Defying Logic, Fighting Gravity, and Other Lynda-esque Kinds of Things

I’ve been thinking a lot about my transformation from writer to published author—and I don’t mean signing on the dotted line or that new tiara I bought myself. I mean getting serious. Shifting perspective. Taking action. (Maybe I need my own action figure doll?)

SCBWI had become a social world for me. I’d made friends and enjoyed the conferences. For about four years, I met with editors who had enthusiasm for my work. Each time, I went home and started something new—much to the frustration of my writers’ group. “Why are you working on this new thing?” they would ask. “I thought Editor X requested the other full manuscript at Conference Q.” I would shrug, telling them I had a new “voice” in my head.

Enter Editor Z. When I sat down for a critique, she raved about my 25 pages. What direction did the story go in? Was it finished? She actually said, “I have to have this.” Was this “Candid Camera: SCBWI Edition?” I hoped Geraldo would not host.

I proclaimed that it wasn’t done, but it would be. I don’t know if it was this particular editor, or that I was finally brave enough to see if I had what it took. But, for whatever reason, I went home with my eye on the prize. In ten months, the novel was ready to go. I packed it up, my kids kissed the envelope, and off it went. This was it. That was that. I was going to be published! Time to start planning the book launch, right?  

Ten months later, approx 300 days, or 7,200 hours, the rejection came. Editor Z had taken the time to write a very kind, gracious, and detailed letter. She made suggestions, but they just weren’t things that my protagonist would do. So, I wrote her a heartfelt note, and let go of the idea of working with her. I was devastated, and I licked my wounds for longer than I’d like to admit.

The thing that bothered me the most, though, was people telling me it was okay. That it was great to have just written a novel and, if it never got published, well…it was still a great accomplishment. I agree. It is. But it annoyed me just the same. I know people were well-meaning, but it felt like permission to give up. So, I took on researching agents like I was training for the Olympics. I had charts, ratings, and notes from writers’ blogs, Publishers Marketplace, and Verla Kay Blue Boards.

I would soon drive five and a half hours to the incomparable Flying Pig Bookstore to meet the agent that held the top spot on my chart. More than one person told me I was crazy for making such a trip. Aside from the distance, she was Erin Murphy. I was told, “She’s a rock star agent!” to which I shrugged. “Why start at the bottom?” Did I think I’d actually sign with her? Maybe not. But I was happy to take the chance to risk the, “No.”

So, you’ve heard my story. What’s yours? Are you close to finishing a ms but can’t quite get to the words, “The End?” Do you talk about querying but never actually push the “send” button? Do you spend a lot of time reading books on craft and not enough time writing? Please read this excerpt from Marianne Williamson’s quote; let every syllable sink in.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…”    (Full quote here. Thanks, Mike!)

I think most writers, artists, musicians and other creative types feel this sometimes; it’s part of being imaginative. For some of us, the difficulty doesn’t lay in the craft of writing, though. Not directly. I think it’s, perhaps, rooted in vulnerability—three facets of it.

The first facet is the upset of having someone not love your work; it’s easy to take this personally. Gosh, most writers and artists can understand that! However, it’s important to stay open to yourself and others during these times. Also, even if we pour our heart and soul into our work, it is still a product to be sold (if your eye is on publication) and that requires some objectivity. If you’re feeling vulnerable? That can be tough.

Secondly, I think those of us who struggled as kids sometimes feel like they are “less than” in some respects. The idea that we could be talented and “powerful beyond measure” can feel odd because, to varying extents, it goes against our emotional grain. It feels unnatural, like driving on the left side of the road or having a cheeseburger for breakfast. Even so, dare to be remarkable!

The final way relates to the work itself, I think. The letting go of the slice of yourself that you may be holding back. The cracking yourself wide open part—that’s your voice. That’s where you mine your gold. The parts of yourself that can make the rejection so hard are the very parts that can take your work to the next level. Maddening, isn’t it?

I can’t tell you not to be afraid, but I can tell you I know how you feel. The reason I revisited this quote after Mike covered it in his post last week, is this: When I first read this quote a few years ago, it triggered my attitude shift. I carried it in my pocket for weeks. It stunned me. Mostly, it saddened me. The quote defies logic, yet I knew it pegged my writing life. I decided that I may not get published, but I didn’t want to look back on all this knowing I’d just given up. And I didn’t want my kids to see me do that either. How many times had I told a disappointed kid who’d almost made a soccer goal, “You’ll get it next time!” I decided there were far worse things than rejection letters or not getting published.

So, ante up. Slide those chips into the center of the table. It’s a small gamble compared to the winnings—pride in knowing you have some gumption. Some guts. All the while, remember, that there are people who want to cheer you on, support you, and celebrate with you—including me! And you know what? If you get rejections, you can handle them. You can. Yeah, I know it’s hard, but you’ll brush yourself off, hone your book, and you’ll ante up again. You will. Just like I did.

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36 Comments

Filed under Agents, Celebrations, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

36 responses to “Defying Logic, Fighting Gravity, and Other Lynda-esque Kinds of Things

  1. Cynthia Levinson

    One of my fantasies that I wrote about last time was receiving prizes for my book for which kids NF is not even eligible. One of these was a rave by Michiko Kakutani. I didn’t admit it then but, Lynda, you’re dragging this out of me: I even wrote the opening of her review in my mind. (Actually, there are several openings; I hope no one else writes such a great blog post that I have to confess to the others.) In my fantastically fantasized review, she has to concoct a whole new word to describe the glory that is my book. The word is “brilliant-hearted.” The reason I think of this now is that that’s what I think your post is, Lynda–brilliant hearted, with no quotation marks, because you’ve combined both brilliance and heartfelt-ness.

    We seem in a number of these posts to address both risk–take it–and light–shine it. Over the weekend, I read “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” an early novella by Zora Neale Hurston, in which she writes about the the first “colored” town. When the self-appointed mayor strikes the match to light the town’s first street lamp, he says, “All we can do, if we want any light after de settin’ or befo’ de risin’ [of the sun], is tuh make light ourselves…And when Ah touch de match tuh dat lamp-wick let de light penetrate inside of yuh, and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” The artificial light they’ve created is important in and of itself and also, of course, symbolic. I keep thinking of the civil rights song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

    Though challenged by life, we’re also all privileged in various ways. As writers, we have an obligation to shine our lights from within and on each other.

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Oh, Cynthia, I love how generous you are with your comments on this blog. YOU, Cynthia, are brilliant-hearted with no quotation marks. I feel lucky to know you! Thank you. I have to admit to being just a tad nervous about this post. Vulnerability and all… 😉 and your kind post helped to put me at ease.

      I loved how you “fessed up” to your writer’s fantasy–one I think you share with many! You are also so honest here, and it’s part of the light that you spread throughout the Gango. Loved the excerpt from “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” How inspiring! The idea of a light that penetrates and shines is such a lovely image and such a powerful metaphor for all kinds of struggles that people face and conquer. BTW, I’ve loved, “We Shall Overcome” since I was little.

      Yes, you are so correct about our running themes here of taking risks and shining a light for ourselves and others–an unbeatable combo. Children’s publishing is so wonderful, because there is *so* much support–so many who shine their lights to help others find their own. Between the vulnerability of the creative process, and the huge amount of alone time, this network is a Godsend for so many of us!

      Like

  2. Lynda, I hate to tell you this, but I think you may need that tiara, and maybe the action figure too. YOU are a rock star!

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring story. It makes me so happy to see you realizing your dreams:)

    Lena

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Lena!! You, my dear, are a rock star in your own right. I think we should don matching capes. Throw tiaras in for good measure. Whataya say?!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to come by! Happy to see you here!

      Wonder Twin Powers, activate!
      Lynda

      Like

  3. Mike Jung

    You’re welcome. 😉 And thank YOU for an absolutely wonderful post. I especially like “I know people were well-meaning, but it felt like permission to give up” – it’s a complex thing to be supportive on a comprehensive level for an entire community of people, you know? Many people do need that validation re: just writing the book at all, and my commitment to engaging with the kidlit community on that level is unwavering. But just writing the manuscript was never going to be enough for me, and it’s gratifying to have THAT feeling validated too. Brava for aiming high with Erin! I feel that way about working with Arthur Levine – he was my number one editor choice right from the start, and risking rejection from him felt entirely worthwhile. Of course coming right out and saying those things feels risky too – I don’t know that anybody wants to be perceived as arrogant or egomaniacal, especially not the folks I’ve gotten to know in the world of children’s literature. But that’s another risk worth taking! It’s okay if we strive for the greatest heights, and it’s equally okay if we actually get there.

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Yeah, I guess once I met with that editor, it was never going to be enough for me either. Funny–it was a quick flip for me. It changed the way I stood in my own skin. I have to admit–it felt good. I knew I’d never go back.

      I think you’ve made an excellent point (here and in your post) that it isn’t a bad thing to have high expectations for yourself and it’s normal to be happy about achieving them. There is a stark difference between arrogant and confident.

      I have become a child of the philosphy, “What have a got to lose?!” Now, I go into a challenge with both realistic yet wildly over the top expectations. I thought it funny that, when I drove to meet Erin at The Flying Pig in Vermont, and she figured out that I there to see her, she said, “Oh, so you’re a writer. Do they have your books here at the store?” My response was, “Not yet.” I was surprised to hear myself say it.

      However, before you go thinking I was full of myself, I practiced what I would say for hours in the car on the way up and still had to apologize to her for stopping mid-sentence because stringing three words together was too challenging. All good now, though. She can’t shut me up these days! HA!

      Like

  4. Lynda,
    It’s hard to push on after “almost there” moments like that first editor who passed on your ms. Kudos to you for your grit. I’ve been licking my own wounds a bit too long lately, so this is a timely reminder to believe, and risk, and dare to win. Thanks for sharing this!

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hi, Nandini!

      Yes, I know that when you have so much hope and such high expectations, that the disappointment is more difficult to endure. However, I also know that you will persevere! I know that one day in the not-too-distant future, you will be talking about your own debut! And you will continue to shine your light for others! Hang in there!

      Lynda

      Like

  5. Love4Reading

    This gave me a lot to think about. I have always felt like doing well would be such a good but terrifying experience– something new that I thought may be difficult. Good to know people feel the same 🙂

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hi! Thanks for coming by EmusDebuts! I’m so glad that you like the post and felt it gave you some things to ponder (Writers love to do that!). Succeeding is both scary and wonderful–more of the latter, I think!

      My best of luck to you in your own writing!

      Lynda

      Like

  6. Mary Pierce

    Exceptional post, and exactly what I needed to read today. As one of the people who thought you were nuts to drive all that way to meet Erin (because I’m a lot more timid when it comes to taking risks), the fact that you went for it continues to be an inspiration for me. Your post is not only an acknowledgment of all the fear we writers tend to have slamming around inside our heads, but in your own inimitable way you offer us a how-to in circumventing and moving past that fear. It’s so you, Lynda. Thank you.

    I count myself lucky to be one of the few people who know just how well you look wearing a tiara!

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Well, Mary~ You’ve been inspiring the heck out of me for a good long time now!

      Thanks so much for coming by and leaving such a warm and generous comment. Yes, you *did* think I was nuts–about the journey and many other things over the years! 😉

      I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to *your* debut, Mary! We will both wear tiaras to your book launch!

      Hugs,
      Lynda

      Like

  7. JLD

    There are also the fun little fears like, “What if I send this query to the agent I’m dying to sign with and he/she rejects it and then I write a truly brilliant query later on after I’ve blown it with him/her?” and “What if I sign this contract/deal and I’m always wondering if I could have had the truly great deal if I had searched a little longer?” It’s hard to let go and just trust in your work and your instincts. You make a great case for doing just that. Thanks for the encouragement!

    Judy

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hey, Judy!

      I agree; the second guessing habit can drive a person mad! I find other sets of eyes are a good antidote for that. At my last writers group, someone told me to, “Stop second guessing yourself!” Something about hearing it from a trusted friend/writer gives it more weight than me talking to myself while I brush my teeth in the morning.

      I’m so glad that you found the post helpful. Yes, I definitely encourage you to block out the second guessing voices, polish up those queries, hone that manuscript, hold your nose and jump! Good luck! I’ll be crossing my fingers for you!

      Lynda

      Like

  8. I love that quote, and it’s perfect here. I’ll have to keep it in mind next time I need to give myself a writing pep talk!

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Yes, Shoshana, I really love that quote as well. A group of writers could make a night of discussing the in and outs, questions and implications of it. I was so taken with it at the time. Obviously, it really stuck with me! Good thing, I guess! I should probably write Ms. Williamson a thank you note, eh?

      My best to you in your own writing!

      Lynda

      Like

  9. Joann Collings

    So inspiring and a great post. Love the EMU debuts site. Keeps me going weekly.

    Like

  10. Cynthia Levinson

    P.S. Lynda, the images you included are also wonderful! How did you find them?

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hey, Cynthia,

      I just scanned my piece, brainstorming connections (i.e. Candid Camera, superhero). Then, I Googled images. I’d remembered seeing the cat/lion/mirror picture a couple of years ago–went looking for that, specifically. Takes a while! 😉

      Lynda

      Like

  11. “What are you afraid of? Failure? Me too.” – William Shatner, Has Been

    I love motivational stories. I love how brave you are with us, opening up, sharing vulnerability and whispering, “I’m weak too. This is our shared secret. This is our strength.”

    I’ve been circling this truth, this balance between fear of failure and fear of success for a long time. Somehow I’d missed ever reading that Marianne Williamson quote until Mike’s post, but boy, did it resonate. Now here you are echoing and amplifying the message. And I’m all ears.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hey, Jim,

      Thanks so much for your kind comments. Clearly, you are a kindred spirit.

      Yes, the fear or failure / fear of success journey is a complicated one. Like walking the top of a fence on a windy day. Still, I think most of us are happier walking it, than climbing down and turning away. In fact, most of us couldn’t do that if we tried!

      The best of luck to you on your journey!

      Lynda

      Like

  12. jeannezulick428

    Thank you, Lynda! Beautifully written (as always) and inspirational! I have never heard that quote before and it has given me much to think about…. Thanks for the “enlightened” kick in the pants….time to start querying!
    Jeannie

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hey, Jeannie! Thanks so much–I am happy to hear that you are inspired by my post. I am *also* looking forward to the wonderful news of hearing that the queries are OUT!! You know how much I love Nate!!

      Thanks for giving me an “enlightened kick in the pants” when I need it!

      Lynda

      Like

  13. I can’t believe you drove 5 hours for that.
    I’m so glad Erin signed with you. 🙂

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Ruth!

      Meeting you was one of the best things about joining the Gango! I’m pretty honored to be immortalized in that sketchbook of yours. 🙂

      Lynda

      Like

  14. Pingback: Perspective, Vulnerability, and Action Figures (or things that aren’t just about Lynda, you know) | EMU's Debuts

  15. “The final way relates to the work itself, I think. The letting go of the slice of yourself that you may be holding back. The cracking yourself wide open part—that’s your voice. That’s where you mine your gold. The parts of yourself that can make the rejection so hard are the very parts that can take your work to the next level. Maddening, isn’t it?”

    This is going up on my office wall–it’s one of those things that is so, so SO important, and yet very hard for me to talk about in a useful way. Thank you! (And thank you for letting yourself be vulnerable! And for driving five hours to meet me!)

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Well, gosh, Erin. I’m speechless; as you know, that happens about as often as I wear a tiara and a cape. Erm…oh…never mind…

      Boy, I’ve made some drives in my life, but I’ve never made one as great and life-changing as that one. And, my gosh–I’m so honored that you would consider hanging up my quote. Thanks, not only for being the business woman who sold the book, but also for being the reader who most helps me get to that vulnerable place. You’ve understood that layer of my voice from the beginning; there’s no better gift for a writer!

      Like

  16. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Chiming in late, but no less impressed than the other posters, Lynda! I love the part where Erin asked you if The Flying Pig carried your books, and you said, “Not yet.” Those two words could become mantra, no?

    🙂

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Hey, Natalie! Thanks so much for the comment! “Not yet,” being a mantra–yes! Back when I would refer to myself as “prepublished,” rather than “unpublished.” There’s a lot to be said for believing.

      Like

  17. Wow. How can I add anything to this wonderful post and this great comments?

    What I’d like to say is that when I was younger, I did suffer with my insecurities and sense of inadequacy. Then I became a lawyer and standing up for other people, having them rely on me, gave me a tremendous amount of self- confidence… not to mention what writing hundred-plus page briefs taught me about writing and revising. What I hear now — that my writing is strong, really good, but they are passing because it’s not “marketable” or “won’t stand out in a competitive market” — is almost harder to hear than that it’s no good. I’m not really sure how to revise to those comments. Tell me a character is weak, I can make her stronger. Tell me the plot is slow, I can fix that. But fight the market? I’m not sure how.

    Like

  18. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Hey, Mfantaliswrites!

    I know how you feel. I heard the very same things about MURPHYS before it went under contract. I think it’s helpful to know that there are a lot of books under contract and on shelves that were labeled the same way at one time. Now, as you search for the right agent and/or editor, I think its important to ascertain the very strongest attribute of the book and play to that. For example, are you good at conveying emotion? Are you a good plotter? Whatever it is that you are especially good at (and there may be more than one thing!) play to that strength. Work that strength into the elevator pitch. Find agents and editors that have taken on other books with the same strength. Hope that helps?

    Hang in there! I’ll be rooting for you! We “quiet book writers” have to stick together!

    Lynda

    Like

  19. Pingback: Sharpening the Double-Edged Sword of Vulnerability for Writers | EMU's Debuts

  20. Pingback: Defying Logic, Fighting Gravity, and Other Lynda-esque Kinds of Things « Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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