Author, Jodi Thomas
I have been in the writing game for thirty years. Forty-eight novels and fourteen short story collections. From my third book, most have been national bestsellers and over half were on the New York Times bestseller list. I have five RITAs, the highest award in women’s fiction from RWA as well as many other awards.
In interviews, I’m often asked what one thing I would tell a beginning writer if I got the chance. Study your markets? Read everything? Learn your craft? Write? All came up as possibilities, but one lesson kept whispering in the back of my mind. Maybe it’s not the most important tool a writer needs, but it can be vital to your success.
Learn to Fall!
There will be times, thousands of them if you stay in the game as long as I have, when this business doesn’t go your way. You have to stop holding on to the safety strap and learn to jump out into the unknown.
The first time I remember taking a tumble was before I sold. I was frantically writing, sending off to every contest, agent, and editor I could find. One day, I opened the mailbox to discover three rejections. I felt like I’d faced a firing squad and all twelve bullets hit true. I walked back to the house, sat down and started crying. My four-year-old son, Matt, came up to me, leaned on the arm of the chair and asked what was wrong. Through tears I told him about my total failure. He smiled and said simply, “Mom, like you say when I play t-ball: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get rained-out.”
I stopped crying and realized it wasn’t me. I was a good writer doing the best I could. I just kept getting rained-out by editors who didn’t read the slush pile and agents who already had full client lists.
From that day on I developed a plan for falling. Whenever I stumbled and fell flat on my face, I let go of the corpse I was dragging around trying to sell, celebrated what I’d learned from the work and moved on with my career.
I have to be honest. There for a while quite a few bodies of old manuscripts lay around the house just in case they got a second life, but it never happened. I had to learn that the next thing I wrote would be stronger than the last. I was growing, getting better, getting stronger.
My Plan for Falling:
1. Burying the corpse. I know writers who wrote a book back in the ‘90s and are determined not to go on to another until they sell their first one. They keep painting a
new face on the body and shoving it into a new casket. Beginning writers probably don’t want to hear that you may write your first book, or even your second or third, for practice. We need to believe that first book will make millions or we’d never go through the work of learning to write. But sometimes you have to kiss the well-traveled manuscript good-bye and bury it under the bed.
2. Celebrating. I hope all beginning writers party at each success: a contest win or even an honorable mention. A letter asking for more or a book deal. All are worth a party. But, maybe more important is the party you have when you let go of one dream and open up to another. So win or lose you finish the race. You’re a success simply because you wrote a book. You’ve won when you mail it off to an agent or editor or self-publish.
3. Moving on If what you’re doing isn’t getting you where you want to go, maybe you are on the wrong road. Take the tools and knowledge you have learned and start carving out a different work of art. Take a lane you’ve never tried. Who knows, it might be the fast lane.
You might be surprised, you might just find a place where you and your work belong. You might grow and love writing more. So, try changing genres. Move from adult fiction to young adult. Jump from historical to contemporary. Don’t try to write what everyone else is writing. Twist it a little. Change times. Change audience. Change direction.
When I turned loose and thought of myself sky diving and not falling, my world began to change. I wrote deeper. I discovered a new love of writing.
Phil Price, an accomplished playwright, once said, “I’ve often wondered why sky divers yell for joy and people who fall off cliffs scream. After all, they’re both seeing the same view. It’s only the last foot that changes.” So, I decided, whether I’m falling or sky diving through life, I might as well decide to enjoy the view.
This year my editor at HQN suggested I step into a more mainstream story and I jumped. I read her e-mail on Friday and by Monday I had an idea I was excited about. MORNINGS ON MAIN just came out April 10, and I think my fans will follow me into this shift as they have for the past 30 years.
And if they don’t? Then I’ll stand up, dust myself off and get back in the game. Because I’m a writer, that’s what I do, I write.
On Sale September 25, 2018
Mark Twain once said that compared to writing, horseracing is a stable occupation. Maybe he was right, but the gamble is worth the try. When we’re all done and sitting around the home which would you rather say, ‘I played as hard and fast as I could,’ or ‘I never ran into the game because I was afraid of falling.’
The winners are not the ones who grab the prize. The winners are the ones who play the game, rainy days and all.
TS. Thanks, Jodi, for these words of wisdom and comfort!
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MY features INTERVIEWS with best-selling AUTHORS! Did you miss the past few months? March: Mystery (and Western) writer, Larry D. Sweazy. April: World Traveler, Tal Gur. June: mystery author, Manning Wolfe.
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