Monday, January 27, 2014

The Obstacle in Our Path

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a Roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the King's' wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been.

The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.

This fable seems to apply to our writing journey as well as to life in general.

Perhaps, when we start out, we receive a critique that hurts our feelings. Do we simply stop in front of that boulder, defeated? Or do we rewrite, take classes, listen and learn from constructive criticism until we’ve overcome that obstacle?

Later, you have a book ready, and you joyfully set out on the submission journey. But after a long wait you receive a rejection. It might be a handwritten note or it could be a form letter. Some quit right there and never try again. Others have collected hundreds of rejections before they were published. Some have gone on to win awards and others to become best-sellers.

The peasant in the fable learned what many of us never understand: Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

Never give up!

What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your writing life?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.


  1. After I finished my first novel (encouraged by a previous sale of a non-fiction article), I sent out query letters to a number of places I found online. One made an outright offer (and mentioned that my acceptance must be accompanied by a hefty check). The other asked for a sample and then responded with such a glowing letter that I (even in all my newbie naïveté) couldn't quite believe. Of course, that letter also stated the need for me to finance my little venture—to the tune of $1500 as I recall. Fortunately in both cases, I was broke. Later, I learned that the writer of the wonderful praise for my extraordinary writing skills was under investigation for scamming writers. The other, I found out, was a vanity press.

    After that discouragement, I visited a local indie bookstore and was referred by the owner to a college professor who was also a poet and a publisher. He talked me through the self-pubbing process, and "the rest is history," as the saying goes. This doesn't mean I've sold a lot of books, but it does mean that potential exists. I've also published several other authors from around the country and worked as an editor for many years now. Next step: I'm going back to writing, polishing my completed novels, and diving headfirst into the ones that still beg for closure.

    This is a great post, Heidi. I love the story about the king and the peasant. It's time for me to move the boulder and find that purse! :-)

  2. I seem to remember finding a bag one time ... it was on my front porch, on fire, and it wasn't filled with gold coins.

  3. I think my biggest obstacle was the head game—that during all those years powering up my craft I should have been pulling in a salary and making good on my degrees. Thank goodness for the freelance editing that allows me to bring in a little money while still affording me time to write!

  4. I sent out a gazillion queries, received a stack of rejections. I got an agent. Loved her. She loved my work. She got a stack of rejections. I wrote an erotic romance because I thought I could get it published. I did. Then another and another. But no one wanted my suspense. So I designed the covers and published them myself. Best thing I ever did. I moved the damn boulder.

    Then I got my first one-star review. Crushed doesn't describe how I felt. I've received a few more since. I attribute them to people with no taste.

    Bottom line: There will always be something in the way. Something that wants to pull you back and make you think you're not good enough. If there are more than a few, if the critics are in agreement, then find a way to learn what you don't know. You'll be picking up, if not a bag of gold, a few coins that tell you you've achieved your goal.

  5. My biggest obstacle? There are two - procrastination and that little voice whispering "Your writing is awful. Quit now before you embarrass yourself any further. No one will notice, but they'll thank you later."

  6. I had been good about working around boulders for several years. Soon I found myself stuck and could write my way out of a paper bag. I had been editing and editing to no avail.

    As expected, the boulder was made of fear. I recently was able to define the fear, and it largely had to do with fear of judgement coming from my identical twin.

    As they say, knowing is half the battle. The fear is a legitimate one, as she's had choice words for me regarding writing in the past, though I think I can trudge on. No gold coins yet, but forward movement is possible.

  7. My main boulder is that my writing partners/editors dislike my writing style or the genres I tend to write in. I have yet to find someone else to collaborate with.

  8. Great advice! My problem is I'm not only a slow writer,but easily distracted. I'm working on applying more discipline.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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