Monday, October 17, 2011

Smelling The Roses. Or Whatever.

I've been thinking a lot. About myself, about how I've handled things over the last five years I've been pursuing writing. And lately, publishing hasn't felt as important as it used to. Lest ye get all up in arms (Like I've said I hate arms!), let me explain.

I was WAY obsessed.

Driven is not a strong enough word. Maybe more like desperate. My desire to be published trumped everything in my life, and thus everything got out of whack. I didn't really know it at the time, but I put all my feelings of self-worth into publishing. I put all my energy into it, at the detriment of other things. Sure, I would say that I was fine if I never got published, and sometimes I even convinced myself to believe it. I wanted to believe it, because I knew that's how sane people should feel and I wanted to be sane very much.

Can we say denial? Inside, it felt like I would never, ever be happy if I didn't sell a book. If I couldn't succeed at this, then I would be settling. If I wasn't a writer, any other path would be meaningless.

Talk about dramatic.

Honestly? Selling a book didn't make me happy. Oh, it did for a second, but then I was right back to my destructive, self-loathing ways. Except this time it was obvious that it was MY problem, because I'd gotten what I wanted and I still wasn't happy. In fact, I was kind of miserable, and I felt horrible for being miserable, and I wanted to know WHY I was so miserable.

I wish I could tell you I had all the answers, but I'm still figuring it out. A big part, I think, was the hope I'd lost. I'd become a pretty negative person, and I'm still working on grasping that hope again.

I think another big part of the misery came in Watching The Clock. I wanted things to happen NOW, or at least fast. I had no concept of just how slow publishing is—and that it's actually a good thing. More and more I'm learning that time improves a story. You see things. You grow. The story grows. But I wanted my books out NOW. I didn't understand that Too Early can cause far more regrets than waiting.

I now shudder at the thought of TRANSPARENT's earliest drafts, before the rewrite. At the time, I honestly thought that was how the story should go. I believed it should be published the way it was. It wasn't until maybe the 8th draft that I realized a thread I was missing—a thread that ultimately made the book what it is today. If I hadn't had that time to think and reflect on what I really wanted my novel to be, I know it wouldn't have been as strong as it is now.

But at the time I didn't have that perspective. I just wanted to get there. It wasn't so much about making the book amazing—it was about making it good enough as fast as I could so someone would just BUY IT already. That, I think, ultimately had the opposite effect: it slowed me down.

I...was putting publishing before the book.

That sounds kind of weird, but I hope it makes sense. In a lot of ways, I stopped caring about writing. You could even say I hated it, because it was this thing I couldn't seem to master, and my apparent incompetence was in the way of getting The Deal. Ha, that sounds so stupid, but it feels true. I was so turned around that writing became the enemy.

Oh, 2010, I'm so glad you are behind me.

Things started to turn around for me when I put stuff back in the right priority boxes, and when I began to focus again on The Writing and not so much on The Publishing. When it wasn't so much about how fast I could write but instead about how well. When I told the stories I wanted to tell, regardless of how marketable they'd be. Basically, I started acting like an unagented, unpublished writer again.

And that's really the secret to this whole game. It always comes back to the writing. Yeah, I have an agent. Yeah, I have a book deal. But that doesn't mean my next novel will sell. It doesn't really guarantee anything. When I write, I have to write like I always have—as if I've got nothing to lose, as if no one's looking over my shoulder, as if it's all just for fun and yeah it'd be cool if something came of it but that's not really why I write.

If you can, try not to lose sight of that. It's not fun. Enjoy telling your story, exploring it, making it better. Take your time. Create, don't manufacture. Forget about the race and do what you do. Everything else has a way of working out whether you stress about it or not.

(And having written this on and off over the course of three hours, I really hope it's coherent. If not, oh well.)

36 comments:

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you as always for your honesty! I think this post is SO important for writers at all stages. I think we could all use a reminder every now and then that the WRITING and the love of writing is the important thing :)

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  2. This may sound weird, but I quit following agent blogs a little over a year ago. I'll still read a post every now and then, but I feel less pressure to get published. I'm more content to write and polish at my own pace. It's a better place to be.

    Thanks for sharing this, and thanks for hanging in there.

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  3. Wonderful post, I love your honesty!

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  4. Ha, never fear - it was very coherent.

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  5. It's so great that people are saying stuff like this. I was like that, Natalie. I still am at times. So worried about getting books written NOW that I forget to just enjoy the ride.

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  6. Natalie, reading this post has really made me think. Right now I'm where you were. I hate writing. I can't bring myself to do it because at some point it became the enemy. I'm at a loss as to what to do. Your advice is sound, but I don't know if I can bring myself to write without the goal of being published. I've tried, yet failed each time. I used to write because I love it. Now, I just want to get a MS finished so I can get it out the door. I feel stunted and lost. I hope this time will end and I'll find my drive again. Like you, I was a writer possessed. I miss the high of a first draft and the glow of finishing revisions. I miss being naive.
    Thank you for sharing this. It was comforting to hear another writer mirror my thoughts and fears.

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  7. E.R. King. Hang in there. I know that feeling all too well, and for me what became the turning point was writing SIDEKICK, my first contemporary YA. It was so outside of genre I couldn't even think of it being "marketable," and I really wrote it for myself to explore what I was feeling at the time.

    What also helped was taking a huge step back from the internet. Seeing deals and news and book covers and bestseller lists in constant stream totally made me feel like I was missing out, that the world was passing me by and I'd miss the train if I didn't HURRY.

    Yes, I'm telling you to become a hermit. Kind of.

    I hope you can find the love again—and I wish I could tell you exactly how. But really it's in your hands. All I can say is that you CAN find it again. I did. It wasn't easy, but I found that place where I can enjoy the process of telling a story without the thought of what will become of it.

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  8. Awesome post!!!! Thanks for this. I feel like you're in my head. LOL. You are so right.

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  9. Thank you for your honesty. I was worried by your post last week about cutting back on your blogging.

    The focus should always be about the writing. Finish the book. Edit/revise the book. Keep writing. Publishing will come later. (At least, that's what I keep chanting to myself.)

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  10. This is a great post. You are always so honest with your feelings. I love-create, don't manufacture! I think, I'll make a poster.

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  11. Yes! I'd put a million exclamation points, but that might take up too much space.

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  12. This is a great post to stick up on the wall of your writing office and read again and again. There will be many pressures, but the best and most important part is always the writing.

    And FWIW, I found the time between sale and publication to be the longest, hardest wait of all. It wasn't the longest wait chronologically (although, at two years, it wasn't short either), but it felt the longest. It was like being on the 10-yard line and worrying that someone would tackle me or I would trip before I could make it to the end zone.

    No part of the process has ever been as hard as that was. But that may just be my own quirk. ;-)

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  13. Thanks for your honesty. Ever since I've decided to be a 'serious' author, the desire of publishing loomed over my head. And so many waking moments is about planning or dreaming or thinking for a way to get published. Sometimes I think it got a bit unhealthy.

    I'm just at the very start of the road, and already I want the NOW to happen. Which is kind of ridiculous. I need to reign myself in.

    Good post. Best of luck in your search.

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  14. Why did I say author? I mean *serious* writer.
    *smacks head* I need more caffeine.

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  15. I feel myself standing on the edge of this precipice, and I am desperately trying not to jump. I don't want to resent the writing, this story that I love. I don't want to put all my (self-worth) eggs in one (publishing) basket.

    Most days I don't. Most days I'm fine.

    But some days... some days I may just need to look this post up again.

    Thanks, Natalie.

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  16. Sometimes it's so hard to remember why we got into this crazy thing called writing in the first place. Thanks for putting it all into perspective so frankly.

    Onward -

    Cyndi

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  17. True. I've asked myself before if I would stop writing if I knew for a fact I would never be published. I might stop writing physically, but my brain would keep doing it. So why stop?

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  18. You never cease to impress me. Fantastic post. (((hugs)))

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  19. I love how you're so honest. I feel like, more than anywhere else, your blog prepares me for waht may come.

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  20. I can only echo what everyone else has said here. I think the outside world (friends, family and acquaintances) can contribute to this. I often feel like when they ask "How's your writing going?" the only answer that matters or even has meaning to them would be "I got an agent" or "I got a book deal" or "An editor requested the manuscript." In other words, the stuff related to publishing. I might be riding high because I solved some tricky scene or structural issue, but it won't mean squat to them. That's where my critique group makes all the difference. When I make an awesome character discovery, they get just as excite as I do.

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  21. Great post! So hard to express that wanting, but I've been there with the loathing of the writing thing. No fun. Miserable, in fact. Just like you said. I was much happier when I didn't want to write to get published. So great advice!

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  22. I'm trying to figure out my answer to Mindy McGinnis' question- if I knew I wouldn't be published, would I still write?

    Um, yeah. I don't know. It really stinks to get rejected, to feel that, "will this idea sell?" looming over my shoulder, every single word. I don't care as much the venue that I'm published in as long as I get a fair share of the money made on my work. Most importantly, I want my books to be read. I want to share.

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  23. "Create, don't manufacture." And that's what it all comes down to. :)

    You always have the most inspirational posts and always at the right times. Thank you for being open and honest about your publishing/writing experiences; it makes the entire process seem more real.

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  24. Thank you! That's all I can really say. I needed to read this today. I think maybe I need to stop focusing on getting published too, because writing has become more a chore than a pleasure, and I hate that.

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  25. Thank you. I'd love to write something really flowery to tell you how much this post means to me. But I think everyone else has covered it. So, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Much, much love.

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  26. Aw, man. I wrote a post of my own and linked your Hope post as an example, but this one is even better. I should have waited. :)

    Very wise and well said.

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  27. "It always comes back to the writing."

    After seeing a post this morning that makes it sound like it's all about the Facebook/Twitter/Blogger/LinkedIn, etc., followers, it was nice to see this. Thank you.

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  28. I love this post. I read it yesterday, and then read it first thing today. It's awesome, like you. :D

    As Janci noted, "Very wise and well said."

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  29. Natalie, I nominated you for “The Most Versatile Blogger Award.” You are welcome to check it out by following the link back to my blog: http://kathrynleighaz.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/blogger-awards/

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  30. Your thoughtful post and wise reply inspired me to blog about this. You can find my story at getbusywriting.blogspot.com. Thank you, Natalie!

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  31. Very thoughtful post. I have the same problem, it's easy for me to get so sucked into writing (and getting my book done ASAP so that I can get it freaking PUBLISHED lol) outweighs everything else in my life that I find myself neglecting what's really important-sometimes even, I hesitate to say, my kids! It's all about balance for me and finding joy in other things because if I get too focused on writing everything else goes out of whack. Eric Elfman, a freelance editor who I sat next to at dinner during a conference last March, said it pretty simply: If you keep writing, you will get published. I think what he means is that too many people give up too easily, but also that the main thing to focus on is not the timing (although I'm super duper impatient!). It's just to keep doing it until your ms falls into place the way it needs to be. Thanks!

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  32. Perfect. You know how I feel about this. :)

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  33. Absolutely spot on Natalie.....today all anyone and everyone wants to do is sell...the product has to be perfect first and that takes time...

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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