February 3, 2022

How Not to Start a Novel-Writing Career

                                                                           Jill Eileen Smith

When my first book, Michal, released, friends I’d known for years didn’t seem surprised. Why? They claimed I’d been talking about writing for years and years. Really? Some said I talked about in my teens, but I have no memory of wanting a writing career that long ago.

Actually, I came into the writing profession doing everything the hard way. I wrote a two-volume epic novel because I wanted to read it, but then thought maybe it could be published. One should not start attempting to publish with an epic-length novel and no previous publishing credits to your name. But I didn’t know that then. Oblivious to the industry, I submitted queries all over the place. Twenty-eight rejections later, I finally realized I had a lot to learn.

Still the publishing bug had bitten, so I set out to learn the craft. I read lots of books, attended writer’s conferences, had three agents over a period of several years and continued to fail and learn. Even my current agent originally told me that my work (eight books by then) was hard to sell because they all featured a male lead. I liked male heroes because I lived in a houseful of men (husband and sons), so I enjoyed pursuing that point of view. But female leads were what sold.

I did have one female lead, but she was in a genre that had been closed to new writers for twenty years—biblical fiction. Again, hard to sell. Until one day, twenty years after I first began and after nearly giving up writing completely, my work suddenly garnered interest.

That was nearly fifteen years ago. I will say that though I went about it backwards and shouldn’t have tried so hard to figure out the nuances of the writing craft on my own, I did learn a lot. And I’m still learning.

Writing will always be a passion for me. I think journaling my prayers has been a big part of why I stay in tune with this artistic outlet. When I write, I release thoughts that needs to stop rolling around in my brain. When I write creatively, I release a part of me that needs artistic expression. I believe the Creator made us to create, and when I step into a somewhat fictional world, I can make sense of the chaotic real world in which we live.

Sometimes I go back and reread something I’ve written and think, “I need to remember this,” or “I should learn to take my own advice.” Not that I’m saying anything that hasn’t already been said by better writers than I, but that the truth I glean from life and put into the mouths of the characters, returns to me in a helpful way. I’m reminded that God is with me, and that no matter what life hands to me, He still loves me and is holding me.

I think both Joseph and Judah, as I write about them in The Prince and the Prodigal, needed to learn that God hadn’t left them even when life’s circumstances were going against them in every possible way. Joseph had some good moments in his life of slavery, but he was still a slave. He couldn’t go home to his father, and you can bet he had to have missed his family despite their betrayal. But he also knew that God was with him. God blessed him in the land of his suffering. And eventually God took him out of slavery and into a place of power and great abundance.

Judah created a lot of his own problems. He had a jealousy issue when it came to Joseph, and he ran away from home, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ story, to escape the guilt and shame he felt over his bad behavior toward Joseph. (At least, that’s how I see it.) He stayed away for over twenty years and suffered much loss. His life became pretty messy, but it took that loss for him to realize that God was still with him as well and he needed to return to his father.

In writing the story of these two brothers, I found their stories and the possible emotions behind their actions or what was forced upon them intriguing. How did Joseph feel all of those years in captivity? And why did God pick Judah to be in the line of the Messiah, the line of kings, when Joseph was the more righteous son?

Writing their stories gave me a lot of time to ponder that sometimes God chooses to remain mysterious, and His ways are not our ways. I came to love Judah as much as I did Joseph, though his story is filled with a lot of pain due to his own choices. He was not a trustworthy man in the beginning, but perhaps he became trustworthy because of his personal suffering and eventual forgiveness. Joseph was a trusted son, but his struggle was more likely with learning to forgive rather than try to forget all that his brothers had done to him.

In a sense, I relate to both of them. I loved diving into their stories and asking why they might have acted the way they did? We are only given the facts in Scripture. I love to flesh out the motives behind the facts and the emotions that followed. Perhaps that’s because I can’t always know those things in real life. In fiction, I can assign motive and speculate and get away with it. In real life, we just can’t know for sure.

Perhaps that is why I will always love writing. It lets me get to know people, historical or fictional, in a way that I can’t know people in my life here unless they tell me what they are thinking. That’s why I began to write. I wanted to understand why. Study and research and getting into character lets me do that.

However, to any potential authors out there, I do not recommend beginning your journey with a massive novel. Learn the craft first. Write many books before trying to sell your first one. The journey takes time, but we can speed it along if we don’t insist on learning the hard way.

Jill Eileen Smith is the bestselling and award-winning author of the biblical fiction
series The Wives of King David, Wives of the Patriarchs, and Daughters of the
Promised Land, as well as The Heart of a King, Star of Persia: Esther’s Story, and
Miriam’s Song. She is also the author of the nonfiction books When Life Doesn’t
Match Your Dreams and She Walked Before Us. Her research into the lives of biblical
women has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how
women lived in Old Testament times. Jill lives with her family in southeast Michigan.

No comments:

Post a Comment