The Highs and Lows of a Writer’s Life

Jody Hedlund

Guest blogger: Jody Hedlund

It was a glorious day. I was basking in all the love and encouragement from blog readers. My inbox was filled with wonderful comments about my new website and redecorated blog. I was beginning to get positive reviews on my debut novel The Preacher’s Bride.

The writer’s life was looking pretty good. All that hard work was paying off. I could take a breather and enjoy the view for a little while.

Just as I was getting comfortable with a fresh cup of coffee and clicking through the pages of my lovely new website for the hundredth time, I got an email from my editor at Bethany House. He wanted to arrange a phone call to discuss Book 2 which I’d turned in a month ago, and he said, “We’ll be talking about a pretty significant rewrite, but I’m confident it’s a rewrite you’ll be able to make shine.”

In a matter of a few seconds, I plummeted off the high peak I’d been standing upon. And I crash-landed into a deep cavern. Darkness swept away the bright joy I’d felt only moments earlier.

“Significant rewrite?” What did that mean?

Surely he was mistaken. Book 2 was my newest love. It was the best book I’d written yet (or so I’d thought!). I’d spent months working on it, sacrificing my time, pouring my heart into it. And now my precious Book 2 would need a significant rewrite? Why? What had gone wrong?

Crushed, I struggled to hold back the tears.

My experience is fairly typical, isn’t it? We’ve all had those really high moments where we’re feeling on top of the world. Then something happens that topples us into the pit.

We might win a contest then fail to garner the attention of an agent. We get great feedback from one critique partner, but another can’t seem to find anything right. We have an agent ask to see more of our manuscript, but we don’t hear back from her for months. Perhaps an editor takes our book to committee, but then nothing happens.

My wise mother recently gave me some advice. She told me that there will always be really high praise and then also the really negative. It’s best to discard both and take what’s in the middle. The really highs and the really lows are often the exaggerations, the extremes, the ones that will either flatter us too much or bring unnecessary discouragement.

Here are just a few things I’m telling myself as I try to navigate the highs and lows of the writer’s life:

*Remember the path leads through both valleys and peaks. I can’t get to the next peak without going through the valley first. Isn’t that true of writing and life?

*Stand up straight and keep walking. When I’m in the valley I can look back at the past peak to remind myself of where I’ve been to give me incentive. But ultimately, I have to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, even if the next high point isn’t in sight yet.

*Share the journey with a few who understand. Not everyone is going to be able to come along side us, but hopefully we can find friends we can trust, those willing to hear our greatest fears and highest joys, those who encourage us, but also help us stay grounded.

How’s your writing journey been lately? Have you had to weather the extreme highs and the discouraging lows? What helps you navigate through them?

TheDoctorsLady* * *

Jody Hedlund is a bestselling author of historical fiction published by Bethany House. She did the rewrite her editor requested, and The Doctor’s Lady recently released to rave reviews.

Visit Jody’s website and blog, or connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

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  • http://www.rochellestaab.com Rochelle Staab

    Jody, I linked to this post via Facebook and I’m so happy I did. Your comments are so on the money. I’m printing them out to remind me about the valleys and peaks of this amazing journey through publication.

    One of the comforting thoughts that gets me through the valleys is remembering how far I’ve come already. The act of writing a complete novel is astonishing to most people. Getting published is the gift so many authors have yet to experience. When I remember how fortunate I am, I don’t mind slogging through the rough spots. I know they’ll be there but no one can erase the thrills I’ve had so far.

    Thank you for sharing and congratulations on the success of BOTH of your novels.

    ~Rochelle
    WHO DO, VOODOO? 11/1/11

  • http://aboutracewriter.blogspot.com/ Dianne Liuzzi Hagan

    I think Jody’s suggestions for getting through the highs and lows in the writing life apply to all of life.

    I’d say my writing journey has been putting one foot in front of the other while trying not to trip, but expecting that trips happen and don’t have to halt the journey altogether. And I fully expect some rough road and inclines ahead of me. I think believing in my story keeps me moving forward, no matter how frustrated I might feel on a given day. The good feedback and the anticipation that I will get where I’ve aimed myself help keep me going.

    Thanks for another good post!

  • http://anneslovenotes.blogspot.cm Anne Love

    When Chip MacGregor asked me if I liked my day job, and advised me to send my WIP to My Book Therapy, I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy that he actually took the time to look at it and advise me, or run fast that other way and never look back–note to self: keep the day job, and only write for fun!

    I almost laughed, but I did send it to MBT, then had to hear Rachel Hauck’s sage advise to chop off the first five chapters of my “baby” –then rewrite the entire book. After I recovered, I did just that and it was the most valuable exercise in learning better craft. I learned more that year than the previous ten years of writing for fun.

    I don’t think we can hone our craft well, be life long learners, or let God shape us–without the highs and lows.

    But for now, I’m presently riding the middle wave–waiting.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • http://nancysthompson.blogspot.com/ Nancy S. Thompson

    Wow, what an insightful post.

    And my journey lately? Well, 3 requests in 10 days…then…nothing. :-/

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  • http://www.artesianministries.org Donna Pyle

    What a wonderful post, Judy! Discarding both the extreme highs and extreme lows to walk down the middle keeps our wigs straight and head a normal size. Love it!

    • http://www.artesianministries.org Donna Pyle

      JODY! Sorry, legal secretary fast fingers are deadly. :)

  • http://www.atlasmediainc.com Adam Porter

    Growing up, my mom used to tell me: “very few things in life are fatal.” When I taught that phrase to my son, I added: “And everything is instructive.”

    I have carried that idea into my writing career. I have written magazine features that I thought were solid gold and received little reader response. With others, I felt the work was decent, but it received huge positive feedback. One series inspired tons of kudos and thread chatter. Another much less.

    As you said, it’s just part of the gig. But, no matter whether I’m hearing applause or crickets, I just remind myself to thank God I get to tell stories for a living…then I get back to work.

  • http://reeniesresources.blogspot.com Laureen Guenther

    Awesome post, Jody. Really helpful for both writing AND life!

  • http://michelledevans@blogspot.com Michelle DennisEvans (@MichelleDEvans)

    Great post Jody, I’ve been in the valley for too long.. one foot in front of the other… looking forward to a peak…

  • http://deekrull.blogspot.com/ Dee Krull

    Oh yes, those highs and lows when you give someone the first three chapters of your baby who on the phone tells you, “Wow, what a great story. I put a few post it notes where I had questions.”
    You say great, feedback, I’m open to that.

    Then when you get those precious chapters back there is more yellow than white biting and tearing out those wonderful images you had put on paper. Then to make it worse she says at lunch one day “You know, that genera has been done to death. Can’t you make your characters something else?”

    You look at this person, who you thought was a supportive friend, dumbfounded. “Excuse me? Um . . . but my whole premise is based on this kind of a genera.”

    She turns her head and sighs, “never mind, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
    But she did and her words worm their way through your brain until you feel like swiss cheese because your so called friend just shot you down without flinching.

    Eventually you pick yourself up out of the drainage ditch, stand tall and say,”I’ll show you.” And you go back to your pen and paper and write something better, that gets better with every edit. Then it dawns on you, if that so called friend hadn’t said those words you might not have worked as hard as you did to get those beautiful words right.

    Something I learned from the Authors Learning Circle is “give your work to friends who are kind and supportive. Do not give your precious manuscript to assholes who tear you down.” That’s what he said and that is what I did.

    Criticism is good but it should be constructive, not destructive. This is a true story. I did show myself that I could do it, my first novel was published two days ago.(-:

  • http://www.lettersfromvalentinahepburn.blogspot.com Valentina Hepburn

    As in life, the world of writing is never straight forward. I’ve had some wonderful moments, only to have things crashing down round my ears because something or other didn’t go right. Now I never take anything for granted. If I absolutely love my blog post, I accept that others might not love it enough to leave a comment. I’m crazy about the people I write about in my novels (I don’t like to call them characters)but I can accept that the agents I query may not. It’s tough, it’s hard, and sometimes it hurts like hell, but I think it marks out those of us who will carry on (and keep carrying on) until we succeed.

  • Melissa Pearl

    Thank you for that wonderful post. I’m so glad your rewrites paid off so beautifully.

    Peaks and valleys are all part of life’s journey. I try to hold my chin high no matter where I am on the path, but the odd cry never hurt anybody :)

  • http://catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com Catherine Johnson

    I love your mum’s quote about finding the middle, wonderful! :)

  • http://www.juliejwrites.blogspot.com Julie Jarnagin

    Thank you, Jody. I just got back a big content edit for my third book, and I needed this post today.

  • http://perichoreticlife.blogspot.com/ Michael

    These are good thoughts for any calling: writing, parenting, preaching, or otherwise.

  • Gwen Stewart

    Good post, Jody. Lately, it’s been a lot of valleys, shadows and uncertainty. Perhaps it’s to teach me humility. I keep telling God if I were any more humble about my writing I’d be crawling on my belly like a half-dead worm, but you know, He has reasons for everything. :) Looking back on my life I can see that so clearly. And so I keep the faith.

    God bless you!

  • Kimmy

    My beta readers, crit partners, and family help cheer me along. I doubting would’ve gotten this far without their amazing support!

    • Kimmy

      Sorry! That’s supposed to be “I doubt I would have….” – ugh autocorrect!

  • http://literaryfriendships.wordpress.com/ Audrey

    I needed to read this today! Thank you. I’m loving the mother-advice in here especially (including Adam’s mom’s).

    My first novel came out this week. I’m finding it just this side of impossible to get through a first draft of the next one. But sometimes you just need a new way of thinking…so thank you for the reminder that the steps to get from here to there are a necessary part of the journey, and often uphill for too long.

    Great post.

  • http://jodyhedlund.com Jody Hedlund

    Hey everyone! Great to see you all here today on Rachelle’s blog! I’m glad that my story could be an encouragement! I’m sitting high right now as reviews are rolling in for my newest release, The Doctor’s Lady, BUT my editor just informed me that I’ll be getting feedback on Book 3 next week! So I’ll be plummeting again soon! This journey is indeed filled with incredible highs and depressing lows. I’m trying to learn to walk through BOTH dignity and grace! :-)

  • http://heathersunseri.com Heather Sunseri

    Beautifully said, Jody. A writer can find who she truly is in how she weathers the storms, how she fights through the lows to find even ground again.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • http://www.wizardofotin.blogspot.com otin

    Someone asked me the other day:

    “What if no one picks up your novels? Will you keep writing?”

    I thought about it and then I realized that writing is my hobby. I’ll probably always do it. If only a handful of people read my stuff then so be it. This attitude helps me through the lows.

  • http://byline.peterdehaan.name/ Peter DeHaan

    Once after speaking at the local homeless shelter, I was disappointed and discouraged. I resorted to a tactic that I know was unwise and fished for a compliment from the person who scheduled me. His sage response put things in perspective.

    “Whenever I wonder how I did, I just ask God what he thinks — that’s all that matters.”

    I have since followed his advice when I speak — and when I write.

  • http://jessicanelson.net Jessica Nelson

    I’ve been on a high for a while and I think my low (line edits) might be coming in the mail next week. I’m fortifying myself with chocolate and hopefully humbleness so I can handle it okay.
    Thank you for sharing about your experiences! I’m sure the first version was really good, but the second one is too. You rocked your rewrites, Jody. :-) Congrats!

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TC Avey

    Good reminders! I especially liked the part of your mothers advice, she sounds like a really wise woman. I will keep that in mind as I approach my high’s and low’s, the praise and critiques.

    Another good point is that I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

    When the valley seems to be going on for too long (in life and writing), I keep going with the help of God. I don’t know the purpose of each valley, but He does and that’s enough to keep me moving.

    Thanks for sharing, it helps to be reminded that everyone goes through valleys!

  • http://crowproductions.com joan Cimyotte

    Writers do sort of live in isolation until they show their work to someone. Then you are standing butt naked waiting to hear a verdict. I feel I’m spending too much time in limbo trying to find an agent. That is a low. If only one of these people could see through the slush to see mine is a shining jewel, that would be a high.

  • http://www.southbounder.blogspot.com bekah

    great encouragement. thank you.

  • http://www.courtneywalsh.typepad.com Courtney Walsh

    I’ve definitely found the rewriting part to be the most difficult–for the reasons you describe. I think you get things “just so” and then you have to tear it all apart and start over. That said, I’ve recently discovered this strange excitement that comes with a tough edit…and I’m hoping I can convince myself to keep that positive outlook when my editor sends over another rewrite! ha.

    Really loved this post today, Jody! Thank you! :)

  • http://keligwyn.wordpress.com Keli Gwyn

    Jody, as you know, my treasured CP, I, too, deal with the highs and lows on my writerly journey. It’s great to have you there to help me through the valleys and to cheer with me when I reach the mountaintops. I’m honored to share the journey with you and will be here for you when that editorial letter arrives, my friend. And, for the record, I love book three. =)

  • Loree Huebner

    Wonderful post, Jody.

    It’s amazing how we can go from high to low in seconds.

    Your mother gave you some incredible advice.

    I loved your tips on how to navigate through the peaks and valleys.

    Great stuff.

  • http://www.supamomthoughts.blogspot.com Angie Dicken

    This is such a timely post. I experienced a valley and a peak within 24 hours of each other, both writing related. What a rollercoaster we are on!
    Thank you for the encouragement!

  • http://eileenastels.blogspot.com Eileen Astels Watson

    Your mother is very wise “there will always be really high praise and then also the really negative. It’s best to discard both and take what’s in the middle.” I love this advice to keep us humble.

    Can’t wait to dig into The Doctor’s Lady, Jody!

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

    My journey? Lots of submitting, one publication, and finishing to complete my first novel. I’m the multi-task queen. (giggle). But the journey is quite fun and I’m making friends along the way. My life is in God’s hands. Other than that, I’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Bask in your success…hold on to it. You got farther than I did. Congrats!

  • http://danicapage.blogspot.com Danica Page

    Thanks for the beautiful post. It was inspirational and helpful.

    A great reminder.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.debbymayne.com Debby Mayne

    Jody, you just described my roller coaster of a ride as an author. I found myself nodding at everything you said!

  • http://www.aimeelsalter.com Aimee L. Salter

    I am weathering a low low at the moment. I didn’t tell anyone I was feeling bad, but first thing this morning I got a text from a dear writer friend that just said:

    “You are on my heart. Don’t be discouraged.”

    It was like God sat down on the couch next to me and gave me a hug.

    We serve a great and gracious and loving God. He’s the best place to go in the valleys, and the best reminder of what’s really important on the peaks, I think.

  • http://girlseeksplace.wordpress.com Brianna

    I’m definitely at a low with my writing right now. I can’t seem to get motivated to work on anything. I don’t know what to do about it, either. Imposing deadlines doesn’t seem ideal, but maybe that’s the only thing that will work.

  • http://www.nebraskagraceful.blogspot.com Michelle DeRusha

    Awesome and wise post, Jody. My husband’s mantra is “moderation in all things.” But of course, he’s much more even-keel than I — easy for him to say! I’m what my dad has termed “red light, green light” — yup, all or nothing, extreme highs and abyssmal lows. Kind of a hard way to live. So yeah, I hear you on this…and will try to take your very good advice to heart!

  • http://www.faithinbetween.com Brittany

    Thank you for this encouragement! I have certainly experienced some highs and some lows. I’ll be printing this out for the days I need some reminding that I’m not alone on the journey :)

  • http://scottpostma.net Scott Postma

    Jody,

    Very well stated. The highs and lows seem to be a constant for a creative. Thanks for being candid and transparent. Encouraging!

    SP

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  • http://www.jenjdanna.com Jen J. Danna

    Your mother is a wise, wise woman! :) And you’re very right about sharing the journey with those around who are in the trenches as well. The support we get in our lows can be turned around for someone else when they get hit with one. And together, we’ll all get through this crazy dream of publishing!

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  • Damaria

    My writing journey has been rough lately. However, I have people in my life who support me, even if most of their support is covered under the category of “we don’t understand what the problem is, but we love you and support you, and we’re confident that in time, you’ll beat this challenge.” I did start looking for a writing buddy/beta reader, so I have someone in life who does understand. But we’re new to each other still and I don’t know how the partnership will work out.

  • Richard Anderson

    I’ve been
    having difficulty with the next phrase of writing my memoir-the editing part. I
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    realise I’m not done-but maybe that is a good thing because I’ve got a lot to
    do before I can publish something that will help others as much as me. Richard
    Anderson-memoirist and author of poetry.

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