Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dear Diary...

I don’t know how this post will end. I’m journaling before your very eyes. One of my favorite writers is tired and discouraged. She announced she's taking a sabbatical on FaceBook today. I won’t give her name. I’m not trying to speak for her. Her announcement just brought my own fears to the surface. Maybe we should talk about this.

Dear Diary:

She receives starred reviews from Publishers Weekly! They say things like, her novel is a “staggering examination of the Christian conscience” and her work rises above the typical with “her portrayal of the soul-desiccating acquisitiveness in which many Christians engage, often in a misguided attempt to numb both their heartache and their awareness of God's potentially life-upending plans.”

I love her writing, even though I don’t know what “soul-desiccating” means. (Note to self: look it up!)

She’s taking a sabbatical, maybe one year, maybe two. She’s tired. She’s discouraged. She needs a break from contractual writing to be refreshed and hear from God, not necessarily in that order. I completely understand.

I saw her at a conference recently, made a point of stalking her until I garnered the courage to introduce myself. She’s lovely. I learned so much from her in just the few minutes we talked. She sure loves her readers.

She also loves her publisher and editor. They are giving her the time, without penalty, to be refreshed. Such support is incredibly encouraging.

What surprised me most about what she said is this: "I'll never be one of 'the popular kids.' I'm finally realizing that and you know what? That's totally okay. But what I have to figure out is how to wear the badge of 'acquired taste' with honor instead of wishing for different badges." That totally bums me out! If this young woman who has reached for excellence and risen to heights I only dream to achieve and still hasn’t found a broad audience, what am I to think about that? Should I give up now?

There are things that aren’t perfect about writing in the CBA. (We aren’t in Heaven yet, you know.) For one, the more books on the shelf by a given author the better. We must develop our brand and stay in front of the reader, they say. Are readers that fickle? Should I be drinking Red Bull? How about a ghost writer? Anyone?

And why don't Christian readers love this woman's writing? She isn't an acquired taste. For me, it was love at first read! She's daring in her plotting. Her writing isn't corralled by fear. She makes me THINK!!! She dares me to consider God as bigger, yet closer and a little on the wild side.

I will pray for this author as she asked. And from my reaction, I definitely need time at His feet. There are questions I have to answer, again: Did I really hear His call to write? Why am I writing? Who am I writing for? Who is my audience? How do I avoid burnout? Can I? Where does Jesus want me?

I’m open!

Am I the only one asking questions or double-checking my calling? What sort of questions are you asking these days? We’re friends. We should talk.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

It's hard to explain just how much I feel like I'm sitting in a living room getting real with you ladies every time I read these posts. You broach topics I've been sifting through for years. I so appreciate your candor.

Women are my audience, but I write for God and me. Very much for both. And I'm wondering if it isn't so much about avoiding burnout. Because burnout is likely to hit us in all areas of life, but it's who we run to and get refreshed by when we've found ourselves on the verge of being fried. And it's whether we run at all or drop into His loving arms (like I'm learning to do recently).

Absolutely loved this post and I too am praying for your friend.
~ Wendy

Terri Tiffany said...

I was sorry to read this about your friend. It sounds like she followed her calling but needs a break and maybe that isn't a bad thing as she might come back stronger than ever.
I know in other areas of my life, I often need a change, a chance to sit back and evaluate where I've gone and where I'm headed.
I feel that way now much of the time as I try to even see if this fiction writing is for me. I did well with non-fiction but thought the next step was fiction--maybe I heard wrong. Sometimes that time of reflection can open up so many new directions.

Laura J. Davis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura J. Davis said...

I'm sorry to hear that about your friend. It sounds like she needs to get back to writing for pleasure, rather than writing to meet the demands of a publisher. There are so many things to consider once you get yourself "out there" - the audience you are writing for, deadlines, book signings, publishing demands, speaking engagements - we all know it isn't "just" about writing, it's so much more.

I'm glad her publisher is supporting her decision. I think she is wise to step back and regroup so to speak. I will keep her in my prayers.

Patti Hill said...

Wendy, that's exactly what we'd hoped to accomplish here. We love having you in our "living room." It wouldn't serve the Lord's purpose for any of us to be anything else but candid. And yes, renewal comes at his feet. I'm thinking of "Mary" time.

Terri,thanks for your tender words. I think about Elijah after he slew the prophets of Baal. He was depressed! The man was exhausted. I love how the Lord sent the ravens to feed him. We do need time to regroup.

For the rest of today's discussion, let's follow Wendy and Terri's lead and not try to guess who the author is or name her if you know. We don't want to gossip. My friend's feelings are very common, stemming from common issues. Let's stick to those. Thanks, Wendy and Terri for doing that.

Patti Hill said...

Laura, you got it. There's so much more than writing, and sometime those things are counterproductive to the writing process. What's to be done?

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

The author in question must have been sensing this for a long time, to come to this decision now. It seems natural that she may have been tempted to emulate the 'popular kids' but she stayed true to her calling and unique gifts. I hope we see her back soon!

Jan Cline said...

Even Jesus took time to rest. Sometimes he had to endure ridicule to do it - many people think that ministry means full steam ahead 24/7. God wants us to take time out so that we can continue our journey with joy and a renewed body and mind. I admire her.

Nicole said...

"I'll never be one of the popular kids." That's it for me. "I'm an acquired taste." Yes.

Those who taste no doubt adore her writing. Here's the conclusion. In order to be rightly placed we need the Lord's touch. When that touch "feels" distant even though we know it's not, it's time to change something in us.

I admire her courage and analysis. And I respect it. She'll come out on the other side of this where she needs and wants to be because Jesus will make sure of it.

I can so relate to her thoughts even though I'm on the outside of the ring. And may always be.

Joyce E. Rempel said...

John Piper is doing the same thing. A sabbatical to hear from God and spend time with his wife.

I kept longing to know who this author is so that I can read the books you describe.

Maybe this is God's word for us this morning: " are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. (She) has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:41-42

Anonymous said...

I am in that place. So in that place. But I sense God's asking me to persevere through the unpopularity, to trust Him for finances when they wane (oh how they wane). I've thought of other jobs I'd do, but none seem to satisfy, and my readers have affirmed this calling on my life. Unfortunately, just not enough readers are buying them.

Patti Hill said...

You are amazing faith people. Yes, my friend has chosen what is best.

This is a unique ministry in that it is a business too. We're creating a product as well as ministering. What do we do if our ministering isn't marketable? Isn't that an odd question?

Melinda Lancaster said...

For many years I did not believe that burnout was real. Or perhaps, better said, I felt immune from it. That is until recently.
I've spent my life ministering to others but have neglected to care for myself. Sigh.

Now I find myself in need of a sabbatical that I am having a hard time taking. Sometimes it is hard to STOP and rest.

Yet Jesus Christ recognized His humanity. Many times He pulled away to rest and pray. He even pulled His disciples away to do the same. I am no less vulnerable than the Son of God to the draining affects of this life. But I often wish I were.

Your author friend is wise. She'll come back strong and with a new revised purpose according to God's plan. That is one of the good things about sabbaticals. They allow us to listen, receive, and re-evaluate which is something that is hard to do when we are constantly attempting to meet deadlines, etc.

I pray that God will help each one of us to know when to say when. A season of rest is better than a lifetime of discouragement.

I do believe that refreshment and renewal brings newfound peace, joy, and love to all those who embrace the process.

Thank you for sharing this. I feel much less alone now:-)

Laura Frantz said...

Love what you said about spending time at His feet. That sums it up so beautifully for me. As a new author in the CBA, I struggle with many of these issues. The book of my heart is now out there and I'm in the process of adjusting my expectations and trying to better see what He has for me - often so contrary to the business side of things. Bless you for such an honest, insightful post.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Anonymous - thank you for your honesty.
Like many others, I always hoped to be able to quit my day job and write full time, but I've finally come to accept that, short of a miracle, it will be this way as long as I write. 'Persevere through the unpopularity' are certainly words to chew on today.

Nicole said...

"What do we do if our ministering isn't marketable? Isn't that an odd question?"

It could also be asked is marketing ministerial? Does business come before calling? Are there ways to make marketing a ministry? Does it ever morph from selling to ministering to consumers? How can business become more attuned to the Lord's methodology for true success? Money's important--God says so. So how does the marketing and management of selling books coincide with God's plan(s)?

Anonymous said...

Patti, this is an excellent post, and it's generated excellent comments. I wish we could all be together, enjoying a cup of tea or coffee, talking through this. But short of that, as Carole King said, "Welcome to [our] living room." There are many things I don't understand about the Christian life, but I learned a long time ago that what we commit to the Lord belongs to the Lord, and what he does with it is his choice. It's my choice to keep my hand in his and follow his lead. Wherever he leads. I've also learned he doesn't takes us through the soft and easy places. And there are tears on the journey. But he loves our tears; he collects them. And so I follow, and I try my best to fulfill what I believe is his call on my life. And I cry sometimes. But that's just how it is. I think our friend is wise to step back and learn to breathe again. And I pray with all my heart she comes back refreshed and stronger than ever. And that she's rewarded IN THIS LIFE for her hard work. Is that wrong? I hope it's not wrong.

Bonnie Grove said...

I love the honesty of this post and the comments here. I so love this community of people who are able to ask questions fully knowing they don't know all the answers.

We all have questions and even doubts about our professional journey (that goes for everyone, not just writers). It's good to have a safe place to talk about those feelings and hopes. Thank you, Patti for opening this conversation - and thanks to all the commenters - I'm thinking about your thinking.

Unknown said...

Well, you know there is one way to at least partially ameliorate the situation such an author is in. That's to buy her books.

Don't know who she is? You don't have to. Surely you know someone in the writing community who is having those same sorts of feelings. (See how common they are, according to the comments here!)

Do you believe in Christian books? Is there any way that your finances will allow you to show that? What if you already have all the books from an author who needs encouragement? Buy it for a gift for someone.

I just did that -- I know two writers who REALLY need encouragement, so I ordered their books.

Patti Hill said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments. You're amazing. I stepped out to buy groceries and came back to your heartfelt responses.

Latayne has hit upon something. The only way to vote for the kind of stories we want to be published is to buy them. I'm hopping over to the bookstore to do just that. Maybe not hopping, but I'm on my way.

Anonymous said...

I'm a regular shopper on --one of my favorite sites. When it comes to books my eyes are always bigger than my stomach, as evidenced by my TBR stack -- but I manage to devour them just the same.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a writer (duh!) but I'm becoming friends with more and more writers. What I'm seeing is the pressure that you're under so much of the time. Having to churn out so many words a day, etc. I'm just not sure how anyone can deal with that kind of pressure in the long run. So yes, I would think that it would result in burnout.
Patti, you asked who you were writing for...I would say that you're writing for yourself and the Lord. That's all that really matters. Adoring fans are just icing on the cake!

Heather Marsten said...

I am praying for this author, and in learning more about the myriad of details an author needs to do to get published, I can see that at times it is a fine balancing act between what you write for God and what a publisher will choose to purchase. I think she has it right, hear from God and then write.

I just finished the rough draft of a non-fiction book on Nehemiah, and have been doubting myself for it is far beyond anything I thought I could write. Yet God has been holding my hands in the process. For example, the chapters I am editing now were the sermon topics of a visiting pastor. This pastor was a prophet, and he spoke over me that there was a book in me and even gave me the topic of my next book. Friends cheered for they knew about my writing. My pastor told me, "Ah God knew you needed confirmation."

I think the problem is that writing is a lonely business. Truthfully, I think Christians authors have it over secular ones for we have a cheering squad 24/7 - the Father,the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I am praying for you as well. Keep pouring your heart out, and keep letting God pour more into your heart.

PatriciaW said...

You're right, Patti. Her writing isn't acquired taste. her very first book spoke volumes to me. I remember rushing to the bookstore to look for more. When I couldn't find any, I scoured the Internet. I was so disappointed then to learn that's all there was. I was ten times more elated to discover in a few short years, that there was more and would be more once additional books were published.

People reach burnout for a host of reasons. The work. The perceived lack of appreciation or acceptance. Unmet expectations or the shock of unwanted expectations.

God will keep her. We'd probably all be in a better place spiritually if we took the time to seek the refreshing that she's seeking. Then too, God may simply be doing a new thing in her life, that will bring her writing to a new level. My prayers are with her and all writers who indirectly bare their souls on the pages of a book for the revelation and entertainment of others.

Marlo Schalesky said...

Great post and comments, all! I relate so much to the author Patti talks about, and experience the same questions, and wrestle with the same options. I think it's a very good thing to not hold on to some "dream of writing" so tightly that God cannot pry it from your hand. Better to hold it loosely, then if God calls us away, we can drop our nets and follow Him wherever He should lead. Those are the thoughts I'm having for myself anyway - to be sensitive to His call to continue or to quit, whichever He may choose. It's not always easy, but I'm hoping that my decisions, like Patti's author friend, will be made with wisdom and out of a heart sensitive to God, rather than out of my own frustrations and discouragement (which, I have to admit, the frustrations/discouragement are weighing heavily for me today!).

Anyway, thanks for this post and the comments too.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Marlo. It's comforting to know that others are wrestling with the same 'stuff.' I hope your day got better!

Jane Hoppe said...

Patti, your post and many of others' comments resonate with me as well. The NovelMatters blog does feel like a living room chat. I can almost hear teacups clinking on saucers. Thanks for setting that tone.

This post is thought-provoking because it touches on my very motivations. Most writing days, the grumbling demon of discouragement seems to sit right next to my keyboard. When I look up searching for God's smile, the nasty curmudgeon waves its warty little arms to block my view.

So often I ask God how I will see His smile, if not through sales of my novel. I think because I'm writing the vision for the series God gave me, my motives are mostly pure. But really, I'm defining success in God's eyes as being "one of the popular kids." Maybe the way to make discouragement a less frequent visitor instead of a constant coauthor is to redefine success. Maybe having a "Mary heart," enjoying Jesus' companionship, as I write? Not sure how to do that, but here goes ...
Thanks for the attitude adjustment, everyone!

Jane Hoppe
P.S. I like Latayne's encouragement idea. Went to a book signing by fellow ACFW writers Saturday and bought two gift books, which I'm very excited to give to their recipients.