A Bitter Root

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many

Grace is a beautiful thing. We all need it.

Bitterness is ugly. Most of us have it.

When I think about bitterness, I think of a vine growing around our hearts and choking us. I'm not trying to preach to anyone today, but I did think it's worth noting how easy it is to become bitter in a business like publishing.

This is a subjective business, one that doesn't necessarily conform to rules. We want rules. We come up with formulas and plotting strategies and one-sheets. We revise and edit, revise and edit, shooting for perfection.

And then we face rejection.

It's the subjectivity that's the toughest, because in this business, you can't measure success by publishing. Getting a contract means a lot of people like your book. Rejection doesn't mean people DON'T like your book.

The business of publishing isn't a formula. There are things we can do to draw closer to our goals, but they're still no guarantee of a contract. All these gray areas leave room for big dreams and big disappointments. They leave room for bitterness.

I guess I just want to encourage everyone. Bitterness is easy to give into, but hard to escape. Even worse, it's contagious.

Grace is a good cure for bitterness.

Has there ever been anything you've been bitter about? How did that bitterness feel? Were you able to escape its tentacles? What does grace mean to you?


Jody Hedlund said…
Great post, Jessica! "You can't measure success by publishing." I totally agree with your statement. And I think what you said applies to contests too--especially to contests. Yes, obviously we have to be at some level of talent and skill to win a contest or get published, but there are many of us at about the same level. And then it becomes a subjective game of what agents and editors think will sell or what judges like the best.

We can grow bitter at the difficulty of the subjective process. But that won't help us get anywhere. We just have to keep writing and know in our hearts that the true measure of success is the joy we find in the process.
I haven't gotten far enough along in my writing journey to become bitter about it, but I certainly have in life. Being in the ministry can bring bitterness, as well as certain family members. You learn that God's grace is sufficient and He is enough. Great post!
I wouldn't say I was bitter, but I did become discouraged for a few days when my proposal was rejected.

I focused on the rejection only and not the encouraging words from the editor, "Keep writing like you do. We need more honest Christians like you."

I so totally did not even care about that at first.

Katie Ganshert said…
This is SUCH a fabulous post! And such a good thing for me to read. Not that I'm bitter right now...but I can see how easy that would be to happen. I think grace is an excellent elixer for bitterness. I also think celebrating, genuinely getting happy, for other people's successes is another elixer. :)
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Jody,
That's so true about contests, because they're such a mini form of an author's reality. (reviewers, etc) Great point!

HI Sherrinda, life definitely doles out some bitter pills. I imagine being in the ministry would be really tough. *shudder*

I'm so glad you saw past the rejection eventually! What a great compliment you received. Just the fact that you write honestly will draw people to you. :-)

I agree! Enjoying someone else's success is a great way to keep bitterness at bay. Also, I think, being thankful. :-)
Tabitha Bird said…
I don't know about being bitter about writing.. but I was abused as a child and have had to do some really BIG work with bitterness. Still have a long way to go, but God is a big God hey :) Great Post Jess.

I'll email you tomorrow (later today your time) about the book you won :)
Jennifer Shirk said…
Actually, I've never been bitter about anything in this business.

But personally, there have been times when I've felt that bittnerness in my heart starting to grow. It's terrible and ugly!

I've prayed to have it removed and God has always answered those prayers.
That's a gift in itself.
Jessica Nelson said…
Tabitha, I love how you say hey at the end of your sentences! My mother in law is from S. Africa and she does the same thing. LOL

I can't imagine what you've had to deal with and work through. I'm sure you could teach us all some lessons in forgiveness.
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL! That's the smartest answer yet. Catch it before it grows, and ask God to take it away. Talk about wise. :-)
Unknown said…
I do my best to ignore bitter feelings. I'm not a big fan of them. I'm sure the people who didn't do what I wanted or did something to upset me did it for a reason and to them it felt like or was the right reason. I'm a big advocate for walking in other peoples shoes :)
Jessica Nelson said…
Good for you MaryBeth! I really do think it helps to imagine how someone else feels or their motives. The trouble sometimes comes when someone really wrongs us, but that doesn't usually happen with writing/publishing (I hope, lol)
Excellent prompting. God's working on me, not with the writing world, but with a family member. Thanks for speaking for Him.
~ Wendy
Bitterness and grace are lessons I'm still learning. I hope that I have less of the bitterness and more of the grace as I progress on my writing journey.

Most of my bitterness is that I have a chronic illness that limits my ability to write for hours each day. I have become envious of those who can and learning that I have to be all I can be, not all everyone else is...hard lesson as I am very competitive!
Jessica Nelson said…
Family can be tough. I hope you are able to conquer this Wendy. :-)

Hi Donna,
You're competitive? LOL I didn't know that. An illness would be extremely annoying, besides the fact that you have a very painful one. Quantity doesn't mean quality though. ;-)
"Rejection doesn't mean people DON'T like your book." Oh, I love this. It's so true and we need to remember that when rejections come. I guess that's why they say to keep submitting, submitting, submitting! A pain, but I guess that's our role as writers.

Bitterness has bit me, although I prefer not to dwell on it when I finally got Grace to smarten me up!
Jessica Nelson said…
Eileen, bitterness does bite, doesn't it? GReat way to put it.
Katie Salidas said…
It's so easy to become bitter when things just wont go the way you want them too. I'm definitely not immune. For me, it takes letting myself feel and then let go of the emotion to get over it. I need to recognize in myself the negative effects of feeling bitter before I can stop and take an objective look at why. After that, I can dismiss it and work towards moving on.
Genny said…
I love, love, love this, Jessica. It's so applicable to all areas of life. And I think it's so important to remember that rejections on writings aren't personal at all. It can be so easy to get so invested in our work that it feels that way sometimes, but it's not. :)
Jessica: you are so wise for one so young; I applaud you.

Yes, I've been bitter at many things in life, particularly the death of my father when I was ten. I became bitter at God, my Mom, my stepdad, anyone. Only receiving the grace of God when I was seventeen, changed my heart of stone into one of flesh.

Perhaps this is why the major theme of my writing is grace, grace and more grace. I've cried enough bitter tears; now I'm dancing with Jesus in joy.

Love this post!
Jessica Nelson said…
Katie, it's good that you recognize the feeling and get rid off it once you do. I haven't gotten bitter in writing so far, but there've been things in life I've had to try to get over. Moving on is key.

Hi Genny,
Thank you for commenting. Yeah, rejections aren't usually personal. Writers have trouble with that in the beginning.
Jessica Nelson said…
Jeanette, I'm so sorry about your dad. That must've been extremely difficult. Thank you for sharing!
Dara said…
I've been bitter about a great many things...unfortunately. Probably most recently was this past weekend, reading the alumni magazine from my university and seeing how successful some of the graduates were. I started thinking that I'd wasted four years, being stuck in a virtually dead end job that I could've probably done while in high school.

It put me in a funk for an entire day. I was so bitter and upset about where I'm at career wise that I let it affect my mood. But that night we just started a new study at church on the Purpose Driven Life, and I slowly started realizing that for whatever reason, this job is where I'm supposed to be for the moment.

I've been getting better, but sometimes those tentacles come up and grab me again just when I think I'm over it.
Stephanie Faris said…
There's an old saying, usually used in church sermons: "Resentment is setting myself on fire in the hope that the smoke will bother you." Really, any bitterness or misery we feel is in our minds. Another saying: "Most of us are about as happy as we make up our minds to be." Life sucks sometimes. That's a fact. But it's all in our attitude and if we learn to make the best of things and just keep trying, no matter what, we'll live our best possible life. Bitterness and resentment are just HUGE wastes of time.
Hi Jess -

Great topic! Staying in a "trusting God mode" is often difficult when others seem to get blessings so easily. Someone I know often went through difficulties. Her prayer was always, "Lord, help me to stay sweet."

I echoe that prayer today, "Lord, help me to stay sweet in the middle of stressful situations and endless waiting for that big break."

Susan :)
Julie Dao said…
Bitterness and negativity are counter-productive. Writers especially should always stay positive! Thanks for an inspiring post :)
Krista Phillips said…
Has there things I've been bitter about? Yep.

How did it feel? Crappy.

able to escape it's tentacles? Most of the time... although I think we all struggle from time to time.

What does grace mean to me? Everything. Jesus gave us grace freely... and how snobbish of us not to extend it towards others. And I'm pointing the finger directly at myself too. It isn't something I like struggle with A LOT... but something to always be mindful of.
Jessica Nelson said…
Dara, don't you hate funks? I sure do. I feel you because I have NO degree. Sometimes that makes me feel just a little....envious. LOL But you're right. We've made our choices and plus God has put us where we are for a reason. :-)

Stephanie, they're def. wastes of time. Well put. Nothing good comes out them.

Hi Julie,
Thanks for stopping by! I love networking with writers because it's one of the ways I'm inspired.

Susan, that's a great prayer! And sometimes we think someone got their blessing quickly, but we don't know of the hard places they've been in.

LOL Krista, You're right. We should give as we've been given to. Maybe you don't struggle with it because you are mindful of it? You're careful and probably get rid of any thoughts before they even meander towards bitterness. One of the best sermons I ever heard was called Pay Attention.
Diane said…
Good post. It's so easy to let that little seed start to grow and then grow deep roots. Many times we try to chop it off, but the roots of the hurt are still there festering...... :O)
Wonderful post and something that is always good to remember! I try to stay positive and keep the focus on what I need to be doing, instead of what others are getting vs. what I am getting, because I think that is often where the bitterness can seep in.
Jessie Oliveros said…
I guess we are all looking for the validation of being published, but if all I ever do is just finish a book and maybe a few of my family members read and enjoy it, that should be enough. No, that IS enough. Grace.
Pen Pen said…
I had a best friend when I was younger, and she just dropped me one day-I still don't know why she didn't want to be my friend anymore. I felt pathetic and upset.
BUT- I did pray every day for God to help me find my true best friend, and on the first day of school my senior year-I met Kaylynn. She's my friend soul mate. I had to wait a long time, but she was worth the weight!
Now I look back at losing the other best friend cuz if I was still close to her, I would have missed out on a person who is as thankful for me as I am for her!
I can't be bitter when I feel lucky that she dropped me. It still hurts some, but I got the better end of the deal!
Karen Hossink said…
Oh, Jessica.
Have I ever been bitter?
It's a constant struggle with two certain people who gave me life.
And it doesn't feel good. Been trying to escape, but the ME in me makes the get-away very difficult.
I'll be seeing them next week, and will be thinking much about grace. Praying God will fill me with it - cuz I need it!
Thanks for these good words today.
Love you!
Linda Kage said…
Rejection makes me bitter and it gets harder to submit my manuscript to the next place. I don't like being better (happiness rocks), so I try to step away from it for a while and get my spirits back up then go back.
Tamika: said…
Hmmm Jessica. Grace is the cure for my every worry. God does more than give peace, He is peace.

When I trust in His plan, the subjectivity of the world spills away. He justifies, He qualifies, He glorifies.

Blessings to you...
Jessica Nelson said…
Great tips everyone! Thank you for sharing them.

Penny, that's so horrible. I'm glad that friend is no longer around. Go Kaylynn! :-)
anita said…
Wonderful post, Jessie. And beautifully written as always! :-)

I think bitterness stems mostly from jealousy. I struggled with it when I was writing a vampire story and another one came out that hit sooooo big yet I couldn't even get an agent to give mine a second look.

Being one of my closest pals, you know exactly what book I'm thinking of when I write this. Heh. I actually did have to pray about it, and God gave me the grace to see that the other author's work, though not my cup of tea, had to have merit considering how many other people LOVED it. So now I look at it with new eyes, trying to learn what she did right so I can incorporate some of those ingredients in my own writing.

I still struggle with bitterness sometimes in other aspects. For example, when my agent won't get back to me on a proposal but is going on and on at her blog or tweet about another client's genius proposal, etc... Little things like that are always there to nurture the envy seed in all of us.

But I've found, if I take a step back, pray ... vent to you (you're such a saint!)... then let it all settle down to a quiet lull, I'll hear God reminding me that He gave me a gift, too. It's just a matter of being patient.

Unfortunately, that's yet another virtue I don't quite grasp yet. Ha!
Angie Ledbetter said…
Bitterness, even justified, can bury you. Thanks for the reminder.
Angie Muresan said…
A few years ago when my mom got diagnosed with cancer, I was very, very bitter. There were so many people who deserved it, you know? Why did my mom get it instead of them?
In fact, I had a miscarriage then and I still believe that my frame of mind had something to do with it. My mom, however, being God's pillar of strength for us all crumbling in our sadness prayed and encouraged us to as well. It's been a long process, but grace did enter my heart and made a home within. And thank you Jesus for that!
Tana said…
I get caught in that trap when it comes to writing every now and again and funny how it always follows a rejection. It's a tough row to hoe this writing life and no surprise we sometimes reap the bitter root a bit too much. Perhaps we should all indulge in a grace filled week? OK it should be more like a grace filled life =)
Warren Baldwin said…
Your post matching mine in some ways! This was very good and so true.

Writing is a tough business, and it can lead to bitterness. That is why I self-published my book "Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems from Proverbs." Everyone who read portions of it said it would work (that is, sell) in published form. Everyone believed that except the editors - all but one who said he liked it but didn't publish devotional-type literature.

So, I self-published, and the book is doing well. But even if it isn't, the nature of the book is that family, church members and close friends can use it.

My book is different from fiction, so it might not work the same way for you. But, I have read two self-published novels in the last year. One was ok and one was very good. They just don't get much exposure.

To any fiction writers reading this comment - I admire your work and the grueling process you go through to produce it. God bless.
Interesting post title. Are you familiar with the Bitterroot flower?
Deb Shucka said…
What a powerful post. I like that you've put grace and bitterness on either end of a spectrum and connected them to writing. I think the key is to stay centered and to listen to our hearts and whatever Godvoice guides out life. Bitterness often comes from comparing and clinging. Grace is what's always there but what we can't see if we're trying to be in control.
Jessica Nelson said…
Angie M.
Wow, I can see how that would make you bitter. What a tough journey. I'm glad you've found that grace place. :-)

Hi T. Anne, you're wise to call it a trap. It really is.

Warren, thank you for stopping by. :-) Non-fiction is sometimes a bit harder than fiction, I think, because not only do you need a riveting book, but you also need an impressive platform. Good for you for following your dreams. If your book touches just one person, then it's worth it. :-)

Elizabeth, no, I'm not. But now I have to go look it up. LOL Thanks for commenting!

Hi Deb,
I think you're probably right about trying to be in control clouding our sight. ;-)
Unknown said…
Hi Jessica!
What an awesome post! Bitterness is definitely something we all struggle with. It is easy to let disappointments in the craft of writing turn into bitterness. You're absolutely right, it's an ugly root!Thank goodness for God's amazing grace.

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