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Monday
Aug142017

How to Skip Outlining

Question of the day: I have tried plot outlines and they have never worked for me so I just make it up as I go along. One problem with this is that I frequently write myself into a corner and then need to cut characters and rethink whole story lines because unforeseen plot developments just happen. Often I feel I have just wasted loads of time. For someone who isn't a natural outliner, is there any advice on how  to avoid this? Are there any tips for the middle ground? 

Well, you came to the right person to ask this question because I do not outline at all. As I'm sure you know, there generally tend to be two types of writers: pantsers (who fly by the seat of their pants) and outliners. I fall into the first catagory, but with a bit of a caveat. More on that below.

The only time I tried to outline was with my third book when I needed to know the end in order to fill in the middle. I found it excruciating, and it's not surprise that it is my least favorite book, and also the book that took the most drafts to get right. For me, writing is about flow and about following my characters and their choices, which often surprise me and are nothing I would have predicted from the start. In essence, they are like real human beings who don't follow set lines from A to B, and it's their divergences from these lines that make them interesting and ultimately tell the story.

But over the years, I have found a few techniques that make the writing process less arduous. One thing that I like to do, when I finish each day, is jot down the next few scenes on a piece of paper I keep beside my computer. I'm sure that there are more formal ways to do this, such as if you are writing in Scrievener, but this works for me. This way, I have a sense of what is coming next - let's say the next chapter or two - but I haven't locked myself into anything constricting. It also gives me a place to pick up and start the next day.

Further to that point, and this is maybe more of a writing trick than a planning trick, I often stop writing for the day in the middle of a scene. Again, this makes it easier to dive back in when I pick up the next day.

Beyond that, I do have a general sense of where I expect my characters to go - and I think that's a good thing - because it means you understand your characters, but I don't hedge them in. In my last book, IN TWENTY YEARS, for example, I know that Annie, one of my leads, would face a major crisis at the end of the book. What I didn't know is how she would react to it. And I think that's ok. You can have an idea of the obstacles you'll throw in front of them without knowing how they'll resolve. And of course, how the obstacles resolve will then chart the next steps for your characters. So, almost like a recipe, you build on that, then build on that, then build on that.

Hope that helps! Good luck!

Monday
Aug072017

When is a Book Done?

Question of the day: I hear you on needing to revise the manuscript a bunch of times, but how do you know when the book is done and ready for submission?

This is one of the hardest questions that a writer can face, particularly a new or novice writer. Unfortunately, there is not magic answer: like, you can't follow a recipe, stick it in the oven at 350 degrees and pull it out and voila, it's done. (I've been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show, in case you're wondering.)

I have a few thoughts, and then, because this is such a tricky question, I asked a few writer friends to weigh in as well. To begin with, I think you need to assume, when you are just getting your feet wet, that whenever you believe your ms is done - IT'S NOT. Too often, aspiring writers take the optimistic view of their draft (and I don't mean that we don't all think our writing is terrible at some point - I'm strictly talking about when a book is ready to go out into the world). I really encourage you to instead, take the pessimistic view. I don't mean this to be a downer; rather I mean it as a way to step back and take the ms apart and see all the ways that it is going wrong. Revising is the most important part of writing, and to be honest, your second and third drafts should be very, very, very heavy with revisions. This means that you have to be very critical, as well as objective. You are going to have to cut plot lines, you are going to have to rewrite or delete characters, it may mean, in the case of my debut, that you cut the first 100 pages entirely. 

From there, and this like the above, is easier said than done, I think it is super-important that you find someone you trust (not just like) who can give you objective feedback. This is not your best friend, this is not your mom, and it's probably not your spouse/partner either. This person needs to be comfortable saying: this didn't work for me; try this; this needs to be changed, etc. And you need to be ok hearing it. I don't have great counsel on finding the right match - maybe it's in a class, maybe it's in a book group, maybe it's an online friend who writes like you do - but eyes that aren't your own really matter.

So back to your original question: when is it done? A few author friends weigh in below with very good advice that I agree with. I think some of this just comes down to experience, which isn't helpful, I know. But at a certain point for me, usually after about 5-7 drafts, I can feel and see the book humming along in ways that earlier drafts weren't. But the only way I know that is to write the revisions until everything clicks into place. I guess my point here is that if you do the work, eventually, the work takes on a different shape than the earlier drafts and you can see that shape is the correct one. So keep going!

Here are some other insights: 

-"I always say that I'm done when I can no longer tell if the changes I'm making are helping or hurting. (After, of course, my critique partners have gotten a hold of it and I've already revised a few times over.) At some point, you're rearranging deck chairs and it's time to send it out into the world and hope for the best. It's going to be an arbitrary decision on some level. If I still had my debut novel in manuscript form, I'm sure I'd find something to edit." - Kristina Riggle, author of Vivian in Red, out in paperback on August 15th

-"I have to admit I am not always good at knowing when my books are done. Having trusted readers is absolutely essential to my process. Not the same for everyone, but I rely on fresh eyes that aren't my own to help me see whether a particular draft has accomplished the goals I set for it." - Greer McCallister, author of Girl in Disguise

-"I once read — I think it was in A Writer's Time — that exhaustion is the sign. Once you've reached that stage, you're done. Also, I notice that the changes I make on successive drafts begin to get more and more sparse, and of the comma-in-comma-out variety. 
Another sign: your publisher's insistence. I appear only to be really and truly done when my publisher pushes my book out the door and into the world. Another quote from somewhere, 'Publication puts a forcible end to the writing process.' I could revise forever, however, and DO. As soon as the newly published book arrives, I put one on the shelf marked "changes." Another sign of ending: you're ready to move on to another book. This is of the "a book is not so much as finished, as abandoned" school of thought." - Sandra Gulland, author of The Shadow Queen

-"This was definitely something I needed to learn along the way. When I was in my early 20s, I wrote a novel. I literally typed the last sentence of the first draft and thought..."I'm done! Now I'm going to be famous!" Like an idiot, I sent it to some agents. One wrote back and very nicely explained to me that it was clearly an early draft and I had a long way to go. This was further solidified in grad school when I more officially learned that "writing" is really "rewriting,"...over and over and over, like a crazy person." - Matt Norman, author of We're All Damaged

And then, perhaps the most honest: 

-"I think it's done when I can't bear to look at it one more time." - Cathy Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls

Tuesday
Aug012017

Personal Essays and Privacy 

Question of the day: I have written a personal essay and have the chance to have it published. What advice would you give to someone seeking to publish a personal essay?  I am weighing up whether it is worth it. It is a story I want to tell, but will I regret exposing this part of my life? How should I manage my expectations about it?  What should I prepare myself for?

(Quick note: I know that last week, I said I'd address the next steps after first steps - and I will! - but I reached out to some writer friends for thoughts on that post, so in the meantime, I'm answering the above.)

(Second quick note: I'm typing this on my laptop, and the keys are acting wonky. If there are typos, I apologize! I tried to catch them all, but some of these keys are sticking and being super-annoying.)

This is an excellent question, and I think one that every writer has to wrestle with at some point in his or her career. Whether it is with personal essays or interviews or weaving a bit of real life into your fiction. I established rules for myself pretty early on, back when I was a magazine writer and frequently wrote first-person essays or experiences, and that was that I would never write about anyone else other than myself in a negative way and/or without giving that person a heads-up. (Actually, I really can only think of one time I wrote about anyone in a negative way period, and it was a piece detailing a brutal break-up of mine and I changed the name of the ex.) For me, this meant that I was willing to be open and honest with readers about things that I'd gone through but I would never be speaking for someone else.

When my kids were little, I occasionally used them in vague anecdotes, if, say I was writing a piece for Parents but I wasn't laying out anything specific or anything that I thought they'd be uncomfortable with me sharing (if they were old enough to know), and the firm line that I always, always drew was that I wouldn't - and don't - write about my marriage, at least nothing personal or intimate. This was just where I was comfortable cutting off the personal meeting the professional - in that same way that movie stars say they want to keep a bit of something for themselves. Well, that's what I think I can and should keep to myself. In the one instance that I did write about my marriage - last year, I published an essay in Real Simple about an accident I'd been in and how it brought a new dynamic to my relationship with my husband - I checked in with him first.

I guess the advice I can offer is this: once something is out there in the world, you can't get it back. Be sure that you are really, really ok with it. If it is deeply personal and maybe something that you think would embarrass you or more pertinently, embarrass someone else, I would hit pause. I never regretted writing that negative piece about my ex because it wasn't about shaming him...in fact, even phrasing it as "a negative piece about my ex" isn't fair...it was about a catastrophic break-up and the reasons behind it and why I, a normally very strident and confident woman, allowed myself to be somewhat destroyed. So even in that context, it was about me. And I was ok exposing my skeletons because I knew that I had moved past them. If you're still feeling unmoored by said skeletons that you're writing about, I'd tuck your essay away until you have a stronger armor. If you've moved well past the situation and you know that regardless of what people might say about you or to you, in terms of the essay, then publish it. 

I think every writer needs to find his or her own line. What mine is will be different than yours. Just be sure that you have enough clarity and perspective on the subject matter not to reopen old wounds. And not to blindside someone else (IMO) while doing so. 

Thursday
Jul272017

First Steps

QUESTION: What are some of the first steps you take once you have a body of work you want to hopefully publish?

The first thing to do, let’s say once you have a completed manuscript, is nothing. NOTHING. What I mean by that is you absolutely, 100%, in no way, should expect to send your manuscript out in its current form. The biggest mistake that aspiring authors make, in my opinion, is thinking that their work is done, when it really has only just started. 

Now.

What do I mean by that? I mean that you should expect to revise this manuscript, I don’t know, somewhere between three and seven times before sending it out. Really. Don’t think that you are the exception to this rule. There’s a mistake that plagues new (and veteran) writers, and that mistake is thinking that what you have written is brilliant, full stop. This is not me being discouraging but trust me when I say that said work is not brilliant just yet. No author, ever, in the history of authors, has ever written a first draft that was good enough to publish. For perspective, I have now written seven novels, and every single one of them has gone through five-plus drafts - usually at least seven. With my new one, out in January, I deleted SEVENTY-FIVE percent of the first draft. And then (lucky me!), I deleted SEVENTY-FIVE percent of the second draft. In what is now the final book, very little, very, very, very little of my original manuscript remains.

So.

The first thing I recommend doing is taking a breather – even just a week away from your manuscript, then diving back in and finding places where you ramble, where you can amp up the action, where you have shoved shortcuts into the plot because they helped you get to a specific ending, and now they feel cheap. Take another crack at it with fresh eyes. If you have a critique partner or a writing group, get it to them. Listen to their feedback. Rip apart your draft. Make it better.

Then do that at least one or two more times.

After that, you’re ready for the next steps. :) (Which is probably what you were really asking about in the first place, but I’ll get to that in the next post!)

Good luck!

Tuesday
Jul182017

HELLO!

Hello, hello, hello!

Well, I retired this blog a few years ago because a) after six years of answering questions, I felt like I'd expended all of my useful advice and b) I'd...grown weary of it. :) 

But recently, while listening to a podcast (shout-out to Scriptnotes) that is incredibly interesting and helpful and takes the time to answer screenwriting questions, I thought I might like to revisit this space and pay it forward again by opening up the floor to new questions.

I wasn't sure if there were still a demand for this sort of thing -- when I first launched this blog, back in, oh, 2008, I believe? - there weren't a ton of resources out there for aspiring writers. Now, there are dozens of blogs, and of course, there is social media, where you can ping authors and experts all the time. So I asked some readers on my Facebook page and put the question to Twitter: would this be a worthwhile service? 

And people said yes! So here I am. If we all collectively agree that it's no longer a worthwhile service, I am happy to return to my life of non-blogging. But in the meantime, let's try this again! The publishing world has shifted exponentially since I answered a lot of the questions that were posed to me, so my answers may have shifted as well. And surely, some of your questions have changed too.

I'm in the middle of proofreading my next book, so I imagine that I'll start posted questions and answers in a couple weeks. I already have a bunch of questions from Facebook, but if you have questions you'd like to answer (I won't attach a name, so don't worry about that), feel free to post below (anonymously is fine too). You can also drop me a line on Twitter, which is always great (I'm at @aswinn) or reach out via Facebook on my author page. I can't remember exactly how I compiled the questions coming in last time, but those are probably the best ways to reach me, as my email can get bogged down.

Any and all questions related to books/publishing/any of that are fine. When I used to do this blog, I was still enmeshed in the magazine world, but to be honest, other than celeb profiles now and then, I really don't have much experience in magazines these days, so I don't know how helpful I can be in that arena. 

Let's dive back in. I'll aim to post a couple of times a week, depending on my schedule, and we'll just see how it all goes. 

I'm excited to do this again. Hope you'll join me!

Monday
Nov252013

On Giving Up The Publisher's Advance

Question of the day:  I often write with the incentive of the advance. How did you get around not having that advance?

Great question and definitely one that I wrestled with before making my decision. It came down to this: for me, that financial incentive wasn't enough any longer. Advances have significantly shrunk these days, and it used to be that you got a huge advance (for our argument, let's classify "huge" as six-figures), you could count on publisher support. That's not the case any longer. So not only can you no longer count on this publisher support simply because they paid you well, but now...they're not even paying you as well. Advances have been cut/halved/reduced a lot. So that was one factor.

The second was/is that even with a semi-decent advance - once you've taken out agent fees, taxes, and the three-payment system, I couldn't bank my career/this book on these smaller payouts. (To clarify for those who don't know how it works, the publisher pays you in three installments: upon signing the contract, upon approving the finished manuscript and upon publication, and then your agent gets 15% of each installment payment. If you're publishing in hardcover, this might even been drawn out to four installments. So a 50k advance - which I think is a very healthy advance these days - becomes $16,600 for each installment. Then your agent fee (which is well-earned, I should add), takes it down to about $14,000. Then you factor in taxes, which depends on your bracket obviously, but for the sake of our argument, we'll take it down to about $9-10k. And this is spans oh, a year to a year and a half.) So, that's 27-30k of income over 18 months. Certainly, it's money. And I don't want to piss people off by saying that it's NOT money. It is. I get it. Please do NOT think that I don't think that 30k isn't real money. But stretched over that long of a period and at the risk of my book fading off into the night because the publisher didn't do right by it? That wasn't worth the risk to me. It WILL be worth it to some people, and again, I want to emphasis that. 30k is certainly nice money; it can be A LOT of money, particularly in the freelance world, which I came out of. But still, for me, it was time to figuratively put my money where my mouth was and skip this incentive - which is sort of the carrot they dangle so that you keep chasing after them - and change my goal.

My goal this time, quite simply, was to publish the book I wanted to in the manner that I wanted to. Again, I realize that this isn't everyone's goal. And that is totally cool. But I wanted to try something new; I thought I was up for the entrepreneurial thinking this required, much like a start-up. I cared less/care less about the book hitting lists and the money involved and care so much more about honoring the book. 

Of course, like any start-up, everything is a gamble. But I really did look at it like a start-up company. There are no guarantees, but if you believe in the product, you put some money into it and risk not getting it back or not earning it back. As I said in this recent Parade Magazine interview, my goal was to break even, which I understand isn't a very lofty goal, but I had NO idea what to expect. However, because the economics of self-publishing mean that you earn a lot more per sale of each book (70% of every e-book, for example), I knew how many copies I had to sell and thought earning-back was a reasonable goal. What I didn't totally count on (in a good way), was all of these subsidiary rights - audio, large print, foreign that are all now coming in, film. So I've way out-earned my initial costs already. And frankly, I've out-earned what a publisher would have offered me in today's market. (I say all of this not to be like, "look at me, rolling in the dough!" but to offer some perspective.) I think it was much easier for me because I had my backlist and publishing history, but I'm not going to say that I haven't actually been shocked. I have been. It was a gamble, but so far, a really good one. I really can't imagine I would ever do it differently again.

Friday
Nov222013

The Greatest Mistake

Question of the day: What early mistakes would you warn against for those considering self-publishing?

This is an easy one to answer but hard advice to stick to. The biggest mistake that I think too many people make is publishing too quickly. When I was doing a lot of my initial research, I'd land on blogs or sites where writers were spelling out their timelines, and they say something like, (paraphrasing here, obviously): 

October 7th: finished the book!

October 20th: Ugh, editing sucks!

November 3: Finished editing! Phew!!!

November 12th: I'm published! Go buy it!!!!!

To me, the most important part of the book birthing process is the revision process. I understand why writers don't enjoy it, especially when the carrot of publishing your book at any moment in time is dangling in front of you. But, erm, you know, there's a reason why self-published books have the reputation as not the same quality as those coming from the traditional system: and that is because many of them simply aren't as good. And you want to know why? It's because (and I'm guessing here, but I'm pretty sure that I'm right), most of them haven't been revised five times, which is about the average number of rounds a manuscript goes through at a big publisher. The difference between a second draft and a fifth draft is astounding. I have second drafts that I'd be horrified to have out into the world. And fortunately, I never had that opportunity because the editor always knew that it wasn't ready. But with self-publishing, it can be ready...in terms of it being ready to upload. But that doesn't mean it's ready for readers.

Revising takes time. A lot of time. You need to give your characters time to gestate, and you need to give your mistakes time to gestate too, so you know how to fix them. It's very hard to accept this, especially when you don't have the traditional editorial timeline pacing you. Normally, you sell a book and then you have at least a year until it comes out...so there's no need to race through your edits. Your book comes out when it comes out, and no sooner. But with self-publishing, it can come out whenever you want it to! So it can be even more difficult to ensure that you've dotted your "i"s and crossed your "t"s. But ensuring that you've done this also ensures that you've written a better book. Don't put out a book that isn't your best. Why? Why bother? So you can be published? Who wants to publish something that's not his or her best?

Don't do it. Don't rush. I totally understand why people do. But I really think that's their greatest mistake.

Monday
Nov182013

The Agent's Role in Indie Publishing

Question of the day: How involved was your agent in the process of self-publishing? Do you/are you still working with her?

A good and relevant question, and one that I'm getting asked a lot.

To answer, my agent is still very involved in the process. Initially, a lot of the fact-finding, discovery and research was up to me. Neither she nor I had been down this road before, and while she supported my research, really, a lot of the work had to come from my end, since I was the one dealing with the nitty-gritty of hiring people, choosing a printer/distributor, copy-editing, etc. But she was supportive the entire time and certainly checked in and asked what she could to to help. She read the manuscript several times and weighed in on cover art and generally served as an advisor/friend.

Once the manuscript was finished, and the book entered the pre-publication phase, her involvement became more standard to what would happen with traditionals. She pitched all the subsidiary rights and sold many of those she's pitched; she chimed in on the film deal negotiations (I had a different agent for film); she is advocating the sale of the book to quite a few major retailers, which isn't something I can really do on my own as an author. From the business side, she's been invaluable (as always). But also, from the personal side, she's always been in my corner, which has been equally invaluable. Sometimes, when you take a leap like this, you just need to know that someone has your back. She had mine.

Do you need an agent to go indie? No. These days, you can record your own audio book, for example, and while I doubt you could sell subsidiary rights like large print and foreign on your own, these things may not be important to you. They were to me - and my relationship with my agent is also important to me! - so we both wanted to move through the process together. If you don't have an agent or don't want an agent, I'd just be sure to find a group of trusted readers or writers or whomever, who can offer opinions on things like cover art and jacket copy. A lot of times, you don't necessarily see the way that things can be improved until someone else points them out.

But can it be done alone? Sure. I'm glad I didn't have to though. :)

Friday
Nov152013

Back In Business. And Is Self-Publishing for Everyone?

Wow.

So this is weird. 

I haven't logged onto the blog for almost a year. But when I read the last post I wrote, about writing for myself and falling back in love with the craft of writing thanks to the manuscript, it's almost surreal. That I find myself here with some news to announce. 

First, this happened: (Film Deal with Jen Garner)

Then, this happened: (Writer Unboxed piece on Self-Publishing),

And then, finally, on Tuesday, this happened: The Theory of Opposites came out!

Since the announcements, I've been getting a lot of questions about my decision and the indie path in general. So I thought, "hey, why not take to the blog and open it up for a few rounds of questions." I'll start answering some of the more common ones I've been getting, and you can feel free to weigh in below in the comment section if you have others. To be honest, I can't promise that I will answer every last one, and I don't know how long I'll blog for (mostly because I am really tired), but I'll try my best.

To start with:

Question of the Day: Do you think you had an easier time going indie because you came out of the traditional system?

Answer: ABSOLUTELY. I want to be very clear about that. I believe - and will always believe - that there is real value in traditional publishing, not least the experience and wisdom you get out of it. I would never discourage someone from taking the traditional route if he or she was so inclined. I came up in the system, and what I got out of it allowed me to also graduate from it. There are things that you learn via traditional publishers, about uncompromising revisions, about perfect copy-edits (or as near perfect as can be - I still find typos in a lot of books and c'est la via), about design and layout, and just as critical, about marketing and promotion, that I am pretty sure can't just be intuited or necessarily learned by reading about them online. This isn't to say that you can't be a wonderful writer - and a wonderfully successful writer - without the education that traditionals offer, only that I am all the wiser for it.

And I knew that if and when I wanted to take the leap into independent publishing, that this wisdom would be crucial. There is no doubt that it made the book a better book, in who I hired for editorial advice, in who I hired for jacket design, in weighing the costs of production and knowing where I had to sink in money, even if I'd rather not have. 

Then there is also the added benefit of emerging from the system as, for lack of a better word, a brand. (Please DO NOT think that I think of myself as a brand. I'm using this word as shorthand so that what I'm saying makes sense.) One of my primary concerns when I debated this move was whether or not it undermined my, well, reputation, as a pro, and I've been fortunate enough to learn that the leap hasn't undermined me one bit. I have sold the same subsidiary rights that I'd have sold with a publishing house - audio, large print, the film deal, some truly shocking (in a good way) foreign offers. I mean, the whole thing has sort of blown my mind, truth be told. 

BUT. I cannot stress enough that I believe these deals came in because I was a known quantity; I was a known "brand." Foreign deals for indie authors, for example, are rare. But I've had success in other countries in the past (shout-out to you, Germany!), so publishers, much like readers, didn't care who put out the book. They just want a good book, period. (And my agent would tell me here to remind you that part of the reason it sold is because it's a good book. I never say that when I'm asked why it's doing well. She emailed me yesterday to tell me to.) :) So yes, write a GOOD BOOK, that helps.

Listen, if you've never published the traditional route, I can't tell you not to go indie. I can't speak to that experience, of course. But I can say that I don't think the upside is quite there just yet for a lot of newbie self-published authors. It remains very difficult to break out and distinguish yourself, and the reason you DO hear about break-outs, like, oh, say, 50 Shades, is because they're the anomoly. Also, it's easier to self-publish in certain genres, like erotica (omg, did I just type that on my blog?) or romance or the like. Contemporary fiction is not quite there yet. Though I'm hoping that I'm breaking down some of the barriers to get it there.

So. Those are my thoughts. I want to also reiterate that I don't think there is one way to go about this. I have friends who are happy at their publishers and may stay there forever. I also have friends who are miserable and want to make a change. I have friends who are first-timers who want so badly to land a publishing deal, and I have friends who are ready to upload their completed manuscripts. There isn't a right way here; there's only the way that feels best for you right now. I wanted to have as much choice as possible and as much control as possible, so this was my path for now. I couldn't be happier with it. That doesn't mean that everyone will feel the same. 

Comments? Thoughts on whether or not you should go indie if you haven't come up in the traditional world?

(ps - I wrote this in the late evening after an exhausting week. If there are typos, please forgive me.)

 

Thursday
Dec132012

On Finding Your Voice Again

Hello. Hello? Is this thing on?

So...

It's been a while since I've been here, sorry about that. 

Part of the reason is because life has been busy since THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME came out last April (and I put this blog into semi-retirement) - I moved with my family across the country, I went about hanging out with my kids and adjusting to a new city and not worrying about all of the things that one worries about when one has to publish a book - and part of the reason is because - and I can say this now that I can look back on it with both a clear head and clear eyes - was that I simply lost my interest in writing books. 

I was both surprised and unsurprised that this happened. Unsurprised because part of me always craves change, and when I lost this sense of urgency to write, to dream up new characters, I thought, "Well, of course. That's you. What's next?"(Hey! I'm in a Gemini!) And I also understood that in this career, burn out almost feels inevitable (though I realize it's not inevitable to everyone). But writing novels can be draining because you put so much of yourself down on page that you're bound to need some time to refill your tank when you're done. So when this ennui hit...it made sense. Mostly.

But the surprised part of me knew that I loved what I did...or at least I thought I loved what I did, and that I now mulled over giving it up was unexpected, yes. But mull it, I did. I stepped back and asked myself how much I really loved writing books - or really how much of that was rhetoric telling myself that I loved it. You only have to read a few posts back on this blog to see that I was burned out, and I was let down, and I wanted to step off the push-pull of being a writer and all that it involves.

So I did. 

I told my agent (and I told my husband) that I wasn't sure how many more novels I'd write. I focused on my kids, on the move, on screenwriting (which, for me - and again, I know I am only speaking for myself, requires less emotional investment than a novel), and I resigned myself to the fact that when and if I wrote a book again, it would be many years in the future. Why? Well, I'd be dishonest if I didn't say that in addition to the exhaustion of writing a book, I was exhausted from the uncertainty of what comes after writing said book. Every book I've ever written has been with a different editor (not ideal); I've had imprints close on me; I've had editors leave (many times); I've had major reviews pulled; I've had just about everything. And don't get me wrong - I have also been fortunate enough to have some really wonderful success. But still. How much of it did I really love, and how much of it was me just saying that I loved it? Those are two very different things.

Both my agent and husband said they understood (though my husband told me I was crazy, and ours was a much more complicated conversation than the one with my agent! LOL), and that was that. Some projects have come across my desk that I've expressed interest in, but none really asked that much of me. I knew I could do them, do them easily, do them well, and I told myself that was just fine - I could be a pen for hire, that I'd already proven myself, that I didn't need much more. 

Then, about three weeks ago, I remembered a book that I'd started right before the giant wave of ennui took hold. I literally woke up one morning and thought, "Oh, hey, I remember that manuscript and idea, and I thought it was kind of awesome." It took me two days to open the file. Partially because once you stop writing for a long time, it's hard to steel yourself to start writing; but also because I knew what it meant: to go back and decide to do another book. It meant accepting all of the things that I had grown not to accept, that took hours of sleep from me, that distracted me from the rest of my life outside work: the question marks of the publishing world, the questions marks of editors, of imprints, of sales, of marketing, of readership, of expectations, and of disappointment. It felt like a very big pill to swallow.

Finally, I told my agent what I was thinking about - that a small voice was urging me to open the document and see if it still resonated. She handled me with kid gloves, and said, "Hey, why not just read it? No harm in just doing that." So I sat down, and I did, and it was as if someone had literally plugged my psyche into a socket. Wow. This might be electric, this might actually be fun again.

Those first few days back at writing were painful, brutal. I found myself deleting more sentences than not, agonizing over word after word. There wasn't that familiar sense of rhythm, there wasn't that assurance that I knew what I was doing. So I focused on doing an hour a day. Just to get my feet wet, to find my sea legs. And then, on about day four, instinct kicked in. I spent the weekend obsessively thinking about my characters and their voice and my voice, and I used that electricity to write five thousand words in two sittings. And more importantly, I used that electricity to remind myself to fall back in love with the process.

I don't know what's next. I love this manuscript, and I'm determined to keep going. I am hoping, this time, to shed the anxiety of the publication process, because I think that's where a lot of published writers get lost, get frustrated, get down on themselves, even if they've done nothing but everything that has been asked of them. I am going to try to write this book for the pure love of writing. That's it. There's nothing else to do.

It turns out that I do love writing, I do love my job - it's not rhetoric. It took me some time to figure that out, and the time was necessary for both me as a person and me as a writer. There's no shame in that. I'm glad I bounced back, that I, as I said to my agent this week, "came out of my dark period." Writers write. On their own time and when they're ready to. I'm glad I'm ready to now.