Give Yourself A Break

Writers have a tough job. It’s no easy task to be working on your own, often for long stretches with little feedback, developing ideas, stories, plots, characters, and sometimes grasping at straws in the hope it will all come together into a cohesive whole.

I often talk at length with my fiction (and sometimes nonfiction) authors about their next books, whether they’ve been previously published or not. Should they stick to the same category? Try something new if a book hasn’t sold to a publisher, or if a first published book hasn’t succeeded in the marketplace? What about going from adult to children’s? That’s something a lot of authors are thinking about and doing these days, including several of my own. These conversations can be difficult or invigorating, and usually it’s a healthy combination of both. Sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of brainstorming to come up with the right answers. Sometimes these conversations need to happen between each and every book! Patience is an important part of this book development process.

The bottom line is, whatever that next idea may be, it has to come from the heart, and it has to be compelling and passionate to the writer from the beginning. It’s a tricky balancing act trying to write what you love and write for a fickle and unpredictable market, but the starting point has to be writing what makes you feel like writing and keeps you motivated to do so. Jim and Steph tackled aspects of this predicament this week to great response in their Why do you write? and I have no comment at this time.

My contribution to the conversation comes from a brief piece I found in Author that speaks to some of these conflicts that arise while crafting a book. It talks a bit about the benefits of starting with an outline, but that is difficult for many authors, so it goes on to suggest that the best thing a struggling writer can sometimes do is throw it away and start over if it’s not working. Hard advice to hear when you’ve spent so much time on a project, but there are some books that are just not meant to be. If the struggle is there from early on, listen to your instincts to put it aside and try something new. Perhaps you can pick it back up at a later date, or not. But don’t beat yourself up over wasted time or energy, or feeling like you’ll never be able to write another sentence again. It’s a process, an imperfect and sometimes long one, but that’s what makes it endlessly frustrating, and rewarding.

Share your thoughts with us on your favorite feeling of frustration or excitement during the writing process. We know there will be some good ones!

11 Responses to Give Yourself A Break

  1. You know, Stacy, this is great advice! Of the 18 books I’ve written and had published, 4 have been completely rewritten, beginning with my first book, which Jim actually passed on when I first queried him. He left the door open for a rewrite though, so, I held my breath, highlighted 250 pages and hit the delete button. A sobering moment, let me tell you! I started again from the third chapter and it worked out beautifully.

    My first children’s novel was also a complete rewrite. My new editor loved the characters, but her remarks about the plot were, “It doesn’t work.” Why she purchased it is still a mystery to me, but she did, (thank God!) and I threw out all but the first two chapters and completely rewrote it, and the new direction was infinitely better.

    It can really hurt to toss out pages, chapters, or ideas that aren’t working, but I like to think of it like clearing out the clutter. You know there are a few good kernels in that idea closet of yours, and sometimes you have to pull out all the junk and lay it out on paper to find the stuff worth keeping. From that point you can start to reorganize and reinvent and the result is almost always better than the original.

  2. Hear, hear! I feel like I say this sort of thing often, and it’s nice to be echoed by someone with a bit more clout.

    Outlines usually work well for me, but there was one story about a year ago that just turned into a monster despite my careful pre-planning. I finished the first draft, but knew it would require a complete rewrite to be made to work–and recent world events have made me doubt the basic science fiction premise could happen anywhere in the near future, so I’d have to replot something anyway even if the manuscript had turned out well. It was a very frustrating struggle all the way, but it has made it easier for me to cut characters, subplots, and words in subsequent stories.

  3. Teri Carter says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever worried much about ditching a project that’s not working. I think of it like bad relationships … if I hadn’t had the bad ones, I wouldn’t have noticed or appreciated the good ones that came along. I think of Wallace Stegner who claimed that his BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN (no small book) was merely practice for writing his masterpiece, ANGLE OF REPOSE. These thoughts keep me putting the pen on the page and moving on.

  4. After writing my fourth novel I realized why my first one hadn’t worked. I could go back and rewrite it now, but the premise is flawed and it wouldn’t be worth the effort to start from scratch. It’s been permanently shelved. I did do a rewrite on the third novel, however, and cut out two unnecessary scenes to tighten the story line. I’m not so attached to my words that I hate to part with them. They’re meant to make a story better and if they don’t accomplish that I’d rather get rid of them.

  5. I always love taking a cruise through different writing blogs to view those insightful comments penned by fellow scribes. It’s refreshing and invigorating to say the least. One always learns a great deal from another’s well thought out and crafted words concerning their own personal frame of reference within those plotted genres from which they rise.

    As one whose been recently embraced by Jane Dystel to review my passion for tossing my words on a page, I discovered that it truly “is” your heart — which becomes your voice — that people are drawn to. I opened my heart honestly and in truth with Jane and she graciously responded.

    When I began to consider this “thing” that had been bumping inside of me wishing to be unleashed and expressed, I found that it was my “heart” that wished to be heard in print. Not my mind or any other component of my being; but my heart first. With this writing experience my life has been completely and forever changed. It’s simply amazing what a commitment to your musings from the heart can do in one’s life. I feel so blessed!

    For me, it will always be that my writing comes from my heart and nowhere else. I find that with this, I’m never “stuck” as with some authors state they are, as I’m discovering constantly these new windows of imaginative and creative opportunity which enhances my new divinely inspired path in life.

    I heard Nic Sparks comment about being “stuck” when I met Nic at one of his book signings. It amazed me that a person of Nic’s popularity on the world’s literary stage would even comment to such a thing. It’s one thing to feel or state to someone you’re stuck; in a sense, but it’s quite another to actually embrace those misleading words when your heart is telling you to take a break, relax your mind and go discover that special something you need to bring back to the workbench to enhance your wordsmith’s abilities.

    This is great stuff! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’m always learning more and more daily and “reading” sets you in a different light — a light in your heart, which lifts you even higher within your gifted craft. Be well all! Write-On!!

  6. Alli says:

    I am a reformed pantser. My first two novels I wrote myself into some tricky corners and spent a lot of time hitting delete and rewriting. The third novel was outlined (a little) and I’m sure it saved me a couple of drafts. This new WIP I’m about to embark on has been outlined in great detail (20 single spaced pages!) but I am more excited about starting this one than the others. I used to be scared that outlining would mean I would lose the passion for the story because I knew what was going to happen but it’s turned out to be the opposite. Because I know what’s going to happen and have an idea of how, I can’t wait to get it on the page and find out how it turns out! Huh. I never thought I’d

  7. Alli says:

    …whoops. I never thought I’d hit the reply button so quickly? What I wanted to say was I never thought I’d be one of “those outliners”. I am now and I’ve learned a lot from it.

  8. Anne Stuart says:

    One thing I’ve learned after a looong time in this business is that just when you think you’ve got it worked out, the girls in the basement aka the muse throws you a curve. I was a pantser, then an outliner, then a pantser. Sometimes I know exactly where I’m going, sometimes I write on faith. Sometimes I toss out an entire book, sometimes the first chapter, sometimes I only keep the first chapter (though for me that tends to be problematic).
    I’ve decided that there’s no controlling it and no understanding it. Each book needs to be written as it wants to be written, but as Stacey says, it has to come from the heart. It doesn’t matter how commercially-viable and high-concept it is — if you don’t love it then it’s not worth writing.
    Two mantras:
    “If it’s not fun why do it?” Ben and Jerry, American philosophers
    “It’s a mystery.” Shakespeare in Love

  9. As writers, I think we tend to fall in love with what we’ve already done, even if, deep down, we know it’s not as good as it could be or should be. I know that there have been times that there have been little quivers of problems (“this doesn’t make sense” or “this contradicts something from chapter three”) that I just don’t feel like dealing with so I leave it and hope no one notices. But who am I kidding?

    Unlike Victoria, though, I never hit delete – I always keep copies (digital or hard) of what I’ve done, because you never know at what future time a piece of an idea may become useful to you again, and then I’d hate to be unable to put my hands on it.

  10. Stacey says:

    Thanks for all the great posts. Glad to see this one struck a chord and so many of you have such great stories to share. Please keep writing, and loving it, even when it’s not going as well as you’d hoped!

  11. Bethany Neal says:

    This post makes me feel ions better about the 4 months(!) I toiled over 4–possibly 5, but who’s counting?–different ideas before actually being able to focus on the one that felt right as my next novel. I knew there was a reason you’re my agent. :) So understanding and supportive.

    I really had to step back and realize I needed to write for me, not the “fickle” marketplace that I was suddenly hyper aware of once I got myself an agent. It really scrambles your brain when you actively try to write for the unknown masses.

    And deep breath. Therapy session over. :)

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