Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Elizabeth Musser on the Ups and Downs of Writing and Life

Today's guest blogger is author Elizabeth Musser, who has some great thoughts to share about perseverance--in writing and in life. I won't give much more of an intro, since I did that Monday. If you missed that post, be sure to take a look at it. I shared some information there about how I came to know Elizabeth, and about her new book, Searching for Eternity. Here's Elizabeth:

Recently I received a short email from my agent: “I’ve struck out with every publisher on your novel….”

I’ve been writing novels for 13 years now. I’ve known that amazing thrill when the publisher asks, “How would you like to write a book?” and I’ve known the terrible disappointment when he says, “Your numbers just aren’t good enough. We’re taking the book off the market.” I’ve collected rejection slips as well as readers’ glowing letters, I’ve signed books at a crowded church event, and I’ve sat alone at a table at the front of a bookstore where no one stopped by to buy my book.

Ups and downs, ups and downs. It reminds me of learning to post on a pony. At the beginning, the rider just can’t seem to get it write—excuse me—right. But eventually, instead of bouncing all over the saddle and getting very sore buns, she learns the rhythm of the pony, and she posts up and down, up and down, almost automatically.

I wish it were that easy in my career. At times I find myself on a crazy wild stallion who is galloping uncontrolled into the wilderness with me holding on for dear life. My emotions go all over the place. One minute I’m excited about a new idea for a story or thrilled with the progress I’ve made on a chapter, the next I want to give it all up and hide my head in the sand, not with the horses but the ostriches.

For me, perseverance is a lot about knowing what to care about. Over the years, one of the blessings of persevering has been learning how not to care. Yes, I care about writing the best book I can, I care about doing careful research, and I care about communicating well with my publisher and agent and readers.

But there are things I have to force myself not to care about: the list of best sellers when my book is not among them; the review of my book that is less than stellar; the sales that sag; the rejection, again and again and again of a manuscript. These details are part of the writer’s life, but if I am not careful, the negative things can drown out the joy of writing and can almost paralyze me.

That’s why I find myself going before the Lord on my knees and asking Him to help me make wise decisions. How much time do I spend on marketing, how much money on conferences and books, how many websites do I visit? Often, for me, I simply need to write. I don’t need more information, especially since it changes every day in our cyber friendly world. I need to do my part. Write.

Over the years, I’ve developed a battle plan. I protect the time I have to write by not answering the phone, by refusing to look at the emails first, by telling my friends that I am not free in the mornings because I am writing. I’ve learned that instead of staring at a blank page, it is helpful to get up, stretch, and take a walk. Let the inspiration come through nature. In short, I do my part, I work hard, I entrust this fragile career into the hands of the Greatest Publicist in the galaxy, and I wait. This is hard.

I also have a few trusted friends who will tell me the truth when I am discouraged. They remind me of my calling, and they encourage me to seek God and keep going. I have learned to hold my career lightly, being ready to give it up if God calls me into something else.

So far, each time I have offered it back to Him, He has clearly shown me that for now I am to keep going. Persevere. On the good days when the words flow and on the bad days when I feel stuck. On the days when an email brings good news and on the days when a phone call destroys my self-confidence.

When people ask me what suggestions I have for the aspiring writer, I say ‘write, write, write and pray, pray, pray.’ This is what I do. I cannot not write. I keep going. And I pray. Long, long ago, God planted a seed in my heart, a desire to sprout a book. As with all of God’s creations, He chooses to let us spend time underground, developing roots, tenaciously grabbing the soil until one day, we are ready to push our head out and offer up our creation to Him. As I do this, each morning, I am reminded of why I write. I write because the Word became flesh and spoke to my heart. In my small way, I want my words to reflect His Word and call others into the wild ride of life in Christ. A trot on a pony, a gallop on a stallion, a pause to sip cool water by a stream. Persevere.

Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser, October, 2007