Turning Points: You Can Always Walk Away by Saundra Mitchell (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories. Read on as Saundra Mitchell reveals how coming to the painful decision to quit and walk away changed her writing forever…

The important thing for me to realize was that I could quit.

I spent the first decade of my career as a screenwriter writing short films. The entire time, however, I was trying to break into television. I wanted to write episodics—those one-hour dramas you may enjoy in the 9 and 10 o’clock hours. I loved the form, I loved the potential. That’s what I truly wanted to do.

And when I finally got a job on an episodic, I had to turn it down. My life, my family, had grown in the ten years since I’d first dreamed the dream of writing for television. It never occurred to me to reshape it. Dogged pursuit was part of the calling.

So was job insecurity; ragged, uneven hours—the fact that I would have to move to Los Angeles with children… I’d never considered those factors. Until I had to, and I had to walk away. It’s demoralizing to give up on a dream, especially being so close to achieving it.

The truth was, it didn’t fit anymore. It was a twenty-year-old’s dream, and I wasn’t twenty anymore.

I consoled myself with writing a novel, my very first. I wanted to do something that was so far away from screenwriting, I couldn’t even see the Scriptware in the distance. It also gave me something new to pursue. I liked the grim security of writing query letters, researching agents, sending things away.

After all, I’d been querying for a decade. That was part of my day, just like having breakfast, or checking my e-mail. I burned through 80 queries for my first novel (and had written my second in the meantime,) and by 80, the pursuit wasn’t so dogged anymore. I handwaved the list of agents left uncontacted. I ignored my stamps.

Since I had written a new novel, I had to query that before I was allowed to quit. I would give the second novel one query to get an agent, that’s all. After that, I was allowed to be finished and to stop chasing. Not writing—I loved words too much, bending them, playing with them. But the chasing, the career. That would be done. So I sent that last query.

I got an agent.

But I lost that agent.

The Vespertine

I got another agent, and that second book sold in 2007. I had an editor! I was published! It was glorious! And in 2010, I sat at my desk with a third, fourth, and fifth book rejected. My editor had just given me six pages of notes on a 60 page sample that she wasn’t even tentatively offering to buy, and I thought… maybe I’d only had one book in me.

It was reasonable. Possible. I’d seen writing a book through, from beginning to end. I’d written it, queried it, sold it. I’d revised it, copyedited it, and seen it published. Kirkus reviewed it; I’d had a signing. Instead of backing out at the last minute, like I had on Hollywood and episodics, I’d taken the entire trip. Maybe I was just done. Maybe that’s all there was to my journey as a working writer.

This time, I really did quit. No more partials, no more proposals, none. I stopped writing for publication. I gave in to my wildest fantasy, which was writing a Victorian (unmarketable) novel about a vampire (unsellable) serial killer (outdated,) and for the first time in years, I had fun. Every single day, I got up to write a book that made me happy.

The Springsweet

I lost the serial killer and the vampire—and another agent. But the book sold, and since then I’ve had hard days. Ugly days. Completely hideous days that made me want to throw myself off a cliff. I’m still going, though, and I think that’s because I learned—several times, the hard way—that I don’t have to.

Writers have to write. But we don’t have to struggle. We don’t have to do business. We don’t have to research agents, or figure out a marketing plan, or make ourselves smile when someone tells us to our face how bad our book is. The only thing we have to do is interact with our words, and our imaginations, and the people in our heads.

Everything else, we choose to do. And though I had to make the turn several times, my turning point as an author was when I realized that I could walk away. Knowing that, in my bones and my blood, makes every day I choose to keep going that much sweeter.

—Saundra Mitchell

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer, and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. She teaches herself languages, raises children, and makes paper for fun. She’s the author of Shadowed Summer, The Vespertine, The Springsweet, and the forthcoming Aetherborne and Mistwalker. She’s also the editor of the forthcoming YA anthology Defy the Dark. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

Visit Saundra at saundramitchell.com.

Follow @SaundraMitchell on Twitter.


Commenters on this post were entered to win a signed paperback of Saundra Mitchell’s novel The Vespertine. And I’ve just selected the two winners!

Congrats, Deb Cushman and Christina Kit! You each win a signed paperback of The Vespertine. I’ll email you soon for your mailing addresses. And thank you again, Saundra, for donating these books for the giveaway!

Want more in this blog series?

The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.

Here are the posts in the series so far:

You can keep up with all the open giveaways on the giveaways page!

Series images by Robert Roxby.

77 responses to “Turning Points: You Can Always Walk Away by Saundra Mitchell (+Giveaway)”

  1. Wow. Just wow. This is a deep, dark fear of mine… that I have only one book in me. Strange, I feel better now after reading this.


  2. “Writers have to write. But we don’t have to struggle.”

    This. THIS. THIS!

    Omigawd, thank you for this. I love Saundra Mitchell and this is just one of the many reasons why.


  3. Wow. To know she chased after a dream for so long and then had the balls to turn it down knowing it was no longer right for her. Just wow.
    Saundra is always inspiring me. Recently I read a first draft version of the first chapter of The Vespertine and now that I know that she already had so much writing experience I feel a little better. I told her that it was so good that it was depressing. She encouraged me. I thank her for that. She has a beautiful way with words and thank you for the chance to win some of these lovely words in print.
    I tweeted here: https://twitter.com/#!/blackeyedsue21/status/160373738251091969
    +1 Thank you!


  4. Wow. Just wow. This turning points series continues to be amazing. I absolutely love what Saundra Mitchell learned. It’s very inspiring for me in particular, as I sometimes get too caught up in writing for others, as opposed to just enjoying the writing and the words and what I loved about it in the first place.


  5. Saundra, thank you for this. I’ve just finished Agatha Christie’s autobiography, and she talked about turning to plays because writing them wasn’t her job but a fun extra (that just happened to bring her success). I think if we can keep the fun (and, as you said, remember to choose not to participate in the rest), things are good.

    I haven’t yet read any of your books (I know! For shame), but I’ve followed religiously your bossy self guide. Thanks for all you do for debuts and authors in general. 🙂


  6. Whoa. I’m… I’m a little speechless. It even took me a second to find that word. That is insanely inspiring, and something for all potential writers to take in.


  7. I had a setback recently and it was the first time I really considered whether to quit the chase. Not the writing. Never the writing. But the chase. I’m so thankful for this post. In a completely goofy way, it reminds me of Survivor, when one team is so far behind and you think they’ll just give up, but they don’t and come from behind to win. While I feel behind, I’m not quitting. Just adjusting my strategy to fit my current reality. It’s heartening to hear her story. Thank you!


  8. Saundra,
    You always have a way with words! This is a perfect subject today, it’s like you were reading my mind (LOL). It’s hard to walk away, but it’s important to know when to. I LOVED the Vespertine (and got to have you sign it in Michigan last summer). You’re such an inspiration. Looking forward to many more of your books!


  9. It always amazes me to hear about the struggles authors I love went through to publish books I adore. (When I was in fourth grade I was shocked to hear that Bill Wallace, one of my favorite authors ever, filled an entire drawer with rejections for A Dog Called Kitty, one of my favorite stories ever. What was wrong with the world?) I first found Shadowed Summer in my library, and I loved it. The voice and setting were so amazing. I missed the Southern setting in the Vespertine, but there were so many new things to love. So I really am very glad you stuck with it and didn’t give up trying to be published, because I’ve really enjoyed reading your work.

    teddycavygal at yahoo dot com


  10. Saundra, I am so glad that you continued. You know I personally love your books but, even more than that, I love that I can give them to my students and know that they will be exposed to an amazing story that will have them coming back for more. Thank you for that!


  11. Thank you, Saundra, for such an inspiring post! Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, and reading this makes me feel a little better: “Writers have to write. But we don’t have to struggle.”

    You’re right. You’re so absolutely right. Thank you.

    (And thank you, Nova, for hosting such a fantastic blog series!)

    Tweeted: https://twitter.com/#!/clairelegrand/status/160407764101906432

    Facebooked: https://www.facebook.com/clairelegrandwriter/posts/176684825764745


  12. I absolutely loved this post and personally related to so much of it. It seems easy to get stuck on the publication struggle treadmill (or maybe it’s more like a game of Snakes and Ladders?) but you’re so right about everything but the writing itself being a choice. Thanks for the reminder, Saundra


  13. I love the concept of turning points. I have worn many hats and my debut picture book is coming out June 2012. I gave had turning points in each career and each turn has led me to writing and illustrating. I would love to win a book but will return regardless.


  14. To walk away from the dream … that takes a lot of courage. I’ve heard so many lovely things about the Vespertine, so I’m adding my name to the pot of hopefuls.


  15. Obviously from the comments, these struggles and pains resonate with all of us. How oddly wonderful. Writing life is so weird and solitary, and yet here we all are, mired and hopeful together. Thank you for reminding us of that, and sharing your experiences with us.


  16. I absolutely loved this post! It’s one of the most inspiring I’ve read on writing and choices and it struck such a chord – thank you for sharing Saundra.

    (please don’t enter me, I’m in the Uk, but I just had to comment)


  17. not being a writer i never would have even thought about how hard it would be and how to keep yourself going after being turned down. and, as a reader i appreciate all the hard work that goes into writing your books. so wow awesome post!
    and of course thanks for the giveaway 🙂

    tweeted: https://twitter.com/#!/bamayankee/status/160493872970076161
    facebooked: http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=172524289520107&id=41801260



  18. Thank you for this post. I think as someone who’s aspiring to finish, edit and have a completed novel on my hands, this i something I really needed to read 🙂 very inspiring.


  19. Great blog entry. As an avid reader I’m always interested in hearing about what authors go through in getting their work published. It makes me appreciate their books more. I can’t wait to download your books on my Nook….I’m always on the lookout for new reads.


  20. This is a great post. It’s something my classmates, teacher, and I were talking about in creative writing class this morning. I have wanted to be a writer since I was about eight years old, but it wasn’t until I trashed the idea of being a rich and famous author that I was able to sit down and truly enjoy writing whatever I liked. My writing became something I did for myself, and it ended up producing some of my best pieces.


  21. I really enjoyed this. I am an aspiring author, as are many, and I think this quote best sums up how I feel: “Writers have to write. But we don’t have to struggle.”

    Thank you for such a thought-out, considered post.



  22. Thank you for this grounding post. So often we hear the wild success stories (1 million e-books sold overnight) or the miserable failures (500 query letters rejected). It’s refreshing and encouraging to hear a mixed tale, with heartache, happiness, and eventual understanding.


  23. Saundra, thank you for your message. It’s a relief to be affirmed that as writers, we have choices. The drive, ambition, desire to publish a book can and does at often times, ruin the process and joy of writing. I’ve never stopped to think of it that way—too busy trying to get work done and finding ways to “break” into the field with a published “something!”

    I especially loved this piece of your blog:

    “Writers have to write. But we don’t have to struggle. We don’t have to do business. We don’t have to research agents, or figure out a marketing plan, or make ourselves smile when someone tells us to our face how bad our book is. The only thing we have to do is interact with our words, and our imaginations, and the people in our heads.”

    I plan on printing this and posting it above my desk where I write and can look at it often.

    Congratulations on your publications, your maturity, and your positivity. It is somewhat of cliche to say that it’s “inspiring”—everyone says that—but in this case, it really is true.

    Thanks Nova Ren Suma for hosting these posts on your blog! Love it!

    (Will also tweet about the giveaway!)

    On Twitter: @ZaraAlexis


  24. I’m loving this Turning Points series and particularly when the featured authors write YA. Thanks for the giveaway, I’ve had The Vespertine on my loooong list since it was first published.


  25. Thank you. This was a great post. I am not a writer by any means, but I feel completely inspired regardless. Thank you.

    afterthebook at gmail dot com


  26. Thank you for your honesty. I have not been writing much over the past month and feeling overwhelmed by everything I MUST do, but I miss the writing–the story–the characters. So, I’m heading back to write, but just to tell the story I want to tell, and. . .we’ll see what happens next. Thank you.


  27. Thank you, Saundra! I try to always take joy in the writing, to remember that I love it, to allow myself to love it. But the “struggle” part lurks…. It’s good to remember that part is a choice. 🙂


  28. A beautiful story of encouragement. Congratulations, Saundra, on your new books. I read Shadowed Summer and loved it. Must check out the others too. Thanks for sharing and for the giveaway.



  29. What an inspirational post. As much as I love a rags-to-riches story, it’s so nice to hear about people who’ve had to struggle to get what they want. Keep writing Ms. Mitchell!


  30. It is always weirdly reassuring to read other people’s publishing stories! I haven’t really got into the fire yet, but at least I know it’s possible to make it through (and that having fun is the most important part).

    Thanks for this post and for running the contest.



  31. This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered—and thanks to the author for giving away two copies of THE VESPERTINE paperback!

    The post will be updated with the two winners soon.


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