Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here in Seekerville with you all! I’ve been an admirer of the Seekerville community for years, and when I got the email inviting me to come hang out with you, well, it was like being nominated for a Golden Globe! (Yeah, I know, you’re wondering…why didn’t I say the Oscars? Because the Golden Globes have better dresses, and we all know that’s the really important stuff.)
My debut book, Saving Gracie, was officially released from Love Inspired last month. And having a debut book on real, actual shelves is not something that would have happened without what we’re going to talk about today—probably the single most powerful tool in your arsenal as a writer—the power of perseverance.
Why do I say perseverance is the single most powerful tool in your arsenal as a writer? You probably thought it was your voice, or your amazing ability to pull together a GMC chart, or something as technical as your laptop that you write on.
But while all those things are important, it’s your persistence that you’ll have to go back to time and time again to get it done.
Your ability to keep on keepin’ on.
Because there will come a time when you want to stand still. There will be a time when you want to throw your hands up in the air and say “that’s it, I quit” or even worse “Why did I ever think I could do this?”
And while I may not know you personally, I do know you’ll reach these times in your life.
Because everyone does.
Work with me for bit here.
You can’t climb the mountain until you go through the ____________? Valley.
When life hands you lemons, make _________________? Lemonade.
Why did the chicken cross the road? ______________. To get to the other side.
I know, I know…what kind of writer uses this many clichés? But the reason you all were able to answer these questions instantly, the reason we all know clichés is because at their heart, there’s truth.
But did you notice something else about these clichés? There’s truth, but there’s also action.
To get to the top of the mountain, you’ve gotta go.
To take a lemon from sour to sweet, you’ve gotta make.
To get a chicken from a bad situation to a good one, he’s gotta move.
None of these things just occur organically. They are made to happen. And it’s usually more than one thing. The hiker puts one foot in front of the other to cross the valley has to keep doing the same to reach the top of the mountain. The chef both squeezes and stirs. And the poultry? He’s gotta look both ways and get to prancing.
And if a storm comes up in your life, you’ve got to get the umbrella and move to someplace dry.
And sometimes it’s literal.
In September 2008, I was just minding my own business, living on Galveston Island, Texas, when this mess of clouds in the Gulf of Mexico started spinning faster and kept wobbling to the west. Before we had time to take it in, we had to get out of town. We had a small business on the beach and a six-month old baby at home.
Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island on September 13, 2008 at 2:10 a.m. I’d evacuated to my parents’ house and gone to bed the night before visualizing what I’d left behind in my house as a scene from Titanic, everything floating up and turning over at the water spilled in through windows and doors and any place else it could gain entry.
When we were finally able to return home, a week later, the water had receded and left behind a mess that pretty much confirmed my Titanic-style dream. The study in our house had once been a porch, and a previous owner had enclosed it. This meant it was less architecturally-sound than the rest of the house. In hurricane terms, it was a total loss. My computer. All my books.
Every article or handout on writing I’d collected over the years. Every word I’d ever written.
Soggy. Mildewed. Stuck together.
After almost fifteen years of writing, I was completely back at square one. And in all honesty, I couldn’t even think about writing then. I had a business to rebuild, a home to put back together, and a six month old who celebrated her first birthday the week after we moved back home.
One of the worst feelings of my life was watching the things I’d treasured—I know they’re just things, but they were MY things, you know?—be taken to the curb and pushed down the street by a front end loader. When they took my Grandpa’s chair, the gift he’d been given when he retired, the one thing that symbolized all the good times we’d had together eating peanuts and watching TV before he died when I was seven—they pushed it down the street, breaking it apart as it went, treating it as though it had never mattered. I ran back into our house and out the back door and cried for what seemed like forever as Brian told the contractor out on the street in that loader that he needed to keep his comments to himself and respect people’s feelings.
Into every life, they say, comes a storm. Well, mine was named Ike, and he wasn’t satisfied with just coming into my life. He tried to destroy it.
I’m proud to say that I’m a native Galvestonian. I’m a BOI—Born on the Island—and although I didn’t grow up there, I enjoyed returning there to open our store. The one thing about Galvestonians is they possess a legacy of perseverance. Ike wasn’t the first storm to try and take out Galveston. In 1900, the largest natural disaster in American history hit Galveston Island. They call it the Great Storm, and it reduced Galveston to matchsticks. Six thousand people died. And overnight, “the Wall Street of the South,” the most prosperous city west of the Mississippi, was almost completely gone.
Fifty years before, another hurricane had hit nearby in a town called Indianola. The remaining residents abandoned Indianola and it is no more. The residents of Galveston refused to do that. They built a 15 foot Seawall. They raised every single home, every street, every inch of the habited part of the island more than eight feet. They built a monument to their ability to come back—the Hotel Galvez, the grand lady of the Seawall.
They persevered. And that’s what we did after Ike.
And that’s what you have to do when you’re in the valley, when life hands you those lemons, when you’re stuck on the side of the street and you can see where you want to be, but you don’t know how to get there. You’ve got to persevere.
The challenges and setbacks are often very real, but you need to find a way to get around them. I often tell my five-year-old to be a problem solver. When something’s not working right for her, even now in preschool, I want her to think of a solution instead of whining to me about the problem.
I finally did finish Saving Gracie, which I’d started just before Hurricane Ike. Of course, I had to scrap it and start over. (And then start over again, actually because it needed some very serious rewriting once I finished the first draft of it.) And then I submitted it out. Thirty five times. And got a rejection every single time. Some were form rejections, some were longer and came after an editor or agent had read the full manuscript. But they were all rejections.
Finally, I told my husband I was throwing it into two more contests and if they didn’t work, I was done. I’d eventually move on to something else, but I was done with Saving Gracie. I put it in RWA’s Golden Heart contest and Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest. And improbably, the manuscript that had received 35 rejections of all kinds became a finalist in the Golden Heart and sold to Love Inspired through So You Think You Can Write.
So, what happens when you’re there—after 35 rejections and you just want to throw your hands in the air and quit? How do you motivate yourself to take action? Because action, as we discussed earlier, is the key to getting out of these situations.
Well, to quote Nike, you just do it. D.O.I.T.
Delegate: What can you set aside or get help with for a set period of time in order to get this done?
Overcome: What is holding you back?
Inspire: What is waiting for you when you finish?
Timeline: If you truly commit yourself, how long do you need to just get it done?
So, it’s true confession time. And just in time for SpeedBo, I have to admit to you that I’m not quite where I want to be on the goal I set for having Gloria’s story done. I mean, hey, it’s not like I didn’t just give birth a few months ago after months of bed rest, right? But that doesn’t matter. I would like to continue my career with Love Inspired and somehow I doubt they’re going to print 270 consecutive blank pages.
A few weeks ago, I was almost beside myself thinking about it. I’ve finally climbed the mountain—I have a real book on the shelf in a store! There’s new book smell with MY name on it!—and if I look out ahead of me, there’s another freakin’ valley. I finally sell a book and then I have to go expand my family. What WAS I thinking?
And then you know what I told myself? Suck it up, buttercup. Life happens. So, I put together a new plan.
Delegate: I’m blessed to have an in-home child care provider for my baby since I work from home. So I’ve extended her schedule by a couple of hours a day. One of those hours I now spend writing is my lunch break, and I can reasonably flex my schedule to work an hour more in the evenings by checking email during bathtime and things like that so that I have a dedicated two hour block three times a week.
Overcome: Plain and simple, time. I’m also a pantser, so I need to get rolling to really get writing. Having two hour chunks of time will help with that.
Inspire: Our family goal with my writing is to pay for both girls to attend college with cash. So it’s a long time coming, but it will be well worth it. We also plan to use a portion of the money, along with my annual bonus from the Day Job, to take a family vacation. I may have already looked at a Disney cruise in the Mediterranean next year. It stops in Spain, France, Italy, and Greece. Now THAT’S inspirational.
Timeline: I can write about 1,000 words an hour. If I get 2 hours a day, 3 days a week, that’s 6,000 words a week. I need to write 55,000 words or so total. I’m going to round down, because I know I won’t always get that second hour, but I should be able to get in a little more time here and there. But because I’m not a math person, let’s just say 5,000 words a week divided into 55,000 words total… that’s 11 weeks. So again…round number… three months. Can I commit to delegating, overcoming, and staying inspired for the next 11 weeks? Sure I can.
Can you? Let’s take a minute. Think about something in your life that you’re not where you want to be on—and it may not be writing. Write down DO IT on a piece of paper. What can you delegate or postpone to achieve your goal? Remember, you’re only postponing for a set period of time. What do you need to overcome—what do you need to mentally psych yourself up for? What inspires you? When you achieve your goal, what can you do? And what’s your timeline—if you commit yourself and look at your priorities a little different for a period of time, what is that reasonable period of time?
Now, Seekers, in the spirit of SpeedBo, who wants to share their DO IT goals?
Cliches are popular because they’re simple ways to express more complicated truths. And the simple truth is that we all know that some times it will be tougher to write than others. But you have to just do it. Cross the valley and climb the mountain. Squeeze the lemons and stir in some sugar so you can drink a tall, cool glass of lemonade.
Make your chicken cross the road.
Kristen Ethridge began writing as soon as she placed a Husky pencil on a Big Chief Tablet. Saving Gracie, her debut book from Harlequin’s Love Inspired line, was a February 2013 release and is still available online. When she’s not creating stories of Happily Ever After combined with the Greatest Happily Ever After, a relationship with Jesus, she’s creating memories in the Lone Star State with her husband, two adorable red-headed children, and two self-important poodles. A Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist, Kristen talks about life lessons learned while trying to balance being a wife, mother, day job employee, and author over at Real Time Mama, her blog at www.kristenethridge.com, unless she finds herself out of Real Time…which happens, as any mama and writer can attest. She can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristenethridgebooks and on Twitter @kristenethridge.
Running an ESL school is hard work, but helping immigrants has always been a dream of Gracie Garcia's. When her school is threatened by real-estate developer Jake Peoples, Gracie hopes that getting him to attend a class will change his mind. But a lesson in love was something neither one signed up for. Learning about Gracie's work reminds Jake what family is really about. But just as he's starting to come around, a revelation about his past threatens his future with Gracie. When things look their bleakest, can Jake save her dream...and his place in her heart?
Tina Radcliffe here.
Thank you so much to Kristen for sharing her story. I needed tissues for this one.
Today Kristen is giving away one copy of Saving Gracie to a commenter. And to honor Kristen and her P-E-R-S-E-V-E-R-A-N-C-E, Seekerville is giving away a 20 page, first chapter critique to one commenter. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.
|Speedbo Prizes Listed Here|