I got a 3 on my elementary school writing test. Do you remember those? It was in fourth grade. Each student was given a prompt, and you had a set amount of time to write a story using the prompt. The highest score you could receive was a 4.
I wanted that 4.
I got a 3.
That’s when I knew I’d never be a writer.
Isn’t it funny the things that stick with you? A test score made me write off (see what I did there?) my ability to put words together. I didn’t have it—whatever “it” was. The test said so.
But over the years, other things stuck with me, too. Like when my 5th grade teacher read a story I wrote, pulled me aside, and told me how much she loved it, how creative it was. How she liked the way I described the things I saw. Keep writing, she said.
Or the way a college professor in one of my writing courses told me I’d successfully “hooked” the class with a story I told. Or how another told me she looked forward to reading my work every time assignments came in.
Those things stuck with me, too. And I started to wonder if maybe the big bad number 3 from test scores of old was just that: a number.
Taking some risks
When my son was born, I took time off work and found myself enjoying those wonderful newborn days of snuggling a sleeping baby for hours at a time. During those snuggle sessions, I wrote stories in my head. The ones I kept coming back to, I finally wrote down, with fantastical visions of one day writing a real, hold-in-your-hands picture book. And then I did the scariest thing any writer can do.
I let someone read it.
That someone was my mom. Like most moms, she told me it was great. Unlike most moms, however, she told me the parts that weren’t great—or rather, the parts that could be stronger. My mom happens to be a very talented, published author, so she knew what she was talking about. At her encouragement, I went to a short writers conference to try and learn how to get better at this thing I enjoyed doing in my free time.
If you’ve never been to a writer’s conference, just imagine you’re drinking. From a fire hydrant. All day long. Yeah, it’s like that.
After attending classes and taking notes and marveling at the beauty and art and technique and strategy behind writing, I did an even scariest-er thing (yes I just invented that word):
I pitched my story.
How it works (or doesn’t work)
If you’ve never been to a writers conference, here’s essentially how it works: in between attending classes and workshops, writers have the opportunity to sign up for meetings with agents and publishers. In those meetings, you have approximately 10-15 minutes to discuss anything you’d like—and many writers use that time to pitch manuscripts.
If an agent or editor likes your pitch, they may ask you for a book proposal, which is huge. Essentially, it’s an opportunity to get your foot in the door of the publishing world. A request for a book proposal could mean nothing—or it could mean a book contract. But a face-to-face meeting held more potential than a cold submission.
Heart racing, palms sweating, I went for it. I pitched to a few publishers, and one publisher in particular was interested enough that she asked for a proposal.
I went home floating, thrilled beyond words that someone wanted to consider my manuscript. My first conference. One of my first pitches. What a success story! I spent hours on that proposal, sent it off, and waited.
Remember how I said a proposal could mean nothing or it could mean a book contract?
Well. This one meant nothing.
As did the next one. And the next one. And the next one.
Only it didn’t mean nothing—not really. Because every time a publisher said, “Thanks but no thanks,” I learned something new about the industry, about storytelling, and about myself.
Writing is more than publishing a book
The next year I went to another writers conference, and learned that writing with purpose didn’t just mean publishing books. I began “slinging mud”—a.k.a. hurling submissions—to blogs, parenting websites, online magazines, and more. And I discovered something amazing.
I could reach a lot of people without ever publishing a book.
I got one “yes” and then another, and then another. I read books about writing, and wrote and wrote and wrote. One article would give me a byline, and that byline would get seen, which would lead to another open door, or a connection, or an opportunity.
I enjoyed the challenge of writing something meaningful and effective with a limited amount of words—and still do. But always in the back of my mind, I still wanted to go for a children’s picture book. By this time, I had 3 or 4 manuscripts sitting on my computer, but hadn’t yet found a home for them.
One step closer
In 2018, I went to another conference, armed with copies of manuscripts and a promise to myself that I’d make pitches again even though the thought of more polite rejection terrified me. I sat down across from an agent, pitched a few stories—and she requested a proposal.
I’d been there before, so I tried not to let myself get too hopeful. I sent off the proposal, and moved on with life.
Turns out, she loved it.
A few days later, I found myself signing a contract to be represented by Tessa Emily Hall of the CYLE Literary Agency.
Long hours, lots of rejection
This was a huge win. In the writing world, many publishers won’t even talk to you unless you’re represented by an agent. An agent is able to get your work in front of more publishers than if you tried sending cold submissions on your own—which, up to this point, is what I’d been doing.
When I signed the contract, I was in a very busy season of life. My son was 3, my daughter 15 months. I was working a lot, and my hours were pretty odd – minimal daytime hours (so that I could be with my children), and lots of late night hours. Needless to say, the days were long—and there was very little “free” time.
But writing had become important to me—more than just something to do for fun or whenever I had the chance. I wanted to make it a priority. So I began getting creative with my time. I’d stay up later, capitalize on nap times, and coordinate with my husband to have designated no-one-interrupts-mommy writing time.
I spent hours and hours and hours on book proposals. My agent sent them out again and again. Months ticked by, and I heard really encouraging feedback from many publishers—but always with a final “this is not what we’re looking for right now.”
In the midst of all this, I kept writing articles for whoever would have me, and I managed to get some work published in a few book compilations. Many times, I wanted to give up. I remember telling my husband, Matt, that maybe I just wasn’t meant to publish a children’s book. Maybe I just needed to be ok with that.
Matt told me I couldn’t quit. That my time would come. To keep pushing, keep writing, keep working.
He was right. In summer of 2021, my time finally came.
More than a contract, more than a book
I was rocking our third baby to sleep when I got the email from my agent with the news that I’d been offered a contract; I had to hold in a squeal of delight so as not to wake up my little one.
Three years after I signed with my agent, and six years after I decided to take writing more seriously, I finally had a contract for a story that was and is so important to me.
And 18 months later, after much planning, editing, waiting, doubting, hoping, and praying—I finally held the book in my hands. This story that started as notes on paper—as a small attempt to make sense of my own anxiety and my understanding of a God who promises to meet my every need—is real and beautiful and ready to be shared with the world.
This book represents so much work. Many tears. Doubts. Submissions. Revisions. Rejections. Late nights. Early mornings. And lots of head-in-my-hands-what-the-heck-am-I-doing-still-trying-this moments.
And you know what?
Every writer I’ve ever met has their own version of this same experience.
For the one who wants to write
Why am I sharing all this? Because I know some of you have a “thing” in your heart—something you’d love to try or to throw yourself into. Maybe it’s writing, or maybe it’s something else. The world we live in teaches us that hard things are to be avoided at all costs. And if something doesn’t come easily—or if your test score is a 3 instead of a 4—then maybe it’s just not meant to be.
Please hear my heart—I don’t share this to pat myself on the back. Far from it. I share this because the struggle and discipline and journey of writing has brought me face to face with both my weaknesses and my Savior.
God is the ultimate Storyteller. He is the Author of Life. And in a small way, writing allows me to know him more and to reflect him to others—which is what we, as image bearers, are called to do.
It’s taken a ridiculous amount of work, but I don’t regret any of it. And I can honestly say that even if I never have another book published, or if no one ever bothered to read this book, I could still offer it up to God as my best work, for his glory and his alone.
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to try or pursue, but the season is “too busy” or “not the right time,” I’d challenge you to take just one or two small steps this year, and see where it takes you. Reaching big goals never just happens. It takes intentional planning and many times even significant risk-taking.
There’s always a reason not to do something. But you’ll never regret trying. And more than likely, your risk-taking will give you stories to tell that will encourage and empower others in ways you never could have imagined.
“Security is mostly a superstition”
When I wrote The Anxious Lily, I immediately put myself in Lola’s shoes (er, roots?). Like Lola, my fears of what could or might happen as well as the desire for security and predictability have made me miss out on so many good, good things. I don’t want that for myself. And I don’t want it for you.
I’ll end with a beautiful quote from Helen Keller on this idea of safety vs. risk-taking:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
Like Lola the lily, you were made to stand tall. To stretch your petals and leaves toward the sky, basking in God’s glory and pointing others to him.
If God’s given you a dream or desire—to learn something new, to write that idea down, to hold your breath and hit “submit”—then go for it. Feel the fear. Take the risk. Make the change.
Because after all, life is a daring adventure, or nothing.
And some risks are always worth taking.
2 thoughts on “Risks Worth Taking: My Writing Story”
I can’t wait to get my copies of your book. I got one for each of my sons. Thank you for sharing your journey to get it published. It’s easy to let past failures, real or perceived, keep us from pursuing what God has for us. I’m glad you pushed on to do what you love for His pleasure and glory.
Thank you Mrs. MacInnes!