Every storyteller, whether he is Shakespeare telling about Hamlet or Luke telling about Mary, looks out at the world much as you and I look out at it and sees things happening—people being born, growing up, working, loving, getting old, and finally dying—only then, by the very process of taking certain of these events and turning them into a story, giving them form and direction, does he make a sort of claim about events in general, about the nature of life itself.
And the storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning—that the things that happen to people happen not just by accident like leaves being blown off a tree by the wind but that there is order and purpose deep down behind them or inside them and that they are leading us not just anywhere but somewhere.
The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story.
And this grips us and fascinates us because of the feeling it gives us that if there is meaning in any life—in Hamlet’s, in Mary’s, in Christ’s—then there is meaning also in our lives. And if this is true, it is of enormous significance in itself, and it makes us listen to the storyteller with great intensity because in this way all his stories are about us and because it is always possible that he may give us some clue as to what the meaning of our lives is. – Frederick Buechner
Writer’s Conference Series, Part 5
Books were taunting me. They’d never taunted me before. Fascinated me, yes. I loved books. Even as a child, I loved the hush of a library. I would look around in wonder and ask myself, “Will I ever be able to read ALL these books?”
But the books on my bookshelves, the books on my side tables … they were taunting me. “We’ve been finished. Completed. Published.”
And I couldn’t even open my own manuscript. Or at least, I didn’t want to.
Over a week had passed since the writer’s conference. I had been both blessed and inundated by information and material, and was ready to complete the final draft of my manuscript and send it off to a few prospective agents. I had heard from a friend whose feedback on my book was just what I knew it needed to make it absolutely perfect.
All I had to do was write.
And I couldn’t do it. I tried opening the document on my computer a couple times, but my mind would fog over. I would close the document, feeling incapable and overwhelmed. I tried praying. Tried reading to fill my heart and soul with great writing in hopes that it would overflow onto my own manuscript.
But mostly, I sat in one corner of the couch and told myself, “I’ll never get this done.” And from that location, books taunted me in their finished perfection.
My husband found me there one afternoon. I tried to tell him how I felt. All I managed was, “I feel stuck,” and then the tears poured out. “I can’t do this. I’ll never get it done. I can’t finish this book. Even if I do, no one will want to publish it or take it on as an agent.”
Every hopeless comment I could possibly make about my book came out. And I wasn’t looking for compliments, hoping for my husband to reassure me with just the opposite of what I said. I was stuck. Completely stuck. I could not write a word. Any revisions I tried to add only made things worse.
“Don’t write,” he told me. “Just leave it. You’ll know when you’re ready. The words will come. Don’t push yourself.”
I nodded. I took a deep breath. The fog seemed to lift. Just knowing that someone was there to support me, someone who wasn’t pushing me, or laughing at me, but encouraging me … made all the difference.
The next day, I opened the document again. And I began to write. Within two weeks, I had completed the fifth draft.
Writers, and other artists, struggle with self-doubt. A lot. And there’s never a perfect and complete cure for that condition. But there are friends. Family. A spouse. There are encouraging words and thoughts. There are prayers. There’s sitting beside someone in tears on a couch and saying, “It’ll be okay.”
Because it will.
God says so. In His Word, and in that voice deep within the heart that whispers to us not to give up.
That assures us the best is yet to come.
That reminds us of the wondrous gift writing is.
That calls us to let the heart be filled with dreams, and to tell those dreams
as beatings of the heart of a writer.
Writer’s Conference Series, Part 4
On the third day of my third writer’s conference, I felt no closer to finding the right agent than I did on the first day of my first conference. Okay, maybe a little bit closer. I knew more about the agents’ role and the concept that having an agent is a good idea if you’re serious about taking on writing for the long haul. But as far as me finding the right agent … I recently wrote about my fear of making the wrong choices in my writing journey, and one of those primary choices, in my mind, is having an agent.
I had read books dedicated to agents, who grew to be the authors’ dearest friends. I wanted an agent like that. Or at least someone who could offer advice on the writing path. I had gotten advice from a few agents that I had met with on conferences past.
Things like, “Build a platform; our agency doesn’t usually look at a writer unless their platform is in the tens of thousands.” That only intimidated me. As a work-from-home mom of three and also trying to get through university, building a platform is a slow and tedious process.
Another agent suggested I choose whether I want to write fiction or non-fiction, and perhaps write the other under a pen name. But I like my name. And I want the freedom to write what I am inspired to write without being hindered in my choices because it’s not good for marketing.
I told another agent that I’m probably every agent’s worst nightmare … for the reasons above. He declined to respond and smoothly changed the subject.
At one workshop I attended, I got some good advice from an author on what to look for in an agent. It was helpful, although I only remember one point of of the three the author gave me. I’ll leave that to him to share on his blog.
What I really wanted, while I was standing in the auditorium waiting for my appointments, scoping out the myriad of agents and editors of publishing houses … was for the right agent to just stand up. That’s it. Make it easy for me. Cut out the guess work and the trial and error.
But until the perfect agent is also telepathic and not scared away by my genre jumping and half a dozen blogs, I’ll have to settle for the guesswork and the trial and error.
One helpful point I thought to settle on, when searching for the “right” agent … something I hope will help you if your search is somewhat similar, is the idea of finding an agent whose strengths are in inverted order to your own. Or to put it another way, someone whose talents in the writing world complement yours.
Let’s say you’re great at marketing, but need someone who wouldn’t mind giving your manuscript or proposal the once-over with an editing eye; you might want to look for an agent who has that eye and interest in the more in-depth details of your manuscript.
Or perhaps your manuscript is perfect, but you need a little more help on the marketing side of things. You might want to look for an agent who has a blog for her authors, or a private group where his authors brainstorm ways to support each other.
And yes, finding the agent who complements your writing talents probably does take some homework, some guess work, and some good old fashioned coin flipping. Oh, and prayer. Everything about a Christian author’s writing journey, if bathed in prayer, will find the right results at the right time.
Perhaps not when we want it.
But in God’s time.
Always the right time.
It was a topic that came up repeatedly during the writer’s conference I recently attended. “What is the agent’s role? Do I really need an agent? Can’t I get a book published on my own?” Some of the questions I heard were questions I also had, at least at some point in my writing journey.
If you’re a writer, especially one who is hoping to get published in the near future, you might have a few questions about agents.
I am not an agent. At the moment, I do not have an agent, although I am perfecting my work-in-progress with the intention of contacting a few agents soon. My perspective is limited and not from a standpoint of vast experience. But here are three personal observations about agents from the perspective of a writer.
Agents Have Experience
In the writing world, questions are bound to arise. “What’s the best publishing path for me to take? How do I know whether this contract is what I want for my book?” Agents might not be able to tell you the exact route you should take for your writing journey, but they can offer some good advice.
They’ve been around the block more than once. They’ve seen the end of the road for a variety of publishing options, and can advise accordingly. They’ve seen contracts, so although we might be thrilled to sign that first contract no matter what it says, agents would likely have helpful advice to offer. An agent’s experience can be vital in navigating the vast waters of the publishing industry.
Agents Have Connections
Writing tends to be a solitary activity, and writers often tend to be solitary people. That used to be okay. Emily Dickinson rarely left her house and remains one of the most famous American poets. But today, connections are big. The more, the merrier, it seems. Even if more is not better: all you need is that one connection. Your “way in” to a particular publishing house or other opportunity.
Agents are often agents primarily because of their connections. They know people. They’ve been authors or editors or played some integral role in a publishing house or related company. They can read your proposal and often know straight off who in the publishing industry is looking for a similar title or genre or how-to. An agent’s connections can be just what you need to publish your manuscript.
Agents Have Insight
In the good ol’ days, writers wrote. That was pretty much it. Okay, some fell under the category of starving artists, but it was easier to focus on solely writing and make a living from it. I’m still getting over my envy of an author who lived 300 years ago, because I read that he was sponsored for six years to do nothing but study and write. Nothing but study and write for six years? I can’t even get six days!
These days, a serious writer also needs to develop a platform, understand and utilize social media, be tech-savvy, and hone their business skills. That’s a tall order, and it can be daunting to know where to start. An agent can offer insight as to what platform a writer might focus on. They might suggest a budding author focus on a particular genre and build up a readership in that target audience.
In summary, if you love to write, and you hope to make a lifelong career (even part-time) of writing and publishing books, your next step might be researching the agent that is the right fit for you. As writers, we need help. From editors. Sometimes from illustrators or web designers or graphic artists. And often from agents, for their experience, connections, and insight. And for their friendship. After all, writing can be a lonely world; it’s nice to have someone in your corner. To advise you, pray for you, and encourage you along the way.
Who knows? Maybe you can offer them encouragement too. That’s what friends are for.