Author Debbie Macomber shares her early struggles and the inspiration behind her success in this excerpt from Dreams of Angels.
- Posted on Nov 29, 2013
"Honey, you need to find a job.” It was early 1980 and my husband, Wayne, stood in the kitchen doorway, clutching a handful of unpaid bills. My stomach clenched and I swallowed an automatic protest before I saw the look of regret in his eyes. We were going deeper into debt each month while I struggled to sell my first novel.
From as long as I could remember, I dreamed of writing novels. My love for the written word started early, when my mother took me to the library for story hour. From the time I was three years old, I went to sleep at night with a book in my hands.
I discovered the powerful connection between the story and the reader. I could feel what the characters felt, cry with them, laugh with them. I wanted to write stories like that. I dreamed of the day when readers would hold my book in their hands.
You might be surprised to know that reading didn’t come easy to me. I was the only girl in my first-grade class to be in the robin (slow) reading group. It turned out that I was dyslexic, but back in the early 1950s my teachers didn’t have a word for it. I can remember my third-grade teacher telling my mother, “Debbie is such a nice girl, but she’ll never do well in school.” To this day I’m a slow, thoughtful reader and a creative speller.
Nevertheless, the dream persisted. I wanted to write books. When Wayne and I married and had our four children in quick succession, it was easy to stuff my dreams into the future with a long list of justifications and excuses. Then a dear cousin died suddenly. It felt as if God was saying to me that if I was ever going to write, the time was now. Life is short. Get started.
We rented a typewriter and I put it on the kitchen table. The kids would go out the door to school and Super Mom was transformed into that hopeful young writer. For two and a half years I sat at that kitchen table and pounded away on those typewriter keys, completing two full novels. Because I was doing something I loved, I was genuinely happy. Because I was pursuing a lifelong dream, I was a better wife and better mother.
But everything came to a crashing halt that Sunday afternoon. Wayne set down the unpaid bills. Together we reviewed our finances and I realized there wasn’t any alternative. I had to get a job, a real job, that would contribute to our family income.
With the newspaper in hand, I circled three positions to apply for the next morning. Even if I was fortunate enough to get hired right away, I’d be lucky to receive anything above minimum wage.
As I looked up from the newspaper, my gaze fell on the typewriter and I knew this would be the end of my dream of selling a novel. All four children were involved in sports, music, Scouts and church. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day for me to keep up with the kids’ schedules, work full-time, maintain the house and still write. I might as well kiss that dream good-bye.
What was the use anyway? Really, what chance did I have of selling a novel? Everyone said I had to know someone if I was ever to get published—an editor, an agent, someone in the business. I didn’t, and that was just one more strike against me.
Doubts battered me as I considered those three want ads. There wasn’t anything wrong with any of them, except that I had no desire to work as a receptionist or a cashier. I was born to tell stories—only now that dream had to be dashed.
I went to bed that night and tried not to let Wayne know how depressed I was. In the darkness, Wayne sleeping beside me, I remembered the enthusiasm with which I’d started out on this venture. Despite everything, I felt so sure God was leading me to write. I was willing to tackle every obstacle. With my Bible and a copy of Norman Vincent Peale’sThe Power of Positive Thinking at my side, I was certain that sooner or later a New York publisher would recognize my talent.
Here I was, two and a half years into the journey and I hadn’t sold a single word. Instead of contributing to our family finances, I was draining them. My dream was simply too expensive.
I tossed and turned miserably. Finally, in desperation, I silently called out to God. Lord, you gave me this dream in the first place and I’ve gone as far as I can with it. I’m giving it back. The rest is up to you.
About two or three in the morning, Wayne rolled over. “Are you awake?”
“I haven’t been to sleep yet,” I said.
He waited a moment and then asked, “What’s wrong?”
My heart was so heavy that I blurted out the truth. “You know, I really think I could have made it as a writer.”
Wayne didn’t say anything for a long time. Then he sat up and turned on the light. An eternity passed before he said, “All right, Honey, go for it. We’ll make whatever sacrifices we need to make. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry.” I am forever grateful to my husband for rescuing my dream. How fortunate I am that Wayne believed so strongly in me and my talent.
I wish I could tell you it was only a matter of a few weeks before New York recognized my talent and offered me that first contract. It was another two and a half years of financial struggles before I sold a manuscript. I faced one challenge after another. The most humbling came at a writers’ conference where my manuscript was picked to be reviewed by a real New York book editor. She had the entire room laughing at the implausibility of my plot. Afterward, I went to her and asked if she’d be willing to look at the manuscript again if I rewrote it. She looked me in the eye, leaned forward and placing her hand on my arm said, “Throw it away.”
I loved this story and the characters, and refused to believe that it deserved to be discarded. Instead I submitted it elsewhere. Then in 1982 the long-awaited phone call came from New York. I was going to be a published author! Soon after, I wrote Dr. Peale and thanked him for writing The Power of Positive Thinking. His book was instrumental in helping me hold on to my dream. “I believe God plants dreams in our hearts so we’ll learn to turn to him, to trust him to see them to fruition,” I wrote. To my absolute delight Dr. Peale wrote me back with more encouragement. It meant as much to me as any advice I’ve ever gotten from an editor.
Not long ago I discovered a spiral-bound journal. The first entry read: January 1, 1973: Since the greatest desire of my life is to somehow, some way, be a writer, I’ll start with the pages of this journal.
A dream is a journey that begins with a single step and the belief that you will be led faithfully along the way.
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