Aspiring writers often ask me for my number one piece of writing advice. My reply? Never give up! I know that sounds obvious, but becoming a writer can be a long and difficult journey, a roller coaster ride filled with challenges and discouragement. I know. I nearly gave up before I ever got published.
I began writing more than 25 years ago when I was a stay-at-home mom, living in Canada with my husband and 3 children. After a great deal of work, I completed my first novel, Gods and Kings, and began the long, tedious process of sending my book proposal to publishers, getting rejected, sending it out again, and trying not to get discouraged. Then one glorious day I finally heard back from a Christian publisher in the U.S. who said, “We like your proposal—please send us your complete manuscript for review.”
It seemed like great news, but after nearly a year went by, I was still waiting. At last they told me that the manuscript had one final hurdle to clear before they would decide whether or not to offer me a contract.
This was the era before cell phones, so I hung around my house for two anxious weeks, fearful of missing the phone call that would change my life and send me on the path to realizing my dream. But instead of the telephone, my doorbell rang. It was my mailman, delivering a black plastic garbage bag with my name and address taped to it. My first thought was, “Don’t I have enough garbage? Who’s mailing me more?” But when I opened the bag, there was my manuscript!
The pages were in complete disarray, tossed haphazardly into the trash bag as if someone had turned on a fan and thrown the pile in the air. Several pages had footprints on them. Others had tire tracks. This had to be a mistake! I rooted through the bag and found the box I had used to mail the manuscript, battered beyond recognition. It must have burst open somewhere between the U.S. and Canada and the post office had kindly shoveled the mess into a garbage bag to deliver it to me.
I sifted through the disheveled pages and finally found the letter from the publisher. It said, “We’re sorry, but we’ve decided not to publish your book.” The trash bag seemed like a prophetic sign to me. Not only had my book been rejected, it was garbage.
I gave up writing.
Since I had worked as a teacher before my kids were born and my youngest was now ready for kindergarten, I decided to sign a teaching contract for the coming school year. But God has His ways of turning us around when we’re headed in the wrong direction, and a few months into my new job, I began to feel like Jonah in the belly of the whale. I was under so much stress at work that I became ill three different times during that school year with three different stress-related medical conditions. After I found myself flat on my back for the third time, I surrendered and asked God to show me what He wanted me to do. His answer—
And I was immediately successful? Not even close! I did resign from teaching but a few more years passed before Gods and Kings was finally published. It became the first novel in a five-book series that has been translated into numerous languages. Today I get letters from readers all over the world telling me how much the book has blessed and inspired them.
I can’t answer that question but I do know that I love this writing life and wouldn’t trade it for any other. And so my advice to aspiring writers will always be, never give up. Even if your dream comes to your door in a garbage bag.