Book update #1

February 4, 2009 | 16 comments

After the helpful, kind response I got to my last post about progress on the book, I decided that I’ll post regular book updates for those who are interested (I’ll label them clearly so that those who are not interested can skip these posts). 🙂

Where I am…
I’m on Chapter 8 of what I expect to be a 14-chapter book. I’ve known all along that this would be the hardest chapter to write, and it is. I’ve been working on it since before Thanksgiving.

The main topic of this chapter is the first time I read the Bible. In order to really take the reader back to what that was like, I have to re-live it all for myself…which has required a ton of time spent just re-reading the Bible. Interestingly, at the time I first read it I felt compelled to take detailed notes about the process (maybe Somebody had a plan there?). Without those notes I’d be lost. I spent all my writing time from late November to mid January just reading chapters from the New and Old Testaments, taking notes on my notes, trying to sift out the most relevant observations. I’m now trying to write a coherent chapter out of stacks and stacks of scribbled thoughts. I’m happy with what I have, but it is a very slow process.

On the business side…
I finally told my agent that I’m not going to hit the early March deadline for a first draft. I also explained that, with the new baby, it was really hard to say how much progress I’d make this spring. He was very understanding and reminded me that it’s better to take my time to craft something good than to rush and craft something bad. That’s the benefit of not actually having a deadline with a publisher yet.

Speaking of which, we’re waiting until the entire manuscript is complete to submit it to publishers. With non-fiction you usually don’t have to do that, but for first-time memoirs it’s pretty standard. After I get my first draft done I’ll have my personal editorial board review it (a.k.a. my husband and some friends), the agent will go over it in detail, and only then will we begin to submit it to publishers.

I occasionally have a pang of anxiousness about the fact that I do not have a contract with a publisher so there’s always the chance that this thing will never see the light of day, but, as I’ve said before, I just need to trust that whatever is meant to happen will happen. I’ve never been to Adoration as much as I have been to seek guidance on this matter; sometimes I think that God’s whole plan with this book is just to get me to go to Adoration more often.

What I’ve learned…
After reading writing “how-to” books by authors like Stephen King, Annie Dillard and Bill Roorbach, I had this image that writing a book must involve hours and hours of free time to dedicate to the craft each day, six or seven days a week. Many of these modern authors describe retiring to seaside cabins or silent attic offices with lush forest views to spend 20 – 40 (or more) hours per week just focusing peacefully on their current works.

It was refreshing, then, to come across this section in Heather King’s fantastic spiritual memoir Redeemed where she talks about writers who produced great work in far less than ideal circumstances, displaying an “astounding, warriorlike tenacity” and proving that it is possible to write something great even if you’re not relaxing in comfort at your vacation home:

Kafka had penned two of his finest works…while dying of tuberculosis. Nothing had kept him from working, not the collapsed lungs that made him feel like he was breathing splinters of glass, not the tormented nerves that had plagued him all his life. […]

Dennis Potter, the late brilliant British TV writer, suffered his entire career from psoriatic arthropathy, a disfiguring and excruciatingly painful condition that…fueled a streak of creativity I could only view with the deepest awe and respect. He…turned in scripts splattered with blood and cortisone cream, and when his hand was too crabbed with arthritis to hold a pen, strapped the pen on and continued writing anyway. […]

Swollen with cortisone, her joints crippled, Flannery O’Connor worked fiercely through years of the lupus that would kill her at the age of thirty-nine. When her mother urged her to go to Lourdes, she reluctantly did, writing afterwards to a friend, “I prayed there for the novel I was working on, not for my bones, which I care about less…” Three weeks before dying, she wrote to a friend, “I’m still in bed but I climb out of it into the typewriter about 2 hours every morning”…Nine days before [she died] she learned that her story “Revelation” had won first place in the O. Henry competition.

I’ve often thought of these examples and used them as inspiration to remember that good writing is possible under all sorts of circumstances.

What’s next…
I’ve decided not to set any more deadlines until after the new baby gets here in early March. I’ll just wait to see how it goes and reassess a few weeks after she’s here. The only “hard” deadline I have is that I don’t want the contract with the agent to expire before the thing is finished, but that’s more than a year from now so that should give me plenty of time.

That’s the update! Now back to squeezing in a little writing time before my two youngest wake up from their naps…


  1. Anonymous

    your trip through Catholicism amazes me. I’m a lifer, but you show me things I never thought of. how you do so much family, business, and deepening your faith!
    Yours is an inspiring trip.

  2. Elizabeth K.

    Regarding the “You must have great swathes of time to write” lie, may I suggest Julia Cameron’s “The Right to Write.” While sometimes her cutesy puns are a but much, and the patter gets a bit new-agey, she makes fantastic points about the great time lie. Great books have been written in very short spurts!

  3. Shelly W

    I really appreciate this little publishing lesson, but even moreso, I appreciate your sharing your thoughts, struggles, frustrations with the whole thing. I appreciate you, Jen. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself so honestly.

  4. Kate Wicker

    Good luck, Jen. You’re an inspiration to writers, moms, seekers, and Catholics/Christians everywhere.

    I’ll be adding your book to my bookshelf when it’s published. And “when” is the only thing you have to worry about. I have no doubt in my mind you’ll snag a publisher.

    God bless!

  5. Meghan

    Hey Jennifer,
    You’ve mentioned Adoration a lot, and it’s made me think that I might benefit from a special place for quiet prayer (aka away from home and baby). I am a member of a non-denominational church and my experience with the Catholic church is pretty much limited to funerals (and your blog). There is a church nearby, though, that offers 24/7 Adoration to anybody who wants to come. Do you have any thoughts on how to use that time? How best to honor the space as a non-Catholic?

  6. Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin

    Dr. Isaac Asimov also learned to write in less-than-ideal conditions, namely, the back of his dad’s Bronx candy store, with his family roaring and rollicking about him. HIS secret was to completely ignore everything around him; his memoirs suggested that the place could have burned down around him without drawing his attention.

  7. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Meghan – Great question! Personally, I would recommend that the first time you go you just clear your mind and use the time to see where the Lord leads your thoughts and prayers. You may want to bring your Bible as well and do some reading from that. But I’ve found over and over again that when I go in with an “agenda” or certain set of things I want to “get done,” the Lord always leads me somewhere else. 🙂

  8. sarah

    I continue to wish you the best with this and am eagerly waiting the chance to read it 🙂 I was sitting in a crowd today trying to restrain myself from writing (on a scrap piece of paper) – I’m getting used to writing in any spare, fleeting moment I have available, but I felt this was taking it too far!

    By the way, did you happen to mention there “she”??!


  9. Dorothy

    Jen – I always enjoy your blog so much. Please keep on posting about your book progress as well as your baby progress. (Baby first, book second.) All in God’s good time! I thought of responding to Meghan’s question about Adoration but you did it just right. We know, don’t we, that He will do His thing in her life?

  10. Karen E.

    “Many of these modern authors describe retiring to seaside cabins or silent attic offices”
    Ha! I can’t stop laughing. Much as I love Annie Dillard, I just can’t see her pounding out a few sentences, then having to turn and say, “Yes, I know. I’ll clean up that hairball in a minute,” and then turning back to the screen, only to wonder three seconds later what that awful screech in the basement was, and was that the oven timer already??

    No. Moms write bird by bird, as Anne Lamott would say.

  11. Kaycee


    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been reading quite a few christian books lately, a lot of them are books that you suggested.

    I will definitely add yours to my collection whenever it comes out.

  12. TL.

    (nothing to do with kids at church- by the way I enjoyed it as a CCD teacher, not mom yet…)
    I came across an article on life hacker, and read this part, which sounds like a revelation to me:

    Re-think your hunger: As Bittman notes in Food Matters, most of us can’t (or, at least, don’t) have sex every single time we think about it—we’ll wait for you to finish up whatever wisecrack you got going with there. But hunger, real or routine, is something many of us satisfy with an unnatural level of urgency. You can fight off some of those pangs with a slow, steady stream of healthier stuff, like popcorn, almonds, or snacks that don’t come in thin foil, but it’s easier to engage in something, anything time-consuming when your body feels hungry and you can’t remind it that dinner’s only an hour away. There’s a reason critics always swipe at artists by referring to the work of their “young and hungry” days—being a little hungry is far from a bad thing.

    full article:

    sorry it’s not an appropriate place to comment..

  13. Sarah Reinhard

    I really appreciate these updates, Jen. Thanks for that! It gives me encouragement in my own journey.

    Prayers for you!

  14. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    Word by word, all for His glory, you’re writing it and I cheer with the angels.

    Praying for this work of your hands,

  15. Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft

    I am new to your blog and just love it. I have been Catholic since third grade, but I have fallen out of my faith here and there. I’m very close to where you were as an Atheist – rereading EVERYTHING – but coming at it with wanting it to work, not NOT wanting it to work.

    I’m also a writer who has written for TV and now write columns for BabyCenter and GoodHousekeeping. I say this for two reasons:

    1. When you’re done with your book, if you want an editor who has very much been on your path, please feel free to send it to me (once you get to know me of course… then you’ll NEVER send it…LOL

    2. I’ll be happy to review it down the road once it is published. And yes, it will be published.

    Congrats on the new baby. I have 2 myself – 6 and 4. I’d like more, but my husband is not Christian at all and is DONE. That is probably my biggest cross to bear – so to speak – so a little prayer for me would be lovely.

    Much luck to you!

  16. Alison

    Those quotes were like a tall glass of water to me. I'm also like you, a busy mom who is crafting sentences in her mind but also trying to raise a decent human being (not to mention one that loves God). Thank you for posting this!

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