Eight years ago yesterday, I announced I was a novel writer. So February 22 is Decision to Write Day, and I bust out the cake.

Eight years! Filled with millions of words, hundreds of ideas, and four book-length manuscripts. Let’s have some ice cream with that.

But I would never have guessed, eight years ago, that I could get to 2014 and still be unpublished. In spite of all the words and work, 2006-Me would have called 2014-Me a failure. (She wouldn’t have made a cake, either.)

But I don’t agree with her anymore. I’m glad to be where I am, even without publication. I certainly hope to have something published eventually, but in the meantime, here’s why I’m grateful for the delay.

1. I’m better at the craft. Practice, good teachers, and relentless effort: it adds up over eight years, and my first published novel will only sound better for it.

2. I don’t want to write a good book. Even a crappy, cliched novel is hard to write. During my first attempt, I couldn’t see that 98 percent of my story had already been done to death, reincarnated, and done to death again.

But then I found some incredibly helpful guides, and my standards exploded. I stopped wanting a novel that was just good; I wanted something unforgettable. Writing to that scale takes more practice and patience. I’m certain it’s worth it.

3. There’s grace in being unknown. When I stopped trying to make a name for myself, I learned to experiment. To rethink my direction and play with ideas. If I had forced that first novel through, I’d be fenced in, stuck in a sub-genre I don’t like anymore.

4. Live more = write more. Simple equation, right? Eight more years of life experience, and it all turns into words.

5. I’m learning to write who I am, instead of writing whatever I can. When I started, I tackled that novel like it was another assignment. I grabbed the nearest idea and ran. But it was uphill work revising four hundred pages of a story that didn’t exactly thrill me.

I learned to wait, to listen for the ideas that come from a deeper place. Hard to describe this without sounding loopy, but I can tell when the themes and characters resonate in my core. Those stories are more urgent, textured, and exciting.

6. I have even more conviction. The novels and I have stuck together through some magnificently dark days. We’ve explained ourselves to unsympathetic people and put up with critics. I’ve practiced thinking like a novelist until I don’t know how else to think. And I’m more sure than ever that this is the life I want.

7. I’m more life-driven than product-driven. At the beginning, I just wanted that book written, to make all those crazy pieces fit. I wasn’t motivated by sustainability. I never asked, “Do my work habits today make it easier or harder to get up and do it again tomorrow?”

Recently, I switched my focus to the long haul. To making a creative life: one that celebrates health, joy, and narratives. (Hooray!) I want to work hard and actually enjoy the challenge. And to let well-written novels be the by-product, not the slave drivers.

It might sound like a subtle shift, but it’s made me a more generous and nurturing self-manager. And hey, I actually write a lot more.

8. The identity shift. A high-achiever by nature, my tendency is to say, “Look at all the awesome things I did! That means I’m okay!” So when I decided to write novels, I had my eye on one acceptable prize. It was the Novel or Nothing.

Eight years of “nothing” ripped through my concept of who I am. I was always The Girl Who Got Stuff Done. When that was shaken, I had some really, really bad days.

It’s taken a lot of time and grace and the lack of “success” to teach me that the words on the page aren’t me. Another year slipping past, with no novel sold? It doesn’t define me.

I would never have learned that if everything went as I planned.

To be honest, God is still working with me on this. (And if this sounds familiar, pick up this book. Read chapter 21 with an open heart and it will change your life. I’m not kidding. Then get this one, and just memorize the whole thing. It’s that essential.)

My hunch is this: If my identity sits in the hands of the One who made, called, and saves me, then that makes me a safer writer. If I rest in that truth—if I don’t just nod at the concept and move on, but if I really get it—then my stories get stronger.

I won’t get hysterical over rejection. I won’t be the scary girl at the writers’ conference, begging agents and editors to give me a chance. I won’t be too burned out or depressed to get out of bed. I’ll be free to take risks and free to fail.

Which is why I totally had some cake, and you should have some too. Let’s toss some confetti to celebrate hard decisions and the life-scraping roads we take. And how the things we need to learn aren’t always the ones we expect.

2 Comments

  1. Steve Carmichael

    Very well said Miss Jenn! May the God who created you continue to inspire your life, your faith, and your gift of thought creation and heartfelt communication. Peace, Steve C. (Strangely, you are now the first person on planet earth, except for my boys, who is now in possession of my very recently “live” blog web. Just a newbie with a long road to travel yet!). Thanks for your encouraging words in your 8 Reasons!

    Reply
    • jenn langefeld

      Thanks so much, Steve! I’m so glad this was encouraging. Best of luck with your new blog!

      Reply

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