When Bad Stuff Happens to Good Writers

Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

One of my favorite children’s books adds perspective when bad stuff happens to good writers.

good bad children's bookThe publicity materials for That’s Good! That’s Bad! by Margery Cuyler (Holt and Company) says it’s written for 4-7 year olds. But it could be considered a must-read for every aspiring, starry-eyed, or disheartened writer.

A young boy’s zoo adventures send him from sadness or terror to delight and back again in a no-let-up cycle. Sounds like a writer’s life, doesn’t it? Even the events that seem positive–a balloon lifts him high for a bird’s-eye view of the zoo–turns negative when the balloon pops and he falls into a tree–which turns postivie when he falls from the tree onto a hippo–which seems negative–and the hippo takes him safely to shore. That’s positive.

The adventures keep moving from sad to glad to sad to glad, but are never quite what they seem on the surface.

And so it is with writers. Bad stuff. Or is it?

You haven’t heard from the agent you pitched to since you submitted your proposal.

Oh, that’s bad!

No, that’s good!

She either hasn’t read it yet, which may mean many writers are submitting to her because of her reputation as a great agent. Or she has read it and is in the pondering/considering stage, which means she’s careful, methodical, and wants to be sure, for your sake and hers. Or she’s looking for just the right way to tell you no.

Oh, that’s bad!

No, that’s good!

The agent cares about you as a person and doesn’t want her “no” to discourage you in your writing quest. But your project doesn’t fit with her goals as an agent.

bad things good writers

Don’t Even Think About It

Oh, that’s bad!

Sounds like it, but…

No, that’s good!

You now have narrowed your options. You know where your work doesn’t belong.

Oh, that’s good!

Not unless you use that “no, thank you” to propel you to make improvements on your proposal, do your homework about what agents MIGHT be a good fit, and keep submitting. No guarantees.

Oh, that’s bad!

No, that’s good!

It makes us dependent on the Author of our Faith, not merely our ideas and efforts.

bad things good writers

Writer You Are Not

Your mother reads your work and says, “Well, you’re no Hemingway.”

Oh, that’s bad!

No, that’s good!

The world already had one Hemingway.

Your editorial notes are more detailed than the income tax filing instructions.

Oh, that’s bad!

No, that’s good!

You have a skilled editor who notices details, cares about the flow and continuity, and knows you have the writing “chops” to make needed corrections.

Oh, that’s good!

Only if you consider his or her suggestions with an open mind.

Speaking of taxes, they’re getting more complicated the more contracts you sign.

Oh, that’s bad!

No, that’s good!

You’re one of the blessed authors making enough money to need to pay taxes.

good bird of happiness

Proverbial Bluebird of Happiness

Yes. We’re taking the optimistic approach in order to give a HEA (happily ever after) ending.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What have you experienced in your writing life that you assumed was bad but it turned out to be beneficial in the long run?


Click to Tweet: How do we respond when bad things happen to good #writers?



38 Responses

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  1. A big black pickup rear-ends me, totaling my cute white Honda — that’s BAD. It becomes fodder for a blog post on the foolishness of my new-found prejudice against all big black pickups — that’s GOOD.
    * Writing can transform a BAD event into a GOOD lesson. But trust me, I’m not manufacturing bad events for the sake of the story (if I wrote fiction instead of non-fiction, it would be a different story).

  2. A few years ago, a publisher came sooo close to accepting my novel then said no. Not long after, their fiction line closed. Good news: another publisher said yes not only to the novel but to a series.

    A no can be a blessing in disguise though we may never know why this side of heaven.

  3. Jenny Leo says:

    Bad events are like sandpaper. God uses them to smooth away my rough edges. I can usually only see this in hindsight, though. In the moment, I try to keep a “skilled-craftsman-at-work” perspective instead of a “fragile-artiste” perspective about my writing. Rain or shine, I have a job to do.

  4. Angela Arndt says:

    I loved those Hee Haw skits! Tennesse Ernie Ford and Roy Clark as the straight man made me laugh so hard. (And now you know my age!!) But living that rollercoaster is hard!

    Anything bad can become something good if we believe that God is in control and He loves us. Here’s a biggie for me: I have a disabling illness that kept me keeping the full-time job I loved. That’s bad. No, that’s good! Now I can focus all my energies on writing and learning my craft. I’m very blessed that the only place I’m comfortable is in my chair where I can write.

  5. Funny you should ask, Cynthia, because it’s one of those morphine-or-a-bullet days. There’s no more morphine, so…oh, I can’t make up my mind…decision, decisions! Which caliber? (KIDDING! But now you see the humour that makes civilians cringe, and the Valhalla-bound howl in glee.)
    * Seriously, though, circumstances have constrained me into writing a thrice-weekly blog that is, on some days, terribly difficult work. Facing pain and incontinence, needing help dressing and bathing, and then there’s the very real danger that if I go outside to enjoy the sunrise, I may not be able to get back to the house…and WRITING about this…well. Only a complete lunatic long-since-detached from reality would say that a lingering death from cancer’s a good thing.
    * A lingering death from cancer…maybe I can throw in ‘excruciating, as well…is a good thing.
    – It’s informed and molded my writing to make it a tool with which I try to help others as they face life’s challenges.
    – It’s given me the reason to examine how morale can be maintained and strengthened when all those around you are expecting a justified (to them) implosion into self-pity.
    – It’s given me a sense of perspective – not how bad I have it, but how lucky I am to have a dry place to sleep, and food, and especially love.
    – It’s given me the will to compassion, to try to ease pain where I see it.
    – It’s given me the knowledge that all things do work together for the good, IF we are subordinate to God’s will and allow ourselves to be tools used in the hands of a Master Craftsman.
    * So (if it’s OK that I recycle some imagery I used in a comment on Jeanne Takenaka’s blog a few days ago), how can I do other than to meet both life and death with a cigar in one hand and a cold beer in the other, Hawaiian shirt and battered shorts and flip-flops, and my wraparound Oakleys pushed back that I may share with you my secret, the laughter in my eyes?

  6. One scripture that echoes in my mind is, “All things work together for good…” Sometimes, I do question the validity of that word – likely when I make the not-so-good choices and get what is served on my plate. However, I realize we are to be thankful ‘in everything’ not ‘for everything’.
    So, bad situations, good situations, I’m thankful for them all. And, as much as I can, I pray, “Father, help me to do what You say is right.”

  7. Carol Ashby says:

    The bad: I had three manuscripts completed in 2015, and I entered them in the Genesis contest. I learned that they were written in the classic omniscient narrator style with way too much “tell, not show” for today’s market.
    *The good: The judges liked every plot synopsis, so I rewrote all three into deep-POV 3rd person limited. (I didn’t even know what “deep-POV” was before those judges’ comments.) Two are in market now, and the third will be by November. I’m getting reviews with headings like “Edge of Your Seat!!” and comments like “This story of hate, love, and forgiveness kept me reading, not wanting to stop.” If it hadn’t been for those Genesis judges who told me that the old classic style I loved wasn’t acceptable for a new author in this fast-paced, video-trained world, I would never be getting that kind of response from readers. The stories God is giving me to share wouldn’t have drawn and held readers, and all that effort would have been wasted without me ever knowing why.

    • Jeanette Raymond says:

      I love what you’ve shared it’s good 🙂 and even better I understand what you’ve described which is good-something I would not have understood two years ago. At the time It seemed bad, my writing 🙂 I loved my story but realized the first draft is only a first draft. When God’s holy spirit shines the light on well, it’s a brilliant beam and the words flow giving me a great admiration for Him and His training. When God created He said it was good. and on the seventh day He rested. Today the bad comes for many in this world in the shame of resting. More they want more, expect more. The good comes in putting the new draft away and putting the manuscript out your mind and waiting, which some find hard to do and think is bad. Learning is a good thing and I’m glad I waited. Patience is a good thing in continuing to learn and edit. It’s all perspective for sure.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      So good to hear this, Carol! What if you had held your ground and refused to adapt?

  8. Cynthia, thank you for this sweet post. Made me smile. We have to trust.

  9. Jaxon M King says:

    What a clever post. Thank you, Cynthia. I thought it was bad that I was too intimidated to submit my novel for traditional publishing two years ago. Since that time, however, I have learned so much more in the craft of writing, as well as developed my voice as an author. I am currently rewriting, and plan to be submitting a far better product than it would have been.

  10. Thanks, Cynthia. Well-put, indeed.

    You realize a lengthy session you labored lovingly into birth doesn’t propel your story in any way. That seems bad and a little sad. You take the section out and weave the story together over where it used to be, making it more compelling. That’s very, very good.

  11. Excellent, Cynthia! And then there’s the Oh, That’s Bad Life Stuff, which we can choose to turn around for good through our writing.

  12. Susan Husk says:

    This is the best answer: It makes us dependent on the Author of our Faith, not merely our ideas and efforts.