...

Good for you, Callie! Everyone has the point where they have to say "Why am I doing this and what do I really want to get out of it?" And at times we tend to forget the writing is the thing - first, last and always!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Lexi! And you do the same! You're too damned good a writer not to let the world read more of your stories. However, I completely understand the damage "lifemess" can do to a writer's head and heart.

Lauren said...

Great blog post Louisa! I'm so sorry to hear that you hit a low. It happens to EVERYONE who writes. I think it's part of our creative process, the part in the process obviously where the artist actually becomes the "tortured" artist. I had a similar experience with a "tough" critique from a published author who was my mentor she told me what my editor would later tell me when i got the contract, that the first chapter of my book that i loved, had to be cut. When she told me that the first time, i was hurt and sad and quite frankly angry! And this was after a year or two of getting critiques from writer friends so I was not new to constructive criticism. I let the book sit for a while, then finally got it contracted and worked with the editor to change it.

I think the best thing I figured out, no one really told me, was that you have to make your own luck. I do a ton of contests still and pitch sessions and I learned too that saying "goodbye" to dreams of new york editors was probably the best idea. They refuse to take on new authors unless they seem something they are all obsessed with. They won't take a chance on us average joe writers. The ebook pubs though, they are looking for books and actively seeking authors. They aren't dying out like NY pubs are so i realized that was the way to go and I've been ridiculously happy pursuing those publishers.

Louisa Cornell said...

Wow, Lauren! Awesome job of getting to the heart of the matter. You have no idea what a relief it finally was to decided my dream editor and my dream house simply wasn't going to happen. It has opened me up to all sorts of possibilities!

Christi Caldwell said...

What a great post! I can't tell you how much I connect with many times I have said, I'm not going anywhere and I just screech to a standstill. This post makes me feel less alone. I'm so glad you've been 'revived'!

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh, Christi, sweetie, you are definitely not alone! And I am here whenever you need me. You have too much talent to give up!

Carla Swafford said...

Louisa, Paula's story about a SM member was me. I started writing in 1985.

Sure I did great in high school English, but it never prepared me for writing books. So I had a long road from dreamer to even final in a writing contest. (My first contest was the Rita when the judges would write back comments. Yes. That long ago.)

In 2011, I had ten books completed and the last three were doing okay in contests, but no one wanted them - they didn't even ask for revisions.

With Paula's encouragement (love that woman) in March, on April 13 -- just because "it wouldn't hurt" -- I entered my manuscript at Avon's website. Three weeks later, I was offered a two book deal.

By the way, that first book published was hated by many judges until I added three sentences. So often a little change will make a big difference in the tone of a book.

Please don't give up. I have an empty shelf waiting for your books.

Louisa Cornell said...

Aww, Carla, thanks! You're the best! And I'll do my best to fill up that half empty shelf!

I am so glad you stuck with it and so glad Paula encouraged you to enter your manuscript at Avon's site. I LOVE your Circle books!

Nancy S. Goodman said...

I have every faith in you Louisa. I know how good you are. And if your writing has been transcended then nothing will stop you from being published!!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Nancy! You are such a doll! And you are one of those people I don't want to disappoint by giving up!