Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A detour in the road

I’m going to get personal today. I want to talk about something I’ve avoided broaching for some time. I’ve worried about what people might think. Whether other writers would understand. Whether I’d be criticised or given well-meaning advice. Whether there would be condemnation.

“Writers write. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.”

Here’s my dirty secret: I’m not writing right now.

Well, not exactly.

It’s time for me to confess. Tell the whole truth. And hope that somebody out there understands. This is my story, but who knows? It could be yours, too. So, please forgive me my transparency. I’m gonna bare it all.

The path
See, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I was a shy, imaginative kid with my nose constantly in a book and my head in the clouds. So, I wrote. Short stories. Scraps of novels. Eventually, much later, a whole book.

8 years ago, God gave me a promise about my writing. It was one of those goosebump moments when heaven collides with earth and you know without a doubt God has spoken.

He made it very clear that writing was my calling, and that the dream I’d longed for since I was a little girl would come to pass. That soul-deep certainty carried me through years of solitary hard work, rejections and near-misses, sparse encouragement and questioning. I doubted myself frequently, but I never doubted the call.

Positive things happened in that time. I landed an agent. Was contracted to ghost-write a full-length book. Met kindred writing friends. Joined the Alley. Finaled in a big contest. Had a short story accepted by a respected journal I’d courted for years. I felt like I was finally right on the brink of a breakthrough.

Only that breakthrough never happened.

Image by duron123,
The roadblock
When I fell pregnant with my third child in the space of three years, for the first time, I hit a roadblock I couldn’t see my way past. I was exhausted, busy and overwhelmed. My first novel had been shelved after being shopped around unsuccessfully for a couple of years, and I was about two-thirds through writing the second. I believed in the story. But discouragement hit me from left-field.

You talk about negative contest feedback? I’d finalled in a contest, and yet the judges tore my synopsis to shreds. They hated my plot.

I panicked. Asked for help from some authors whose opinion I respect. They all hated it too.

Only problem was, no-one could tell me how to fix it. It seemed that everyone except me thought my book was terminally flawed.

Perhaps I was deluded. It seemed increasingly likely.

Fast-forward nine months, and in my post-newborn, sleep-deprived, mushy-brained state, I still couldn’t imagine my way out of this fix. I had three preschool-age kids to mother; writing required a sacrifice of time and energy that I just didn’t have in me at that point. I think I could have done it if I’d been able to sustain the delusion that I was on the brink of something wonderful. If I truly believed that what I was writing was worthwhile and would be snapped up by a publisher as soon as I wrote “The End”.

But how could I pour myself out for something everyone said was flawed? Something that would likely never succeed?

It seemed like an enormous waste of time. Time I did not have. With three little tots requiring all the energy I had to give, I couldn’t seem to find the time to wash my hair or shave my legs, let alone salvage a masterpiece from the smoking wreckage of my novel.

I was stuck. It was more than writer’s block. It was the dark night of the writer’s soul. I’m sure it was a contributing factor in why I suffered from post-natal depression after my third child.

I felt like I’d lost a part of myself, and yet I didn’t have a clue how to find it again.

The amber light
The stuck-ness continued for what felt like forever. My biggest worry? Feeling like I’d somehow dropped-out on God’s plan for my life. I’m not a dropout kinda gal. I still believed whole-heartedly in that word God had given me 8 years before. Still believed my dream would come to pass.

So why was I stuck in this place of failure and shame, unable to see my way clear?

As I prayed it through, I slowly began to see that I’d imposed my timeline on God’s promise.

He never said when my dream would be realised. Just that it would - one day.

And so I sat waiting at a giant amber light, gradually coming to realise I was in some pretty good company.

Joseph was promised he would rule, and ended up a slave in a prison cell.

Sarah was promised a child, and ended up an old and barren woman.

David was anointed king over Israel, and ended up in exile in fear of his life, hiding in a rocky hillside with a band of outlaws.

The Israelites were promised Canaan, and ended up walking circles in the desert for 40 years.

In each case, the dream did come to pass. It did. God is always faithful to his word.

But always, there was a season of contradiction, where for a long period of time, the dream seemed further out of reach than ever. Instead of leading toward the goal, the path seemed to veer in the opposite direction, carrying the dreamer even further away than they were at the start.

Image by ntwowe,
The detour
And that’s when I saw the sign I hadn’t noticed before. I was so focussed on the impassable roadblock in front of me, that I hadn’t seen the “detour” sign erected at the side of the road. It pointed away from where I’d been heading. I couldn’t see exactly where it led, and yet if I strained my eyes, I could’ve sworn the two paths met up again somewhere in the dim mauve distance. 

I took a tentative step onto the path. Then another. It was different to the road I’d been travelling. Yet somehow, it felt familiar. Right. I walked farther. For the first time in over two years, the dogged sense of failure was beginning to slough away. The inner unrest, the sense of “where did I lose myself?” was turning to vapour and drifting away on the breeze. 

I was in motion again. Not on the road I’d planned to walk, but on a different path. And yet somehow, I was at peace.

The new path
Has anyone else been there? Where life has taken you in a different direction than you expected? Has anyone else experienced that detour in the road?

For me, the new path was clear. I felt a strong sense that I am not ready to be published in this season of my life – that God is saying “Wait” to that dream. It’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly. It took me two years of inner turmoil to get to that place. I still believe in the call he’s given me, but I also recognize that he’s given me another, pre-eminent calling: to be a mother. And in these chaotic, overwhelming, joyful, maddening, wonderful years of parenting in the trenches, I’m experiencing life in all the richness that will one day, once again, find its way into my books.

But God is good, and he hasn’t asked me to sacrifice my sense of self on the altar of parenthood. He hasn’t asked me to stand immobile, gazing yearningly into the distance. He’s given me another task, one more compatible with the stage of life I’m in now. It’s a new dream that runs parallel to the first: to write a blog for other mums and home-makers.

This is writing in a new skin. It’s writing in small doses, individual posts. It’s the ability to feel the satisfaction that comes from completing something. It’s immediacy. It’s a new conduit for the creativity that is bursting in my veins. It’s a channel for some other lifelong loves – art, design, interior decorating, working with kids.

It began with the niggling urge that I should be “doing something” to build a platform in this time I have available pre-publication. And so, always, it feeds back into the overarching dream that will never go away – to write novels, to one day have an audience who will turn the pages of a book I’ve written.

So, while it may seem like a divergence, it’s all part of the same river finding its course to the sea. God’s plan can never be thwarted. Block a stream, and it will break its banks if necessary to carve a new water-course. The dream won’t die.
What road are you walking?
It’s been eleven years since I wrote my first book, full of naïve enthusiasm and certainty that it would be the next big thing. That’s a long time for a dream to stay alive, despite all the setbacks and discouragement along the way. And yet, it is alive.

Even now.

I share all this because I wonder if anyone else can relate. Have you ever hit a roadblock in your writing journey? Have you ever taken a detour off the path?

Is the road you’re walking now different to what you’d imagined or hoped it would be?

I want to encourage you, if you’re facing a roadblock right now in your writing life. A detour is not the end of the road. It’s a way around. A way through.

No matter which direction you seem to be walking, if the peace of God is your compass, then every step you take in faith is one step closer to your dream.


When your writing journey takes a detour: Click to tweet

Is it ever okay to step away from your dream of writing? Here's why I did: Click to tweet

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she juggles writing with being a SAHM to three small kids. She's had short stories published in two literary journals and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on her website, Twitterand getting creative on her home-making blog, A house full of sunshine.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this! I totally needed it. I would definitely call myself a writer. I crave to write, it's a part of me, yet in this season of life I just can't. Because I also have the dream to become a nurse. It has been a challenge for me to walk into my room after a long day of work and want to write in my novel, but I know I must choose to study for an Anatomy test that is only days away. Everyday is a challenge. Sometimes I get so frustrated knowing I feel the need to write, but I just don't have time with college. Yet, however tough it gets, I know that someday I will be writing again, I just have to wait for that season of life to return to me. No matter how hard it gets, I trust God because I know He has a plan.

Thanks for a great post!


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Charity, I'm so glad you can identify with this. Yes, God gives us different dreams at different stages in our life, and sometimes one dream has to take priority over another for a time. Be encouraged - the study you're doing right now is so worthwhile, and that dream of writing will still be there waiting to burst into bud when the time is right again. Bless you!

Pepper said...

This is perfect! Oh my goodness, how many times to people need to hear God's voice is still the same, His plan is still the same, but the road may look different than WE planned. You're SO right! It's never different than HE planned for us!

I keep telling myself this motto:
God's calling, God's timing, my perseverance.
It's an acceptance of His work instead of my 'make it happen' pressure. He's never called us to that, has he?
What sweet encouraging words you have here! It reminds me of the verse Matthew 11:29-30, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. For I am gentle of heart and you will find REST for your souls. For my yoke is EASY and my burden is LIGHT"
We're the ones who make it heavy with our worry. I know that's true for me.

Wow, beautiful!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

YES, Pepper - so true!! I've given myself so much needless anguish and inner turmoil over the past couple of years as I struggled to accept that it was okay to embrace a different season. It's always been okay with God! He's the sender of the seasons, and each one is beautiful in its own way.

I love your encouragement that "the road is never different than HE planned for us!" Such a powerful truth that really resonates with my heart! Love you, girl!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

Love this post! You're such a wonderful writer I know God will bless your obedience. And you are doing such beautiful work as a mother!

Unknown said...

Karen, this post is wonderful...I just loved the whole thing and then I got to that last line and read it like six times in a row...

"No matter which direction you seem to be walking, if the peace of God is your compass, then every step you take in faith is one step closer to your dream."

That one line hit me so much, applicable in a couple huge areas of my life at the moment. Thank you for that! And again, I love the whole post...I think sometimes those detours that feel so confusing in the moment can be some of the hugest blessings when we look back!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Karen, Wow, this spoke to me so much in where I'm at. You know most of the time I feel like I'm OK with it but other times I think boy, if I put my kids on the bus (because that's what I feel like is my hardest calling right now--the homeschooling) I would have a clean house instead of a disaster zone, fancier meals, and a couple of hours for writing.

I needed this reminder. In fact, I had tears and I know I will read this again. Thank you for being obedient to write a post that I'm guessing wasn't an easy write.

Sally Bradley said...

Karen, I've been there. :) In fact, I'd just returned to writing when we finaled in the Genesis together. So I know what you mean--about all of that!

We had just moved and I felt like God wanted me to set my writing aside for a while and concentrate on family (and a part-time job--sob!) while my husband started in his new job as a head pastor. I told him I thought I should quit writing for a while, and he said, "Thank goodness." That hurt.

I took a four-year writing break, and by the time I felt the desire to write return, Steve wanted me to write too. And the time away from my own work (I did freelance editing) had grown me as a person and as a writer.

It's so hard to set those dreams aside, especially when they're your oldest, deepest dreams. But life is about living now, where we are and with those around us. And living that life prepares us so much more to write from real depth and experience. None of the time away from writing is wasted. None of it.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for sharing such a personal post, Karen. I know it will touch the hearts of many people.

I've been writing for about 13 years now and certainly had times when I felt frustration and wanted to quit. But once I became clear that my writing wasn't about winning contests, and getting published for the fame/money, etc., I settled down and did my best to learn the craft as best I could.

I knew in my heart (like you) that God meant for me to be published one day - it wasn't for me to decide the day. So I kept on writing in a much happier state, certain that God's perfect timing would arrive.

And now my debut novel "Betrayed Hearts" is coming out in AUGUST!!

So never fear. The universe will unfold as it should. In the meantime, enjoy your new endeavors and think of all the friends and contacts you're making!

I have no doubt that all the Alley cats and the people who follow you will one day find their way to seeing their dreams fulfilled.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Karen, what a beautiful post. I've definitely hit some roadblocks in writing. I can totally resonate with you hearing God's promise to write and then trying to make His promise come true on your terms, in your timing.

I did that in my hopes and pursuit of motherhood. Years of infertility left me discouraged and despairing at times. When He spoke words to my heart that rocked me, I absorbed them but still questioned. My hubby confirmed those words, and God even spoke them again. THEN I could believe. It was still a couple years before He gave us our first son. His timing is always perfect.

As you seek to be "in the moment" with your children and your mommy blog, God will honor that. He gives joy even in the detours. Thank you so much for sharing your heart and your story. They truly encouraged and blessed me.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

LAURIE, thank you so much for those sweet words! You're a beautuful encourager!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Amen, MELISSA!! So, so true about finding God's blessings in our place of detour and disappointment. If we could learn to let go of our expectations, our timeline, we would probably see the blessings a lot sooner. I know that's true for me! So glad God spoke to you through those words.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

JULIA, my sweet friend. So glad this spoke to you. What you are doing in homeschooling your kids is an amazing thing. And yes, there are such sacrifices involved. It's a very loving, selfless act. The juggle in motherhood I think comes in putting your kids first without losing your sense of self altogether, which doesn't benefit either you or them.

And yes, this was a hard post to write. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea, for so many reasons. I'm beginning to see why God prompted me to be so transparent. We're never alone - and sometimes, really opening up about where we're at is the only way to recognise that.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Oh, SALLY - thank you so much for sharing this! It's such an encouragement to me to hear your story. Your whole last paragraph is just gold. "But life is about living now, where we are and with those around us. And living that life prepares us so much more to write from real depth and experience. None of the time away from writing is wasted. None of it." So much truth and wisdom in those words! I needed to read that! I'm so glad you've reached a season where you're able to write again. The world needs to read your words!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

SUE, thank you so much for sharing that wonderful testimony! So, so happy for you that you're seeing your dream realised. It's such an encouragement to all of us to stay the course, no matter how long it takes or how difficult it may be. What a blessing to have your debut novel releasing after 13 years. You're living the dream! God is so good.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

JEANNE, I just love your beautiful heart. I can relate to your fertility struggle - although for us it was a relatively short season, it was still one of the most difficult things I've ever been through. Waiting in any area of life is so very hard, especially when the wait stretches longer than we ever could have foreseen. But that ache for children - nothing else even comes close.

But like you say, there is joy in the detours! So much joy, if only we can bring ourselves to take joy in the present instead of wishing away our lives to get to some future point. Life is such a gift - all of it, even the detours. We just need to trust the gift-giver.

Megan Sayer said...

Karen this was nothing less than a HUGE hug from God. I knew it, I've walked it, but to know I'm not alone is priceless. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! for your honesty here.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

You're so welcome, friend! I'm glad it spoke to you! xo

Jessie Heninger said...

I found this blog through Megan Sayers Blog and it's just lovely. Thank you so much for your honesty. I've always knows I wanted to write but I feel like I'm a liar or a faker because all I do is "blog" but I think your right, Our journey is long, confusing, and beautiful.

Unknown said...

We've been in a similar place--only I don't have the small children. Thank you for being real. It's funny. I never doubted you will come back to write a masterpiece some day. I'm so happy you see it too, and in the meantime you are blessing us with your many other talents! I'm finally back writing on a regular basis. When the time is right I know you will too! Love you, sweet friend!