A poet, a textbook writer, a novelist, a memoirist and a chaplain shared their journeys of getting books published with students and wannabe adult authors Thursday at Berry College.
The five Berry faculty members and alumni had very different kinds of writing captured between colorful book covers. But they all experienced the same frustration felt by budding writers everywhere: overcoming self-doubt and keeping their eyes on the prize.
“You have to get used to rejection,” Berry English professor and poet Sandra Meek said, admitting she “foolishly” sent some poetry to Rolling Stone magazine when she was a youngster, only to be immediately rebuffed.
“I’ve known writers who have goals for the least amount of rejections — instead of a certain number of acceptances — because they keep sending their stuff out and keep getting turned down,” Meek said. “But you have to keep sending it out because that’s the only way you’re going to eventually get accepted.”
The creative writing teacher now has four books of poems on Berry’s shelves. She said it took seven years before her first collection of poetry was published after she finished writing it in 1995.
“It was a long journey,” Meek said, adding that her second book was rejected by a publisher, causing her to start over from the beginning. “It’s really important to keep going. It’s worth it.”
Holly Arnold, a teacher-training consultant and speaker who teaches at Kennesaw State University, published her memoir last year. Sharing advice with the budding authors in the audience was no stretch, since her book is a compilation of advice to herself.
In “Dear Younger Self: What I Wish You’d Known,” Arnold uses anecdotes, humor and “Jesus-filled truths” to help a version of her younger self deal with the struggles of life.
When psychology professor Michelle Haney started teaching courses in developmental disabilities, she discovered there weren’t any textbooks geared toward young college students.
“After about three years, I decided I would write a book I could use in my class,” the former Cobb County school psychologist said. “It was a tough, challenging, exhausting process.”
After numerous peer reviews and two years of revising, her book, “Understanding Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” finally was ready for the printing press.
The most enjoyable aspect of working on the project was her interviews with families and professionals in Rome, she said. She even got to talk to the mother of Temple Grandin, the autistic pioneer on the humane treatment of livestock.
“When all was said and done, it really was an enriching growth experience that was also really intense,” Haney said.
College Chaplain Jonathan Huggins said he was the least likely panelist to produce a book, since he only scored three out of five points on the Advanced Placement Composition Exam as a high school junior.
“I’m not a natural writer,” the Berry Biblical Studies teacher said, adding that his best gift in college was when a professor taught him each stage of a research paper.
“When I was working on my master’s thesis, I broke down crying three times because I couldn’t sustain my thoughts long enough,” he said.
It took him six to eight months to write his 75-page master’s thesis, but that was nothing compared to his doctoral dissertation of more than 200 pages. That was a 3½-year process that was much more technical than creative, he said.
Then came the challenge of getting his theology-based project published. Oxford University Press turned him down, but he did finally find a publisher for his book “Living Justification” that is now included among Berry’s collection of “faculty author” books.
He did also manage to write three children’s books for his kids that were self-published through a simple online printing program, he said.
“You can still buy them online for five or six bucks,” Huggins said with a laugh.
Berry alumna Lindsey Brackett said that — although her two novels set on Edisto Island in South Carolina have gained some loyal fans — she was inspired by her life-changing experiences at Berry to write a “Southern gothic” novel about the legend of Berry’s “Green Lady.”
It was the untimely death of her grandfather that motivated her to finally start writing books, Brackett said.
“I had always told him I was going to write a book some day and I was devastated he would never see it,” the former eighth-grade teacher said. “But he became my reason for persevering.”