Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Holding it All Together by Cheryl St. John

My own four children are all grown now, though my youngest daughter and two children live with us. There have been only tiny windows in my life when I’ve had no children to care for. I even took in my first grandchild while my daughter worked, and I was still raising two children at home, and working 40 plus hours a week evenings at my real job.
But at the time I was unpublished, I was determined not to work at that job for the rest of my life. I became determined to make enough money writing to support my family. I wrote every available minute. When I was writing my (first published) book Rain Shadow, I was working crazy hours. Whenever I wasn’t at work, I was in front of my computer. My children took turns fixing supper, and they quickly learned to leave me alone while I was working. My husband, who’d never turned on the washer in his life, learned to do laundry. I wasn’t always happy with the results, but he did it and I appreciated it. For nearly a year, I barely attended any family gatherings.
My family was a big help, but I know plenty of single moms who have set priorities and placed writing near the top, too. It can be done. We have good examples and bad examples all around us, and we should learn from them. We’ve all learned that successful people set goals, write them down, refer to them regularly, and re-evaluate when necessary. Writers need attainable short-term and long-term goals. Write long terms goals on separate sheets of paper and list underneath each, the steps it will take to reach it. Then take those steps.
Looking at my goals to quit my job and make enough money to support my family, I considered the steps it would take to get there. Obviously, I would have to sell books. And to do that I would have to write them. And to do that I would have to give up a lot of other things. A lot. So I missed my friends, but my writer associates became my friends and still are. I missed having a clean house, but most of my friends who now come over are other writers, and they’re all in the same boat. The sacrifices paid off in the long run.
You can tell how serious a writer is by how selfish they become with their time. Let me put it bluntly: If you still have a life, you’re probably not a serious writer—you have a hobby that may or
may not pay off.
There was a time between all those early rejections and that first sale that I felt pretty low. I clearly remember the overwhelming frustration. I remember saying to my husband, but more to myself: “Why can’t I be satisfied to do nice little needlepoint crafts like all the *normal* women I know?” This was a burning question in my heart. Why didn’t the same things that made every other woman in the country content, make me content? I wondered over and over again if I was doing the right thing. Was this what I should be devoting all my time and energy to when I had no guarantee of a payoff?
There were times when I didn’t feel as though I fit in anywhere anymore. At a gathering someone would ask me what I’d been doing or how the writing was going, and when I started to tell them their eyes glazed over. Next thing I knew, they'd changed the subject back to their dog or kids. I felt like I could hardly talk to people anymore.

We can’t stop ourselves from sharing the most exciting thing happening in our life . . . but later, the admission comes back to haunt us: “Sold that book yet?” “When can I buy that book of yours?” “Got an interview on Letterman yet?” And then you wish you’d never told anyone.
At same time that thoughts of throwing in the towel crept into my head, I knew in my heart I would never be happy with myself if I didn’t give this thing every last ounce of energy I had. I couldn’t quit. And what if I had? What if I’d given up after the first seven rejections? Those were only rejections for ONE BOOK. I’d been rejected regularly on other projects for years before that. But what if I’d given up? What if I’d decided I didn’t have the stamina it took to absorb all that rejection and still feel like a writer? What if I hadn’t been willing to listen to the advice of writers and editors more experienced than I?
Well, then I’d never have known that all that rejection was only the beginning, that from there on, I’d be ranked and graded and critiqued by reviewers and contest judges and readers. That editors would still find fault with my work, and I could either improve it or be far less likely to sell the next time. When
I turned in my first contemporary, my editor told me she cried at all the right parts. She also told me she hated the ending. The whole last chapter.
I asked what she’d like to see happen, rewrote it and faxed it to her the same day. See, way back then, realizing that words are only words, that they’re not pure genius engraved in stone, and that my head is full of billions more words, was a well-learned lesson. You just have to keep trying. And you’ve got to be positive.
Surround yourself with positive people. You know how good it feels being with someone who’s really up and positive? You can feel good being the positive one, too. I use visual affirmations in the form of book covers, photographs, best seller lists, etc.. Combine your self-talk with your faith. Take workshops on goal-setting or how to handle rejection.

Consciously listen to yourself and the thoughts that come out of your mouth. “I’ll never learn all this.” “I don’t have what it takes to juggle a job, kids, a house, a husband, and write, too.” “I’m too tired to get up early and write five pages.” “I’ll never sell this because I met that editor and she didn’t like me.” “I’m brain dead today.” Those are self-defeating attitudes and words.
Oh, I did my share of whining and crying and feeling sorry for myself. But once I really heard myself, I changed that for good. When I was working those horrible early morning hours and getting the kids off to school and handling all that life as a
mom entails, I can remember dragging out of bed first thing in the morning. It was still dark, and I’d barely slept enough hours to combat exhaustion. My feet still hurt from being on them all day the day before, and as they’d touch the floor, the first words that came to mind were, “This job is killing me.”
Once I really heard my own thinking, and realized what that negativity was doing to me, I was able to change it. The situation didn’t change overnight. But instead of thinking “This job is killing me” when I got out of bed, I would say OUT LOUD, “This day gets me one day closer to my goal. I can do it. I can make the best of it. I’m not going to be doing this much longer.”
I changed my confession, and with it I changed my thinking. Each time I sit down to my computer, I read something inspirational to get started. And I tell myself, “I’m writing a RITA winner.” Do I feel silly saying things like that out loud? Not at all. Too many of them have come to pass.
Do I still have doubts? Every time I get a particularly ugly line edit. Every time I get to the middle of my current book. Every time I stretch my writing a step further. Every time I have a proposal rejected. But every accomplishment is a confidence builder.
Deal with feelings. Take thoughts and emotions under control. I heard somewhere that if a computer were built to have the capacity of the human mind it 
would take the space of the Empire State Building to house it. And yet we use only 10% of our brains. We live in a society that believes we’re all victims; nobody’s responsible for their actions or feelings or thoughts. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m responsible for me. I may not be able to change my past or other people, but I can change how I feel and how I react to situations. You can too.
There is no one rule or schedule that works for every mom. Unfortunately you have to figure out this stuff by trial and error. But I hope it’s reassuring to know there are other women who understand what you’re dealing with as a busy wife, mother, writer--and maybe even breadwinner. Many of us have been there and survived. You will too.
What positive thing can you say about yourself and your writing dream right now?
Cheryl St.John’s fortieth book: The Wedding Journey, April Love Inspired Historical.
Visit Cheryl on the web:
From the Heart:


Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great post. Nothing can plunge you into the doldrums quicker than a well-timed rejection. I'm trying to get better about riding those highs and lows and not let them spill into my personal life. But writing books is so personal, so it's hard not to! Thanks for the helpful advice! I'm still trying to convince myself that my writing is a "real" job, even though it's paid nothing yet!

Cheryl St.John said...

Writing is personal, Heather. Sometimes I have to remind myself that writing is what I do, it's not who I am - though it's a huge part of my life.

And writing is solitary. We sometimes have too much time to take ourselves seriously. lol That's what writer friends are for, so we can laugh at ourselves and know we're not alone.

cher :-)

Paula Mowery said...

Yes and amen! I am a pastor's wife and a homeschool mom. I often find myself writing in a spiral notebook while I brown meat for supper. I have written in the car on the way to visit family. I have written while sitting in front of the TV with my family (we're still together). I am awaiting the announcement of the release date from my editor for my first contracted novella. Keep on writing. That calling can come to fruition in God's time.

apple blossom said...

love both these covers but I love love inspired books thanks for the post

Mary Connealy said...

Wow, Cheryl, this is amazingly inspiring. Great words.

Lilly Maytree said...

I agree, Cher... yes, yes, yes: confession changes thinking, because "whatever a man thinks, so he is." (Proverbs 23:7). And what positive things can I say about myself and my writing dream? My dreams became reality when I began practicing two things with everything that was in me.

The first I must attribute to Yvonne Anderson (thank you, Yvonne!), who wrote a post some time ago about "chasing one rabbit." That visual analogy struck me at just the right time (it was a God thing -- thank you, God!) because I suddenly saw that I was trying to do the impossible. I could never become a "rabbit catcher" by just chasing rabbits. I had to go for one at a time to actually catch any. Then another, and another. One at a time. Now, I have done that, and it works.

The second thing was the inspired idea (thank you, God, again!) that I could skip things that were in my way, instead of letting them stop me. Such as publication. The day I changed "When I get published, I will do..." to "I will do..." and did it anyway... I caught the rabbit! (thank you, Yvonne, again!). Because I never would have recognized that rabbit on the other side of the obstacle if I hadn't been chasing him before. Whew, what a run!

Now, something tells me I should do an in-depth study on turtles.

Elaine Stock said...

Wow--thanks for the pep talk. Just what I needed today :) So... it's actually a good sign that 1) I have no time to go out with my friends and that 2) my friends are too busy to go out with me because they're writers too. Maybe I'm on the right track after all!

lizzie starr said...

An epic kick in the pants, Cheryl! I've let myself be un-serious for far too long.

One thing I've done--The bathroom I use isn't used often by others in the house--and if it is, who cares what they think, right? :) I use a dry erase marker to write on the upper edges of the overly large mirror. Affirmations, and stuff that means something to me. Now it says 'I write every day' and 'spark'. I see my words multiple times every day and whether I consciously recognize them or not, the impact is there.

Thanks for sharing!

ML said...

What a great post, Cheryl! I have a quote posted by my computer that says, "No is not an answer. No is a clue." I had to change my thinking about rejections and that quote helped change it. :-)

Gina Holmes said...

Excellent post.

Cheryl St.John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gina Holmes said...

Over a thousand readers, so it's getting seen. I've noticed folks tend not to comment unless the subject is controversial. If they read and agree, they seldom comment, so it's not a bad thing. Really thoughtful piece. I enjoyed it.

Theresa Weir/Anne Frasier said...

I heart you.

Dee Ann Williamson said...

I've known you a long time and I didn't know this is how you started. Thank you so much for sharing and writing so eloquently! I hope I can share my story some day. :-)

Cheryl St.John said...

Thanks to everyone who visited and left comments! I appreciate you.

Cheryl St.John said...

No, no, I heart you, Theresa! xoxo

Cheryl St.John said...

Laugh if you like, but I got so many comments on one of the things I said, I made a quote and posted it on FB:
Go share!

Tricia said...

Cheryl, you made me cry and miss you so-o much! I'm printing this out and hanging it above my computer. I still write, mostly for school now, but I still am plotting and entering contests and submitting...but what you said is very true, writers who want to get it done, simply do it. Thank you for the invaluable inspiration. There was a time when I set my alarm for 4:am to write before work. I guess I better get at it again.


You are awesome!


Tina Radcliffe said...

I can say I met Cheryl St. John who is a amazing person, a great writer and total nurturer of her peers! That's just as good as being on Letterman!~

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cheryl, this rocks. I knew there was a reason I liked you. Maybe two reasons!

You're real.

You don't cave.

I don't have much patience for cavers.

Great inspirational story and I just smiled at your tenacity, perseverance and of course the BEAUTIFUL PHOTO didn't hurt! ;) Bless you! Happy Easter, and thanks for sharing a heartfelt 'pull up your big girl panties and move on' post. Loved it!