Friday, 22 February 2008

Coffee Reflections

Happy Coffee Morning Racers! This hasn't been the best and brightest week for me. The muse has taken a vacation, and I can't think of anything to blog about that doesn't seem like the height of boring. Rather than subject you all to that, I thought I would recycle an essay I wrote in 2006 that usually puts things in perspective for me. When I first posted this to a writing forum, the reactions were mixed. To some, this essay came across as very disheartening and to others, it was inspiring. I assure you my intention was the latter.

So without further ado, I give you...

Reflections from one writer

After weeks, or months or years, sitting at your keyboard trying to get a story out of your head, you type those most wonderful words: The End. You’ve finished your first book! You feel like dancing around the house (and maybe you do, just because you can). You open a bottle of champagne (or a beer, or a bottle of Boones Farm) and bask in the glow of being amongst the few who started writing a book and actually finished it. Feeling pretty proud of yourself, you strut around your house like a god. (And why not? You should be damned proud of yourself because you have accomplished a great feat.)

But eventually, the inevitable question arises: What now?

Maybe you pick up The Writer’s Market and start attaching sticky notes to every agent who looks like they might represent you. You know you aren’t really sure what you’re doing, but you shrug and pick the one absolutely perfect agent who is certain to love your book as much as you do.

You read a little bit about what the agent wants you to send, mainly because you know there’s got to be some kind of procedure for this. Then you think to yourself: What in gods’ name is a query? You shrug and put together a reasonable looking business letter, and mail it off with a return envelope. (Assuming you’ve figured out what SASE stands for, that is.) Time passes and your envelope comes back. Your heart swells with expectation, never thinking its contents could be anything but glowing praise, only to find a nice letter inside telling you while your work isn’t for them, they’re sure you’ll find an agent in no time.

Bruised but not broken, you whip out your big book of agent names, and pick a few more. After all, Perfect Agent was sure one of his brethren would snap you right up. Same letter, different names and off they go into the blue box on the corner. And you wait.

A few more days (weeks, etc.) pass and all your little envelopes find their ways home with more rejections—all pretty much worded the same as the first. More queries go out; more rejections come back. You kick yourself, and cry a little maybe. You throw your big book of agents across the room, and curse the day they were born. You go through all the phases of loss: Anger, Denial, etc. until you get to the inevitable Acceptance.

You suck. Now you're cursing the day you were born.

Weeks go by, and dust covers your keyboard. You thought your words glowed like the sheen of love on a young girl’s face. Now you just think you’re a hack.

Finally, however, your creative juices reach their boiling point. You can’t take it anymore; you can’t NOT write, so you sit back down at your computer. You start writing your next book.

But your confidence is toast. When you started out the last time, you knew without a doubt that you could write. There was nothing to it, and the words flowed out of your fingers like a dam had burst somewhere along the Colorado River. Now, it’s like Death Valley.

Hopefully, a little light bulb goes off over your head. When you first started writing—way back when you were in 2nd grade and your teacher made you write about your summer vacation—you were learning how to put words together to make some kind of cohesive story. It was a learning process then; it is a learning process now.

Hopefully, a little voice in your head tells you to figure out what went wrong with the last book. You do some research. You pick a whole new list of agents who really do represent your genre. You find out what a real query letter looks like. You find out how to write something called a hook. You read everything you can get your grubby little hands on. When you’ve learned everything there is to know about the business, you try again.

In the meantime, maybe you realize your writing, as wonderful as it is, needs some fine tuning and a little more polish. While revising and editing your first book, you keep writing your second book, tweaking and shining until it really does glow. A short story or two come to mind, and you pour those words onto the paper while you mull over your novels.

You never quit. Because NOT writing would be like not breathing.

Maybe you’re still waiting for your acceptance letter to come. Maybe it’s waiting in line behind another slew of rejections. Or perhaps, it’s waiting because you just haven’t queried the right agent yet. But no matter what happens, if you’ve done your work, you have done your best to kick the obstacles out of your way. And you can come to realize no matter what has happened or will happen...

You are a writer.


To help the discussion along, tell us all: How long have you been at this writing seriously thing? What has your writing experience been like?


liz fenwick said...

Oh B.E..........yes the R's and the knocks....hmmmmm. I've been writing all of my life and worked very hard during university. Just after graduation wrote a history for a small island off the coast of Cape Cod which was publish eight years later without my name on the cover :-(

I never left writing but it left me sort of through the child rearing year/traveling years. I wrote short pieces on expat life and travel with kids. It was back on New Year's Eve 2003 that I said to myself I was going to 'write' again. I couldn't hold it back.

From that point on I have taken it seriously. I can say I am finally ready to take the many R's in front of me and all the critism thrown at me. Back in my early 20's I had more talent and a fresher voice but I didn't have the maturity or the thick skin to endure what being a writer means.

I know that I may never be published but i now know that I never will be if I don't keep writing and rewriting!!

Caroline said...

I've been taking this all seriously since Sept 2005. I gave up my PhD and enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing.

The ups and downs shock the system, but how you react to them defines you as a writer, I guess. At the moment I'm going through such a nervous wait to find out what is happening with my publisher - it's making me question my own abilities/want to hide is a corner/ wonder why bother ... but I'm writing.

Novel 3 has aapproaching 6,000 words.

I think the key is to take it seriously.

Also - while I am here, can I please ask any of the Novel Racers who can to help promote/support my ebook novella for charity. So many of you already have (you're wonderful) and it has been an amazing week, but if anyone is interested you can find our more on my blog or my website.

I know a shameless plug ... sorry!

JJ said...

Hmmm, well I'm trying to take this seriously, as of about a year ago. I've had to start this novel twice already, and after feedback from Julia Bell, I've got to restart a third time.

While I'm not quite doing it yet, I am still determined I will. Husband wonders if I should start a different story and come back to this, but I can't put this story down.

I can't think as far ahead yet as publication. My aim is to get on and write it...

I see myself as pretty near the beginning of a creative writing journey. I've written lots but not much creatively.

I am determined not to be a writer who doesn't.


Lane said...

I've been writing seriously for just over a year. I've always written, but sporadically, with some successes and quite a few rejections.

This is the first time I've written a full length m/s and I've yet to type The End and celebrate:-) I have a history of not finishing things and getting distracted but with writing this hasn't happened. It has to be done.

I'm gleaning as much as I can in preparation for the next step but - more importantly I'm trying to focus on this rewrite and make it the best I can. In my spare time I'm busy growing a thicker skin. Seems like it's mandatory in this game:-)

Graeme K Talboys said...

Well, I've been writing since I was about seven - stories, comic strips, that sort of thing. I wrote my first novel when I was seventeen and did the whole world a favour by leaving the manuscript on a train. I wrote and had performed a number of stage pieces when I was at College. Wrote stories and articles when I was teaching and began to get bits and pieces published. Got my first book contract in 1995, the same year I had to give up (was pushed out of) work because of health problems. Eight books and numerous articles, stroies, and poems later I'm still looking for the big breakthrough - the one that will pay the bills.

Debs said...

I loved your piece, it could be describing how I've felt recently.

I finished my first novel 10 years ago but my writing then slowed down for several years due to businesses, divorce, children and generally sorting out my life.

Three years ago my husband asked why I didn't concentrate my writing again and I explained that if I did it would become a major part of my day. So that's what I did, I opened the notepads once more and completed two more novels that are now being worked on.

I love writing and feel that I'm an apprentice learning as much as I can and improving each time I write something or redraft a piece.

CTaylor said...

That's a great article BE and reminded me of a quote by Winston Churchill - "Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm" Of course his quote could be a bit better and include something like "until you get your novel published when you will have a different kind of success!"

I've been writing seriously since May 2005. That was when I started writing short stories and submitting them to magazines and competitions. February 2007 was when I started my novel.

My writing experience has been...a series of highs and lows. Wonderful, wonderful sweet highs when short stories are accepted for publication or place in a competition, that euphoric buzz when I finished my novel, mini buzzes every time I finish a short story, highs when an agent gets in touch to ask for a 'full' of my novel and then rings me up to tell me his reader loved my story. Other highs include meeting some wonderful online writers and sharing inspirational emails, comments and feedback.

Then lows...miserable lows when I get rejection after rejection for my short stories, I fail to place in a string of competitions and the agent rings me back to tell me he has 'mixed feelings' about my novel and I have to do a rewrite. Other lows include petty bickering between writers, literary snobs that look down on genre writers and people whose sole purpose in life is to criticise, criticise and criticise, slowly destroying potentially talented writers fragile confidence.

But I couldn't stop writing, even if I wanted to.

Flowerpot said...

No, I can't stop writing either. Written ever since I could write and won my first prize as a kid -those Cadbury competitions! Since doing an online course in feature writing, I'm selling loads more work which gives me confidence in my fiction writing. I have to believe I will get there, but now I've taken the pressure off my novel, (journalism pays wehreas fiction doesn't, YET!) it's completely different. My novel is my private space, my escapism. That's good.

Rowan Coleman said...

great article B.E! I find it inspiring. I've been writing since girlhood, even though techinically a lot of it was more thinking and daydreaming than writing as I am dyslexic and for most of my youth I found the mechanics of reading and writing diffiult. Not until I was in my late teens did I finally find away to make sense of the words swimming around my head and wrestle them onto paper. I took my writing seriously after winning third place in a writing competition in my late twenties, enrolled in an MA in writing, taught by Sue Gee, and began working really hard at it, that third place gave me confidence. The following year I won first prize in Company Magazine's Young Writer of the Year. Agent and publisher offers followed and my first novel was published in 2002. Since then I have written and had published six books for adults and four for children. The most salient thing I can say in realation to you article B.E is that the drama, uncertainty and paranoia doesn't end once you are published. Its a constant fight to be a writer, whatever stage of the process you are at and you have to be braced for reviews, publisher feedback, retail indifference and still find the will to keep going and believe in yourself.

Nerves of steel and unwavering determination are the basic requirements of any writer, not to mention the ability to appreciate your successes where ever they come, be it finishing a novel or seeing your book in the bestsellers list. Every success is always transient and you have to get up the next day and start climbing the mountain all over again.

Cathy said...

I always wanted to write, but earning a living had to come first. I suppose I started to take it more seriously about 2 years ago, after dipping my toes into the water with a couple of short courses.

I'm at a different stage of my life now, I have more time, but I'm still very much learning as I go. In a way I'm glad to have been a late starter, because my life experiences have added more depth to my work.

I don't have any illusions that it is going to be easy or make money, but now I just write because I want to and, more importantly, need to.

Kate.Kingsley said...

I love that essay, B.E. ~ really nails the dogged determination that is need to keep going when your confidence is nil.

I "dabbled" for years, started writing semi-seriously around 3 years ago, then realised that i was being far too half-hearted about it, and need to knuckle down more. Over this last year or so I've applied myself much more seriously to the task.

Writing: it's an itch that you can't help but scratch (maybe that's why we need the thick skins?)

Leatherdykeuk said...

Ah! I'd read that essay before. It always put me in mind of Kipling's 'If' with a modified ending of "'ll be a writer, then."

Crappy week word-wise, though i got a request for a partial and a couple of shorts published. I did write a 1000word short that I was exceptionally pleased with and may turn it into a novel.

Helen said...

I have been taking it seriously since January 2007. I have had ups and downs over the course of of the year but I know, unlike other careers I have had, that I am now doing the right thing. No novels published as yet, but I have become a reviewer and now columnist on Trashionista. I now believe I am a writer but I still have massive ups and downs. At the moment I am (hopefully) coming out of a down...

Fiona said...

'You never quit. Because NOT writing would be like not breathing.'

I absolutely feel the same. Great post too.

I wrote from age six to twelve when someone laughed at my deadly serious essay and then teachers started telling me that I should get real etc. So, although I've been writing in my head all my life, it's only been the last four or five years that I've put pen to paper.

K.Imaginelli said...

I guess I've always wanted to be a writer, but I really began putting pen to paper in 2003 or so. I joined a wonderful Women's Writing Circle in my previous town--we wrote for an hour on a prompt provided by the leader and then went around the room and read our work aloud. I started my first novel in that group. I abandoned that first novel b/c the plot was super flawed (i wouldn't advise trying to write a mystery without knowing who the killer is). But, I've written 2 novels since then.

I think my biggest challenge at this point is not the writing but being PATIENT. I have a full-time job that also requires lots of writing and reading so there's only so much time I can devote to the novel. But then I see all these flashy new novels being published like Celebutantes and The Spare Wife...and I begin to want my book on a bookstore shelf already.

But I have to continue to be patient and trust that the writing process will eventually get my book where I want it to be. (Easier said than done, of course) :)

ChrisH said...

Like Flowerpot I was a Cadbury's prizewinner as a kid and thought 'How hard can this be? Write an article, get chocolate = result!' Quickly found that the answer is it can get pretty hard, and soul destroying when the rejections come but not so hard that I ever think I'll give up. I've been writing seriously for almost two years and still believe the best is yet to come!

L-Plate Author said...

Hi everyone

Oh dear, kind of feel like a failure at the moment having read all the comments above. I’ve never had anything published, the only thing I’ve ever won was an adventure holiday when I was twelve by writing an essay (and then I had to go abseiling and canoeing with Valerie Singleton from Blue Peter!)

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, although writing novels has been since 1999 when I wrote my first one in full. From then, it was rejections by agents, shoved into a drawer for a few months, worked on again, rejected and so on. Then in Sept 2004, I was signed up by an agent who I can only say ‘wooed’ me, even though she was female. I remember going home on the train and thinking, this is it. Next year, I’ll be a published author. Two and a half years later, re-write after re-write, I’m embarrassed to tell you how many because she said she would do as many with me as it takes, she decided to retire and leave me high and dry - well at least she told me she retired! I wonder now, if she was ever right for me in the first place. She had no commercial fiction writers, all hers were fiction and auto biographers. There were some pretty well known people actually, which was why I was drawn to her. Maybe she wanted to mould me into something that I couldn’t become, I’m not sure but it really dented my confidence.

While waiting for her to get back to me with my latest rewrite, I wrote a new novel and that is why I’m going back to novel one, because I feel that I need to put ‘me’ back into it first. It’s been a year since I lost said agent and I’ve just started writing again really, partly down to you guys, my new novel racers friends. Your article inspired me, BE, because it made me realise that, yes, I might be back at the beginning again but I need to acknowledge how far I’ve come. I’m ready to send out my work out but am scared as hell of getting on board the rollercoaster. I don’t want to go back to the lows of rejections etc.

But on a more positive note, because I am positive about it really, is the fact that I now love my day job. For two years, I worked part time while I was signed up with the agent because I wanted to devote more time to my writing, but it was sheer hell money wise, I’m still recovering from it. Now I come home from a long day and I sit at my laptop and I write. I write for me, the pressure is off (not to get published and feel accepted) but I don’t have to keep waiting around for my manuscript to come back from my agent like I did, it was never less than eight weeks every time I sent it to her. One time was four months, try keeping your spirits up for that long!

So lows, too many to mention but hopefully I’m ready to put that to bed now. In fact I’m off today so I’ve been out and bought a stack of envelopes, I’m printing out the first three chapters as I type and I’m putting them out there. How’s that for inspiration BE!

L-Plate Author said...

Sorry guys just realised I've written an essay when it's up on screen!

SpiralSkies said...

Brilliant post!

I didn't realise how serious I felt about writing until I put my completed novel away to ferment. Deliberately NOT writing just isn't something I can do any more; it's become hardwired into me somehow.

I have a horrible feeling I'll never give up, even if I'm never published. I suppose there will come a time when the rejections start to rankle but, in the meantime, it's just a case of keeping at it.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Hi everyone, and thanks for liking my essay. I'm glad you found it inspiring and I love reading all your comments.

It occurred to me when I woke up this morning (it's only 7:50am here in Colorado) that I asked the questions, but I never answered them.

Like many of you, I've been writing off and on since I was a kid. I sat down with my best friend to write a book in 1984 and we got about halfway through before she got bored and I got tired of doing it by myself (on a manual typewriter no less). When I reached adulthood, life intruded. There was college, and then motherhood, and making money to keep us housed, etc. In 1997, I sat down to write a romance novel and got five chapters in before my significant other of the moment bullied me into stopping. I stopped cold for seven years. Four years ago, I got an idea for a novel and began writing. At the time I was still working and unmarried. Two weeks after I began the novel, I met my husband and sent him what I had written so far. He told me, in no uncertain terms, I needed to finish it. He told me to forget everything else, I needed to write for a living. After we got married, I quit my job and I've been writing nearly full time ever since.

This writing thing is a roller-coaster, and I know it won't stop if I ever get published (and don't feel bad, l-plate, I haven't published anything yet). Even so, I won't quit. I've tried it, and it hurts too much to not write.

Lucy Diamond said...

I've had over 100 children's books published under my real name and various other pseudonyms (not Lucy Diamond!) but even so, when I had a kind-of rejection this week, I went into a real spin of, Oh God, I'm crap and talentless, they've realised I'm just a fraud pretending to be a writer, who am I trying to kid? I'm going to get a proper job, I can't cope with this any more...

Then, yesterday I had a really exciting email from my agent re Novel 3 (can't say anything yet, I am still at finger-crossing stage!) which just rocketed me up into a brilliant mood, grinning from ear to ear, dancing round the kitchen etc.
"Still going to jack it all in and work at Tesco, then?" my other half asked, rolling his eyes, having seen it all before...

It IS a rollercoaster. The downs suck. But oh God, the ups are just so fantastic they make it almost bearable!
Haven't done a word on the novel this week but am still hoping to hit 60,000 before the month is out, watch this space...
have a good weekend everyone

KeVin K. said...

I've been writing since I was about 12 -- at least that was the first time I described what I was doing as storytelling. Before that everyone else called it lying. I will probably be writing as long as I'm this side of the grave. Never met a muse, though.

Helen Shearer said...

Hello, all!

I,too,have been writing since I was a child but I never dared think that I could do it for a living. I wrote the odd article for the newspaper in high school but my writing was primarily something I did when other people weren't watching and I certainly never showed it to anyone. About twenty years ago, an English teacher wrote that she thought I had the talent to write for a living on one of my papers. I was flattered, of course, but I still never took it seriously. Then about eight years ago, I left my long term boyfriend and writing became therapy. I wrote thirty-three chapters of venom, then I put it away, started something different and I haven't stopped since. I suppose that qualifies me as a serious writer but I am not yet published. I have sent two things out, both of them promptly rejected, but I will keep trying. Parts of my current project have been read by a group of strangers in a writing seminar and I've had nothing but positive feedback so I'm hugely encouraged by that. I'd love to make a living as a writer. I don't need to have Jo Rowling's money, although I certainly wouldn't turn it down, but I'll consider myself successful when I can leave my day job.

hesitant scribe said...

Hi All,

I've so enjoyed reading all your comments. What an amazingly varied bunch we are. And some of you are soooo published and/or prolific it makes my knees shake.

But I've been telling stories since I was about 3 and through school learned to become one of those closet writers. I spent years trying to stop, to give it up, as though writing was a terrible habit, but I've never been able to stop. It's part of what I am.

I didn't start showing anyone my work until uni in 1999, and since then I've been dipping a toe in the water here and there.

Now I want to write a big long book - my novel - although I'm starting to realise I'm perhaps not a writer of fiction per se, but a writer of experiences, journeys, and learning curves. Does that make sense? I think my next step is to find out what kind of writer I am and then pursue it.

I want to survive this bloody cancer now, and make my living writing "stuff"!

wordtryst said...

It's good to see facets of my writing journey reflected in so many of the stories here. I began writing about 15 years ago when a man I loved told me that I should use my talent, stop dreaming about writing and just do it. I wrote the first novel 10 years ago, got interest from a publisher but set it aside for several years while I dealt with major life changes. Got back to it, polished the script, studied the business and finally got serious about marketing three years ago.

I've written another novel and a memoir, two non-fiction projects, and started a third novel. The thing is, I'm discovering, that getting a contract is one thing, waiting for the book to materialize is another. Everything takes three times as long as the estimate and there are always problems, complications, delays. It's never a smooth journey, it seems. Not only that, but being published is just the first step; getting to the point where it actually pays is quite a reach.

What I'm trying to do right now is get back to writing for its own sake instead of focusing on the book that's been sold, the other that's making the rounds, worries about the future, the agent, the various editors and their comments, the uncertainty that is implicit in this way of life. That kind of focus has eluded me of late, and I really need to get it back.

b.e. sanderson, that's some husband you've got there!

Hesitant Scribe, I'm sorry to hear about your illness. I've heard that wanting something badly, like the way you feel about the writing, and having something to work toward, can do wonders in the battle against that disease. Wishing and hoping for the best for you.

Leigh said...

Hello, everyone. I am sorry to be so late; blogland is a bit of a no-go area for me on Friday mornings [sigh].

I started writing seriously in March 2006, and have become a complete junkie. I've written one novel, started another, dabbled with short stories, thought up far more plot-lines than I will ever have time to write, become a complete bore to live with, and have singularly failed to sell anything.

My published writing amounts to a 300-worder for charity; but I am very proud of it!

The experience thus far has bottom-kicked me along much the same undulating path that others speak of.

Despite having not sold anything, however, I feel as though I have come a long way: I have a much better idea of what I need to do to get where I want to be (as far as I have any control over it), and my feet are sooo much more firmly on the ground.

Despite all the rejections (57 and counting), I do my very best to stay positive. Akin to Rowan's experience of climbing a new mountain each day, each day I feel as though I am just setting out. I find this exciting. Every day I face the challenge of Getting Published with some newly-found nugget of knowledge, and every day I reckon I have a better chance of success.

I love it: there is no end, and thus I can never fail - which is just as well, because I could never do anything else.