Nurturing The Dream

Today marks an anniversary for me. Three years ago, I sat down at my computer and began writing a novel. I never planned to do any such thing. But as you can read here, thoughts and events came together. And the Muse conspired with some characters to allow them access to my brain and hands.

Until that point, I had never seriously considered writing one novel, let alone two that will have multiple sequels. This isn’t a dream I’ve carried with me since childhood, or even early adulthood. I didn’t start writing novels at 15 or 22 or even 30.

But somehow, writing a novel became a dream as I started the physical act of writing one. (That sounds rather circular or mystical. And yet it fits.) Three years ago, writing became fun. I do it all the time in the day job, but the reports have little room for creativity. They have specific formats and information requirements, and they are certainly not meant for entertainment. But novels? I can go wherever my characters want to lead me. Sure we argue at times about the best way to tell the stories, but it’s all good-natured. (And they usually win.)

Still, as I continued to write in 2009, the dream took shape. Soon, it wasn’t enough to write a novel (or two) for myself and a few close friends and family. I wanted the books to draw a wider audience. I wanted them to be published. I finished revisions to Summer at the Crossroads in early 2011 and queried a few agents. While I did, I worked on finishing a draft of Death Out of Time.

Many of you already know neither book is published yet. Summer wasn’t ready for primetime. I made the same mistake many first-time writers do by querying it too soon.

Rejection hurts. We all know that. But what amazed me more than anything was the fact that the dream didn’t die. I kept writing. I didn’t know I had it in me. Somehow, in all these years, I never knew this part of me. I’ve kept it going as I completed a second draft of Death Out of Time and sent it out recently for a beta read.

There’s a lot of work ahead before that book is finished. But when it is, I’ll start the query process again. Will I have better luck the second time? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that if I can’t attract an agent’s attention, I’ll e-publish the books. I owe it to my characters to make their stories public—when I’ve done them justice.

But until then, the dream needs nurturing. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into being lucky enough to get published and find a reading public for a book. I study writer, agent, and editor advice for writing a good story and querying novels. I learn about e-publishing and what’s needed to become successful if I go that route. I read books and see things that work (and don’t). I evaluate my own writing to see if I make the same mistakes I find elsewhere (I do). That learning process never ends.

And I blog. I recently topped the 100 mark on followers, and my site views just passed 5,000. Some established and popular bloggers might laugh at those numbers; that could be their numbers for a day. But for me, that’s darn good for five months of blogging about me. Most importantly, I’ve found an incredibly supportive network of fellow writers and other wonderful people, and we all encourage each other to keep going. To keep following our dreams, no matter what they are. And I’m thankful to each and every one of you who has taken time to stop by and read some of my posts.

So where will the dream be in another three years? Completed by the publication of the first two novels? No, I don’t think that would be the end of the dream. I think it will continue to grow and develop, as long as I keep tending it. Now that it’s been planted, I want to see how it unfolds.

How about you? Has a dream surprised you by taking hold of your thoughts? Have you kept at it through the hard times? Did it continue to grow as you reached the original goal?

Good Mystery Recommendations?

On another note, my husband is looking for a good mystery series to dive into. He’s enjoyed writers like Henning Mankell, Stieg Larssen, and Kate Atkinson. Does anyone have any suggestions for him? Thanks for your help!

49 thoughts on “Nurturing The Dream

  1. I can totally relate. I hope your second novel gets great response from agents. I never understood why novelists would keep their first novel in a drawer, but now I do. You just have to keep the dream alive, like it sounds like you’re doing. Good luck!

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    • Thanks, Anne! And I still haven’t given up on the first one—it needs revision, but I think it’s still a good idea and story. :) But it’s a different concept. And different is hard to pitch as a new writer. I think the second will be easier for me to pitch to an agent, and for the agent to pitch to a press.

      And the most important thing? Whether they ever sell or not, I’m enjoying the act of writing them. :)

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  2. A good read for your husband – Amanda Craig, “Hearts and Minds” . Set in London and it’s immigrant community as five characters follow their own stories that somehow begin to cross each other’s paths.
    When we find the art in ourselves and follow it as it is our heart, then our real character develops. When we think we have no time for it, then something is missing in life and we can only be happy when we continue to follow that path discovered.

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    • Hi, thanks for the recommendation! I told my husband my blogging cohorts would come up with some great suggestions for him!

      I love your idea of finding the art in ourselves and following it. That is a great way to think of this creativity that unexpectedly springs from us. I might wish it had started when I was younger, but I’m glad it decided to strike. And I’m very glad there’s such an incredible global community here to share with. The talent I see daily is amazing.

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  3. Writing definitely requires the ability to accept delayed gratification, because as you point out, a project is often years in the making, and even then doesn’t ever quite seem finished. Your stick-with-it attitude and patience to produce a quality project is impressive. I wish you the best of luck with everything.

    As for your husband, if he likes Nordic thrillers, Jo Nesbo’s work is excellent. I’m currently reading “The Leopard” which is a follow-up to “The Snowman”. Both are rather dark thrillers, but I really enjoy them.

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    • If only you knew how hard it is for me to accept delayed gratification in every other aspect of my life! ;) That was probably one of the big factors in shopping the first novel too soon—along with inexperience (despite having read all the cautions). But I learn from my mistakes. And I won’t query the second until several trusted writer/editor/readers think it’s ready. If I’d started blogging when I started the first book, maybe things would’ve gone differently. But I’m glad I’m here now! :)

      Many thanks for the book recs—hubby’s been pleasantly surprised that people are making suggestions. Even though I keep telling him how helpful and supportive this corner of the blogging world is!

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  4. It’s amazing how those dreams can sneak up on you. :) I think that perseverance is one of the harder things for new writers. To pick yourself up after each rejection, after a hard day of writing, all of that, it’s not easy. But you’ve learned from every step along the way from the sound of it and I think that’s all we can ask of our experiences in life, that we learn from them. Keep going, and of course, best of luck continuing through it all. You’ll get there, I’m sure of it. :)

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    • Thanks, Julie! As I mentioned a couple of responses ago, I’m enjoying the writing itself. So even if the books don’t find a huge audience, I still take pleasure in telling the stories. Don’t get me wrong—I want people to like them! But I have learned the road is long and littered with unfinished tales. But we can’t reach the end if we don’t keep going.

      Keep that trilogy of yours going! I think it’ll find a good audience :)

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      • Thanks. I hope it does, partly because of how much I’ve enjoyed writing the story. I’d like to be able to share it with others and have them enjoy it too. Now that the drafts are done, it’s time to make them ready for others :)

        You’re right, unfinished tales do happen, you just try to do what you can to minimize them I guess. To me, that’s where prep work comes in, but that’s my process.

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  5. Hey JM!
    Good luck with the 2nd novel! It is important to me to nurture dreams. Yet at the same time, I find most inspiration in the journey itself. My dreams are my “focus.” The work it takes to reach them is what inspires me through hard times.

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    • Thanks, Christy! It’s like all the variants on “nothing worth doing is easy,” isn’t it? The satisfaction that comes with successfully completing a difficult or time-consuming goal is so much more fulfilling that instant gratification. (Although as I said to Carrie above, I like the instant kind as much as anyone!)

      Authors and artists of every kind who can consistently do the work to create multiple works of high quality are so amazing to me. I’m not sure how many books are in me over the long run. Quite frankly, I was surprised there was even one! But I’m enjoying the journey, and I don’t think it will ever truly end. It and the dream will grow and change through time. Boy, I’m getting philosophical today! ;)

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  6. I find it strange that you’ve come to writing so late – it’s a dream I’ve had since I was young, but well done for going for it and also making such good progress with the blog (I’m new enough to it to be super-impressed by those stats!).

    I love the Kate Atkinson Jackson Brodie books (there was a really good three part series of TV adaptations over here last year staring Jason Isaacs) and the Stieg Larssen books. Maybe not an obvious recommendation as it’s slightly different and set in Elizabethan England, but C J Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake books are a great read.

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    • It was a surprise to me, too! I wasn’t expecting it. I’d always been a good writer in school, and I have to do it for work all the time. But to find myself sitting down and starting a novel was one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever had! But now I wouldn’t trade it for anything. :)

      I’m really happy with where my site stats are, even though the numbers are slowing because I switched from 3 to 2 posts per week. But I know you and your fellow Limebirders have helped drive a lot of those visits, so I owe you all a really big thank you!

      We got to see the TV adaptations, too, on our PBS station earlier this year. That’s actually what led to reading the books. Hopefully she’s got more in the works? And we’ll definitely check out the Sansom books—thanks for the recommendation!

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  7. I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter when the seed to write was planted–just the fact that it was. And, It seems to me that you have a good plan you are sticking to and the exceptional discipline to see it through. What’s really exciting is to be one who gets to watch your dream unfold! Regardless of the path you end up on as far as publishing goes, the fun part is the journey and giving your words wings to fly. And I love getting to be part of your cheering squad. You’re doing great jm!

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    • Thanks so much, Jeannie! And I can say the same things about getting to read your works. I probably sound like a broken record, but we have such a great group of bloggers in our corner. I love seeing new works by you and the others and sharing my own. If you knew how introverted and shy I really am, you would know how amazing it is that I can “put myself forward” in the blog.

      And yes—the greatest enjoyment is in putting the words and stories out there, no matter what happens with publication. So I think Anne Lamott would approve of my reasons for writing!

      I’ve got to make a quick run to the store, but I’ll be swinging by your blog later this afternoon to cheer for you, too! :)

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  8. jmmcdowell i still hear music :) glad you are my blog buddy! i haven’t met your husband yet, but i hope he doesn’t have hidden music talent too :)

    congratulation on your progress – dreams are fun to fullfill , or work toward fulfilling!

    never allow rejection to hurt, always remember the rejection slips Joanne “Jo” Rowling received. some of the people that work in publishing houses are complete idiots…. nuff said…. if you are satisfied with your creativity, others will be too.

    John Connolly, writer from Dublin, used to live down the street from me in Southern Maine. I’ve read all of his books in order – your husband might be interested – he’ll have to decide.

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    • The husband loves music but never learned to play any instrument. I think he would have been good; he disagrees. :)

      If the music you hear is quietly encouraging and optimistic, then you may be hearing what’s in my head. If I ever land the traditional publishing deal, then I’ll be thinking Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff. (For some reason I’m partial to Russian composers, but also Liszt and Chopin and back in time to Bach and Handel.) But right now, the goal is still in the distance, and I have to pace myself.

      I have a lot of faith in this second novel, and when I can tell the story properly, I won’t let agent/editor rejections stop me from sticking with it. I just have to get it to that point!

      I’ll pass along the Connolly suggestion—I knew there would be some good feedback on this question. :) And I’m glad you’re one of my blogging buddies, too! From the sounds of your recent poetry, it sounds like Spring has reached Maine. We’re heading to a few days of summer starting tomorrow back in Maryland.

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  9. I also have two unpublished novels so far so I can relate. It’s a long, hard journey filled with potholes of self doubt. Congratulations on navigating through all that muck. Now if only those agents would see us for the geniuses we obviously are, we’d be all set. :)

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    • Oh, yes. Self-doubt is my enemy! It’s been with me my entire life. Somehow, writing has managed to prevail over it. :) And that’s a satisfying feeling.

      I’ll bet every agent who’s been in the business for any length of time has passed on at least one book that’s become successful or even a bestseller. But all we need is one to recognize our talents, right? :)

      And while my first preference is that traditional print publication, if I can’t catch an agent’s eye, I will e-publish. I’m glad we have so many more opportunities today than we did even five years ago.

      Keep going with those novels, and don’t let self-doubt derail you! (I think writers suffer from it more than most people. And yet we keep writing. That’s one thing that separates us from people who say they want to write, but never do it.)

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  10. I am so proud of you. Beyond words. I know you’ll keep going but I’ll say it anyway – keep going. I’m so proud of your following and views. You’re doing really well I think.

    My dream of writing was always there, I just ignored it for a long time. And as I worked more and more on my novel it grew stronger. So I suppose that’s my answer to you :)

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    • Thanks, so much, Amber. That is so sweet of you to say! And I’m really glad you started paying attention to your writing dream. What I’ve seen of AfP so far sounds like a very interesting idea, and I’m glad you’ve gotten that first draft completed!

      Dreams are sneaky things. I don’t think they ever leave us. Give them the slightest bit of nourishment, and they will grow again. Even when our doubts and daily life get in the way, a dream can keep us going. You’re a very good writer, so I think your dream will keep getting stronger. :)

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      • It means a lot to me to have you call me a good writer, because I think you’re amazing! I’ll keep an eye on my sneaky dreams and sneak off myself to type some pages. :)

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  11. Keep that dream going! I had a mid-brain stroke about two years ago, had to resign from teaching in February; now the dream is starting full-time! I can now write full-time; I blog (no, the numbers don’t sound bad at all; gives me hope); and, yes, I have found on-line friends to help me with all of my situations. I love it! My blog reflects this and shows my full positive outlook on life. It was nice to find you.
    Namaste,
    Scott

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    • Hi, Scott, thanks for coming by and sharing your encouragement! This type of support is one of the best things about blogging that I’ve discovered. Now when I read articles saying why new writers should blog, I wish they would all give this as the number one reason to do it. The interaction with others here (not just writers) has been an inspiration for my creativity—even if I sometimes worry about how much time blogging takes!

      We never know what life might throw at us, and it sounds like you’ve turned what would be, to me, a terrifying experience into an opportunity to pursue your dreams. That is truly inspiring.

      I’m glad you found me, too, and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

      JM

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  12. Congratulations to you, I do hope you’re still celebrating, a wonderful achievement! I wrote my first novel in one year (less a day!) between March of 2008 and 2009. I understand about rejection and I also understand about how vulnerable a writer can feel about attempting to share their work with other people… I’m still struggling with this but hope I will suck up the courage to put my work out there soon. I have real moments of thinking it’s just crap and then on other occasions I can see parts are alright… My friend is reading my manuscript right now. So far only my mother and fiance have read it in its entirety. I really need to put it out there and even get people reading it and critiquing it before I bite the bullet and approach publishers/agents.

    You’re doing a fabulous job with the writing and the blogging. Keep going for it! :)

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    • Thank you! Letting other people read the work is hard. But we have to do it. Friends and family can help, but nothing beats having an objective reader (preferably another writer or editor) go through it honestly and completely. Even though I did that with the first book, I didn’t recognize how much I needed to revise it. I learned that tough lesson, and now the second book is facing some serious rewrites to make it good!

      It is a vulnerable feeling, and it can be overwhelming when you look at all the comments a beta reader has made. But you know you’re a writer when you sit down and start thinking about the revisions and then do them. :)

      I’m enjoying your blog, too, and looking forward to hearing more about your works in progress!

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      • You’re dead right. I should really try and share my novel with someone unrelated who is into writing. It’s hard to find someone you trust and someone you don’t want to impose on, you know? :)

        Part of the writing process is learning from past experience as well which is important, although difficult at times. Thanks for the encouragement, glad you’re enjoying my posts. I’m about to go and moan about rejection… lol! :)

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        • Sending it off to a stranger can be hard! You can see an excellent post on this today at 4amwriter’s blog. (See her comment below, and you can grab the link for it.)

          There are horror stories from people about bad experiences, but when you find someone who you can be comfortable with and trust to do a good job, it is an incredibly helpful experience.

          I’ll be talking a bit about this in tomorrow’s post, too!

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  13. I love your idea of tending to the dream so it grows beyond each goal that you meet. Inspiring post JM! I too queried too early with my first ms. But I think you don’t know what you don’t know and sometimes querying is the only way to get perspective. I don’t regret querying early, though I held back on the second book using betas and charity auctions for writers as a way to test the book’s readiness for agents. :)

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    • You’re absolutely right, Kourtney. I agree that we need to do things like query too soon to realize what we still need to learn. And now that I have Kate’s comments back for “Death Out of Time,” I see where the story and characters aren’t working, and the possible ideas for fixing them have been flooding my mind for the past few days. The day will come when I query agents with this story, but it will be a much better book before I do!

      I’m glad you and others are finding some of my posts inspiring, because that’s how I feel about your blog, too! I’m looking forward to celebrating yours and other first published novels (including, hopefully, mine ;) )!

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      • JM, I am so glad we can celebrate the victories and commiserate over the near misses together on this long journey. It is such a wonderful thing to not be in this alone anymore.

        Isn’t it amazing when you can see other people’s feedback and understand what isn’t working and actually fix it? That is such a huge leap forward as a writer. Took me a while to get there. :)

        Good luck with your revisions! :)

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        • I could kick myself for resisting blogging as long as I did. If the agents and editors would have said the best thing about it would be the interaction and support with other writers, I would have started a lot sooner. Argh—don’t tell new writers about platforms and marketing and branding on day one. Tell them about support and encouragement and forging new friendships and learning from others!

          And now this pantser has to weigh and organize all these new ideas for fixes before diving into the manuscript. But I’m ready to go at it! :)

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          • I think the agents focus on the sell side of the business (which makes complete sense since it’s their job), but they don’t get that writers aren’t pure salespeople. We are writers first and foremost. We’ll take on a dozen hats as needed, but everything we do is rooted in our writing. Tell me to build a platform and I drag my feet. Tell me to meet other writers and find the understanding I crave, I leap out there. :)

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  14. Lovely post, JM. I love hearing how people find dreams later in life. Even though I always dreamed of being a writer/published author since I was a kid–I never dreamed of having children. When I finally had kids, I couldn’t believe what a wonderful gift I’d been given. Suddenly I wanted to learn all I could, to be present and attentive, to do the best job I could.

    Raising children is now a dream that I get to nurture every day, and it is a great feeling to find something this amazing later in life.

    Keep up the great work and the awesome attitude!

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    • Thanks, Kate! I wish all new parents would share your attitude for being the best parents they could be. :) Some seem to struggle with that concept….

      And I hope I didn’t blow up your email last night with my rambling manuscript thoughts! :) But you’ve really got the ideas for revisions streaming into my head now! Many thanks for that!

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  15. This sounds familar in a lot of ways. (Though I don’t have your stats and am not sure that is ever going to happen.) I always had stories in my head, but figured that to write, you had to have talent – and why would I imagine I had talent for writing? No one in my family had ever done it. I started writing about 10 years ago, and haven’t stopped. My one book has grown into a series of seven. Nothing is published. I’m doing pretty much the same things your doing and thinking very much the same way. I’ve been channeling my main character all this time. I owe it to him to get his story out there.

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    • The stats will come. My first few months felt like I was blogging only for myself and some friends and family. But as I started following more blogs and commenting on them, people started to reciprocate. And then other people started finding my posts and following, too. I haven’t checked your posts to see if you tag them. I’ve come to understand why those are important. A lot of people at WordPress will check out the new posts that are marked with their favorite tags. Nearly all of mine get tagged with “writing,” which is one of the most popular ones out there.

      We never know when creativity will strike, do we? One of my grandfathers was a writer, but he died when I was a year old, and I couldn’t read most of his work anyway since I don’t speak or read Serbian. But maybe something in the genes carried through….

      A seven-book series sounds impressive to me! I hope my characters will want to spend that much time with me. I believe that if we support them, they’ll stand by us and help with the hard work of telling their stories in ways that work in our world. (I’m also saying this for the benefit of some of my characters. I don’t want them thinking they can sneak off and leave me with all the hard work of rewrites and revisions!)

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  16. If I had known at the beginning how long it would take and how huge the project would become, I would never have had the courage to continue.

    Tags, you say? Yes, I use some tags, but I don’t have very many. And I have yet to figure out how I would use them to find things that I want to read. (So much to learn. Glad there are understanding people like you to learn from.)

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    • I still grapple with tagging. I know you can enter search terms on WordPress’s main page, and I think the results will include posts that include the search term as a tag. But I’m not very good at searching yet, mainly because I just don’t have that much time to play with the features.

      But I know people also use WP’s “Popular Tags” page to find recent posts (http://en.wordpress.com/tags/). Writing and fiction are always on that list, so I use them on nearly all of my posts. That makes sense since nearly all of my posts relate to those topics. But I’ll also add more specific ones, hoping they’ll be useful for people doing searches. Since not too many people come to my posts via searches, maybe I don’t do such a good job. :) Or my search rankings are just too low—which is fine since my main interest in blogging right now is connecting with other writers. And we seem to find each other’s blogs regardless of our tagging abilities. :)

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