Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Slow Down There, Sonny

It took me a year and a half to write my first book. I wrote it when I felt like it, stopped when I didn't know what to do next. I was in college, working, and growing/having a baby during that time. Writing was fun and carefree and the thought of publishing was a big dream.

I was not blogging. I didn't even know what a blog was. I had no clue about the business, about agents or publishing houses or query letters.

I'll be honest, sometimes I miss those blissfully naive days.

After I finished that first book, I figured maybe I could try to get it published. I'd heard about Writer's Market in class, but that was about all I knew. So I went online to learn more.

I got completely sucked in.

The blogs! The agent search engines! The author websites! There was so much out there, and it was so exciting I could hardly take it. Every "I have an agent!" and "I sold a book!" announcement filled me with glee. "That could be me," I thought. "I just have to get out there and it'll happen!"

I wrote my next book in six months. Rushed it out. And...nothing. The next in two, the one after that in six weeks, the one after that in 25 days, then 15. I was out of control.

But I kept seeing success stories! Kept craving to be there already, instead of where I was. I had this idea that I just needed that one idea—The One—that would make every agent beg me to be their client. Revising, real revising, could come later, because if I didn't hurry then all the agents would be taken! Or the genre I wrote in would get too full! Or someone would steal my precious idea!

It didn't exactly help that I kept reading about how publishing was suffering. Bookstores closing! Publishers dissolving imprints! Editors being fired! DOOM! APOCALYPSE! If I didn't get published NOW, then it would never, ever happen because books would be dead and my dream would be shattered.

It took some very tough experiences for me to snap out of this, most of which have consisted of working my butt off (I wish literally) and waiting for stuff to happen. And waiting. And then working more. And after that some awesome WAITING.

Slowly, I started to realize that, well, the business has always been like this. I realized that those success stories I kept reading really did have years of hard work and angst behind them. I discovered that publishing is in no way as fast as the internet makes it look.

Shocking, I know.

We hear this a lot, but sometimes I think that we glance over it. In this internet culture, everything seems rather instantaneous. I mean, people whine when they can't get on Twitter for TEN WHOLE MINUTES, as if they've missed a year of life because of the fail whale. We freak when an agent takes months, even weeks, to answer a query. We feel bad if we can't write a book as fast as so and so, edit as quickly as insert-Kiersten-here.

Well, today I'm here to dump a bucket of ice water over your head. *Dumps*

Slow. Down.

Chill. Out.

Enjoy the time it takes to craft a story.

My agent constantly tells me to take my time. It used to bother me. I used to wonder if he was passive agressively telling me I wasn't doing a good job. But I think I've finally figured out what he means.

Take the time you need to write, to edit. Do your best. If your best takes three weeks, okay. If it takes four months, fine. A year? That's fine too. So what if the Apocalypse comes in the meantime—if your book isn't good enough yet, do you really want people reading it anyway? Besides, publishing might be the future life you want, but you have a life right now, too. Living your current life well comes before living your future life.

I know this is all easier said than done. I am certainly guilty of rushing more than I'd like to be. I adore the online writing community, but sometimes I have to take a step back and remember that my life is not the world inside my computer.

There's nothing wrong with slowing down, nothing wrong with missing a few things. In fact, it's the best thing I've done for myself in a long time.


  1. Slow down and smell the flowers to take it all in, huh?

  2. Insert-Kiersten-here. Snort. You punk.

    I feel like I'm not getting anything done these days, but this is such a very valid point. There is no rush. Really. My book ideas will wait. My kids will not always be this cute. : )

  3. Great post! Why rush? It's about enjoying the process, too. So easy to forget that.

    I definitely struggle between that urge to rush, and the knowledge I need to take it slow and do it right.

  4. "I mean, people whine when they can't get on Twitter for TEN WHOLE MINUTES, as if they've missed a year of life because of the fail whale."


    Ahem. Natalie Whipple, I love you. I'd marry you, but your husband and kids and political/religious figures would probably not approve. But seriously, this post... {takes a deep breath} <--- I can only do that right now because I read your post just now. Thank you.

  5. This is one of those things I think about a lot. I get online after spending the afternoon with my friends from high school who I only have a week to even see and I see everyone talking about how much they've gotten done today. I feel guilty when people start talking about how you have to *make* time for your writing if you want to make it your career. You have to write every day.

    That's not how I work, and I know it, but I still feel bad for living my life when I see comments like that. :\

    We're such an odd bunch of people, writers. But I think sometimes we forget that we can't write realistically if we never get out and live life.

    I had a creative writing teacher say that once, and then he followed it up with "Get up. Get out. And live." I try to keep that in mind in order to maintain balance between my social life and my writing life.

    Fantastic post, Natalie! :)

  6. Uh yeah, I used to be that same naive person who thought I could get published because I was so, erm, brilliant. I didn't need all the revisions, the hard work, the heart ache.

    Then I woke up.

    Now I am in revisions, deep in revisions. And it's okay. I'm finally okay with it taking whatever time it needs to take.

    Thanks for sharing, though. Nice to know people out there (who have agents) have been where I am now.

  7. I'm a naturally impatient person so I think this is a lesson I still have to learn!

    Mind you, I'm not novelling at the moment. Given my CFS I've decided to work with stories that are a natural length for me - and that means flash fiction.

    Good luck with your continuing writing and editing. I look forward to the day when I see you in print.

  8. Thanks for posting this, it is exactly how I'm feeling! I feel like I write so slowly, I must be wasting time. It took me two years to write my first book, which I shelved anyway, the next a year and half, and now I'm on my third and trying to rush myself to finish it because I feel it's "the one". Thanks for reminding me to slow down :)

  9. In fact, my mantra lately has been, embrace the slow. I'm liking it.

  10. Thanks for sharing this! I went through the same thing when I started learning the industry. I had to do it all YESTERDAY. I finally realized the same things you did-- that slow is okay.

  11. Thanks for sharing this :) Although I think my problem is I slow down too often. I need to speed up--I don't want to be working on one novel for ten years (and I'm nearly to the halfway point...)

    But I do get those moments where I feel like I have to hurry and get published before the impending apocalypse...but you said it best--just enjoy life!

  12. Thank you. As I pounded my head against the wall tired of waiting, I saw this post and remembered something important.

    I've waited a lot longer for other things that were important, so I just need to eat a slice of chocolate cake and bite off more patience.

  13. Writing is an integral part of my life but it isn't my whole life and I think that part of the point you're making here is to live. Besides, if we don't live then we wouldn't have anything to write about.

    But thank you for this post as it has reminded me that sometimes the journey is way more important than the getting to the end (which never turns out to be the end but you know what I mean).

  14. Such good advice ... so hard to apply it!

  15. This post could so be about me! I went through the same steps, the same realizations. Great post!

  16. "...if your book isn't good enough yet, do you really want people reading it anyway?"

    Exactly! I've read so many books that made me groan and think why couldn't the author just have gone through a couple more revisions. Their book would still have been as successful and they would be able to have pride in their work.

  17. MAN I needed to hear this today. Just whine--I mean blogged--about this topic over on my blog today. Sigh. Thanks for the bucket of ice water. Whew - needed it!

  18. Thank you SO much for writing this. I could relate to so much of it, it was almost eerie. Especially the part about worrying:
    a)my idea will be written by somebody else
    b)ebooks will take over and nobody will read mine...ever

    This was a much-needed reminder for me to chill out and enjoy my family life more. Like Kiersten said, my kids won't always be this cute.

    But Natalie...
    WOW on your book-writing speed! You are amazing!

  19. Katrina, speedy, yes, but please note that NONE of those books are published, nor were they the books that got me my agent.

    The one that stuck? Nine months of revision...for starters.

  20. Good advice and man, girl, that ice was cold.

    If we're moving too fast, we're not really enjoying the journey, are we? And I've heard a lot of people say that the best part WAS the journey, not the destination.

    I need to read "The Alchemist" again, by the way.

  21. Awesome post and so true. I have to keep reminding myself of this ALL the time.

  22. Sometimes I miss those days of ignorance. I used to think that once I got a book deal it would get published in a month, how wrong I was.

    Trying to slow down and be patient is the most popular advice from other authors for a reason.

  23. I got caught up in the same whirl and forgot to enjoy the writing process, always checking mail for a response to my queries! Two years ago I had never heard of blogging and a year before that when i had no email, my writing practice felt more grounded, more rewarding in some ways, it's about balancing the two, thanks for the reminder!

  24. I can't help but feel like there is a timer ticking down above my head. "How much longer do I have before the destruction of the publishing industry as we know it???" My dream is to see my book on a shelf of a book store....and with every day that passes, I feel like we're one day closer to the end of that dream. I don't think print will die off....well...not for at least a couple decades...but brick and mortar bookstores....yeah...I definitely think the end is near.

    Very hard to slow down when you see your dream dissolving.

  25. such a great post. i really needed this :)


  26. Great advice. I used to be very naive and too hopeful. I've missed lots of contests and other opportunities, but you're right. It's best to wait till your manuscript is ready. Even if it takes years. That's me, but hopefully at the end.

  27. Seriously. How much would it suck to finally get published...and THEN the publishing industry tanks. If books are going under, I'd appreciate them doing so sooner rather than later. Save me a lot of time.

  28. I'm so glad I started this process long before blogs. I'm also happy I came to the whole blog thing late in the game. Somehow all the information and good news would have paralyzed me, and I don't think I would have gotten very far.

  29. Great post, Natalie. I liked the line about 'so what if the Apocalypse comes in the meantime...' because my book is sort of about the Apocolypse. Anyway, my kids make me slow down. I couldn't go fast (and do a good job) right now if I wanted to. But I admit that sometimes I do get impatient...

  30. "So what if the Apocalypse comes in the meantime—if your book isn't good enough yet, do you really want people reading it anyway?"

    You rock at advice-giving :D

  31. Man, this is a speech I feel like I've made a lot lately. It's not a license to slack or procrastinate (though, um, I might have done those things), but it is about giving your creativity a chance to replenish and problem-solve -- and taking the time to craft the prose so it really shines. But yeah, everything about the culture we live in presses for speed, for quick success, rather than slowing down and getting it right.

  32. Thank you for saying it out loud. I sort of thought I was falling behind because I was slacking by not pushing out MS after MS and taking too long working on a couple. I am glad to know that it doesn't have to rule your life. I try to keep up, but I let my family rule the roost. If they say it is time to spend with them, that is what happens.

    I do write when the mode strikes and I do ask for some private time to get things done and they are gracious enough to comply. I appreciate the post. Everyone wants it now, and I admit, that would be great--but I am willing to wait a little longer.