Friday, April 06, 2007

AT: The Quiet Years

Thirteen years. That’s how much time there was between the day I started writing fiction and the day I saw my first novel in print. Three years past a decade. The span of a person’s entire childhood. More than one-fifth of our allotted 70 years.

Any way you look at it, it’s a good long while.

And you can be sure I lived every day of it wondering whether I’d ever be published. For part of that time I was in graduate school studying the literary luminaries and aspiring to be like them. For another part of it I was on staff of a magazine, spending my days editing articles and my nights scratching out a few pages of fiction with what energy I had left. After I got married I quit the magazine and, for several more years, looked for all the world like a housewife with a pipe dream.

But I went on reading great literature and I even read a couple books on how to write great literature. To strengthen my vocabulary I diligently recorded new words and their definitions in a notebook. I wrote, and I rewrote, and after that I wrote some more. When I finished one manuscript and still felt dissatisfied, I put that story aside and started another.

And I sometimes turned my gaze from the computer to the window and wondered what on earth I was doing. Why wasn’t I a nurse or a teacher or something that made sense because people like me don’t become published novelists. Sometimes I got down on my knees and asked God, “Are you sure--I mean, really sure--there isn’t something else I should be doing?”
Because, from the looks of things, it seemed as though I wasn’t doing anything at all, other than wasting my time, which in the end amounts to wasting your life.

Early on in those years, the Lord placed in my path a man known as Bishop Huntington. Not the man himself, who was long dead, but some wise words of his that had long outlived him. I read his words and knew they were for me, and afterward the Lord brought them to the forefront of my mind again many times, because I needed them.

“We complain,” Huntington wrote, “of the slow, dull life we are forced to lead, of our humble sphere of action, of our low position in the scale of society, of our having no room to make ourselves known, of our wasted energies, of our years of patience. So do we say that we have no Father who is directing our life, so do we say that God has forgotten us, so do we boldly judge what life is best for us, and so by our complaining do we lose the use and profit of the quiet years.”

Now, I’ve never designed a building or done construction, but I do know this: If you’re going to build a building to last, you have to go down before you go up. That is, you’ve got to dig a deep foundation before you start putting up the walls.

Now that I’m five novels up and cementing in a sixth later this year, I can look down and see what those quiet years were all about. They’re the foundation. They’ll all underground and no one will ever see them, but I wouldn’t want to be building my career without them. That was where I refined my writing. More than that, that was where God refined me, making me ready for the task ahead.

The only time wasted was the time spent complaining. The remainder of those 13 years is nothing but profit.

Read more about Ann Tatlock at .


At 3:34 AM, Blogger Christina Tarabochia said...

I'm so glad God told you no and made you keep writing! I'm in the middle of "All the Way Home" and I'm loving it. Just the date of 1938 makes the friendship between a Japanese American girl and a "just" American girl compelling. Masterful.

At 7:07 AM, Blogger Cindy Thomson said...

Thanks, Ann, for your wisdom. It's nearly impossible, it seems, for us to understand the wait while we are in the midst of it. But your illustration is wonderful.


At 10:13 AM, Blogger Mary DeMuth said...

14 years for me! When I teach conferences, I let new writers know this and I hear an audible sigh. Yep, it's a long road. But worth it.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Heather said...

You know, I was hoping to be one of those exceptions. I'm only a year at the "writing seriously" stage (less for fiction), and I crossed my fingers that I wouldn't have to do the 13-year plan. But now looking at the whole thing, I think that's highly unlikely. That scares me. But thank you for the encouragement. I'll keep hoping and working hard. If I must, I must.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

Thank you for sharing this.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger PatriciaW said...

I think all of us who are yet unpublished want to be the exception. But thank you for reminding us that the foundation is as important as the building.

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Erica Vetsch said...

Beautiful and encouraging words.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Jill Eileen Smith said...

20 plus years for me and still waiting. I have to admit not all of those 20 years were put to diligent writing. When my kids were young and homeschooling, I wrote for myself and my sanity more than publishing.

Still, since those of us who are still waiting can't see the finish line and don't know the outcome of the race, we do begin to wonder if we're wasting our life. But I'm learning that God cares about the journey every bit as much as He cares about our success - or lack thereof.

And some of us are just slower learners! :) Perseverance in the process is tough - but there are no real shortcuts. I'd rather learn the lessons now than later - later we have a whole new set of lessons to learn anyway!

Thanks Ann - encouraging post!

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Kerry Krycho said...

Thanks Ann! I am going to print out that quote and put it front and center above my desk. It is in the quiet, simple days that our lives are built. Great encouragement!

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Jason said...

To echo:
Thank you for sharing that. I think none of us can appreciate what it takes to do this thing called writing when we start. I get down sometimes because I try to squeeze out a little writing in the midst of working full-time, having a family, and ministering at church.

I'm starting to appreciate that this will be a process, and the encouragement here at Charis is wonderful. Thank you Ann, and thanks to all the writers who share!


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