How I Found the Courage to Write a Novel (And It Does Take Courage!), by Janet McLaughlin

Today, we’re so happy to host author Janet McLaughlin! Janet is the author of the Soul Sight Mysteries series, including Haunted Echo and Fireworks, and a longtime SCBWI member. She’s here today to lend you some inspiration and courage as you kick off a new writing year!

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About fifteen years ago, I met a brilliant, German-born biochemist. At the time, I was editing and publishing three local magazines with my husband. I suppose the biochemist thought that if I could edit a magazine I could edit his book. When he told me it was about getting and staying healthy, I was intrigued. I said yes.

If a foreign-born biochemist asks you to edit a book, be forewarned — it’s going to take a long time. Not only is the terminology going to be challenging, so is the syntax. Sentences are structured differently in different languages. So, throughout the book, I was changing “Throw Mama from the train a kiss” to “Throw a kiss to Mama as you leave on the train,” figuratively speaking.

That experience, which took almost nine months to complete, gave me the courage to explore the possibility of writing my own book. But what kind of book did I want to write? To decide, I took an inventory of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

My strengths: I’d been an avid reader all my life, so I intrinsically understood the structure of a novel. I had a logical mind and loved mysteries. I’d been drawn to the paranormal all my adult life, as well. And, in my capacity as editor of our magazines, I had met and interviewed several psychics, or intuitives as they prefer to be called. I knew I wanted to write for children. I had direction.

My weaknesses: I’d never written anything longer than an essay or article. Did I have the talent to write a novel? Did I have the discipline to finish one? The answers to both were self-evident; I’d never know unless I tried.

Before I began, I searched the internet for help and advice. That’s when I stumbled upon the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. What a find! I’m not sure what would have happened to my writing career had I not had the help of the many people I met there, but I doubt my publisher, Absolute Love Publishing, would be waiting for me to finish the third book in my Soul Sight Mysteries series.

The journey hasn’t been an easy one, though. I could paper my walls with the rejections I got. The early ones were especially well deserved. In those days, despite what I was learning from the SCBWI conferences I was attending, I still sent my manuscripts out too early. But that’s okay. Every rejection was a lesson. Every rewrite was a mini-college course in writing.

I have had the privilege of being a member of two SCBWI critique groups over the past 15 years. The first group consisted of women who were mostly at my level — struggling newbies sharing the tidbits of knowledge we gleaned from our own experiences. It lasted years, but there was one woman who was the soul of the group. She passed away suddenly and the group, bereft of spirit, gradually fell apart.

After that, I joined an SCBWI online group. I hadn’t realized at the time that it consisted of women writing historical novels. It wasn’t the right fit for me, but I did meet a kindred soul, and we stayed in touch and critiqued each other’s work online. When we discovered we lived only an hour apart, we met mid-way for lunch and talked for hours. She belonged to a critique group that was breaking up and asked me if I wanted to join a new one that was forming. I’m so glad I said yes. This association with five talented, exceptional writers who don’t mind traveling an hour each way has helped me grow in my craft and has blessed me exponentially.

My online-friend-turned-critique-partner is Augusta Scattergood, author of the fabulous book Glory Be. She was still a struggling writer when I first met her. Knowing Augusta as well as I do, I know she’d say today that she’s still a struggling writer.

Which brings me to my point: When is enough, enough? How long do you continue to struggle, sending out queries, anxiously waiting for answers, knowing in your heart that even if you get an answer it will be a “thanks, but no thanks”? When is one more rejection one too many?

The answer to these questions may be in the asking of new ones. Why are you writing? Is it a chore or a joy? Yes, you’d like to see your name in print on the cover of a beautiful book jacket — I get that. But if it doesn’t happen or hasn’t happened yet, do you quit? Or do you keep on writing, getting better and better with each rewrite, each workshop, each critique (and if you can afford it, each professional edit)?

My advice is to never give up the creative activity of writing, whether you’re the only one who reads your work or it goes out to millions. The real joy is in the creating. If you have children or grandchildren who love to read, well, there’s no better audience than that. And if you’re fortunate enough to find an agent or publisher who “gets” your work, then you can dream about the other children who read your work and get a few hours of freedom from the world of technology. Better still, you might even have a positive impact on a child’s life. Is there any better reason for staying the course? I don’t think so. Do you?

Janet McLaughlin is the author of the Soul Sight Mysteries series, including Haunted Echo and Fireworks. She has been involved in the communication field most of her adult life as a writer, editor, and teacher. Her love of mysteries and the mystical are evident in her novels. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Florida Writers Association. She lives in Florida with her husband, Tom, and along with her writing, enjoys playing tennis, walking, traveling, and meeting people.

You can reach Janet on Facebook and Twitter

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6 Responses to How I Found the Courage to Write a Novel (And It Does Take Courage!), by Janet McLaughlin

  1. Kristen C.S. says:

    Thanks for this timely encouragement! =)

  2. Helen Kitrosser says:

    Janet, this essay is inspirational to me right now because I have been writing for a long time with little publishing success. However, like you I feel lucky that the act of the writing remains enjoyable and I know that my writing has improved over time.

    • We writers are blessed, aren’t we? It isn’t everyone who can put into words the stories that are in our hearts. And if these words can inspire or somehow make someone’s life better—what a wonderful feeling. So I thank you, Helen, for giving me that feeling. ❤️

  3. Chrissa Pedersen says:

    Beautiful, thanks Janet 🙂

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