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15 April 2010

Dear Saint Jude (confessions of a writer)



I’m not a “big-name” writer by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. I’m a tiny fish in a very large pond, but of late I am discovering that even small fish have sensitive psyches.

Sometimes, when I am struggling with a book, I wonder whether other mid-list writers are sweating as I am. Are they questioning their ability to write their book the way they envision it? Running out of synonyms for “said” and “walked”? Waking up at 3 a.m. with the deflating realization that the love scene will never work? Wondering they have lost their “touch” or their “voice?”

Or (gulp) their next contract?

I agonize over whether my editor will like my last scene. My hero. My character arc. But then I have to ask, “Why am I doing this?” Am I writing this story for my editor, or for me? Is it my creative vision that’s important here, or the marketing department’s estimate of potential sales? Should I change to a more currently sellable genre such as paranormal? Urban fantasy? Young adult thriller?

I have days when I wonder if I really do have some talent for writing or just a workaholic daily routine. I wonder if my brain is slowing down as my body is? Then I wonder (philosophically [physiologically?]) if it’s really one’s brain that comes up with a great idea for a book or some ineffable force called The Muse.

I wonder if my Muse ever gets fed up and flies off to a greener pasture. Does my pasture need a shot of fertilizer, or am I just having a blue period which will pass when it stops raining?

Some days I think I’m doing okay. I write consistently; I research diligently; I plan my turning-point scenes, character growth, and emotional through-lines intelligently.

Other days I’m not so sure. I get a 4-page single-spaced revision letter from my editor; I get kindly nudges from my agent. I believe the editor just wants a good, marketable book rather than my ego on a platter. I believe my agent is on my side.

And I try to be on my side. But you know what? There’s a bunch of stuff I don’t know, like whether high sales numbers mean that I’ve written a “good” book. And what is a “good” book in the popular fiction category, anyway?

Maybe this is “artist angst.” Maybe it’s hormonal droop or Prozac poopout. But I wonder if I’m the only writer who sometimes feels uncertain and un-selfconfident and a bunch of other “un” things?

I hope I am preaching to the choir here; otherwise it’s just a struggling writer’s whine.

And, Saint Jude, thanks for listening.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I think you've nailed it. Lynna. And in the spirit of commiserating angst, self-doubt (or at least self-exploration) loves company, I've had plenty of those sleepless nights. And this week I received a 3-pg single spaced revision letter from my editor.

"Keep Calm and Carry On" may the motto for these periods. Or perhaps "This, Too, Shall Pass." :)

11:29 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

You're not alone. I don't think we all share the same issues and insecurities, but I’m sure we all have them. Mine is always “do I have enough there there”? I tend to be so character-driven that I sometimes (usually while slogging through the sagging middle) begin to have worry that all I’ve got is a novella.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Count me in, Lynna. I won't even tell you today's measly word-count, the brow-knitting and tooth-gnashing that went into switching two pages from his p.o.v to hers. And -- since this one's uncontracted -- the wondering whether anyone will ever even read it.

But... a phrase I've been cherishing for some months finally got onto paper today. And I still like it, and find myself planning for when the (metaphorical) gun in that phrase will go off... or threaten to go off... and then go off later when (hopefully) the reader doesn't expect it.

I write because I can't dance. And since sometimes I do get to kick up my heels a little on paper, I guess I'll be back at my desk tomorrow.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Maryan said...

While writing our dissertations last century (I love that phrase!), a colleague offered the following explanation of the writing process:

Scholarly research is “eat a bunch of fiber, sit on the pot and ponder the essence of the fiber, consider the process the fiber is now going through in your stomach, release the synthesized fiber product from your bowels, ponder the philosophical ramifications of the fiver fall-out, compare the fall-out to countless previous parallel instances, confer with others how the process could have taken place in a different manner, take copious notes of any mental or verbal ramblings, then flush.”

While there are certainly differences between writing a dissertation and writing novels professionally, I can't help but believe the process is the same.

I can't dance, and I'm not certain I can write (well). But I can sit in the audience and read and say, "woo-hoo! you go, girls!"

6:49 PM  
Blogger librarypat said...

St. Jude has been my patron saint for a long time. Hopeless causes desperate cases, that's me. I'm not a writer, but we all have doubts about our abilities, especially when things are not going our way. I keep telling myself, do the best you can and hope it is the right thing and good enough.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Emma Hox said...

Every writer has those days, but hand in there as Leslie Carroll said above, "This too shall pass."

8:34 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Every writer I know struggles with bouts of anxiety. There always seems to be a moment in the midst of every book (somewhere around the middle) where I'm convinced there was another book I should have written instead. I only have a vague image of this book, but of course it would be free of whatever problems I'm struggling with in the current book :-).

That, I think, is the main reason writer friends are so invaluable--to to commiserate with, to listen to the insecurities, to sip coffee and wine with, to remind one that one really does know how to write...

3:40 PM  
Blogger Blythe Gifford said...

I don't think it matters where you are: no book, one book, midlist, or Nora. I don't think there is a writer alive who doesn't have these doubts. (Okay, maybe Nicholas Sparks.) I'm afraid that angst is part and parcel of the gift. Some days, I'm able to say "thank you for sharing, but I have to put words on paper now." Other days...

1:24 PM  
Anonymous lynnabanning said...

Bless you all for being so candid!

12:16 PM  
Blogger Sarah MacLean said...

Uh...you're not alone. Not even a little. I keep waiting for my editor to call and say "wow. you pulled the wool over our eyes for a bit there...but now we're on to you. No more contracts. Ever!"

But boy do I take comfort in blog posts like this one! xox

6:12 PM  
Blogger Jenny Brown said...

Thanks so much for posting this! When I signed my first contract lat year, I had no idea what it was going to be like to write a second book while knowing that it had to live up to the expectations raised by the first.

I'm through the worst, now, but the worst wasn't pretty. I recently read a biography of George Eliot that said she came close to having a nervous breakdown with each book she wrote-- convinced it was terrible. Her partner, Lewes, also kept most of her reviews from her because reading negative ones could make it impossible for her to write. She ended up writing some pretty good books.

1:54 PM  

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