Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the late Randy Pausch’s story and his book, The Last Lecture (co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow). In his lecture and his book, Randy spoke with great wisdom about achieving your childhood dreams.
One of his points that resonated with me was that the obstacles to our dreams are like brick walls, put there to test how badly we really want something. He wrote that those brick walls “stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.” (Of course, those are the other people. Not you or me.)
Reading his positive spin on obstacles was freeing for me as a literary agent, because I’m frequently one of the brick walls with whom writers collide in the midst of chasing their dreams.
I meet so many writers… but I can’t represent everyone. I feel bad, not only saying “no” but for being unable to spend more time with each “no,” giving advice, encouragement, tips. I just can’t… but Mr. Pausch’s philosophy makes me feel better about it.
Each time I become the brick wall… each time an author crashes into my “no,” they are forced to reckon with their own dreams. They have to ask themselves once again, “How badly do I want it? And what is this brick wall trying to teach me?” I hope it leads to ever greater commitment to improving the writing, building the platform, and learning to navigate publishing. Or even finding a different goal.
For Christian authors, I hope the impact with the brick wall sends them back to God, again and again, ever looking for confirmation, refutation, or clarification of their author-dreams.
So maybe it’s not so bad being a brick wall after all. If an agent is an obstacle to you achieving your lifelong dreams, please take it as an opportunity to ask yourself how badly you want it, and what you’re going to have to do to get it.
What kinds of obstacles—agents or other roadblocks—have you encountered in your publishing journey? How do you respond to them?
When an agent is the brick wall between you and your dream. Click to Tweet.
Brick walls only stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. Click to Tweet.
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So far (and I admittedly haven’t reached the submissions process yet) the biggest obstacle I’ve come up against is the busyness of life with a young family. It would be very easy to just tell myself I don’t have the time for writing. But as you say, Rachelle, brick walls are an opportunity in disguise. I’ve used this one to teach myself discipline–whenever I’m able to carve out a few minutes to write, I sit down and write. No excuses are allowed because if I don’t take full advantage of the moment, it may not come around again for days!
Using my time creatively helps too. Like, say, commenting on blogs when I’m up with the baby at 5 a.m. 😉
Laura, the good news is that the busyness of life with a young family is a temporary brick wall. And you’re using this time to teach yourself discipline so that when you have more time, you’ll use it wisely. So it’s all good!
The walls I find most challenging are walls of my own making–other activities, lethargy, procrastination. That’s why my word for this year is “discipline.” Butt in chair, just do it, yes Lord discipline.
Shirlee, I find I only need to use discipline and willpower when it’s something I really don’t want to do. So maybe there’s a clue there… perhaps, like many, you are not really excited about writing but you love “having written.” It’s common to not enjoy the process (although some do). You have to want to hold that book in your hand badly enough that it spurs on your discipline. Good point about the walls of our own making!
Like Laura, time is my brick wall. I don’t have a young family, but my day job often comes home with me. ACFW’s webcast recently was on the chunky method, a time management system explained by Allie Pleiter. It helped me understand how because of my career and the way I process, I need to approach this time thing in two different ways.
I too am new to the publishing realm. I have a lot to learn, so my first brick wall was lack of knowledge, or should I say pride since I thought I could do this quite easily. Soon I learned my -ly words were telling, not showing, my dialogue tags were outdated, and that I didn’t understand POV like a writer understands it (I taught it as an English teacher–which is different than approaching it as a fiction writer).
I see the brick wall as a right of passage. It is my time to learn, and I’m enjoying it. Thanks for a great post, Rachelle.
Hang in there, Melodie.
You can’t know how many times I have thought back to your short story (from when we swapped for critiques). You have a story to tell and you have the ability. I hope that during your summer break you are able to dive in with big chunks of time.
I know how it feels to come home after a day in the classroom. During one particularly challenging year, I came home every day for almost a month and without taking off my coat or boots, I collapsed on the sofa with my feet hanging over the end. My husband would walk in an hour later and wonder what was going on at school! It can take all you have to pour your life into kids, but it is worth it.
Luckily, all those walls you mentioned are more like rickety picket fences, rather easily knocked down. 🙂
When I saw a video of Randy Pausch presenting the Last Lecture I was challenged by it. After reading yor post, I need to listen to it or read it again.
My biggest wall has been fear. Fear of rejection, that “I’m not good enough.” I’ve gone back to the Lord many, many times with my fear on this writing journey. When I get stuck on an aspect of writing, I also talk with a couple trusted friends who both help me push through the fear and figure out my story snags. I’m learning not to let this wall be too big to crash through. When I remember the things God’s taught me so far on this journey, it’s easier to overcome the wall rather than letting it overcome me.
Great post today, Rachelle.
Jeanne, I think we all struggle somewhat with fear. But … winning a contest, like you have … has to bring hope and confidence. I’m proud of you. I think you’ve definitely pushed through the wall of fear.
Shelli, winning the contest did help. Thanks for your kind words. 🙂
Jeanne, thank you for your transparency about struggling with fear. I’m right there with you. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to meet the expectations I’ve placed on myself, or the expectations others have placed on me. It’s so easy to wallow in that muddy puddle.
Has winning the Frasier given you more confidence in your abilities?
Jenni, winning the Frasier has given me more confidence. I know I’m where God wants me, and that helps too. 🙂
Jeanne, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think a lot of people experience fear as their brick wall. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things to overcome it!
Anyone who prays comes to understand that God sometimes says No! It could be an Absolutely Not form of No, or it could be a Not Yet form. Remember, Moses was ninety when he found the Burning Bush. Listen to Sinatra’s song “High Hopes” about the ram butting the dam, and take the same heart of the ram when butting that brick wall. “…oops, there goes a million kilowatts….” As is said, “Can’t can’t do anything.” Lotsa luck, and thank you, Rachelle, for your thought provoking blog.
You’re so right, John. In the writing world, I think God most often says, “Sure, but you’re not ready yet. You have to put in the time.” Thanks for getting that High Hopes song stuck in my head the rest of the day. 🙂
Could you drop my kids a note and tell them that when I say “no,” it’s a good thing for them? 😉
This sounds a little like what’s happening in 1 Corinthians 16. The presence of obstacles doesn’t necessarily mean God is “closing that door.” In fact, the brick walls could indicate God is “opening that door”!
“There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.” (1 Corinthians 16:9).
I love that Scripture, Monica.
Monica, I’ll get right on that note to your kids. 🙂
Funny thing is, even we adults usually don’t immediately recognize that “no” is good for us.
My main brick wall is myself. Like Melodie said, just learning the craft. I want to be better, more creative. But I think that brick wall is a lot like the losing weight process, when you hit that plateau. You have to make some adjustments to see progress–like eating less than less or stepping up your exercise. You can’t stop. Stopping gets you nowhere. You have to keep trying, improving. Another brick wall, like some have said, is that feeling that I can’t write and be a proper homemaker (do you hear me giggling as I write this?)–no time for both, to do both well. But I keep reminding myself that I only have three years before both my girls have graduated and will be on to college. So, everything I do now, continuing to learn, lays the stepping stones for when I have more time to write later. And the two novels I’ve written thus far have only helped me improve. Giggling again–I don’t know what my writing future holds, but one day I’m bound to be a really good editor. 🙂
You make me smile, Shelli. 🙂 I know God’s timing is perfect for each of us. I’m saying no to some activities so I can be with the boys, but also have some time for writing. It’s a delicate balance. And our kids are only with us for a little while. But it is also good for them to see us actively pursuing our dreams, yes?
“Stopping gets you nowhere.” Well that is my favorite quote today!
It’s good to remember that we do not learn in a linear manner, but in a series of plateaux. In learning to write or learning to play piano or guitar, we don’t learn twice as fast if we practice twice as much. It’s perhaps better to think of a plateau instead of a brick wall. We go along practicing until we come to the base of a plateau and regardless of the time we put in we seem never to make progress. We persevere until one fine day what seemed difficult yesterday is today’s piece of cake. Then for an enchanted time we make progress until we bump into the base of the next plateau. In learning the guitar, it’s a case of the “Three P’s:” Practice, Perseverance, and Patience. And it takes all three!
Thank you for this, Rachelle.
Too often we fail to see the opportunity obstacles present. We have to remember to look beyond the obvious roadblock, ask ourselves why it’s there, and figure out what we must do to move past it.
Every “no” is feedback telling me to look deeper and work harder.
Elissa, it’s true, we see the brick walls but usually don’t see the opportunities they represent. So hard to do on a regular basis!
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Jericho had a really nice wall. Not sure if it was brick, but they had one.
I have found that the walls in front of me are easier to scale if I look back at the rubble of the previous walls.
I have come through enough in life to know that some walls are made of vapour, and some of reinforced titanium. But each wall is either a lesson, or a longer lesson, depending what I needed to learn and how rough that lesson was.
Monday and Tuesday were days in which I leaned hard on God for an answer to a specific question in terms of my writing. I got an answer that included a blessing I had never thought could/would/should be part of my writing adventure.
So, as requested by Shelli Littleton, here is what I put on Facebook last night: “Sometimes, God pulls the rug out from under your feet…and turns that rug into a flying carpet and BAM, you’re somewhere new.”
“Somewhere new” … glory! 🙂 One of my favorite Disney adventures is a 3D movie … one part, you are on a magic carpet ride with Aladdin and Jasmine (Donald Duck falls off because he’s too silly to stay on for the ride!) … you feel the breeze actually blow on you. 🙂 Feeling that breeze …
Excited for you, Jennifer! But in a “Man, I really wish I had more details” kind of way. Are you at liberty to share more?
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I’d been trying to do a re-write on my own steam, so I asked God to guide this girl of little brain. Instead of merely giving me the ‘slow down and chill’ I needed, He gave me the ‘while you chill, think about THIS…’ and blew me away with the opportunity to have a friend assemble a focus group for me to use as a sounding board in my work.
A ‘focus group’? ME? HAHAHA! Seriously, I NEVER saw that coming!! It’s just so outside my realm of “hey why don’t I…”. God is good. He’s teaching me patience in a way that also engages me in the lives of my future readers.
I hear a big, God-story here! 🙂
Jennifer, I love your point about Jericho. Good to remember! It could only be knocked down with God’s power.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ah yes, you have been a brick wall in my writing journey, Rachelle. Having bumped up against a “no” three times I can attest that these negatives have had a positive impact upon my writing. I am a better writer today because of all the “not right for me” rejection letters I’ve received. Not just from you of course but also from many other agents and several editors as well. So thank you for all that you do. The writers who get a “yes” are thrilled. But those of us who must still grow from a “no” are trucking on and getting better. In fact, the blog posts written here enable you to educate and encourage even when you were not able to do that personally. Thank you.
Kristen, I would say “sorry” but I guess I shouldn’t feel bad for giving you all those learning opportunities! 🙂
Rachelle I agree with this. I sent a really crappy first draft off to an editor. She gave such a good constructive critique. My message, I had so much more to learn, and so I am taking an editing course to revise my novel step by step with some guidance. Feedback hurts, but it helps us to learn. In this writing craft I don’t think I will ever stop learning. It must be an amazing feeling when you as the brick wall give advice and it is appreciated. Thank you.
Rachelle, while reading your post I thought of the chick-and-shell metaphor, similar to the brick wall. Busting out of that shell strengthens the neck muscle in the chick (or so I’ve been told). Without the *fight* or resistance, the chick would die. God definitely puts obstacles in our way for a reason – just like we do for our characters. Thanks for a great post.
Phyllis A. Still
Because I read your blog posts first, I sent my ‘Precious’ to one of your recommended editors for a critique and discovered it wasn’t so precious…yet. I’m very thankful. 🙂
J. Willis Sanders
I think my biggest brick wall is the almost constant pondering of my abilities and wondering if they are good enough to make a living from writing.
I imagine that is common. I suppose the only way to discover the answer is to break through the brick wall–one tap on the keyboard at a time.
Another is the lack of people in my circle that are passionate readers. Luckily I count my sister as a great help in reading my work, and she looks forward to each new piece, but it would be great to have a more varied circle.
Back to the brickyard!
A bit eerie for me, seeing Dr. Pausch mentioned here.
The biggest brick wall I am facing is a combination of physical bad stuff, and the fatigue that goes along with it, that tell me it’s just not going to work. That the things I can still tell don’t need to be heard.
I try not to listen, but it is getting harder.
Thank you for the reminder of Randy Pausch’s story. I’ve read his book and loved it! His story is inspiring and can pull anyone out of a negative slump.
I love your comment: “For Christian authors, I hope the impact with the brick wall sends them back to God, again and again, ever looking for confirmation, refutation, or clarification of their author-dreams.” I try to constantly go back there when I hit a brick wall. Am I creating the brick wall or is God closing the door? Is this the path God wants me on? Is God saying, “Not yet?” Lots of great thoughts to ponder. Thank you!
This is an amazing perspective! Thank you for sharing this. I don’t look forward to brick walls, but I do look forward to proving my dedication and strength to break through. Great inspiration!
Two quotations from Thomas Edison:
1. “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
2. “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
This is presented as a statement of 1877, as quoted in From Telegraph to Light Bulb with Thomas Edison (2007) by Deborah Headstrong, p. 22.
J. Willis Sanders
I was on my way to a friends last for an evening of music making when I heard Dave Ramsey announce the scripture for the day: Ezra 10-4. I perked up because 10-4 is my wife’s birthday, which made it really easy to remember. I didn’t catch all of it but checked it out when I got home.
NIV versions: Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather! Two quite interesting coincidences.
Another brick just fell from the wall!