Monday, November 21, 2022

Why I Took a Writing Sabbatical and am Back at Work on My Novel Now -- by Rachel

If you’re lucky – and I am – you have a passion that is central to your identity. It frames who you are, whether it’s art or medicine, homemaking or leadership. For me, that passion is writing. I hardly know what I think or feel until I’ve found a way to express it in writing. 

But having a passion that is also a commercial venture can get confusing. About the time my novel The Language of Sparrows was published, the complications in my life spiraled. It involved a painful divorce (what divorce isn’t?), promotions at work that required longer hours, and my girls entering their teens, which – surprise! – is more complex than raising little ones.

When I first started writing, my girls were young and I had a fulltime job. I got up before dawn to write, and edited during my lunch hour. It was exhausting and exhilarating. I finished two novels, published the second, and began work on the third.

If John Grisham and Diana Gabaldon could get their start stealing time to write in the wee hours around jobs and families, so could I. I was the little engine who could, chugging up the writing tracks with confidence. Until I couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t be a single mother, manager and author. I was burnt out. As any writer knows, letting your imagination dream up a coherent novel-length story requires loads of listening time and mental energy day after day after day. With my crazy busy life I no longer had time or mental energy.

I was convinced I had to write that next novel though, because I was published now and needed to strike while the iron was hot. I kept trying, unsuccessfully, until at last I surrendered to the blank page and stopped writing altogether. What a painful time that was. You see, writing isn’t a hobby for me. It’s my heart and soul. Without words I was emotionally parched.

It took about a year for me to rediscover the kinds of writing that didn’t have anything to do with publication. It was journaling for myself and writing poetry and short articles to share with friends. That kind of writing helped me rediscover the long-forgotten happiness of stringing words together for the fun of it, of saying exactly what I meant and saying it well. Writing bliss!

I’ve read so much writing advice that insinuates that if you’re a real writer, you’ll write through thick and thin, no matter what. I am a real writer, but I absolutely believe the time off was necessary and good, as it may be for many real writers.

During what I now call my sabbatical years, I got out of the house more, spent time with my girls, had profound relationships, took a few vacations, thought through hard personal topics. I experimented with different kinds of writing. I lived and I loved and I grew. Gradually, I returned to my third novel, but I wrote in slow snatches as I could find the time and only as ideas came to me. After several years I’m a little over half way into my first draft.

Time has allowed my story to marinate. As a result, it has more plot layers, richer characters and deeper themes. Maybe I’m rationalizing, but I think the time away from the story has paid off personally and creatively.

My girls are young women now, and a couple of months ago, I took early retirement. I’m back to writing my novel consistently. It’s my new unofficial job. It’s unpaid at least for now and comes with a demanding boss (ha!) 

I’m excited to be back at it though. I’m loving the pages piling up and the story taking shape. Also, it fills my heart to be working again with my favorite friend and critique partner, Christine Lindsay. As we write our novels, we’ll be sharing some of our tips on writing fiction and living well as a writers on If writing is your thing, I invite you to join us.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Why I Stopped a Successful Writing Career. And Why I Started Again: by Christine

Rachel and I at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada 2022. Yes, the lake is that exact turquoise color.

I stopped writing about five years ago. Something I never thought would happen. 

I had just returned from a writers’ conference in Dallas. While my one-sheet for my then work-in-progress hadn’t cornered a new agent or big publisher, I was asked to send the completed manuscript when it was finished. But sometime shortly after that my successful writing career stalled. Its engine sputtered, clanged, rolled and bumped to the side of the road. Maybe a little smoke wafted off to a lifeless prairie. Can you hear the coyotes howl?


“Why?” You ask. “Why did you stop a successful writing career?”


Firstly, let’s define successful. My books had won a number of awards. No small amount of critical acclaim for which I was proud. Yes, proud. Pride does not insinuate that one has a big head, nor is it an emotion to be ashamed of. Pride is simply this: “A feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements…”


I was happy, fulfilled, that my writing had produced six books of quality. I considered that success. And royalties you ask…


A tumbleweed rolls past.  


By the time you count the dollars I spent on marketing I probably broke even. My success with small publishing houses had garnered little monetary reward. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost gratitude to the small houses that published me, but it’s a tough business out there, and small houses don’t reach readers in the same way big houses do. 


Still, that didn’t bother me. Success to me has little to do with royalties. The issue was simply, BURN-OUT. My writing engine was toast, steaming slightly by the side of the road, and I had no desire to even turn the ignition key. 


You see, while I love, love, love the creative process of writing a full-length novel, I hate, hate, hate marketing. I cringed every time I promoted my books on social media. I hated the time spent on fruitless newsletters and writing guest blog posts. Other authors do so much better at marketing their own books than I do. I admire their stick-to-it-tive-ness. But in me, it's something that really goes against the grain. And I wanted to simply write and be a normal person. I needed a break. 


As time passed, the almost complete outline for my current book gathered dust. And I didn’t care. 

I was living, not trying to balance a part-time job, care for my elderly mother, and squeeze time in with my husband as he approached retirement, or play with my grandchildren.


Gosh, the freedom was exhilarating. 


But as I reached my own retirement something wonderful happened. Time! Luxurious time just for me. Would I take up an old hobby: water-color painting, perhaps? 

Or blow the dust off my half completed novel? 


That’s when my best friend and critique partner, Rachel, came for a visit. Rachel, too, had recently retired (early for her). For almost seven days we talked about writing. Cold embers stirred. Discarded coals glowed. Okay, that doesn’t quite match up with my engine metaphor, but for the first time in five years I wanted to slip the key into the ignition and turn it.


I’ve picked up my work-in-progress. The coyotes are gagged silent, and the birds in my backyard are singing the hallelujah chorus. I have no idea if an agent or publisher of a large house will take it up once it’s completed, but I don’t care. I’m writing. I’m loving every word that appears on my laptop screen. I'm writing this book for me.


I hope you’ll rejoin Rachel and I as we both focus on our current novels. In addition to that we are restarting our blog, Novel Renaissance to encourage you too along the way. 

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