The Worst Novel I’ve Ever Written

cloud-705729_1280My character is still naked. When I started my latest manuscript, I didn’t think he’d have to be naked for quite this long. Admittedly, it’s causing some funny mayhem. But, it’s at this point when I start questioning if this is the story I should be writing. Will I be able to finish it? Will it be any good?

I know my writing process now, so I know this doubt will continue for the next 300 pages. When I’m done, I’ll say to myself, “That is the worst novel I’ve ever written.” I’ll tuck it away in folder on my computer. I won’t look at it for a year.

I tell myself to persist, though. Without fail, I open the file at the end of the year and actually like what I’ve written. I say to myself, “Hey, this isn’t half bad. Maybe with a couple dozen edits . . . .” That’s the way it happened with my new adult novel, The Miller’s Daughter. I honestly thought that one was going to do me in. It took me longer to write than anything else I’ve undertaken, and when I finished, I was sure it hadn’t come together at all. Now, it’s my favourite.

Living with the self-doubt has become easy. I know it’s coming before it arrives. I know the lies—you’ll never be ableeagle-656437_1280 to finish this one, you’re going to run out of ideas, this MS is never going to come together. So, that little voice chirps out the lies while I keep writing.

I’m not far from the end of my naked scene. I know exactly where the story is going. It’s a terrible story—worst I’ve ever written, but I’ll finish it. In a year, I know I’ll feel differently.

I’ve had new writers tell me they’ve abandoned projects because they don’t think they’re any good. This feeling is normal, but my advice is always the same—trudge ahead. Don’t give up. Maybe it will be terrible, but maybe it will be fantastic. Really, what do you have to lose?

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Why This Writer Strives to be a Weed

aaa1Certain things seem like a great idea. Never again having to mow the lawn, for example. Lay down some landscaping fabric, plant some shrubs and perennials and throw down some river stone and, voila, a low maintenance yard, which is precisely what we wanted when we landscaped.

I like the look. I like not having to mow. However, I’m not really enjoying the weeds that pop up faster than I can pull them. Dandelions are particularly difficult. The tap root tap snaps off when I try to uproot them, they grow in rock-solid clay and with little water. They keep coming back. Over and over and over again. Dandelions will still be here, long after other plants have succumbed to the elements.  aaa8

 Their heartiness has earned my respect.

The hours I spend pulling weeds, has given me plenty of time to reflect and philosophize. I’ve decided that, as a writer, I should strive to be a dandelion. The writer’s life, at least, this writer’s life is no place for delicate tropical flowers that can only bloom under ideal conditions. I need to be hearty and tenacious and annoyingly persistent. I need to bloom in drought and bad soil and when homeowners try to rip me, root and all, from the ground.

Dandelions may not be the loveliest of flowers, but they persist. That’s what I want to be—the one who persists, the one that keeps going despite set-backs, rejections and disappointments. The one gardeners may get irritated with but have to admit—that’s a plant I can respect.aaa7

Potential Ax Murderers, Judgement and a Flock of Teen Girls

Wow, the past two weeks have flown by. I’m tired, but in a good kind of way.

aa1On June 12, I was all packed up and excited for my first writers’ retreat in almost a year.  After a knock at my door, I opened it to find author, Christine Steendam, someone I’d only met on Twitter and Facebook, on the other side. She looked trustworthy, so I grabbed my luggage and hopped into her car along with comic author, Andrew Lorenz. It occurred to me that I was violating every warning I’d given my kids about meeting up with people they met online. I chuckled as I told them, “I hope you’re not ax murders.”

aa2We drove out to the middle of nowhere to this trailer where we’d be staying along with another author, A.P. Fuchs and his wife. Yes, this could be the den of ax murderers and there did happen to be an ax, but it was beside a wood pile. My head remained intact, and I got to know a fabulous group of writers. Oh, yeah, and I got some writing done too. I didn’t quite make my 15,000 word goal, but I was pleased with my 13,000 words. I’ve since finished the novel I worked on at the retreat for a total of eleven completed manuscripts.

aa7At the end of May, I had the privilege of judging my first short story contest. I’d entered plenty of writing competitions, but this was my first time on the other side of the competition. What an enlightening experience! I judged the teen category and let me tell you, the future of writing is bright. The Writers’ Collective Gala was held on June 16, where I had to honor of handing out awards to these very talented young people. I also received my own award–an honorable mention for my short story, Bread for Five.

A few weeks ago, I’d been invited to speak at a teen girls retreat through Living Bible Explorers. This past Friday, I journeyed out to their camp to share during four chapel sessions. I’d chosen the theme The Fault is Not in our Stars–Bible Women with a Powerful Purpose. I spoke on the daughters of Zelophehad, aa3Rahab, Ruth and Esther. The camp is still under construction, so there was no electricity and no plumbing. Nothing like going without those things for the weekend to make me appreciate them when I got home.

aa5It was a huge blessing to get to know the ministry leaders and the girls. I’m told the retreat went well, and I’ve been invited to return in the future.

I have one more event to prepare for this week–my first school visit! The mother of one of my readers contacted me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that her son enjoyed my book so much that he decided to use it for his end of the year language arts project. She also asked if I’d be willing to stop by his class for his presentation and share a little about the book.

So, as I wrap up a busy two weeks, I take a deep breath and reflect on all of it with thankfulness. Writing is my passion, and it’s taking me so many wonderful places. aa4

Nobody Wants to Hear About My #Failures, or Do They?

IMG_20150502_162838Over the past few days I’ve had a couple of new, stretching experiences that I count as successes.

On Saturday, I participated in Authors for Indies day, a campaign to support and champion independent bookstores. As a guest salesperson at McNally Robinson Booksellers, it was my job to help connect customers with great books. I was super nervous coming up to it because I’m not much of a salesperson and I do have trouble walking up to people and initiating conversations. IMG_20150504_141632316_HDRStationed in the children’s books section, I had the opportunity to connect with a couple teachers, a librarian and some young readers and their parents. I had a great time and will definitely sign up to do it again next year.

On Monday, I had my first radio interview. I was so nervous coming up to it that I almost ended up in tears. Some stern self-talk kept me from slipping over the edge. The interview was on a Winnipeg radio station, IMG_20150504_135829453680 CJOB on the Dahlia Kurtz show. I came prepared to talk about different aspects of my book from the writing process, the struggle to get published to Enslavement’s theme of dehumanization and how the idea for the book came to me. The interviewer immediately put me at ease and though I could feel my hands shaking, I got through the interview. If you’re curious, click here for a listen: https://soundcloud.com/680cjob/melinda-friesen?in=680cjob/sets/dahlia-kurtz

Both of these opportunities were exciting. I pumped them up on my social media sites. But, yesterday I took a moment to go over my SM posts and it struck me how I’m trumpeting my successes, but silent about my failures. Do people want to hear about my failures? Do they want to hear how I’m struggling through my most recent edit? Will it come off as whining or as me being real with my readers?

Rejection ScreenshotFor the first time in a long time, I opened up an email file called “Queries.” It’s a positive name for a file full of rejections. I didn’t bother counting. There are a lot and I got weary of scrolling through all the rejections I’ve received for my novels and short stories–and that file doesn’t even include old rejections I didn’t transfer to my new computer, hard copies that were mailed instead of emailed and those who just never bothered to get back to me. I suppose I want my readers to know that I trumpet the successes, but behind the scenes there are at least 40 failures for every small victory.

I want to focus on the positive because focusing on the negative would drown me. But, I admit, it makes my life sound idyllic. Look at me living the dream while you suffer failure after failure, which simply is not true. This is a tough road, no, it’s not even a road–it’s a jungle you hack your way through inch by inch.

What do you think? Do you want to hear more about others’ failures? Does hearing about failure make you feel like you’re not alone, or does it make you feel hopeless? Does hearing about the successes make you feel envious or does it give you hope? Where is the balance between the two?

Querying: Almost as Fun as Childbirth

I’ve started querying agents again.

I feel a little like those purple minions from Despicable me 2.minion

I sent out a handful of queries last fall which resulted in a delightful collage of form rejection letters which left me feeling a little battered and bruised. die hard

I know some writers love this. They’re like, “Dude, I got another rejection letter. It means I’m real writer!” If you suffer this delusion, excellent! You’ve found a way of framing rejection positively. Stop reading now. I don’t want to ruin that because I wish I had the same Pollyanna attitude as you.pollyana

I, however, think that’s a big fat pile of poo. Anyone can get a rejection letter. Anyone. If my gerbils could hit the send button on an email, they too could get a rejection letter.

Those of you who contend it’s evidence that you’re putting yourself out there and taking a risk as a writer—that I’ll subscribe to. I need to submit, but I’ve come to associate querying with pain. Did you know that the part of the brain that processes pain is the same part that processes rejection? Indeed. Rejection is painful. So right now, I feel like I’m nine months pregnant. I need to get this baby out of me (aka my manuscript), but the only way to do that is to go through twelve hours of the worst pain known to man. Unfortunately, there are no epidurals for rejections.

I'm smiling because the guy behind me is the anesthetist.

I’m smiling because the guy behind me is the anesthetist.

Hey, and as I write this, the first rejection came in, just a couple hours after I sent the query. It was a personal note, which I always appreciate. She’s not interested in YA sci-fi. Deep breath. Move on.