Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's a Stop-The-Pity Party.

This is definitely not my cake, or my design, or my photo.
All came from Pink Cake Box, but this one reminded me of Dr. Seuss, which I <3>

My lovely blog turns one year old today!!!

My dear agent-sister, Linda Benson, is holding a contest for her blog's first birthday, which I think is an awesome idea.

But I'm not going to do that, not for this anniversary.

In my six-month-anniversary post, I chatted about all the things I've accomplished since leaving NY. And at the risk of sounding like I'm bragging, I'm going to do that again.

I encourage you to do the same. Especially if you've been hard on yourself lately, like I have.

I mean, I'll be the first to admit that I add items on my to-do list just to make myself feel more productive - e.g. 3) eat lunch, 11) load the dishwasher, and 21) take a shower. (This totally works by the way. Seeing things, even small things, get crossed off your to-do list is a very satisfying feeling.)

But I also have to admit that I'm totally Type A. (Or rather Type C - which is Type A, who works really hard to convince peeps that she's Type B.) It's an advanced case - I have a voice in my head that talks a lot like Hermione Granger. It's always concerned about the things that I haven't done or that I could've done better.

That voice is particularly noisy this week - for two reasons:

a) I'm getting over being sick, and I'm working about half as quickly as I normally do.

b) I just realized that one of my projects will be late - despite the best efforts of the people involved, including me. :-(

(Of course, I won't repeat all the things I've already talked about in this post, because that would just be bragging. So, this is just a list from February 19 onward.)
  1. I went to New York to meet my lovely, talented, sweet agent, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe.
  2. I completed two revisions for my agent (plus a pass she never saw).
  3. I lived alone for roughly 21 weeks of this year, which was one of my life goals. (Not the week-count, obviously - the living alone part.)
  4. I embroidered a cute little something for my little sister.
  5. I read 45 books since February 19, which makes 125 over the course of the past year. (But only 78 were book I had never read before. The rest were re-reads.)
  6. I also went on submission.
And, of course, I also took showers on a regular basis. So there's another item to cross off the list. :-P

So, I definitely did stuff. And I bet you did too.

What I've noticed about people (including myself) that if you're Type A or just stressed out, most of your thoughts are concerned with the things that you still need to get done. Sometimes, you can remember what you spent the last month accomplishing. In a few rare cases, you might recall what you did two whole months ago.

Think back six months. Where were you then? What were you doing? What were you worried about? What were you thinking would never get done? ('Cause I bet it got done.)

Now think back twelve months. Ask yourself the same questions.

You probably racked up quite a list of accomplishments. Give yourself credit.

No matter how long your to-do list is at this moment, you've already done - and forgotten - some of the things on your list (and a few things that probably weren't). Put it all in perspective. You'll probably forget about all these things that you're currently worrying about within the space of two years. Try to limit your worry as much as possible.

When I moved out of New York last August, I couldn't have predicted everything that happened to me. Or everything that I would make happen.

It's been a heck of a year.

And though I'm going to try to limit the freakout as much as possible, it's only going to get more hectic from here.

(Hahahahahaha. Okay, I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. :-P)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Does It Ever Get Any Easier?

My friends have been asking me this question a lot lately. Now that I have a wonderful, enthusiastic agent (ie. now that I've hit a career milestone), is it any easier?

It's always a blanket question, but I know what they mean. Is it easier to write? To revise? To sit down at your writing desk when so many distractions abound? To have faith in your ability to tell the story you set out to tell?

The answer is no.

(Actually, what I told one friend was, absolutely not, because technically, I'm on submission right now. Knowing that my manuscript is in the hands of complete strangers with the power to publish isn't the most comfortable feeling in the world.)

I wrote about writing demons yesterday (here), those little voices in our heads that try to throw wrench in the creative process.

If you have writing demons, as many of us do, they'll stick with you. Every step of the way. (Of course, it's entirely possible that your internal editor will start to seem like your actual editor - ie. the one at the publishing house - with her face, her voice, and all of her pet peeves.)

It's better to stand and face them as soon as you can, because they don't all magically disappear every time you reach a milestone.

In fact, only one takes a hike forever. I call him...

The What-If Demon

This one stalks you in the middle of the night, keeping you awake and giving voice to your wildest dreams: What if you tried to get published? What if you did land an agent? What if you actually sold your book and saw it on the shelf - your story out into the world for anyone to read?

I always thought of him like Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle. A helpful sort of demon. The kind that inspires you to action.

He only becomes scary if he's ignored for months, years, or even decades. Then, he becomes a Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda Demon, full of bitterness and rage.

And he starts looking less like Calcifer and more like the Balrog from The Fellowship of the Ring.

Once the agent is signed, and the book is sold, the What If demon packs up. You don't wonder what if, because it's done.

But instead of having one less demon at your writing desk, you get another one - a replacement.

The Oh-No Demon

He's invisible - at least, to me. Probably because I can't fight him.

He makes me worry about all the things that I can't control: Is the cover of my book going to be ugly? Or will it be cute, but not the kind of book that kids automatically pick up? Will I get terrible reviews, so that no library in their right mind wants to carry it? What if the chain bookstores don't carry it? And what if the indie booksellers don't like it and refuse to shelf it also? What if it is shelved but gets lost on the shelf?

(Actually, this is starting to seem a lot like the What If Demon. Maybe it evolves, then. Kind of like in video games.)

Let's face it. This is a scary industry. No matter what stage of the game you've reached, there is always something to worry about it.

And it's not just me.

In this post, Myra McEntire blogs about how as the publication date for your debut novel nears, you can start fretting over whether real people - not just industry readers - will like your book. As Veronica Roth explains in this post, even after you sign your contract for your mega-lead trilogy, you can still sit down at your computer and find an audience of writing demons you don't remember inviting. (Both are awesome posts, by the way. If you haven't read them, go do it.)

Back though, to the original question: Does it ever get any easier?

Forget success, or milestones. Let's say you have a career that measures in decades, not years. Do you ever get to the point where you don't have to battle your writing demons every day?

I'm obviously not there yet, but I'll go out on a limb.

I'll say, yes.

I mean, this article says that people grow happier as they grow older. One theory (ie. my fav) says that after a certain point (your fifties?), you stop worrying about the small things. Why can't that be true for writers too?

At some point, I bet it does get easier.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later, you'll have a system down for dealing with your writing demons. Eventually, you'll have enough practice so your battles feel less like an obstacle and more like routine.

Someday, too, you'll be more content with what you've already accomplished, rather than fretting about the things that can go wrong.

Someday, it'll be enough. You Came. You Saw. You Wrote.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Know Your Writing Demons.

[I've been reading some awesome, thought-provoking blog posts recently from these lovely ladies, and they've inspired me to throw my own thoughts into the mix. It got long, so this is part 1 of 2. Here we go.]

What are writing demons?

They sit at your desk with you, whispering all of their unhelpful advice. There are multitudes, but personally, one talkative trio bugs me the most.

I'd like to introduce them to you, just in case their brothers and sisters live on your desk.

The Not-Now Demon
(a.k.a. Procrastination)

She's definitely a temptress. You know the one. She tries to turn you away from your writing desk at all costs. She assures you that you're totally going to get a lot of writing/revising work done today. But not now.

Maybe it's a little mean to call Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo a demon.
She's not really, but then I always thought of Procrastination being
an impish, fun-loving creature, who doesn't mean to mess you up.
I don't think I could say no if Ponyo just wanted to play.

First, you've got to check Twitter. And refresh your email at least a thousand times. And you really should take a break to do the dishes. And to watch the latest of episode of So You Think You Can Dance/True Blood/Glee. And when was the last time you called your great-aunt Myrtle?

She's a dangerous little demon. Mainly because she seems so harmless. But then half the day slips by before you even realize you're procrastinating...

The Eww-Not-That Demon
(a.k.a. the Internal Editor)

This one's tricky, because you actually need him. I didn't always have him. I spent many blissfully ignorant years scribbling novel-length stories in notebooks that no one was allowed to touch. Back then, my idea of editing was adding the commas and quotation marks I missed.

Okay, so this is actually a demon from Soul Eater,
the show I've been watching most recently on Hulu.
But this is how I think of that little internal editor.

But something happened when I began attending youth summer workshops in high school and creative writing classes in college. Basically, the more I shared my work with others. I began to notice a little editor demon, sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear: "Would this character really say that?" "Are you sure you need that sentence?" "This scene is getting too long. Speed it up, Shelby!" "Conflict! Where's the conflict?!?"

I'm happy to have this little guy. He improved my writing like whoa. But that's only when I'm revising.

If he's around when I'm working on a first draft, he can be crippling. He can tear a scene to pieces before I even get it on the pages. All he has to do is wince at a word choice, and all my enthusiasm takes a beating.

The You-Are-Not-Worthy Demon
(a.k.a. Self Doubt)

Okay, so this is the Black Horned King from Disney's the Black Cauldron,
based on a book by Lloyd Alexander. But he gets to be Self-Doubt,
he freaked me the heck out when I was a kid. (Actually, he still does.)

My least favorite demon of all. We all have him shadowing us, sometimes even on days when we're not at our writing desk. His catch phrase is, "You[r writing] suck[s]." This demon compares us to our favorite writers, and then gleefully tells us, "You'll never be that good." He tells us to quit now before the whole world starts laughing at us.

I wish I could tell you that he has a redeeming quality, but he really doesn't. He is simply unhelpful. And very, very mean.

Now the real questions is, What can we do with these guys?

Good news: They're part of us, so they're just as likely to be wrong as we are. (I may be weird, but I find that a really reassuring thought.)

Bad news: They're part of us, so they go where we go. Running from them won't help. Even if you avoid them one day, they'll find you soon.

They must be conquered. Again and again.

Unfortunately, there's no set formula for how to defeat writing demons.The only step we have in common is realizing they're there and they're ultimately unimportant.

No, the more I'm around different writers, I see more and more that everybody has their own method for every step of the process, including quelling writing demons.

Some writers vent to friends and family.

Some writers work out out to use up all their excess energy and let endorphins do lots of their writer-demon slayage.

Some writers send long, angsty emails in the middle of the night to whoever they think can reassure them - maybe a writer friend or a beta reader or an agent. (I don't recommend this. If you do this too often, then you'll become annoying, and then they'll stop opening your emails. That'll take you back to square one.)

A great many writers turned to substance abuse to combat writing demons, which is where we get the cliché of the alcoholic/druggie artist. (Don't recommend that one either.)

My tactic: Vent to my journal, and possibly a few friends or loved ones if I'm really down. And of course, read fabulous blog posts by fellow writers dealing with their own demons. (Read those if you get a chance; they're awesome.) :-D

Who are your writing demons? How do you deal with them? (And has anyone else named theirs, or am I totally weird?)