This is the confession of a dying writer...
And, before anyone gets worried, I mean that figuratively, not literally, though some days it feels like the same thing anyway. Despite the somewhat insane flurry of activity and releases that have been appearing on my pages and blogs around the cyberworld, I have not been writing much in almost a year. Most people find that hard to believe, because there has been no change in the creative ideas, they still come fast and furious. However, my ability to put them onto the page for readers has all but died.
As a rule, I keep my private issues private and my personal business is rarely posted, the exceptions being if I feel there might be anything involved that could help save other people heartache or bad choices. But, I’ve decided to stop pretending about this particular issue and discuss it openly. Who knows, maybe it’ll help?
I wrote fan fiction for about twenty years before I ever published a single word professionally. Writing 15K in a single day was an easy task for me, especially once I got a computer. Edits were often minimal, and I can’t remember ever getting a bad “review” from fans of the shows I wrote my fiction for, which is quite an achievement. I won a slew of awards, actually. That ease of creating and enjoying the process continued when I began publishing professionally back in 2004. Oddly, that was probably when the first threads of my current paralysis set in, too, though. The first time conflict arose between me and a publishing house, the editor who sang my praises did a sudden about-face and began to tell her friends I was a “labour intensive writer who required more work than she had time to give to me.” Wow… so much for honest communication, huh?
I’ve moved around a lot in terms of publishing with different houses, almost two dozen in the past ten years as I tried to find a place where I “fit” to some extent. I’m not sure I’ve yet found a publisher I feel happy and confident with, so there may be more avenues to walk before this ever settles. (Notice I’m assuming it will?) Editors have played an interesting role in my work, some have been very good, and others have been a nightmare to work with, though I have managed to work with them all in a cordial and professional manner. I’ve worked with two male editors who pretty much stripped all the lyricism from my words, I have no idea if that’s because the work needed to be made stark and direct, or if it’s a male style thing? But, it made me wonder why so many people compared reading my stories to having a movie turned on in their brains–I think that would be largely due to these descriptions and the emotions.
While some of my editors taught me about my horrendous POV issues–which I liken to being the director of a movie–who wants to see ALL of the reactions–to the actor who stars and is responsible for only his own responses. I needed to learn to be the actor, not the director, and in time, I did. I still make the slips occasionally, but mostly I don’t head-hop a hundred times in a story now. That was a tool worth learning.
Most authors at one time or another encounter the conflicting requests of editorial directive. I’ve seen one editor ask for revisions after reading, and once they’ve been made, still decline to contract. Perfectly acceptable. The problem is, the next editor wants things put in that are often the very things previously removed. That gets confusing. Then there are the glowing letters that tell you how wonderful your story/book is, how well written, etc., but end with the statement that somehow in spite of its attributes, it’s not quite the right fit. Again, perfectly acceptable, but another layer of “WTH” gets added to the little serpent of doubt that’s been unleashed inside your brain.
All of this has impacted me over the years, and I’ve gone from being a reasonably creative and confident writer to a frozen block of fears and stagnation. I have serious things going on in my daily life that cause tremendous stress and pressure. Writing was my sanity maintenance, and my escape. I say was, because I can no longer write. I doubt every sentence I put on the page, agonize over it to the point where I have deleted stories to the tune of tens of thousands of words recently.
I have, however, been blessed with good editors in the past year. Ladies who push me to try to recapture what I’ve unconsciously been chopping out of my writing–the imagery, the emotion, the atmosphere. ALL things I used to revel in when I got into a story. There is one editor in particular, Penny Barber, who has more faith in me than I do, and she is not only generous with her time and her knowledge, she cares about making good books that authors can be proud of when they publish. She said it to me herself a couple of days ago, she’s trying to hack away at the frozen block that my creative writer’s voice has become. I’m working on relearning to love what I have always loved, and what came naturally to me once, with the help of this amazing lady who sees something worth working on.
Where is all this leading, you ask? To one hard-won truth–never let anyone take away your power to do what you love the way you need to do it. In pleasing everyone else, I lost all sense of my own style and voice. There is a point when other people should NOT have the power to decide what we do, or how we present it. I was once of the opinion that an editor’s recommendations had to be accepted or contracts would never be forthcoming. It’s taken me years to realize that an editor is your guide, and in the end, you are still the one who decides the course of your story. Don’t be afraid to keep your personal style intact, or disagree. That’s what creative compromise is all about. Learn to be better, and use what works for you. If you let your initial fears silence your creative instincts and storytelling voice, you will only end up with a huge case of utter terror of the page at some point.
The road back is long, lonely, and incredibly difficult. I hope I make it, because I am miserable without my worlds…
As a writer who has struggled with this same problem, I relate to what you say. I also tend to keep things close and not share pain, but I'm learning to do so. Perhaps that's part of the healing. We think we have to have this perfect show of professionalism, when what we need to do is be raw and open. Easier said than done.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Kayelle. As someone I have always admired and respected in this business, your thoughts mean a lot to me. This is not an easy topic for creative people, and the way back to a comfortable balance is a difficult one. I see you doing so many things, and all of them well, it gives me some hope that I can find my way again. Hugs and love to you.Delete
I don't bring a lot to the table. I'm not some huge success (yet) and I'm still semi-new at all this. According to all the movies I ever saw, you type out your manuscript bind it with brass brads and then put it in one of those big thick manila envelopes (which for the record-why are they called manila? Is that like a cross between mustard yellow and vanilla? Ew) and send it off to a dozen or hundred publishers. I have found-that is just not how it is done. I always thought of my writing as something I was driven to do but was just for me and a few others. I didn't have one ounce of belief in myself and then the one time I did, I got taken in by a scam press. I felt like I was looking down at the part of me that loves to write that is full of stories-that had a dream and was trying to decide the gut wrenching decision of whether or not it was worth saving or just needed to be taken out to pasture and shot. Then the most remarkable thing happened one lonely night (cue the Reo Speedwagon), I met a phenominal lady who got me off the Feel Sorry For Myself Express and had me save my writing career before I went ahead and euthanized it. That person was you and I not only found a mentor and a listening ear-but I found a dear friend to me who means so much and is as close as the sister that I should have been born with. I love you Denyse, and I am so grateful for everything you have done and do for me. You really helped to get me through some of the worst times in my life. You inspire me every day to be a better writer and story teller.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Nikki. I know you've had a hard time finding faith in yourself again, but as I've said to you many times, everyone falls for some scam or another, or falls prey to shit publishers, especially in the beginning. This is not a kind business in many regards, and it's one that's been devalued badly in recent years, but I think the time will come when there's a balance restored, and good things will happen for talented storytellers and writers who care. I love you, too, always - I think you know that you are a precious friend and sister to me, too, Nik.Delete
Lord, I'm sorry you're going through this kind of nightmare! You are an incredibly gifted writer, and even more important, you are a great, supportive and understanding friend, one who I value very highly. Please don't give up completely on your writing, but don't force things either, because that I have learned only makes things worse. You have some very good books and stories that are still out there, speaking for you to everyone who reads them, and that could help you in the future. Of course, I don't know that much about professional writing; I've only had a few non-fan-fic pieces published in professional mode, and except for the ones you published on your site or in the magazine, the publishers always end up going out of business. I think I have finally pushed aside my own block, but I'm only writing when I know I'll enjoy it; if that means I rarely get published again, I guess I'll just have to live with it. But you have considerably more talent than I do, and I'm praying that more chances will still come your way.ReplyDelete
You have always been a great support for me, offering encouragement, advice, education, friendship and simply providing a great example. I respect your decisions, and I feel for the situation you find yourself in, and I will support whatever choices you make.
Thank you, Roberta. We've known each other a long time, and it's always been a solid and genuine friendship. You are a better writer than you often believe, but as you've said, there comes a time when you have to set a new pace, and find a voice that belongs to you again. I've never suffered writer's block the way many do, and even now, it's not so much block as it is simple fear and exhaustion. Thank you for always being there, no matter what is happening. Love, DDelete
We've never met, chatted, you know what I mean. But I saw this link on Penny Barber's Facebook page, which she shared. Penny has edited a whopping six books for me over the past couple of years, and she's working on books seven and eight for me right now. Love her. She's the best editor ever. I'm so glad she's helping you get your creativity back. I certainly can't believe how lucky I am to have her.
I too write fantasy romance, both within the YA/NA, and historical genres with Kensington/Lyrical. If you ever want to send me a FB friend request, feel free too. The road back doesn't need to be long and lonely. Authors need to stick together.
FB link: https://www.facebook.com/joanne.wadsworth.50
Thanks for sharing your journey.
Hi, Joanne. Thank you for stopping by. Penny is an incredible, talented lady, I agree. She is the best, in all ways. Congrats on the books you've produced with her, and I know there will be many more for you if she's in your corner. Big hugs and many, many thanks for your kind words.ReplyDelete
This hits home for me many days with my crazy schedule, I can't imagine doing as much as you have done! But, just curious, have you ever considered trying to go self-published?ReplyDelete
Thank you, Aaron - I have actually just self-published my first two as an experiment. They may be others, hard to say at this point in time. I'm really at a point where I have no idea what I'll be doing next. :)Delete
Hi. Just a random visitor here :) I think you've found the best solution for your problem: self-publish and take control over your writing. Make editors work for you, not other way around. It's not about what appeals to one man, but what appeals to readers, plural.Delete
I know what you mean, Denyse. You and I have talked many times about this and I see the point you are making. I fully agree with not letting anyone, including yourself, steal away what you love to do. Don't let anyone destroy who you are, your creativity, your self-worth, etc. I believe in you and your skill at turning a word. I've seen you do it. I also agree that you and the right publisher haven't found each other yet, but I feel it is coming soon for you!!! <3 Love you bunches!ReplyDelete
Thank you, April. I honestly have no certainty at the moment, but I do know that I am trying to relearn things and find my way back to a comfortable place again. I love you, too. Always. :)ReplyDelete
If anyone can do this it is you. There are times that not being a people pleaser is hard, harder than just about anything I have ever done so I understand that only too well. We both take on too much, and both of us need to remember the words of one of my dearly departed friends. Saying no to someone else, means saying yes to yourself. Here's to YES and here's to you!ReplyDelete
I think we've created a myth that writer's block isn't real. Writers do get stuck, and getting unstuck can be a painful process. Have you read any of Julia Cameron's books? "The Artist's Way" was especially helpful for me, and "Walking in this World" is good too.ReplyDelete
At the end of the day, an good editor is a reader--a reader with a carefully trained ear and eye for good storytelling. But they're still just one person, one reader, and hopefully we're writing books for many readers with varying tastes and preferences.
I wish you the best of luck in overcoming this block. And thanks for pointing out that even published/multi-published authors struggle with doubt and blocks--yet another myth we need to unravel in this business.