My Writing Journey, Part II

So...on to part 2. :)

After a family trip over spring break to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, I knew I wanted a story set there. And so I began with a new focus. I plotted a story and fleshed out my characters, wrote the first three chapters, and sent my proposal off to the same fighting editor from the big name company. It was a no. And then we were on the move again. Hubby was a full-fledged hospital chaplain, and he applied for a job in Homestead, PA. We still don't know exactly what happened, but Homestead, PA, turned out to actually be Homestead, FL. This  journey moved us to a place that took more adjustment time than either Dallas or Brazil had taken. Homestead, FL, is about 20 miles below Miami. No hills. No beach. Two seasons – hot and hotter. (Does God have a sense of humor or what? I really don’t like hot weather, so Homestead, PA would have been perfect!) At the time we moved, there were few tall, shade providing trees in the Homestead area since everyone was still shell shocked over the damage from Hurricane Andrew (sixteen years earlier in 1992), and were afraid to plant large, shade providing trees. Because Homestead is not Iowa City, we were quickly informed that our straight A student girls would likely not do well in the Homestead public schools, which at that time were pretty much D and F schools. Life in this area is much more expensive all around than Iowa, North Carolina, or Dallas had been. So while the income had doubled, the expenses had also increased to more than double since we had to include private school for our girls. After fifteen years of being out of the work force, I had to go back to work. Originally we had figured I would start part time and work up to a full time job. But God had other plans. 

It was a miracle, really, because I got a full time teaching job in Homestead before we even left Iowa. But again my world was turned upside down. I have a degree in Elementary education. Taught two years in Maryland after graduation from college, and spent a good 8 years of homeschooling. But I enjoyed being a stay at home mom and aspiring author, and I had NO desire to go back to teaching. It was one of those things that just had to be done. We needed the money.

That first year was one of the most difficult years of my life, second only to the year of my father’s sickness. We were adjusting to a new place that, while part of the United States, hardly felt American. And up until that point, I had lived more years outside of the United States than I had lived in it. So you’d think it wouldn’t have been so difficult of an adjustment. But one thing I quickly discovered is that south Floridians are not Brazilians. Brazilians are generally warm and friendly and very welcoming. And I’ll stop there before I get myself in trouble. I didn’t want to be in south Florida. I didn’t want to be bogged down with the ball and chain of work which kept me from my true love of writing. And teaching is one of those jobs that you can’t go home and leave work at work. There’s planning, and grading, and reading to stay ahead of the students, and grading, and studying, and planning, and grading. I don’t know if that first year I had a difficult class, or if any group of kids would have been difficult because of my frame of mind. For years I thought I’d been stuck with a difficult group, but now that I am a little more sane and can look back rationally, I don’t think the problem was the kids. I had only 8, and only two were difficult. Sometimes. But every single one of them was brilliant. Those who might have been less brilliant had brilliant mothers who kept on them and made them do their work. So academically they were a really good group. (I didn’t know just how blessed I had been until the following year.) I would get home in the evenings too tired to do much more than cook dinner (which was sometimes a matter of “get a bowl of cereal if you’re hungry”), try to grade papers or plan or read for the next day, and writing was non-existent. From day 1 I longed for the last day of school so I could get out of the classroom and have time to write. I hoped and prayed that entire first year that my husband would tell me that he so missed having me at home that he was willing to go back to living on a shoe string budget, and I could quit my job. But as that was not reasonable, I figured the only way for me to be able to quit teaching and not have to get a different job where I didn’t even have my summers off, was to write something that would get me published. 

So writing took on another dimension. I knew my divinely inspired masterpiece was not going to be the one to break me into the world of traditional publishing. I shot for the top and failed, so I figured I’d have to start at the bottom and work my way up. So the summer after my first year of teaching I feverishly worked on a story I thought would be a sure sell to a smaller, but ground breaking publisher that would be a step toward the bigger houses. It was a good story. It has become a favorite of all my stories. A year later, two years later, I was still working on it, trying to raise the word count and make the plot more intricate so it could fit another publishing house’s requirements. I eventually got myself an agent who believed in my story, had, in fact, been one of my early critique partners. She tried. She sent that story all over the place, got some good and some bad feedback on it, and I worked again to change it and make it fit somewhere else. But I guess, to quote an old cliché, you just can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. 

Something told me I had to put that story aside and go back to my masterpiece, the story I felt God had given me. I queried the first editor I'd sent it to, and to my utter shock and awe, she said she would be glad to take another look at it, that with changing trends in the publishing world, maybe now it would have a chance. It made it a little father in the process this time, but still received a no. The world of Christian fiction was not ready for that story. So I proposed the other story. Also a no. That last rejection was less than a year ago. 

And here’s where my story gets good. No, really. I couldn’t be more serious. On November 24, 2014, the day I got my last (but I’m sure not final) rejection, I was actually expecting that answer. I had bathed the story and my writing career in a lot of prayer. I had spent six years, from the time we moved to South Florida until then, desperate for a writing contract that would provide enough of an income that I could stop teaching or at least go part time. I had ranted and raged every time someone else on one of my writer's lists got their first contract and I didn’t. I never doubted my talent. Still don’t. I know God gave me this gift for a reason. But I was so desperate that I came to a point where I questioned why God had even given me a talent that He had no intention of using. I begged Him to either help me get published, or take the desire to write away. 

There is a lot of waiting that goes on from query to rejection. Months. A year ago when I began the last cycle of this submit and wait process, I was still in desperation mode. Got the first no, but there was still hope. Sent the second story. Waited. And throughout that second waiting season, God performed a little heart surgery on me. When I read the email last November informing me that it was still no, I was at peace. I won’t say there wasn’t any disappointment. There was. But I was expecting it, and not only that, I had accepted it. 

This past school year was probably the best year in my entire teaching career. By my third year of teaching, when I was still teaching 6th grade, I had come to terms with it. I had a good class, we bonded pretty well, and once each day got going, I was able to enjoy those kids. Then I was bumped up to high school English the following year. That was quite a leap. But a good year of learning lots of new things, a lot of reading, no time for writing, my best year of teaching drama, and a great year for bonding with my students. I had found my place in the teaching world. For while my degree was in elementary, my real passion was in working with high school aged kids. That awareness only grew stronger as I switched from English to History the following year, and have stuck with that now for the past three years. This last year, especially the second half of the school year, has been my very best. And it had nothing to do with what or whom I was teaching, but with me. 

I am finally at peace with writing. It is no longer a burden, something I’m desperate over, something I need in my life to feel fulfilled, to escape reality, or to bring in an extra income so I can quit my day job. In this awakening I have also come to terms with the why. Why not me? Why don't the publishers want my stories? Why is God keeping this from me when He's the one who gave me the gift in the first place?

Why not me? Because it was always about me. Because the stories I was writing, even if I didn’t realize or accept it at the time, were for me. I wrote good, clean, Christian stories with Biblical messages. And there may be a place for them some day. I’m not discarding them. But writing was still all about me, what I wanted to do with the stories, how they would help me get out of a life I didn’t want. Wow. That was a powerful realization. Painful, really. A little more of God's heart surgery. 

Why not me? Because I have a greater impact on my students by teaching them history than I would ever have had on them by writing books. I'm not saying a writer cannot have an impact. Writers have impacted me greatly through their books. But in my writing journey, oddly enough, I have discovered that I do enjoy teaching. I love history. I’ve always known that. It's why I like to read and write and watch historical fiction. But even more than that, I love my students. I love to tell them little tidbits of history, sometimes things I lived through myself but that aren’t in the history books. I love to see their faces intently turned toward me when I tell them these stories, or to the screen when I show them youtube videos of actual footage of the events about which they are learning. I love it when they ask me questions, and not those annoying questions that are intended to get me off track. I love it when a student who is waiting for her mother to pick her up after school chooses to come and wait in my classroom instead of outside where her other friends might be. I love it when a student comes to me to ask for help or advice with something not related to history homework. I love it when students give me hugs at the end of the day or the end of the year, or after they’ve graduated, or when former students come back to visit and they just have to drop by my classroom to say hi and give me that hug. I love it when I can sit and pray with a student for God’s guidance in his or her life, or even lead them in a prayer of salvation. Those are the things that matter. I have found the place where I’m supposed to be, at least for now, and I’m not just resigned or even content, I’m joyful about that. I look forward to seeing my students again in the fall. We’re only half way through July and I’m actually excited about trying out new teaching ideas once the school year starts up again. 

In my free time this summer I have taken up writing again. Fiction writing. Writing just for the fun of writing, writing by the seat of my pants and anxious to get back to it to find out what’s going to happen next. I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing just for the fun of it, to see how to put word pictures together, to craft sentences that, while no one besides me will see them, are pieces of art that I can enjoy. For now. While I live out the life God has given me teaching high school history in a quaint little Christian school. I don’t believe writing and I are through forever. It is a temporary break up, but I feel freer to really court this other piece of who I am during this separation. 

As the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:11, " For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." Maybe that would be a better title for this post. My journey to contentment. 





Comments

Really is freeing to embrace something else god has gifted us for in spite of the relentless drive to write even when we don't want to or know why. Love that you have come to enjoy both the teaching and the writing. Blessings
Lianne said…
Thanks, Marcia. And thanks for wading through all of that. :)

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