Monday, March 29, 2010

Joyce's Guest Blogger today is Author Jane Kirkpatrick

Today I’m honored to be the guest blogger. Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency, LLC. has been my agent since 1994. That’s longer than some marriages last these days. She was referred to me by Jacqueline Cromartie a publicist who promoted my first book published by Word called Homestead (1991). When I attempted my first novel and needed an agent, Jacqueline suggested Joyce. The rest is history. Sixteen novels, three nonfiction titles, and numerous articles later, we’re still together. My latest novel An Absence so Great (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House) was just released. It’s based on my grandmother’s life as a turn of the century photographer in the Midwest. Joyce said I could blog about anything so I’ve decided to blog about fear. Some of those writing fears are speaking to me this morning.

A writer fears all sorts of things. We fear we won’t finish the manuscript. When we do, we fear it isn’t good enough. When we look for an agent, we fear we won’t find one or it’ll be the wrong one for us. When our agent finds us a publisher, we fear it might not be the best publisher for our “platform.” We fear we won’t have a platform or at least not as articulate or contemporary a one as the bestselling author’s we so admire. Once the book is published, we agonize over how to promote it, wondering whether we ought to have put something more in our contract so the publisher would invest more in our baby’s success. We agonize over reviews or the lack of them. In recent years, we’ve added how to manage writing time and Facebook or Twitter issues to our list of fears. Then, when we begin the next book, we wonder if this story can really be told and if so, do we have the skills to do it? I still have a level of anxiety when I begin because while I’ve written nearly twenty books now and well over a million words I never know if I can write THIS book, or if I’ll find the right words this time!

Because my last two novels are based on a family story, I fear what my relatives will say and whether or not I’ll be invited back to the family reunion.

But here’s the worst thing about fear: it could easily stop us from doing what we feel compelled to do. It could keep us from risking exposure by failing to send the manuscript out for an agent to consider or for a publisher to purchase. If fear does keep us from moving forward, it will not only be our loss but the loss of others who could be encouraged by our story.

I’ve discovered that whenever we undertake anything new, we experience fear and anxiety whether it’s learning how to ski (I could die doing this!) or fixing the latest dish for the first time planning to serve it to our in-laws (they could die!). Rarely do these things happen, of course and I remind myself of that when I feel the anxiety build.

One of our greatest fears is humiliation, looking foolish. The one short piece I had published years ago in Writer’s Digest was my definition of the writing life. “Writing is like undressing in front of the window at night with the lights on. A rejection means someone else was watching me undress in front of the window at night with the lights on and what they saw was so terrible, they pulled the shade down.” For many writers, that fear becomes so great that if they do send their work out at all, they may not go past the first rejection, not give worth to the work and instead stuff it into a drawer beneath their underware never to be seen again.

One trick a writing instructor taught me was when I finished a manuscript, to make a list of the ten top markets, write them on a manilia folder and to send it out to the top of the list with a date. When the rejection letter came, I would re-read the manuscript once and if it still sounded good, within 24 hours, I’d send it out to the next name on the list. If we make that list when we’re feeling strong, then we’ll have a next step when we’re feeling afraid as that rejection comes back. The important thing is keeping the work (proposal, query etc.) in circulation.

Someone once told me that FEAR stands for Future Evidence Appearing Real. When we worry or are fearful we have plunged ourselves into fantasy of sorts, anticipating the worst. But if we follow that with questions like, “how likely is it that the whole world will think poorly of me if my book isn’t a bestseller?” or “Is it true that if an agent rejects me (I had several reject me BTW) that I’ll never find one who won’t?” Answering those questions truthfully can ease a great deal of anxiety and fear that might keep us from moving forward because the fact is, the whole world isn’t really interested in us. And most of us don’t write for the world…we write because we’re creative beings who would be lost without this passion to tell stories.

The key, I think, is moving forward despite the fear, responding to that powerful pull that asked us to write in the first place. Years ago, I took flying lessons and had an accident in my eleventh hour of solo flight. It took me years to get back into a small plane and finish my pilot’s license. I had fears and there was evidence that they could come true. But I didn’t want fear to define my life. I didn’t want anticipation of the future to keep me from doing something I said I wanted to do. Hebrews 13: 6 reminded me: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” So I found a good instructor and two years later acquired my pilot’s license.

Few of us need fear that if we get published we’ll die; or if we don’t get published that we’ll die. What we can do with those fears is remind ourselves that we cannot be humiliated before God if we are trusting in God’s guidance and moving forward for God’s glory. A favorite poem of mine written by Barry B. Longyear (one I read each morning before I begin to write) ends with these words: “If material success should come my way, remind me to thank you. However, if the only reward I obtain for my writing is the writing itself, let it be sufficient.”

Let our work be worthy because it is the work we’re called to regardless of what becomes of it. And remind ourselves when we do experience those fears that all we are called to do is the best we can in a new situation. “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.”

I hope as a writer or agent or bookseller or reader, you’ll claim that promise as well.
Please visit my website and sign up for my Story Sparks newsletter; my blogs at (one is my dog’s blog – www.bodaciousbothe

Jane, it has been my pleasure to represent you and call you my friend. Thank you so much for guesting on our blog today, I hope our readers will stop by your web site and visit your blog links.

May you all have a wonderful day.
In His Service,


writer jim said...

Well, I got my pilots license in less than 2 months. HOWEVER, you have 20 books since 1991...and I have been writing my first book continuously since 1991...and am just now preparing the formal proposal.
Your success is impressive; and your post here is more impressive. Your emphasis on MOVING FOR GOD, DESPITE all our fears is in my opinion, an inalterable neccessity to fully serve God.

All thru life, I'm often fearful...yet I force myself to jump in and act FOR God.

When I was a young man, I was (randomly) attacked by a gang and left for dead in a ditch. Later I learned of a gang attacking cars late at night on a bridge.
God told me to go witness to the gang. I was very FEARFUL...and I was warned I might be killed...yet I OBEYED GOD...went to the bridge late at night and marched up it...and at the top, out of hiding, the gang surrounded me. They threatened me...but God told me the EXACT words to speak: Instantly, by the Holy Spirit's power, they all gathered in silence and were soon everyone saved. Each one prayed with an amazing emotional voice.
It had been a true battle against Satan for their souls. The terrible gang quickly turned into a Bible study group. Others were saved as they were amazed at the change in that gang.

Thank you for this post. I hope writer's will give their all FOR God...and watch HIM use their work.

Terry Burns said...

Jim, that is an amazing testimony. God surely had his hand on you.

Jane Kirkpatrick said...

Jim, I hope you're writing that story down! What a testament to overcoming fear and how God uses us when we move for him. Also, congratulations on getting that proposal ready to submit! Excellent work. Warmly, Jane

bethstrand said...

Ah, Jane, once again you must have been mucking around in my head when I wasn't looking! It's so nice to have it confirmed that our fears are all so similar, it gives me hope that I, too, can duct-tape the harpies and finish what I've begun. As I've said before, the worst that can happen is it ends up in a shoebox for my grandchildren to laugh about later!
Thanks for the thoughts and inspiration.