Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lessons from the Garden--Mary DeMuth

My guest blogger today is Mary DeMuth, author of Thin Places: A Memoir. If you've met Mary or read any of her books, you know what an uplifting, inspiring person and prolific writer she is. I am honored to have her hear today to offer us words of encouragement.

For those of you discouraged about the writing journey, I hope my story helps a little. Or at least gives you an idea of how important tenacity is in the writing journey.

I read in Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book called Outliers about the irony of genius. Most of those highly proficient in a career or endeavor spent 10,000 hours before they “broke out.” As I thought about my writing career, it all suddenly made sense. I spent the decade of the 90s (plus two more years) writing in obscurity, hour upon hour until I’m sure I surpassed the 10,000 hour mark. After that decade, I attended Mount Hermon with a novel in hand, landed an agent, and sold two books in that first year. Folks often want to hear that part of the story, but it’s hard for them to hear about all the underlying work that went into that dramatic year.

I don’t at all see those 10,000 hours as wasted time. It’s what I needed to apprentice myself to the writing craft. I found my voice. I learned to write fast. I exceeded deadlines. I curried discipline. All those traits serve me well now.

So now I’m in my twentieth year of this journey. I’m not a bestselling author. I’ve achieved some critical success, but I’m not fully making a living at it. I see this last decade as a building one. Recently the Lord showed me something profound while I gardened in my small vegetable patch (readying it for winter). My garden is small, though I long for a larger one someday. The Lord said, “I gave you a small plot so you’d learn to bloom there. If I gave you a field, you’d have been overwhelmed.”

True, true, true. Had I been granted instant success, it would’ve been like trying to garden on ten acres when I hadn’t mastered a 3x30 plot. All these ten years have been training ground for me to learn everything belongs to Jesus. Had I become successful out of the gate, I shudder to think of the Me Monster I might’ve become. I’m at that place where I’m keenly aware that everything is a gift. Success. Rejection. Waiting. Accolades. It’s all from His hand. And it’s not about me.

I’ve had an inkling that my next book could be the breakout one. But I’m also grounded enough to know that it could flop around like a dying fish. It’s okay. God, through ten years of 10,000 words and ten years of small plot gardening, has taught me the beauty of His sovereignty in it all.

So if you’re on your journey discouraged that publishing isn’t happening fast enough, that you’re “good enough” to be published but aren’t getting nibbles, stop and wait and consider.

Have you put in your hours?
How’s your small garden plot? Any weeds?
Have you rested in the fact that God has us all on vastly different journeys, and that yours will differ from everyone else’s?
Are you learning contentment, tenacity, patience?
Are you better craftwise than you were last year at this time?
Have you passed on what you've learned to others, being generous in what others have taught you?

Just some thoughts to consider as you journey forward.


  1. So true, Mary. There were two lines at the end that were relevant to me. The first was, "Are you better craftwise. . . ?" I have decided this year to dig in and read as many books as I can on writing fiction. I am also dedicating myself to practice, practice, practice.

    The second was, "Have you passed on what you've learned to others, . . ?" My local chapter of ACFW, Mile High Scribes, asked me to teach what I've learned from the fiction writing books. At first, I thought I didn't know enough, but then I realized that learning and teaching go hand-in-hand. Why not share all this good information?

    Thanks for this post Mary.
    Denise Miller Holmes

  2. Denise, when I first started teaching--and still today--I wondered what I could offer others about writing. I still don't know that much myself. But we all have something to teach another, and we have plenty to learn.

    Mary's post really encouraged me, and I am pleased that it touched others too.