Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lessons From A Loser: What I Learned From Not Winning

by Rachelle Rea

Rachelle Rea metamorphosed from a homeschool graduate to a college girl in the space of a summer. That December, she finished her first novel. In the three years since, she’s accepted the fact that ink has a permanent place in her heart—and that her fingers mold perfectly to the keyboard. Find out more about her writing, freelance editing, and her favorite word at her blog, Inspiring Daring.

I entered a big writing contest this year. I hit send and decided to spend the months before I would find out if I’d made it past the first round busying myself with the bustle of the semester. I told myself that when school let out, finally I’d know.

Junior year finished. I did well in my classes, and I had learned a lot about writing. I felt excited. Not quite confident—I wouldn’t go that far. But… capable. Yes, capable.

Then the week before dawned.  Cue depressing music. Suddenly I found myself without much to occupy my time. Homework no longer beckoned; my uni friends had all gone home; it wasn’t yet warm enough for the beach.

So I tried to write, but the words? They came slowly. My hands shook. I repeated to myself all the encouragement I’d received from friends.

Then the day came. The list was released; my name wasn’t on it. I hadn’t made the cut.

I sat on my stairstep that Monday night (a long day at work had kept me away from the Internet, so I didn’t see the list until nearly midnight). The silent house and my scattered thoughts ricocheted right through me.

And I did what I said I’d never do.

I considered quitting.

The one who likes to call herself the daring girl can be so very un-daring. 

But I made a decision that Monday night. A decision I never thought I’d have to make. I decided to keep going.

So if you ever find yourself at that crossroads, reeling from a contest (or a query) that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped, and if you consider hiding away your wordcrafting forever, take the advice of someone who’s been there:


  • Don’t quit. May you be braver than I. May you never be tempted to toss it all away. But maybe, just maybe, you will consider throwing away the dream, like I did. Don’t listen to that voice. Respect the dream you’ve chosen for yourself and that has, in a way only dreams can, chosen you. Have some chocolate, go for a run, cry on your best friend’s shoulder, but, whatever you do, do not give up.
  • Shout to the world that you won’t quit. Tell someone. We’re writers, after all. Words matter to us. So put it down on paper. Journal your thoughts. Text your two best friends (like I did). Or blog about it (I decided to write this very post about an hour after I saw I hadn’t made it). 
  • Chart your next course. It’s not enough to tell yourself this is your thing and you ain’t giving up on it. It wasn’t enough for me to square my shoulders and make that decision that Monday night. I woke up Tuesday morning and made a plan. If I had made the cut in the contest, my next course of action would have been to start querying. So, at 7 a.m., I took my query letter and ripped it to shreds. I highlighted the words I liked, nixed the others, slammed the paragraphs together in a new order, tried starting it with the other main character’s dilemma first, didn’t like that, switched it back, rewrote, revised, and proofread. Then I emailed it to my two best friends for feedback. 
  • And chart the next one. If I had stopped at crafting my query letter until I had it just right, I would never have gotten any farther. I had to send it out! So I acknowledged my own potential for cowardice and decided to take the next plunge: I made a list of agents. Make a game plan—a long one. Brainstorm potential scenarios. And, for if those don’t pan out, brainstorm more.
  • Encourage others not to quit. I had one friend’s name land on that contest’s list. I messaged her a Congratulations (then I quickly logged off of social media before I tortured myself further with all the contest-results-congratulations clogging my feed). Reach out to the other writers you know and pat them on the back. In the process, you’ll remember this is both an individual and a team sport.

So this is me, saying I went for it. I entered a big contest, and I learned a lot from it even though I didn’t even make it past the first round.

The most important thing I learned? It won’t be the not-making-it that I remember years from now; instead, I’ll remember the “You’ll rock it!” Stephanie gave me that still makes me grin and feel just a smidge invincible. I’ll remember the texts my two best friends sent me that agonizing week-before-I-knew (and the-night-I-found-out). I’ll remember my dad’s hand on my shoulder when I told him and the way he looked at me and asked, “Did you look really hard?” because he had been sure I’d make it.

This writing life is full of jumping-up-in-excitement and sitting-down-on-your-staircase-at-almost-midnight-because-you’re-so-disappointed-you-can’t-see-straight.

But… whatever you do… don’t quit.

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Rachelle Rea has generously offered to give away a free 25-page critique to one lucky person on Go Teen Writers. Thanks, Rachelle! Here's how you can get entered to win:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


103 comments:

  1. Hi Rachelle! Great post and good for you for not quitting!

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  2. This was so encouraging!!! Have bookmarked because I just KNOW I'm going to need it when the time comes. Thank you, Rachelle! :)

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    1. So glad it encouraged you, Hannah! That makes this hard-to-write post worth it! :)

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  3. Hi Rachelle! You rock. And your hair is cool. TRUTH.
    This is a seriously timely post for me...I've had a loooot of setbacks in my querying journey. And flops when I've entered competitions. And stuff. It stinks *sniff*. Which makes me want to give up. So thank you, Ineeded a post like this.

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    1. LOL. Thanks!

      It does stink, but don't give up! Think of JK and all her rejections and troop on! :)

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  4. I admire you juat for the fact that you dared to enter to contest. You're a daring girl. And to pick yourself up and to keep going, that was awesome. You're an inspiration.

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    1. Aw, Imogen, you're so sweet. Thank you!

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  5. Thanks for writing this and encouraging other writers not to quit. Sometimes it is hard to keep going, but it's always good to know there are other writers out there who go through the same thing :)

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  6. So been there! Probably with the exact same contest. ;-) You've really hit the right balance here though, Rachelle. We have to try. We're going to fail. Those voices are going to whisper, and the tears are going to burn. That's where we get to make the choices that determine who we become.

    Plenty of people hang up their pens. But the ones who eventually succeed? They're the ones who just grip it tighter and determine to learn. So proud of you!

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    1. *nodding my head* So right, Roseanna. I knew that night I had a decision to make and it was a big one!

      Thank you!

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  7. This is so inspiring!

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  8. Thanks so much for sharing with us! And your dad...he's right. :) You are an awesome writer. Seriously. And isn't it awesome for parents like that?!

    KEEP GOING! YAY FOR YOU AND NOT QUITTING! :D

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  9. This is so inspiring! I haven't even started querying yet, but I've been on middle-of-the-novel slumps before and those you'll-never-make-it doubts are sure quick to assault us, aren't they? Kudos to you for continuing the long but always interesting trail to authorship.
    Thanks for the great post!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. Agh! I only ever wish I had Twitter when it comes to extra entries for give-a-ways.

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    2. Yes, they certainly are quick! (And I may or may not be on a end-of-the-novel slow-down right now, so your comment hit home in more ways than one!).

      "Long but always interesting trail to authorship." Yep, that about sums it up! Love it! :)

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  10. Thank you so much for this! I'm definitely going to have to look back at it when I start querying. :)

    -Abby

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    1. Honored you were encouraged by it, Abigail! :)

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  11. I have been planning on entering a writing contest. My mom asked me last night that was something around the lined of "If you do not win, will you give up?" Then I get on my blog and find this posted. Thanks for the encouragement, Rachelle!

    Grace

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    1. Oh, my! What perfect timing, indeed!

      Congratulations on entering a contest! That's big news!

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  12. I haven't entered any contests, but I have submitted many query letters. I hit a moment a few weeks ago where I kept saying to myself, "What's the point if every person is going to reject me. Why do it?" The reason I came up with: Because I am building a reputation of being respectful and pleasant to communicate with. When someone tells you no, it's hard to put on an understanding smile, but by doing so, I can show people that Christ really does live through me. And that's what they can expect in my stories.

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    1. Alyson, what a beautiful answer. That encouraged *me.* Thank you! :)

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  13. Hey Rachelle! Thank you so much for your encouragement. I'm sorry you didn't make the cut, but who says you won't next time?? You are a fantastic writer. ;) I'll be keeping this post handy for the future. I know I'll need it.

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    1. Aw, thanks, Rosie! Funny story, but about a month after I "lost" this contest, I won another through my university and I hadn't even known I'd been entered! It wasn't for fiction, but still... :)

      Thanks!

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  14. I'm glad you haven't quit, Rachelle! Thank you for this encouraging post today. And keep on swimming! :-)

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  15. Also, I never won any pre-published writing contests. And I did get very discouraged. But that didn't mean that I wasn't good enough. Contests are so subjective.

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    1. Couldn't have said it any better, Jill!

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  16. Thanks. I am entering a writing contest in a few days, and I am really nervous I am going to lose. But now thats OK. That was really encouraging!

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    1. Journey, I'm honored my words encouraged you. Congrats on entering that contest!

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  17. You go, Rachelle! :D I'm going to keep this post on hand, because I'm about to enter a huge contest too.

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    1. Hannah, that's exciting. And great that you're taking the plunge and entering! :)

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  18. Hi Rachelle! You rock! And your hair is way cool. ;)

    Thanks for the encouraging post. The day could come for me for this, and I know I can look back and remember if it ever comes to that. Thank you. Thank you. So much. :)

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    1. Goodness, love all these curls compliments! :)

      You are welcome! Thank you!

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  19. This is very encouraging. I constantly have to help my friends not to quit, and they're happy for it. Thanks for the awesome post! :D

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    1. Oh, my, yes, my friends (especially writing friends who "get" it) are the BEST. One reason I'm so thankful for GTW. :)

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  20. Just the type of inspiration to keep going that writers need! Thank you!

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  21. Hey Rachelle, your hair is cool. A least it's organized (unlike mine *cough cough* ... waves, curls, and straight don't go well together).

    Thank you so much for this post. I'm nowhere near this point yet (and I'm so glad I've realized that before I, say, entered something before I was ready), but I'll have to remember this. Congrats for persevering after disappointment. It's awesome that you have so many people who cheer you on.

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    1. Hah! I only take pictures when it's organized. ;)

      Thanks, Katia!

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  22. What a wonderful post, Rachelle! I really needed this, as I'm currently editing and battling writer's block. Thank you so much for the inspiration and encouragment, urging us to press on with our writing. :-)

    -Patience

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    1. Your hair is beautiful, by the way!

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    2. So glad it blessed you, Miss Bledsoe!

      And thanks!

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  23. This is so encouraging! Good luck with your querying :)

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  24. I have definitely been in the place where I've been tempted to give up. It certainly does take a lot of daring courage and perseverance to be a writer. I can't wait to read your book once it's published. ;)

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  25. Thanks for the encouragement, Rachelle. Although I haven't begun the querying process, I know that giving up may look favorable after several rejections. :)
    By the way, me, "Corrie Beth" entered twice because I didn't get my email all the way typed in the first time...

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  26. Thanks so much for this blog post, Rachelle! I loved the bit about "respect the dream you’ve chosen for yourself". Sometimes it's hard to remember why you chose that dream in the first place. Thanks for the encouragement!

    ~Grace O.

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  27. You are amazing! Thanks for doing this post!

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    1. Amazing? Me? *chuckles* Thanks, Kara!

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  28. Thanks ! This really encouraged me to persevere even though i feel I write horrible and don't win a single contest I enter! Thanks again!

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  29. Thanks for this great post! I've definitely been there at times, especially when I've felt that I put a huge amount of effort into the story and it is the best work I've ever written.

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    1. So there, Heather. :) Thank you for commenting!

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  30. Hey Rachelle! Thanks for writing such an inspiring post. I've definitely faced rejection before and sometimes feel like I'm a horrible writer. But when I feel insecure about my writing I try to remember that I write because I love it...and I shouldn't stop writing just because of someone else's opinion. I really do admire you for having the courage and perseverance to keep on writing. And I love your blog, by the way :)

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    1. Jill, I could give you a high-five. "...I write because I love it...and I shouldn't stop writing just because of someone else's opinion." <-- 'Zactly.

      And, aw, thanks!! I almost missed that last sentence because I was still rolling that one I quoted around in my head, but thank you! :)

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  31. Hey Rachelle! You rock, and I love your hair. You are so lucky to have curls! Mine is dead straight. :) (lol, I laughed when I read what to say in the blog comment. Nice one.)

    This is such an awesome post, really. So often I find myself saying: 'It's not worth it. I'm not good enough. No one wants to read my work. I should just give up.' My dream (one of them, anyway. :)) Is to be a published author. But so many times I think that I can't be because I just want to give up. This post helped me to keep going with my WIP. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. Selah, thanks for saying that, actually. Since I wasn't entering the contest, I hadn't clicked on that Leave a Comment button, but I just did and laughed out loud. "Leave a comment telling Rachelle hi, that she does indeed rock, and that her hair is very cool. Actually, you can say whatever you want to her. That's just what Stephanie would say if she was leaving a comment." Stephanie is pretty cool. So that's why so many complimented my hair! LOL. :)

      So glad my words encouraged you!

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  32. 60 comments! Eeep! :D

    I love you so much my honest-daring friend. I'm so proud of you for sticking with it even when it becomes disappointing - I know you are a good writer and someday {I pray really soon!} God will bring it to pass. Continuing onward is the brave part of the daring journey, don'tcha know! ;) You inspire darlin'.

    Love ya bunches!!
    ~Rachel~

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  33. Awsome post!!! Been there a few times. This was really encouraging!!

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  34. Awesome post!!
    I've been at a spot like that before! It was a big contest and I didn't make it to the finals. I was heartbroken and, like you, just about quit but my friends forced me back onto my writing path tell me not to quit!
    Thanks so much Rachelle!!

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  35. So inspirational! I've been trying to struggle through a huge writer's block lately, and while I don't believe I've considered quitting--I definitely have not been trying as hard as I should. Now I'm ready to get out there and write! Thanks so much!

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  36. I found your post useful and inspiring.
    I like how you don't just say, "don't give up". Instead, you give some advice about HOW to continue on (indeed, chocolate and a friend are necessary after a defeat; running depends on the mood). Thanks for giving practical advice and not being afraid to share your own disappointment! That's always hard.

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    1. That was one of my goals, Rachel, because that night I didn't need to keep repeating "Don't Give Up" to myself, I needed a how-to! :)

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  37. What a generous give-away! :) I myself have been reminded many times not to quit in several life endeavors, and it's something I'm learning especially recently. :)

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  38. Wow nice post. I remember going through times of doubt and failure. It happens quite frequently though I keep trying...I guess that's what matters anyway.

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    1. You're right; that is indeed what matters! Keep at it, Javoniel!

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  39. This post is really helpful. I'm pretty apprehensive about entering my writing in contests, but this reminds me that losing doesn't mean I'm not good enough, so thank you Rachelle.

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    1. Like Jill said, contests are subjective.

      And you are good enough. Always.

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  40. It's always soooo handy just to be reminded not to quit, because it's hard! Thanks! :)

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  41. Thank you for this post Rachelle, very, very inspiring. Beautiful words! Good luck with whatever may come your way, and eh don't quit ;)

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  42. Thank you so much for the post Rachelle! it helped a lot, I've been having trouble with my book lately and while I wasn't quite ready to give it up I was annoyed with it and you helped a lot.

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  43. Hello! I really liked your words of encouragement. I have felt the same at times, but I know deep down I could never give up writing. I also love that you are pursuing writing even as you go through college still! That's awesome! :)

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    1. *laughs* Awesome. Insane. Exhausting. ;)

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  44. Thank you for this post! It was very encouraging!

    Sarah Zakowski

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  45. Hi Rachelle,

    You do rock, and your hair is very cool! Besides that, thanks for this post. :)

    -Cari

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  46. I think it's awesome that you persevered even though you didn't succeed the first time. :) And thanks for the encouraging post!

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  47. I've been having doubts recently, so this post happened right when I needed it! Thank you.

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  48. This. This. JUST THIS. I seriously needed to read that. My novel, Desensitized, is focused on helping self-harmers and suicidals... I'm really hoping it helps people out. It's my therapy, so to speak.

    Thanks so much.

    And don't you ever give up! :)

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    1. Wow. Rana, that sounds amazing (and so needed). Don't you ever give up on it! :)

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  49. Hey, you rock Rachelle! :D
    This was definitely something that I needed to read, especially with the fact that I had a recent rejection and just sent out my next query letter.
    Thanks so much for the awesome post!

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  50. Hi, Rachelle. You rock. Your hair is pretty.
    LOL Thanks so much! This was a great post.

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  51. Awww, this is lovely. You DO INDEED rock it and sock it, Rachel! And the hair... *swoon*

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  52. For a long time I have felt that blogs are just tools for crazy cooking ladies or those moms who have a dozen kids and likes to share every little experience she has with them which is why I never really got into them... but then something unexepected happened. I found Go Teen Writers and being a teen writer it was as if the heavens opened up and smacked me on the head. I was up till 3 in the morning soaking everything up and I have to tell you, Rachelle, I have never been more impressed with all of it. Good job :) and thanks.

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    1. Well, this kind of makes me speechless, Caitlin. I'm so glad you found GTW, and welcome to the writerly blogosphere (it's a swell place!).

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  53. WHee!!!
    Also, of course. Contests have winners, and they have losers, and nobody will always be the winner. >:D

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  54. "This writing life is full of jumping-up-in-excitement and sitting-down-on-your-staircase-at-almost-midnight-because-you’re-so-disappointed-you-can’t-see-straight."

    Love this.

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  55. Loved this beautiful post, Rachelle! It was so inspiring. Writing really can be such a discouraging trade, but it's also infinitely rewarding and beautiful.

    Thank you for these encouraging words, I needed to hear them.

    And you hair is, indeed, absolutely gorgeous. ;) I'd kill to have beautiful natural curls like yours!

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    1. It *is* infinitely rewarding and beautiful. I love it. :)

      Thank you!

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  56. I always try to tell myself that I can only get better with my writing. And then I look back and see how far I've gotten :) Honing your craft takes lots of practice. Encouraging post, thank you!

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    1. Oh, indeed, it is amazing sometimes looking back and discovering just how far we've come! :)

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  57. Love this post. I don't know if you realize how unbelievably encouraging this was to me. Thank you, Rachelle!

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  58. I have that feeling sometimes. Yesterday I was struggling with my plot and was so fed up. I must have been pouting because my mom asked me what was wrong and when I told her, she told me that if I gave up, I was grounded.

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  59. Oh, go, Mom! That's pretty cool to have *that* kind of support system in place! :)

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