Thursday, May 1, 2014

Give it Up or Suck It Up

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




This anonymous question was submitted to our blog. I thought I would attempt an answer and would love it if everyone could share their own answer.
“When you were at your lowest point and about to give up writing fiction, what pulled you through?”

I distinctly remember this low point. Ironically it came after a huge high. Go figure. I’d been working full time in the energy industry, doing a demanding job with travel, and had been writing for 3-4 hours every night (much longer on weekends). I did this grueling schedule for 3 years and it felt as if I worked two full time jobs at the same time.

I had joined a writer’s group, attended conferences & craft workshops, entered national writing contests, and submitted proposals to agents and editors with countless rejections. Mind you, I’d been named winner or finalist in half the contests I entered and I’d been receiving “good” rejections. The ones with handwritten notes or encouragement to resubmit from editors and agents, and I had 7 full requests out at the time. This kind of feedback requires risk. A writer has to dare to put their work out there for public scrutiny and rejection in order to learn and open your mind. Here's an excellent post from TKZ's James Scott Bell on the importance of Rhino Skin.

With every one of these aspiring author stories, there often comes tantalizing peaks along with devastating emotional valleys. I had entered (for the first time) the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors and had been named a finalist. This is like the Oscars for RWA. This was the Mt Everest high I'd talked about.

A good friend of mine, who had also been a finalist that year, gave me good advice. She told me to simply focus on my writing (a new project) and not get caught up in all the hoopla of the event, like what formal dress I would wear, or my shoes, or hair. From her experience, she knew it was too easy to get distracted and that if I didn't sell from this, I would have to find a way to carry on and keep going. As high as I’d been from the contest, I felt my hopes dashed when I didn't sell by the time the event came around. (Often, expectations are the proverbial albatross.) My friend had been right. I had to focus on what was important.

What got me through the crashing low after such a Rocky Mountain High was one question. I asked something that would change how I looked at my writing from there forward. “Would I still write if I never sold?” When I answered with an enthusiastic “YES,” I knew why I wrote. I wrote for the passion of the process and the love of storytelling, my way. I had tapped into a form of self-expression, creating something from nothing, that I hadn't experienced any other way. The love of writing and reading had been with me since I was a child. It would always be a part of me.

Writing has elevated my quality of life. It’s changed me forever and in that moment, the burden of expectation (something I had no control over) was lifted. After I’d let go of the Must Sell mentality, it wasn't long after that I sold big. My first sale story is here at this LINK. Yes, I sacrificed a body part to sell. But after I finished “No One Heard Her Scream,” I knew it would sell. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just did. Who needed pain killers when the euphoria of writing had me walking on clouds?

In that stage of my writing journey--after I'd rediscovered the joy--I focused on the craft of writing and forgot about what was popular or what some publishers were wanting in their detailed submission guidelines. I never was one to worry over or chase trends. I had my day job. I treated my writing as something I did because I loved it. Writing still brings joy to my life and I continue to write the stories I want to read.

I’d love to hear from others in our TKZ family. What gets you through the slumps? What keeps you going?

25 comments:

  1. This, IMO, is the money quote (I use the term "money" in its symbolic sense!)--

    I treated my writing as something I did because I loved it.

    If we can keep that attitude it will eventually show up in our writing, for the better. Good thoughts, Jordan.

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    1. Thanks, Jim. The process of writing is so solitary. By keeping the motivation close to the heart, for my own enjoyment, seems odd but it's what keeps me going on tough days--remembering the joy.

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  2. I almost quit a few years ago, and was talked out oif it in what amounted to a blog comment intervention. Since then, I have an attitude similar to Jordan's: I write what I enjoy writing. If it sells, it sells. Since adopting that attitude, I have sold one novel, self-published three, and been invited to contribute to two anthologies. Oh, and found an agent. And I'm much happier.

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    1. Great inspiration, Dana. You make me very happy happy.

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  3. I have to say that our community at TKZ has helped bring me 'round when I was floundering. Even when I went through a spell of not writing, I always received a bit of mental renewal by simply checking in with my peeps here at the blog. Our conversations here helped me retain a sense of being a writer, even during the time when my output flagged. I owe everyone here a big thank you for that!

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    1. Oh, good one, Kathryn. Yes, I find it renewing to reach out to fellow writers at TKZ & locally. Even if my associations have been social, the occasional breakfast or lunch with writer friends. I love that.

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  4. What kept me from quitting? Actually, I did quit--got so discouraged after four books and forty rejections that I decided to pack it in. But I'd kept up with an editor who was now an agent, and she had a contest on her blog for the best first line, with a prize of editing the first several pages of your novel. On a whim, I entered...and won. Then, when she read the first few pages of my novel that had been turned down more times than a Holiday Inn bedspread, her response was, "Send me something that needs editing." It got better from there, so now here I am. You never know what's around the corner, I guess.

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    1. Omg, what a GREAT story, Richard. Seriously. Wonderful. Your little kernel of hope sprouted into something worth cultivating. I love it. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I've had disappointments, of course, like everyone else. My agent telling me my novel was "dead in the water" and he would no longer represent me probably being the worst. Took about a week to lick my wounds and then decided that nothing had changed since the day a year and a half earlier he'd told me the story was "'Treasure Island' for a new generation," so I decided "Screw him." I'm still waiting to be tapped by the golden talon, as Calvin Trillin wrote in "Floater," but I've written two more mss that are even better and am embarking on a new one. My biggest "inspiration" is both faith in myself, and a cold-eyed awareness that I don't know how to do anything else that anyone is ever likely to pay me for. I write because I have to, and because i have no other marketable skills. A little scary, but I recognize it's the truth.

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    1. It's almost comical how fast publishing industry professionals can back pedal. It should be an Olympic event. Keep your faith in the talent that got you noticed in the first place, especially with an agent. They look at your career potential before they offer representation. Whatever your agent saw is still there & you're still striving to hone your craft & you keep churning out new material. Good for you, John. Thanks for joining in the discussion.

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  6. What gets me through the slumps is sheer stubbornness. If (traditional) publishing is a war of attrition, I'm determined to be the last one with my bum on the seat still writing:)

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    1. Stubborn bum in the seat. Definitely a good one, Clare. Ha! I love it.

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  7. I feel the same. Even if I don't sell, I'll still write. I LOVE creating, writing, storytelling.

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    1. You made me very happy. Best wishes to you.

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  8. Jordan--
    IMO, everything in your story argues against the idea of you as someone for whom writing is an end in itself. No one at TKZ is working for the pure, unalloyed pleasure of it, agreed? I think hope of success--meaning readers, meaning sales--is what hauls any writer out of the black pit. Money is the mother's milk of politics, but hope is what does it for writers. It's not just or even mostly hope of making money, but of having one's words read by other human beings. That's why I never trust navel-gazer writers who claim to write exclusively for a readership of one--themselves. Flannery O'Connor said she wrote to find out what she thought, and I believe her. But she didn't go all the way from Georgia to the Iowa Writers' Workshop just to get better at writing for herself.

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    1. I think I understand what you mean, Barry. I really come close to writing for my own enjoyment, but I believe the writer's job is only part done. It takes a reader to complete the circle & join the author on the story journey.

      Authors today have options with self-publishing, but going indie could divert a new author before he/she gets the full feedback of submitting to publishing houses & agents or taking the care to learn the craft. It's more complicated now, but I like having options.

      Thanks, Barry.

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  9. When I get discouraged in my writing I am quickly reminded that if I stop telling the story, the story will stop.

    If the story stops the world will cease its spinning, the atmosphere will collapse into dense puddles of gaseous mist until the core of the earth crumbles and gravity lets loose and every thing not tied down will drift aimlessly into the vacuum of space where it is cold and dreary and memory of the cries of joy and happiness and nice smelling flowers we once enjoyed while bound to this mortal skein shall resound only in our dying skulls as the breath is sucked out of life leaving nothing but the odd sensation of the taste of over ripe plums the moment before oblivion.

    trust me...it'd suck if I stopped writing.

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    1. Ditto, John. *gulp* Keep writing, Basil, before you become a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

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  10. My low point came when my publisher wiped out its mystery imprint, my husband had cancer (he's fine now) and we lost our savings in the stock market. I went to work at a bookstore and wound up selling other, more successful mystery writers. A bitter time. But the people I met at the bookstore were so interesting -- in good and bad ways -- I took notes. That became my Dead-End Job mystery, "Murder Between the Covers."

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    1. Now that's making the most of a challenging time in your life. Nice, Elaine. So glad your husband is fine now. Wow.

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  11. Writing gives my life meaning. Always has - reading and writing books - first novel attempt at 16yo.
    I've had periods of time where publishing has let me down and I've tried to do everything else in the world that I can do - it's a lot of things I'm good at - but writing books and stories is really who I am.
    Now with KDP, Smashwords and Kobo - I feel totally empowered to publish myself - it's the best fun and earns me more and more each month. So that gets me through the low times too.

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    1. I'm happy for you, Christine. Amazing you started a novel at 16. When I speak to teen writers, I get really pumped from their enthusiasm & their creativity. So I can see how it could stay with you, as it did me.

      I love the options writers have today. It IS empowering.

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  12. In answer to the anonymous question: there's nothing else I'd rather be doing :D

    I love the variety of answers on here. I feel it all comes down to our passion for writing and wanting to share our words and our crazy imagination with the world ...whether they want it or not ;)

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    1. Ha! Whether the world is READY for our crazy imaginations or not. Thanks, AD. Happy writing.

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