Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Best of Seekerville from the Archives and First Five Pages Critique

The School of Hard Knocks by Janet Dean

A non-writing friend once asked me how long I’d been writing and I told her. She said, “You’ve been in school for eight years.” The comment startled me, but then I thought how right on she was.

I’m calling the experiences during those years, and the two years since, the school of hard knocks. Not original, but apt. Ten years of practicing and polishing craft through contests and critiques, how-to books, and online classes. It’s not always good to skip a grade in school and it’s not always best to sell before we’re prepared to handle that career. Not that I saw it at the time, but I submitted to publishers long before my work was ready. I should have studied longer and submitted later.

Last year I sold my first book to Steeple Hill. And I discovered I still have lots to learn about writing, about promotion, about every facet of this business. The published writers I know continue to learn and grow their talent under the tutelage of editors, and if necessary, reinvent themselves. Is it possible no writer ever swings that tassel and graduates? I suspect that isn't the goal.

The one goal most of us possess is seeing our words in print. Rejection hurts the worst when the work is first-rate, truly ready for publication, but the market isn't. It's when we're teetering on the verge of publication that perseverance takes guts as wonderful manuscripts gather dust waiting for a genre to come back into vogue, for an editor/agent to “get” the work, for a connection and request at a writers’ conference.

Our youth pastor called it having patience in the waiting room. Some waiting rooms are tough places to be—waiting to conceive a baby, for the return of health, for a wayward child to get his life together…for the call.

In my waiting room, I wore one of those pointed dunce caps, traipsing across reams of rejections to write on the chalkboard for the hundredth time, “I won’t take these personally.” Most likely you've felt the same.

Why do we keep writing when we keep getting slapped down? Perhaps we have some God-given drive that keeps us at it. Or that last contest win helps us hang in. Or maybe we’re just too stubborn to quit. Whatever enables us to persist, I believe if we don’t give up, good things will happen. And when they do, the fulfillment of our dreams is worth every scrape and bruise.

As a friend said in an email, “…and sometimes, in between the darkest clouds, sunshine will pour down unexpectedly upon your upturned face and the world will turn shiny and bright, a joy to be behold.” That’s hope.

May the sun shine on you.

This post first appeared in Seekerville November 11, 2007.

Janet Dean grew up in a family who cherished the past and had a strong creative streak. Her father recounted fascinating stories, like his father before him. The tales they told instilled in Janet a love of history and the desire to write. She married her college sweetheart and taught first grade before leaving to rear two daughters, but Janet never lost interest in American history and the accounts of strong men and women of faith who built this country. With her daughters grown, she eagerly turned to Inspirational historical romance. Today Janet enjoys spinning stories for Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical. Janet Dean believes in love stories that grab people from the first page and carry them along the sometimes rocky journey of maintaining faith in trying circumstances.

When she isn’t writing, Janet stamps greeting cards, plays golf and is never without a book to read. The Deans love to travel and spend time with family.

Wanted: A Family, is a March release from Love Inspired Historical.

Don't forget...

Today is the last day to be considered for our weekly critique.
More info here.


  1. I went looking for Janets latest book hoping to buy it with a gift voucher I got for my birthday today but saw its not available til mid march. I plan to buy it for my birthday gift to myself. I cant wait to read it.

  2. I have a copy and I cannot wait to read it myself!!!

  3. Trying desperately to stay awake for a few more minutes...

    Had friends over for dinner - they own the local Chick-fil-A. The phrase 'eat mor chikin' was actually used in conversation twice at dinner - only once on purpose.

    I've told a couple friends that I see blog reading and networking etc as an internship type thing that goes along with learning [the 'courses'] how to write.

    But you can win stuff ;).

    Like a 5 page critique.

    Would love that =D.

    carol at carolmoncado dot com

  4. Coffee pot's ready.

    You gals seem to have a talent for timeliness. This is a great article of encouragement. Thanks, Janet.


  5. Wonderful words and timing!

    May at maythek9spy dot com

  6. I have a copy of Janet's book!!!!!!

  7. I've been a Christian school teacher for 20 years. If there's one thing I've learned it's that you never reach that point where you've learned it all. If you ever feel that way, you've closed your mind and heart to learning.

    Thank you for this excellent reminder to keep learning. I'm relatively new to writing. I've only been at it seriously for about eight years. I've been writing stories since elementary school, but I started pursuing it passionately just a few years back. It is a "school". It takes patience and perseverance. I am learning something new every day and loving the journey.

    Please enter me in the critique contest. It is an excellent opportunity to learn!

  8. Love reading the individual stories of each Seeker's experiences. It's always encouraging! Thanks for this post, Janet!

  9. Aww, that book looks like a neat one! The title is really cool, too!

    I'd love to be considered for the 5 Page critique!

    ~ Katy

  10. Thanks, Janet, for this inspiring post. As Helen said you all seem to know just what we need to hear.

    I can't wait to read your new book!

    I'd like to be considered for the 5 page critique!


  11. Janet!!! Just started Wanted: A Family yesterday and LOVE it so far ... carry it everywhere!!! I think it may be your best yet, which is saying something, my friend.


  12. Janet,

    I like that phrase "patience in the waiting room" because it's so true in a writer's life.

    Count me in on the five page critique.

    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com.

  13. LOVED Janet's book. SOOOO wonderful - and I love this post. GREAT reminder! Thanks!!

  14. This is an encouraging post. I have written several children's stories alongside whatever WIP novel at the time. I sent one of the stories via simultaneous submission, as it was acceptable in the submission guidelines of the publishers. I waited. And waited. I think the first response rolled around six months later. In my mailbox sat my SASE which held my very first rejection letter. Actually, it was a memo that wasn’t even typed on a full-size sheet of paper. At any rate, I wasn’t discouraged at all; I was excited! It was my first taste of the publishing world, a glimpse of my dreams.

    I would love to enter the First Five Pages Critique this week, but alas, that is the part of my current WIP that I’m having problems with! There are three chapters before the H/H meet and I know that isn’t going to cut it. Needless to say, I’m trying to somehow work that meeting to the first page.


  15. This is such an encouraging post. I've enjoyed all of Janet's books as I've read them - I'll look for the new one today.

    It's good to know that I shouldn't try to graduate from this school of learning to be a writer. It seems like it would be a pretty boring life if five years from now I "arrived". Then what would I do? It's always good to be reaching for the next level.

    And Whitney - I agree with you. That first rejection letter was like "first blood" in a sword duel - you're not really a writer until you've gotten one. I was so excited about my first rejection that I told everyone!

    Please enter me for the critique -


  16. I am exactly like you Whitney. I save rejections. I have saved them for years. From short stories, and essays, to agent requests to novels. They prove I am a writer.

    I am a part of this wacky business.

  17. ...thanks for the encouragement Janet:) Patience while waiting...sounds like what I needed to hear!


  18. I'm finding this both encouraging and comforting. Timeless message indeed.

    As to rejection letters -- Madeleine L'Engle got 39 of them for A Wrinkle in Time (YA Newbery winner). She decided if it didn't get accepted the next time round she was going to pitch it. Luckily that publisher had a discerning eye and snapped it up. It went on to win the Newbery, was translated into upteen languages and changed the face of children's publishing forever.

    So there. :-)

  19. Janet, BTW is on the road with her Blackberry, which is not letting her check into Seekerville. She'll stop in later.

  20. Timeless and true, Janet! Thanks for the reminder, and SEEKERVILLE.... I wasn't here this morning with food.

    My bad.

    How 'bout some spinach/artichoke/cheese dip fresh from the oven and Stacey's Pita chips???? Love these things!

    Whitney, I do the same thing, honey. I write it out and then realize my book starts somewhere around chapter 4....

    And so I bite my lower lip HARD, pull it to the front and write CHAPTER ONE with very firm, somewhat annoyed fingers, and then feed the rest of the stuff in as bits of backstory, internal monologue or through conversations with friends/family/hero/heroine, etc.

    We're old school enough to think we still need to set the stage, but no.

    Jump in.

    And then eeeeaaaasssseeee into a nice, smooth back-story float. ;)

  21. Please consider me for the 5 page critique!


    You are officially CONSIDERED!!!!! Welcome to unlurkerdom!!!

  23. You know what they call someone who's been to school for eight years?

    So, Dr. Dean, I guess that makes me a specialist in brain surgery AND heart surgery. Whatever takes the longest.

  24. I'm not touching that one Connealy. I mean Dr. Connealy.

  25. I love the dedication of authors like Janet Dean. So what that for eight years she pushed herself to become better and grow at something she loved to do! More power to you, and I can't wait to have a look at the book.

  26. Wonderful. Heartening. Medicine for the soul. Just what I needed to hear. Thank you!

  27. Thanks for the encouragement, Janet! Can't wait to read your newest! I just love the look and feel of the cover.

    Sue (still in the waiting room)

  28. This is a great post Janet. Thanks for the reminders to stay faithful and true to what God has called us to do.

  29. Very awesome post! Thank you so much for the great reminders.

  30. Wonderful post, Janet! Thanks for the encouraging thoughts.
    Blessings, Patti Jo :)

  31. Sorry, I was away this weekend and couldn't get my Blackberry to allow me to post in Seekerville.

    Jenny, Wanted: A Family is available on Amazon March 1. In stores March 8. Happy almost birthday!!

    Joanne, thanks for the lovely words about Wanted: A Family!

    Julie, thanks for reading my book and better yet, loving it! :-)

    I'm glad the post helped encourage those who needed it. You all have been an encouragement to me!