by J.C. Cervantes
I know a thing or two about ghosts.
You might have another name for them, but in my family, they are the incessant whispers, the inspiration that strikes, the gut feeling telling us to go right or left, the muse that smiles over our shoulders and points us to the creative well. They are also the voices of doubt and fear. I haven’t always welcomed the latter ghosts.
And I didn’t like much of what they had to say after my first book sold. Things were easy that first go around. So easy that I actually thought that once you got published you always got published.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
For various reasons I parted with my first agent on excellent terms and signed on with my current agent, Holly Root. Within two days of being on submission we got our first bite. The publisher was talking series! The editor got my book! But then things happened. The deal fell apart.
We had other bites.
But guess what? Those deals fell apart, too. The rejections rolled in. Eventually I had to shelve that book and write another. Same outcome. So, I wrote another book. It felt like Groundhog Day but instead of reliving the same day over and over I was reliving the same publishing experiences over and over and was certain the universe was conspiring against me.
As the months turned into years, there were so many close calls, so many heartbreaks, so many agonizing moments. I hated the doubt. I hated the fear. Maybe it was time to give up the thing that had called to me once from out of the blue. Maybe that’s all this writing life was ever meant to be: one book.
But the ghosts were gathering, and they were relentless. They came in the middle of the night with their whispers and stories, demanding to be heard. Jabbing at my mind and heart and spirit. I became a thief of moments and hope, stealing both wherever and whenever I could. I would write another manuscript that would be the one! Because isn’t that the goal?
After another deal fell apart in acquisitions (with a movie tied to it) I desperately wanted to close the door on this creative life that felt more curse than blessing.
But you see, here was the problem. I soon discovered that for me writing isn’t a choice—it is a part of who I am regardless of where that journey takes me.
When my agent shared the Rick Riordan Presents announcement with me I was intrigued. I had a story I had begun (notes mostly) but had put away. I considered not submitting, but the ghosts kept whispering—what if what if what if. I knew the only way to quiet them. I pulled out the notes and began writing the required three chapters and synopsis. I sent it off with no thoughts, no expectations, no wringing hands. I had made a decision. I had no control over what happened next, so I wasn’t going to be attached to the outcome. Something had shifted.
I went from I have to sell another book to I want to create.
Before that time my mindset was something like this:
I’ll be happy when I write a book
I’ll be happy when I find an agent
I’ll be happy when I get published
I’ll be happy when I get good reviews
I’ll be happy when I earn out
I’ll be happy when I get another deal
And on and on the target moves, always dragging our tired hearts along with it.
We got a call the day after submission. But I was guarded. I’d been here before, editors had called, my manuscripts had sailed through editorial meetings. Words like “love” had floated in the great expanse of doubt. This time proved different and THE STORM RUNNER was born.
I can’t tell you why the timing turned out to be now, or why I had to navigate so many years of No’s, but I can tell you what those years taught me.
- I learned that I had to take the journey to discover a few things about myself and it had nothing to do with books and everything to do with patience, peace, and intention
- I learned how to get out of my own way
- I learned that the journey isn’t a Twitter or Instagram post and that the real journey is within
- I learned that I no longer value myself as a writer based on so-called successes or failures but rather based on a keen dedication to my craft
- I learned to carve a space where doubt and fear and creativity can live together because you can’t have one without the others
- I learned that everything you get along the way is a gift to be grateful for
Ask yourself this question: Do I enjoy creating story? For me this is a resounding yes. Even the stories that will never be read commercially. I choose to enjoy the journey of this creative life: the delight and the agony, the dread and the waiting, the fear and the expectation, the gaps and the abundance, the whispers and the screams. Does that mean I don’t suffer from disappointment? Of course not, but I can choose how I respond to it now.
I don’t believe that only the talented get published. It’s hard work and persistence. It’s getting up at dawn and beating your head against the wall and staring at the ceiling and spending those moments alone in the dark when no one else is around and the question haunts you—what if I’m not good enough?
I keep a poem by Mary Oliver on my phone as a reminder of the question that matters most: What is the purpose of this journey?
Things take the time they take.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?
I promise you this. No writer is entirely alone. We stand on the shoulders of so many before us. We draw from the same creative well that is within all of our reach. But you can’t have creativity without fear and doubt and to live with each you have to be willing to let the ghosts in.
All of them.
J.C. CERVANTES is the author of Tortilla Sun, which was called “a beautiful and engaging debut” by Kirkus, an “imaginative, yet grounded novel” by Publishers Weekly, and “lean and lightly spiced with evocative metaphor” by School Library Journal. When Jennifer isn’t reading or writing, she helping her husband with his gubernatorial campaign. Visit her online and follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.