Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Writing Journey: Are We There Yet?

By Cindy Jones

If you ask me, the writing journey is like a cruise whose destination is publication. Some “cruise directors” are helpful; some will push you off the ship. I’ve been cruising for 10 years. Here is the story of the day I almost went overboard.

All hopes were high when my agent submitted my manuscript to editors. Confident, I drove east to wait it out in the Smoky Mountains, camping with girlfriends and our children. Outwardly, I pitched tents and hiked, but inwardly I spent the whole week imagining editors reading my manuscript and submitting bids. The mountain air and exercise were uplifting, but I was already high on the idea of rising to the next level with a publishing house. I’d spent seven years in a self-directed-fiction-writing apprenticeship, stoically shelving my first novel and studying craft before completing the second. At my agent’s suggestion, I ripped out the middle 150 pages and started over. I revised and revised, pushing my imagination until I was unable to imagine further revisions, telling myself that publication would justify the energy I’d lavished on writing. A published book would also sanction the messy house, the take-out dinners, and the perpetual pile of unmatched socks. The sale of my manuscript was the only thing that could redeem me with the PTA and justify the thousands of hours I’d spent living in my head while in the company of family and friends.

It rained on our campground for a solid week.

Emerging from the wilderness with wet sleeping bags and a week’s worth of dirty clothes, my first thought was not the closest shower, but an internet connection. I didn’t rush because the harsh light of civilization, after seven days of rain, illuminated the high stakes riding on the submissions. Not until we stopped at a motel for the night did I check my email.

The news was disastrous. Most editors had responded, all passing on my book. My agent urged me not to be too discouraged. I don’t remember feeling discouraged. I felt shunned and mortified. What had made me think I could write? Too shocked to cry, I sat in a motel room in a strange city, the corpse of a dead dream in my arms. At 3:30 AM, I woke to brief oblivion before my new reality punched me in the gut: the future I had planned for myself as a published author didn’t exist.

And yet, failure was not acceptable.

Children still asleep in the motel room, I turned on my computer, studied the editors’ emails for a pattern, and found one. I applied the criticism to my novel and decided the flat middle was still a problem. By the time we checked out of the motel, I had ripped out the middle 150 pages again and emailed my writing teacher for advice. Driving from Nashville to Amarillo, writing on the steering wheel, I made a list of every type of stepmother conflict I could think of. I consolidated six characters into three and moved the action forward. My agent said there were enough editors for another round of submissions.

I spent another year revising, driving my imagination two more generations beyond its personal limit, before submitting again. This time, the novel that almost died in a Tennessee motel, sold at auction. Instead of getting pushed off the ship of my writing cruise, I learned that the cruise isn’t over unless I say it’s over. It’s not the Love Boat, but painful criticism can be converted into a useful tool for improvement.

  • You can hop on my cruise by joining My Jane Austen Summer’s facebook page or subscribing to my personal blog, First Draft.
  • I have one advanced reader copy of My Jane Austen Summer in my possession. I will give it away in a random drawing to someone who leaves a comment by midnight 12/15/10.


  1. I would love to read it! Thanks for the chance to win!
    ra6352 (at) gmail (dot) com

  2. Way to persist, girl. I admire your willingness to keep making it better. I can't wait to read the real thing.

  3. Ever since my friend gave me a very old Jane Austen book, I've been hooked on that era.
    Then your sister told me you were writing a Jane Austen book.
    I'm intrigued and would love a chance to read your novel before anyone else.

  4. Whoa! You can sure tell a story.... if your book has the pacing, tension, and emotions packed into this blog, it's going to be a huge hit! Best of luck and so glad you persevered.

  5. You're right to have not given up. It's your dream & don't we tell our children to dream big? Why not us! Congratulations on your dream.

  6. And that is why I could never write a book despite loads of encouragement from family and friends. I don't have the chops to re-do and re-do and re-do again like you did. I;d be bobbing in the wake of that cruise ship without even any water wings on. I'm really looking forward to reading your book.

  7. You took to the high seas and didn't turn back in spite of the stormy conditions Loved your story!!!! Continued smooth sailing.

  8. I really needed to hear this. (And I would love to read your book, being the Jane Austen fanatic that I am!)

  9. Cindy, I believe we lead parallel lives. Fantastic inspirational story. I'm sure you encouraged many a writer today! Can't wait to read your book!

  10. What a story!! It's so amazing that you were able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off-- such a hard thing to do.

    Can't wait to check out your book, Cindy!! Kudos to you!!

  11. Glad that your cruise ship finally reached a sunnier destination. The book sounds fabulous!

  12. What persistence!

    jpetroroy at gmail dot com

  13. aw man, not sure where the timezone is, but i think i missed midnight by a longshot ... phooey.

    love the way you phrase it though: the cruise isn't over until you say it's over. that's something that can be applied to so many dreams/goals/plans ... love it, will remember that!!!

  14. You are an inspiration. Congratulations.

  15. Congratulations! Always go forward, never retreat!

  16. The deadline for the drawing is midnight tonight, so everybody is in. Sorry for the confusion but I posted the blog yesterday to be on top of things...

    Heather--thanks for reading!
    Lori--you're up next! Congratulations on your great persistance. It paid off!
    Hi Kay!
    kndnewport--My sister is doing a great job! Thanks for your enthusiasm!
    Ruthie--Thanks for the support!
    Kristen--I don't know...your comment packs a lot of humor, a great image, and a hint of conflict into just a few words. You might want to reconsider...just saying.
    Sarah--Pacing, tension, emotions? I knew I was forgetting something! Shoot. (thank you!)
    Saralee--Thank you. So much cruise metaphor, so little blogspace.
    Lauren--We Janeites must stick together...and keep writing!
    Laura--You are so close to your debut! I'm thinking about you!!
    Brenda and Karin and Lauren--Thank you for the support, Girlfriends!
    jpetroroy--Too much invested to turn back! Thanks for reading!
    RivkaBelle--You are in for the drawing--midnight tonight. Thanks for commenting!
    Greg--Thank you! (love your art)
    pgpalettepirate--I'm sure there are choppy waters ahead...lots of stories to come.

  17. That cover is gorgeous! And I love stories related to Jane Austen, so I'd love to read this.

  18. Thank you! I love the cover, too! A little backstory on my blog:

  19. LOL, I partially take back my parallel lives comment! I just reread your post. The writing part, yes! The camping... never in a million years!! You're a tougher breed than me! BTW, it is an intriuging and pretty cover!

  20. Cindy, having had the privilege of reading My Jane Austen Summer early, I can objectively say, there is no sagging middle now ;). Wonderful book!

    And this line from your post made me LOL: "The sale of my manuscript was the only thing that could redeem me with the PTA..." Hee!!

  21. Yay, Cindy!!! What a fabulous backstory. So glad you persevered, and I can't wait to read it!

  22. Laura--You don't get to this point without a near-death story, do you?
    Marilyn--THANK YOU! Still counting on redemption...
    Jess--Thanks for the support!

  23. What a wonderful story. SO inspiring. I would love to read this book and I hope I win.

  24. Oh, Cindy! I love this kind of story! This is particularly inspiring for me right now: I thought my novel would be ready for the agent-querying process when I got my MFA in the summer of 2006, but it wasn't. That was okay. But then, well, I threw it all out and kept just the main character (after some difficult to hear but good advice). Finally finished a first draft of this (new) project last December (with a break in there to write a completely different thing). I've spent the last year revising--lots of serious revising--the kind you spoke of. And I kept thinking I was nearing that querying phase. And then, recently, I changed a huge plot point that, of course, changes everything else. I had a very close (I thought) nearly polished manuscript, that now has messy, ugly first-draft stuff spilling out all over. And that's just the way it is. I don't regret making those changes--they're needed. But now I'm looking at more cutting (lots) and polishing and then back to readers...I know this is a familiar story for many (most?) writers. I just appreciate hearing about your willingness and bravery to revise and revise beyond what you thought you could.

    Congrats on your book and the auction!

    I'm eager to find out more about your book (and would love to win it!).

    kellye at kelcrocker (at) mchsi (dot) com

  25. Ernessa--Thank you for the support!

    Kellye--Just think of this hard work as creating material for the post you will eventually write for a blog like this one! I have met very few fiction authors who don't have a harrowing story to tell.

  26. And the winner is...Lauren at Faith Fuel! (Chosen by Random.org). Lauren please contact me: author cindy jones AT gmail DOT com and let me know where to send the book.

  27. Revision is the hardest work of all. I find very few students are willing to do it: you have to keep what you have and somehow transcend and restitch it. The computer has at least made the physical part of the arduous process easier.


  28. Another thought: Dear Cindy,

    I'm a little slow (with all I do) but here now. I was moved by your story. Trollope wrote for many years before he was able to get anything published. He did so through his mother on the first book. It was damned and ridiculed by the critics, but also had a success d'estime among a few choice people and he was able to get Novel2 published. It did a little better (not much), 3 fell dead from the press. It was 10 years before he made any money to compensate for the time. The first general respect was for _The Warden_; the first hit the next book, Barchester Towers, and the first serious money (to him) for Dr Thorne.

    Ellen Moody

  29. As someone still trying to get out of the harbour, thank you for this post.

  30. Ellen, Actually, I enjoy revision, good thing, too. For me, revision is easier than invention and the results are immediate.

    Msisobel, If you are writing, you are out to sea, my dear. The harbor is for those who've yet to begin and for those who stop in for a writer's conference, agent queries, or ms submission. Enjoy those long stretches of solitude with only your creative spirit to guide you.