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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.

Reader Comments (16)

Yes - I absolutely get this. I'm a total non-fiction writer, and I love freelancing, but in 2010, I was just wiped. My work was stale, I didn't have interest in pitching, so when a freelance client asked me if I'd come in house full time temporarily, I said yes.

The break and mind shift was what I needed, and six months later, I was back to FT freelancing. Best thing I ever did.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen Miller

Congrats for listening to that voice that said you needed a change, a break. And listening again when that voice encouraged you to re-open the manuscript. Though I'm guessing it was also the glorious California sunshine. :)

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

What a truly awesome post. So glad you took some time for yourself - and equally glad that your spark of inspiration is fanning a new flame. Cannot wait to see where it takes you! :)

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShari

As one of your biggest fans, I am thrilled you're back (both blogging and writing a manuscript)! Your voice has always resonated with me, and I know I'm not alone. I'm looking forward to hearing more of it.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJuliet Farmer

Yes, yes, YES!!! I'm so happy you're writing again. Thank you for this honest post! I gave up writing for two years during my own dark period, and it absolutely takes time to find your sea legs again. But once storytelling is in your blood, it's hard not to circle back to the urge when you're ready again.

I can't wait to see what's next for you! :)

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess Riley

"Writers write. On their own time and when they're ready to. I'm glad I'm ready to now."

I think it's easy to lose sight of that, for so many reasons, and maybe especially in this day and age.

Glad you've found this part of yourself again. :)

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

Wow! Great post - I knew you were taking a break, but didn't know that you’d contemplated not writing novels anymore. I am soooo glad you came to your senses (I write jokingly). I can’t imagine not looking forward to an ASW novel! I hope and pray it all works for you. Thank you for writing this. I think those of us who are unpublished writers naively think it’ll be so easy, once we’re published...

The timing of all this had to be huge – a cross country move is a major transition, anyone would’ve been burnt out! When I moved from ATL to Baltimore, years ago, I stopped writing for two years.

On a side note – I’ve been flying a lot lately and think about The Song Remains the Same on every flight!

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllie Smith

Trish alerted me to this and I'm glad she did. Inspiring post...and really helpful to read as a writer on the front end of that burnout. (could be a post-pub connection, huh?) Hope all is great in LA. Happy Holidays.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlison Pace

Been wondering what had happened with you. You can't not write! All that other stuff, fuhgetahboutit!!! xo

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstephanie elliot

Hey there! It's Beth from Santa Barbara- guess you did decide to move to our coast!!! Good for you! But sounds like you moved to LA? Hope you are enjoying it! Santa Barbara will always be here if you want to escape the traffic!

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

Thank you all so much for your kind words! It's important to talk about this stuff and to know that others are dealing with it too. I appreciate it so very much!

(And hi Beth!) :)

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Winn Scotch

Love this post. There is a huge difference between writing and publishing. Lately with all the flux in publishing it's easy to feel hesitant and frustrated with the industry. That does not, however, take away the pull to return to the actual writing. I'm so glad that you've found your voice again :)

December 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Thank you so much for talking openly about this, Allison. It's so surprising to discover the hardest part comes after the book, and the promotion can actually drain the creativity out of a writer. I'm glad you're back! I'm reading The Song Remains the Same right now, and I really want to read more of your books in the future. Do what you love, as long as you love it. :-)

December 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lilly

Hi Allison,

Glad you're back and writing...does it feel like you are going in a new direction in your storytelling, or that your 'voice' has changed?

And, of course, I want to hear how you find living in LA versus New York....there's another book!

-Suzanne

December 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Anderson

Hi Allison,

Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts at your part of your journey. I think that is part of your unique voice - not everyone can listen to her own rhythm so well. More importantly, you remind us it is better to take a break and a fresh approach, instead of just writing something for the sake of it. Perhaps you find you need a break because you are so good when you are in the moment. I have learned so much from your insights. Keep up the great work, and enjoy your family.

Best,
Alice

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

Ahhhhhh, reading this post was like drinking that first cup of coffee in the morning. Thank you.

February 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

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