Writing When the World Tells You to Give Up

“Maybe you’re just supposed to write for yourself.”

Every time a well-meaning friend says this to me, something deep inside of me wants either to shake them violently until they understand why I hate that statement or to curl up into a fetal position and give up altogether. Because that’s what it always feels like they’re saying: “Just give up on being published. It’s not going to happen.” I don’t think that’s what they mean, but that’s always the message I get. Granted, the people who say it have never actually read my writing, and they’re certainly not writers themselves.

But here’s why it rankles. Most of the time, art is meant to be shared. Sure, there are deeply personal works of art that are only for the creator. But if an artist paints a masterpiece, does anyone ever tell them to go hide it under their bed? Every time a writer has to shelve a book, it feels like we’re shoving our art under a bed. No one is going to read it now, except the handful of beta readers and critique partners who’ve already read it.

It would be different if writing were a quick and painless process. Yes, writing brings me joy. I love those moments when I get sucked into my story and reach a flow state where words are pouring out of my subconscious, and when I finish, I feel like I’ve just woken up from the most relaxing sleep. I love those times when I figure out the perfect solution to a plot problem or find the ideal symbolism for a theme. But for every time that happens, there’s plenty of times when I have to force the writing. When I sacrifice reading a good book or watching a movie with my family or doing a hundred other valuable things, and the writing feels like drudgery. Those times when I’m stuck and can’t figure out what happens next or how to fix something that’s not working or I just feel guilty for not writing… Those times are hard. They’re work. And sometimes it feels like the work outweighs the joy.

So every time someone tells me maybe I’m meant to write for my own enjoyment, I want to scream that writing is hard, and it requires sacrifice, and to do all of that for my own edification seems pointless at best and incredibly selfish at worst. I honestly don’t care if I ever hit a best-seller list or if my books are ever picked up by a big publisher. But I do want my stories to be read, especially by the young adults I write for. I want my words and stories to make an impact in the world, even if it’s just for a handful of people who read them and feel seen or who learn to see the world from a slightly different viewpoint. That’s the whole point of writing for me: for my stories to make a difference. And that can’t happen if my stories never make it out into the world–if they’re shoved under my bed.

Now, there are certainly times when I’ve been too focused on publishing. After I signed with an agent and had two books fail on sub, I reached a point where I was so focused on trying to write something marketable and perfect that I couldn’t write at all. Every word was painful. I had to rediscover my love of writing in order for the stories to flow again. I had to stop worrying about what publishing professionals would think and focus on my personal joy. This is healthy. We all know there aren’t any guarantees in publishing. I parted ways with my agent two years ago and haven’t found a new one. In spite of writing my best work, I’m receiving fewer requests than when I queried in 2016. So I do need to find joy in my writing and try not to stress about the precariousness of the publishing industry.

But in the end, I don’t think I would keep writing–at least not in the way I write now–if I knew for sure that my books would never be published. I keep going because I believe my stories are important, and they’re meant to be shared. Some of my stories have been shoved under a bed, but I hope one day I’ll be able to bring them back out so they can bring hope and joy to others.

Because the truth is, and always will be, that I don’t write for myself.

The Myth of Writing Every Day: Realistic Tips for Increasing Your Productivity

We’ve all heard the well-intentioned advice: Write every day. It always seems to be spewed by privileged people who have a flexible schedule or a stable income without a day job or who have somehow managed to eschew all other commitments. And while there’s truth to the advice–I certainly find that writing is easier when I’m doing it consistently–for most of us, the pressure only leads to a cycle of despair that actually reduces our creative output.

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So if you’re not one of the privileged few, here are some tips for getting all that daily writing in:

  1. Find yourself a wealthy significant other/sugar daddy/sugar mama/patron who will support your daily writing habit, and maybe buy you bonbons to munch on too.
  2. Wake up three hours early and get your writing in before your day job. Then hope that no one notices that you’re sleeping at your desk or in front of your classroom full of kindergarteners or while piloting an airplane. That day job isn’t that important, is it?
  3. Wish upon the correct lucky star so you can get a 7-figure book deal and afford to stay home and write. Or, better yet, win the lottery. The odds are probably better.
  4. Image result for wish upon a star gifDon’t do anything except work and write. Your toddler can get by without you; they’ll find their own food, and it probably won’t be laundry detergent. And your spouse doesn’t need any attention; they can spend time with the cat. Writing must be your priority. Forget all else.
  5. Quit your day job. You don’t actually need a place to live or food to eat, do you?

Okay, maybe not helpful. So how can you become more prolific in the midst of family, job, and whatever else you have going one? Here are some more reasonable ideas:

  1. Give yourself grace. If you’re dealing with illness (chronic or short-term, yours or a loved one’s), poor mental health, outside stressors (moving, changing jobs, unemployment… anything), do not expect that your creativity is going to flow. It is absolutely okay if you can’t write for a few days or months or years.
  2. Try to think about writing each day, even if you’re not able to write. It might not be much. Maybe think about your characters while driving to work or the grocery store. Listen to a song that reminds you of your manuscript. Do whatever you can do to keep your creativity flowing, even if it isn’t much. Take notes on any ideas you get so you don’t forget them.
  3. If feasible, schedule a few times a week for writing, and don’t allow anything to intrude on those times. Have the spouse or a parent or a friend watch the kids and go to a coffee shop. Take an evening to yourself. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, and there are things that are going to come up, so see #1 on giving yourself grace if this doesn’t happen. But having those planned times can be a great way to focus and ensure that you get something written.
  4. When you do have time to write, if the creativity isn’t flowing, don’t give up until 20 minutes have passed. I find that it takes me time to get into the flow of writing. If I’m not there after 20 or 30 minutes, though, I might be wasting my time trying to force it. If I’m tired or have a headache, it’s often a lost cause.
  5. Write whenever and wherever you can. I’ve written while my kids are at swim lessons (Sorry, kids, I really wasn’t watching your feeble attempts at doggy paddling!), at the playground, and on my lunch break.
  6. Don’t let yourself be distracted needlessly when writing. I’m notorious for writing a few sentences and then checking Twitter, which keeps me from finding my flow. If you need to turn off your phone and block social media for an hour, do it. There is software available that can help you overcome distractions.
  7. Know what kinds of rituals help inspire your creativity. If you’re feeling stuck, having these rituals can help get you started faster. I like to take a nature walk or a bath or listen to music to help get the ideas flowing. I prefer to listen to non-distracting music while writing, and diffusing essential oils can inspire me. Writing at my favorite coffee shop almost always helps. Find what works for you.
  8. Know your own creative cycle and set expectations accordingly. I write best in the summer. I work in education, so I have more time (and less stress) in the summer, and I can get outside and breathe the fresh air and exercise. Winter is tough. I live in Minnesota, and I don’t like going out in the bitter cold. I go to work when it’s barely light out, and I come home at dusk. Seasonal depression sets in and squashes my creativity. I do what I can, but I don’t expect to be as prolific as I am in the summer. Beating myself up over my lack of productivity in January only makes the depression worse. Know when you work the best and capitalize on those times.
  9. Don’t compare your productivity to others. There are people who can write an entire draft in a month. I’ve always been envious of these people, but the reality is that most of us can’t work like that. My last draft took me 18 months. I’m not proud of that, but I was suffering from crushing self-doubt for a good chunk of it, and I also switched job and took a few grad classes. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re a slow drafter/reviser or if life/health just gets in the way (See #1 on giving yourself grace).
  10. Find your own writing process and ignore the judgement of others. If outlining steals the joy from your writing, don’t do it. If you want to write scenes out of order based on what’s inspiring you that day, do it. If you need to have every plot beat written on index cards before you start your first draft, do it. If you try to force yourself to do something that doesn’t fit your process, you’re only going to be frustrated and lower your productivity. And remember, too, that what worked for one of your manuscripts might not work for the next. It’s frustrating, but you might need to discover your process for everything you write. Turn off the inner critic, and do what you need to do.

Writing is hard (and wonderful and exhausting and exhilarating), so don’t make it harder than it needs to be by placing unrealistic expectations on yourself. As with everything in writing (and life), you need to find what works for you. If someone, no matter how famous or high up in the industry, gives advice that doesn’t resonate with you, ignore it. You do you, and you’ll get where you need to be, even if it’s not as quickly as you hoped.

LINEAGE by C.Vonzale Lewis

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I’ve had the pleasure of “meeting” Carla Vonzale Lewis through the WriteMentor program, in which we both mentor. I received an advance copy of her adult fantasy book, LINEAGE, and it’s absolutely stunning! The best news is that it’s out today. Below is everything you need to know about the book–including a giveaway.

Synopsis: Lineage (002)

Smart-mouthed Nicole Fontane has a way of getting herself into trouble. She’s been fired from every job she’s had but still refuses to work in her father’s apothecary shop because of his practice of Earth Magick. On Tulare Island where Nicole grew up, Magick has always been a way of life—one she’s determined to avoid at all costs.

With less than two hundred dollars in the bank and rent due, Nicole is forced to take a job at Tribec Insurance as a last resort. Little does she realize, the moment she sets foot inside the building, she becomes a pawn. A sinister force has set its sights on her and will stop at nothing to use her in a sadistic game.

Tribec’s proprietors, the Stewart family, are curiously preoccupied with the Naqada, the mysterious pre-dynastic Egyptian society. Nicole finds it creepy, but on the bright side, the job reconnects her with her estranged friend, Marta. Yet the eerie atmosphere, disappearing Magick wards, and the smell of blood inside Tribec bring Nicole to a startling conclusion—the Stewarts are practicing Blood Magick, the deadliest of the Five Principles. By the time Nicole uncovers the truth, Marta and her four children have gone missing, and all signs implicate the Stewarts and an archaic blood ritual to an Old One, a Naqada god imprisoned on Tulare Island.

Battling the evil of Blood Magick will demand Nicole to confront a hidden past and unlock the Magick buried within. But can she set aside her deep-rooted fears to work with a team of vigilante Mages? Or will the clock run out on Marta and her children—and on Nicole?

You can find LINEAGE on Goodreads

My thoughts on LINEAGE:

This book is fantastic! I was hooked by the characters right from the start. Nicole is blunt, rude…and, somehow, completely loveable. Her growth as a character drives the story in compelling ways. The story has a fascinating plot and fantastic world-building too. Mystery and intrigue are established from the very first pages, and they only intensify as the book goes on. I instantly wanted to know what was happening at Tribec Insurance, and the plot took many twists and turns until I finally got my answers. The system of magick was well developed and felt realistic. The ending felt satisfying while still leaving plenty of unanswered questions for the next books in the series. If you’re looking for a dark, intriguing story that doesn’t shy away from atrocity and evil, I highly recommend Lineage. I can’t wait for the next book!

Content warnings: The book does contain graphic sex, attempted rape, abused children, and very dark imagery. If this would bother you, I don’t recommend it.

About Carla:

My name is Carla Vonzale Lewis and I like my martini’s shaken…never stirred. I was CV (002)born in Georgia but please don’t mistaken me for a Georgia peach. I’m more like a prickly pear. Speaking of being born, someone asked me recently if I remember my birth. And I have to say, yes, I do remember that handsy doctor pulling me out into the cold. Right Bastard!!!

Despite being born in the South, I grew up in the North. California to be exact. Every once in a great while we get to experience all four seasons. But mostly, it’s just heat. You should see our electric bill in the summer! I like the beaches, but not the sand. I enjoy being outside, but the sun gets on my nerves. Does it really need to send its death ray to a single spot on my skin! (I told you I was a prickly pear) And don’t get me started on the traffic.

The first part of my life, I worked in customer service. This line of work led to the discovery of my favorite drink, or, rather, several favorite drinks. I could list the many concoction but that would go on forever!

Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy job. But I did enjoy talking with people. And when it came time to develop my characters, I drew on those experiences.
I have a degree in Fashion Design. Don’t ask. The only thing I gained from those wasted two years of my life, is being introduced to the love of my life, Bobby. He is truly my rock.

Why do I write? Well my first book, LINEAGE, answered the question, “What does the big boss actually do all day?” I might have gone a little dark with my answer, but it was fun answering the question. But mainly, I love writing because it gives me power to create. And it also gives me the power to fix this broken world.

Truthfully, I’ve always loved the written word and the way a good book could take you to another place and time. Instead of hanging out in the lunchroom, I would go to the library and create stories or bury my head in a really good book.

I started writing my first novel in 2014 and 30 days later I had a collection of scenes that needed some serious revision. And that was where the fun came in. Over the course of several years my novel went through final draft after final draft until I finally came to…you guessed it, the final draft.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy reading, binge watching shows on Netflix, and trying to convince my husband that getting a dog is a wonderful idea. And one day, I will discover how many licks it actually takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop.

You can find out more about Carla and follow her on social media:

Here’s where you can buy LINEAGE:

Barnes & Noble

And, finally, the giveaway!

You can win:

  • An autographed copy of the book
  • A series candle
  • Swag pack

Click here for the Rafflecopter giveaway

Coping with Waiting and Rejection

Nearly three years ago, I received one of the most soul-crushing rejections I’ve ever received. It was from a super star agent–someone who reps best-sellers–and a month earlier she had requested a partial from me. What did this mortifying rejection say? My writing was rich and vivid, but despite the merits, she wasn’t pulled in enough to go further.

I know. Awful, right?

It was one of the kindest rejections I’ve ever received, and yet it crushed me far more than the one from the agent who told me my characters were flat and my premise wasn’t original enough.

For me, it was all about expectations. This was from my dream agent. I wanted so badly to to work with her. And when I had gotten the request, I had let my thoughts run wild. What if this was the one? What if that chance conversation with one of her clients–the conversation that had led to a referral–was a divine appointment? What if this was meant to be?

Obviously, it wasn’t meant to be, and about two months later I signed with a different agent. That started a whole new process of waiting and rejection: being on submission. You hear the stories about authors who go on submission and within a few weeks, their book is sold at auction for six figures. That’d be nice, but for most of us, being on submission is like querying, except worse. At least with querying, you can send out a new query when you get a rejection. Being on submission means you’re still subject to seemingly endless waiting and rejection, but you have even less control. And when you do get that publishing deal, you’re not even allowed to announce it right away–there’s even more waiting.

So if waiting and rejection are an inevitable part of almost every stage of the publishing of the publishing process, how can we keep ourselves sane? We’re writers. We like to be in control–of our characters, our plots, our words. How can we let go of control in a business that’s full of uncertainty?

Here are my hard-earned tips on handling rejections without being pulverized by them. And by hard-earned, I mean I’ve been there. I’m still there. Between querying agents and being on submission, I’ve amassed hundreds of rejections. I know how much they hurt.

  • Manage your expectations to begin with. This doesn’t mean you should be a pessimist and assume that you’ll never got an offer or rep or a publishing deal. If this is your dream, you need to chase it. But don’t set all your hopes on one specific agent or editor or publishing house. Let go of your desire to control everything. Do your research, obviously, but be open to venues that weren’t your original top choices.
  • When you get a rejection, allow yourself to grieve, but don’t wallow. It’s okay to cry. Drink a little wine. Eat some chocolate. But then get back up and keep going. Rejections don’t mean you’ll always get rejections.
  • Find your encouragers. These are the people in your life that you can go to and whine and complain to about the rejections, and they’ll commiserate with you and then tell you how wonderful your writing is and remind you to get back up and keep going. I find critique partners are the best for this because they’re writers too. They’ve gone through the rejection. And they wouldn’t be your critique partners if they didn’t love your writing, so they really mean it when they tell you you’re awesome.
  • Keep writing. For me, this is the hardest thing. It’s tempting to spend your time refreshing your inbox or Twitter-stalking agents and editors as if that will give you some clue as to whether they’ve read your submission. But that only sends your nerves into high gear during the wait and makes the rejections sting more. I’ve found if I’m focused on a new project, I barely notice the rejections. I’m too excited about the next book to be crushed.
  • Trust yourself and your abilities and enjoy the writing process. Okay, I said continuing on with something new is the hardest thing for me, but maybe this issue of trust is bigger–because it affects my ability to write. I have had the worst time trying to draft the book I’m currently working on. It’s going better now, but for a good six months, I could hardly write a thing. Part of it was due to external factors like a career change and job stress. But a whole lot of it was because of rejections trickling in. I’ve gotten to the point where the rejections don’t slam the breath from my chest and leave me sobbing on the floor. But, boy, do they wiggle into my brain and whisper doubt. If the last book isn’t getting picked up, will this one be any better? Is this first chapter good enough? Is the premise good enough? Am I good enough? Those doubts can be subtle, and they can be awful to get rid of. I finally had to decide that I was just going to have fun writing and not worry about being published. It was the only thing that could shut up the doubts. Does that mean I’m giving up on becoming published? Of course not. But I can’t focus on that when drafting. I need to remember why I loved writing to begin with: it brings me joy.

Wherever you’re at in your publishing journey, hold on. Rejections hurt, but the more you write, the better you’ll get at it. Use them to grow instead of letting them crush you.


Rejections, rejections, rejections… Not a rejection

In 2012, I received my first rejection from an agent. It came a day after I had sent the query for my 120,000 word epic fantasy novel, and I was crushed. The rejected manuscript was the first I had completed, and it had taken me over five years to write it. I had sent it to one beta reader, who had given me excellent feedback and lots of encouragement, and I was quite sure I had written the next breakout novel. I was going to defy the odds and quickly secure an agent on the first book I had written. A year, many edits, and 97 form rejections/no responses later, I finally gave up and self-published the book and its sequel. (A word of advice here. Don’t self-publish unless you have the time and money to invest in hiring a quality editor, a good cover artist, and marketing. Just don’t.) Looking back at those two books, which are no longer available, I’m dreadfully embarrassed that I ever let them out in public. Though I couldn’t see it at the time, there was a reason–many reasons–that the book never got so much as a personalized rejection.

Fast-forward to December, 2015. I had just finished my MFA in fiction writing. My thesis was a YA fantasy novel, and it had passed through the inspection of my mentor, who was a published author. This was going to be my big break. I sent out a handful of queries and got my first rejection–but it was personalized. I was thrilled. I just had to find the right agent.

But the rejections kept rolling in. I realized there were problems with my first chapters. I went to a writer’s workshop. I found a few critique partners. I revised. I sent out more queries–and I got my first full request. Cue internal screaming and certainty that I had found my agent. A few days later, I got another request. And more rejections. And another request. And then the requests turned into rejections. And more rejections. And more rejections. And every one of them said the same unhelpful sort of thing: “I just didn’t love it enough.”

In 2016, I entered Pitch Wars, hoping that either I would find a mentor to tell me what was wrong with my manuscript or (even better!) someone would tell me that there wasn’t anything wrong with it at all and maybe send it along to their agent.

But I didn’t get a single request. I was a complete failure. One of the mentors had tweeted that if you didn’t get any requests, it probably meant you weren’t ready to query; something was wrong with your manuscript. I was devastated. I questioned why I was writing. I thought about scrapping the book. Maybe even giving up altogether. My writing clearly wasn’t good enough. I was never going to find an agent and never going to be published.

The irony is, as I discovered a few days after the mentees were announced, none of the mentors had actually received my application because of a technical glitch. In the end, two of them gave me valuable feedback, but I’ll never know if one of them might have requested more if they had received it before they had made their decision. I had fallen into a morass of self-doubt for no reason at all.

I revised my first chapter based on the Pitch Wars feedback, and I sent the new version to the agent who had my manuscript at the time. I kept querying and getting a few requests–and loads of rejections–and, finally, I started writing a new manuscript. That November, I participated in Nanowrimo, and I rediscovered the joy of writing. I loved this new manuscript. It was better than the last one. It no longer mattered if the last one kept getting rejected.

And then, at the very end of November, the agent who had requested my manuscript in July responded. I stared at my email, dumbfounded. She wanted to know if she could call me to discuss representation. We talked a few days later, and she was wonderful. I still had several queries and full manuscripts out, so I gave the other agents two weeks to respond. They all passed because they didn’t have time to read it or because they didn’t quite love it enough, and I happily accepted the offer from Nicole Payne at Golden Wheat Literary. In total, I received 120 rejections/no responses on the manuscript. But I had one yes, and that’s what mattered.

The point of all of this… The competition in programs like WriteMentor or Pitch Wars or Query Kombat is stiff. If you don’t get in–or don’t even get requests–it really doesn’t mean anything. Being on the other side of it as a WriteMentor mentor has shown me how subjective it all is. I’ve received submissions that need a lot of work to be query ready–probably more than can be done in three months of mentorship. I’ve received other submissions that seem like they’re very nearly ready. I’ve received a handful that might actually be ready. Every single manuscript has so much potential. My final decision will be based entirely on my own personal taste and what I think I can give the most help to in the three months before the agent showcase. There are some amazing submissions that I won’t be requesting even though I really want to read them, simply because I know I won’t be a good mentor for the concept or the writing style or the genre. It doesn’t mean that these manuscripts aren’t query ready or nearly query ready. It’s all ridiculously subjective.

So don’t be discouraged. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep querying. Maybe the manuscript you’re working on will be published. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it will be the next book, or the one after that. You’ll never know unless you keep going.

#WriteMentor Wishlist

I’m thrilled to be a mentor for #WriteMentor! I’m offering to work with one author on getting their YA manuscript submission ready. (I’m happy to help with a query letter too, but our primary focus will be multiple edits of the manuscript itself.) For more details on #WriteMentor, check out:

I’ve got some information on what kind of manuscript I’m looking for on the #WriteMentor website, but here are a few more details:

Regardless of genre, the most important aspect to me is voice. This is something that’s very hard to “teach,” and it would be very difficult to rework voice on an entire manuscript in a few months. The voice can be lush and lyrical or ironic and humorous or just about anything else, as long as it’s fresh and interesting and draws me in.

As far as genre is concerned, I have the most experience with fantasy. I prefer contemporary settings or exotic and unique settings. If your novel feels like it fell out of a D&D campaign, I’m probably not the right mentor for it. I’d love to see fantasies or magical realism set in underrepresented nations or worlds based on underrepresented cultures. Of course, contemporary novels set in places such as these would interest me as well. All in all, if the voice captures me and it’s not traditional elves-and-dwarves fantasy, feel free to send it my way!

I’m a person of faith, so I’m not going to be a good mentor for any books that present any religion in a negative light. I’d love to see fiction that explores religious themes in an honest but positive way, as long as they’re not openly proselytizing or campy.  I’m okay with dark literature, as long as there’s some hope. If your manuscript has a completely depressing ending, I’m probably going to be too angry that you broke my heart to work with you… Seriously, though, I’m okay with bittersweet endings, but I like at least some degree of happiness at the end.

As far as the manuscript itself is concerned, it’s okay if there are some issues with pacing, plot, or characterization–that’s the point of mentoring! However, we only have about three months for editing, so we won’t have time to work on major issues in all of these areas. I’m hoping we’ll have time to work on these big picture issues in the first round of edits, and then move on to line edits. I geek out over playing with words, so this is the part that excites me the most.

I hope this gives you a good idea of what I’m looking for! If not, feel free to tweet me your questions (@JodiHerlick). I’ll be doing Q&A on Tuesday, May 1st from 8-9 (EDT) and on Thursday, May 3rd from 7-8 (EDT), but feel free to send me questions outside of those times as well.