Monday, October 22, 2012

Don't forget to enjoy the journey

by Stephanie Morrill

Jill and I just finished finalizing the content for our upcoming release, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book. I was revising my final paragraphs, in which I talk about how you never really "arrive" in writing. There's always someplace higher to go in your career, there's always another story to write, etc. And that's why, I had said, it's important to enjoy the journey.

And then I laughed out loud because I could imagine my husband snorting when he read it. He's too kind to ever call me a hypocrite out loud, but I was reminded of how much griping, whining, and crying I've done to him over the last few months. Writing frustrations, business frustrations, a lack of control over my time, the list goes on.

I haven't been very good recently about enjoying this particular bend in my journey. And it's something I need to work on.

I also had a tough time appreciating the journey in my unpublished days. And while there are many awesome things about being published, there are a few things I wish I had enjoyed more during my unpublished days. Like:

The freedom to write whatever I wanted. 

I was a serious story drifter in my early days. And even after I got the hang of writing full manuscripts, I would sometimes write half of one, switch to a new exciting idea and write a third of it, then go back and finish the other manuscript. And it didn't matter!

But once you're contracted and you've agreed to a deadline, you don't get to chase those enticing new-idea bunny trails. You remind yourself that you're glad someone is expecting your manuscript by a particular date, and you press on.

Getting to write books, not just book proposals

Some seasons have been book writing seasons for me. Like between the summer of 2008 and the summer of 2009, when I edited one manuscript, and wrote and revised three other complete novels.  But other seasons, especially recently, have been book proposal writing seasons. Where it feels like my career is I'm cranking out three chapters, a synopsis, and some marketing ideas time after time.

No one asking for anything

Before I was agented or published, nobody ever need anything writing-related from me. When you move onto the next stage, you get requests like, "I have an editor who's looking for this type of book. Can you work up a proposal for something this week and get it back to me?" Or, "Here are your content edits for your book. Can you make the changes within two weeks so we can stay on schedule?"

And because you love being a published writer and you want to remain a published writer, you drop the story you're working on (and you were inevitably in the groove, with characters who are just about to face-off with the villain...) and do what they ask.

Writing without feeling like, "I should probably be doing marketing stuff right now..."

When I first got my contract and discovered I was going to have to, like, market the thing, I was wondering, "Where do I learn what kind of marketing stuff I can do?" And then a year later I was thinking, "There's so much! How do I know when I can stop?!"

With so many avenues for marketing, it could be your full time job. But I'm the type of writer who needs a writing project going all the time or she gets cranky. Which means even in a marketing season, I'm trying to write at least 100 words a day so that I can be a bearable person to live with.

And sometimes I spend those 100 words thinking things like, "I haven't been on Twitter yet today ... I should call our indie bookstore about a book signing ... I should send out emails to the local schools letting them know I'm available for career day ... maybe I should work up some curriculum I could teach at the local library."

Nothing like allowing yourself 10 minutes a day for writing but feeling guilty the whole time that you're not doing more marketing stuff.

With marketing expectations, you either go crazy or you learn to do your best, then let go of the guilt of not doing more.

Zero or low expectations from others.

Of course there are things about this that totally suck, but there are some perks as well. You're unproven, and while that can work against you, it can also work in your favor.

Because publishers aren't looking at your sales numbers from the last book and thinking, "Do we or do we not want to invest more money in this writer?"

And they're not looking at the other books you wrote and saying, "We don't want to publish his Sci-Fi book, everything he's written so far has been historical."

Nobody knowing you is it's own unique hurdle, but it also means that no one is assigning incapabilities to you yet.


While I'm not about to complain about being a published writer, I wish I had been better about recognizing the joys of being pre-published. So let's practice - what's some great about being where you are now in your writing journey?

43 comments:

  1. What a great post! I always hear alot of authors of writing advice saying things like, "Don't worry about being published yet. Just write." And while that's good advice, it can be REALLY hard to follow. This is one of the first posts I've read that gave me a reason to be grateful for where I am. So thank you.

    What's great about where I am right now in my journey is that I'm taking a creative writing class for the second year in a row, and since I'm not really getting credit for it, the wonderful teacher is letting me work on my own stuff. For instance, this month I'm working on my portfolio submission to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and in the spring I'm planning to start working on a novel. Excited!

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    1. That's cool that your entering in that contest. I entered in art last year. I don't know what I want to do for this year. You should be excited : )

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    2. Laurapoet, how wonderful! Keep us updated on your progress.

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  2. What's great about right now: It's just me and my laptop. No one is looking over my shoulder. If the story doesn't work out the way I wanted, no one will know. I didn't even tell my mom what it's about.

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    1. And that freedom is wonderful, Alyson! I love those "just me and the story" times.

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  3. I'm in a place of blessing right now, working under deadline with an editor excited to talk about my next proposal. But what I miss most about my pre-published days is the ability to take a week to just read some of my old stuff. Get to know those old friends again. I haven't gotten to do that in a good while, and I miss them!

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    1. Well, your editor's enthusiasm will just have to do for now :)

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  4. This is so great! I think the thing that really stuck out to me about your list of reasons it is great to not be published is that you can write whatever you want. Until this year when I finally sat myself down, bought some self help writing books, joined the 100 4 100, and made myself work on just this one project (which I love), I too was one to jump from story to story. And my actual reward for finishing this novel IS the privileged to jump stories again I loved doing that so much! So yeah...this post definitively showed me what I have to be grateful for although I do still hope to be published one day. To leave the world a little piece of me through my story...
    Great post!

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    1. Leorah, there's certainly nothing wrong with wanting/pursuing/craving publication. Same as how I love my 2-year-old son and all the fun stuff he's doing right now ... but if 5 years from now he was behaving the exact same way, I wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much :)

      And congratulations on focusing on one story! I love your idea for your reward :)

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  5. I'm a Christian, so I've been praying a lot recently about taking the next step as a writer, since I know pursuing publication will change a lot about my life (including the number of classes I'm taking at school, etc). This post has reminded me to appreciate the season I'm in while I seek God's guidance.

    For me, I love having the freedom to take a break for a few days if I'm frustrated with a story. I can spend time getting to know my character's better, figuring out plot twists, or working on a different project. And no one will care.

    I'm also able to just enjoy learning more about the craft and soaking up new ideas. If I were published, I think I would have a harder time focusing on just growing as a writer and finding my voice.

    I'm still excited about the possibility of being published one day, but thanks for the reminder to appreciate where I'm at right now! :)

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    1. Glad you found it helpful, Anna! Being able to take breaks and not having the pressure for the story to work can be a wonderful thing. While sometimes the pressure can push me to do better, there are other times where it feels like it's just draining me of my joy in the process.

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  6. I haven't been enjoying the journey very much, I've been frustrated and questioning a lot. Nice way to turn it around though and as us the benefits of where we are, I think right now being unpublished the best thing is having the ability to still figure out my genre and who I am as a writer, I go back and forth ya, adult, new adult. My first WIP was ya, its ok, it needs a total rewrite. I'm working on more of a woman's fiction, I guess? But it's not what I envisioned which makes me question even more, I want to jump ship but I'm not Bc of 100-4-100 :) I have a premise not a plot still trying to work through it.

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    1. Yes - giving yourself plenty of time to figure out who you are as a writer is a wonderful thing. Or like Anna said above, being able to prioritize growing as a writer instead of cranking out stories.

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    2. Fro Amo Libros:
      I'm in a similar place, Tonya.
      Thank you, Mrs. Morrill, for this wonderful post! It has made me feel much better!

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  7. I can be a scatter brain if I want! I can write a fantasy, then switch to historic romance, on to modern, then do something that can only be described as midevil stalker story :) But I am loving the journey. I love getting to know all the do's and dont's and stuff, at my own pace.

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    1. I had the privilege of doing 15 minute "mentoring" appointments with teen writers at a conference, and I was surprised by how many of them wrote both fantasy and historicals. Must be something about the world building that's involved.

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  8. I love that right now I can ignore the fact that I'm dropping plot points like a five year old trying to juggle ten bean bags at once drops the bags. Fixing that can wait until the next draft.

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  9. One thing that I appreciate about being unpublished is being able to take some time off. I've been working on my first book in a planned trilogy (maybe...?) and now I'm waiting for responses from critique partners. I feel like I should be working on the second book, but I don't have enthusiasm because I've worked so long and hard on the first book. I've also realized that my plans for the second book might change when my critiques come back, so I'm thankful that I have the room to think about it and take a break.

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    1. Yes, that IS nice. I've had that experience too, where I've poured myself into a project and need extra time to recharge. Take it and enjoy!

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    2. Thanks. :)
      Can I ask a quick question? I really believe in my book, and I think it could be good enough to be published, but do you think it's worth it to publish as a teen? Taking school and extracurriculars into consideration... Do you think it would be too much to handle?
      Thanks again! :)

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    3. While it depends on the person, I think it's at least worth it to try.

      And while you DO have a lot to balance, that doesn't really change. Now you have school and extracurriculars. In the future you'll have work and likely a family.

      I'm glad I tried while in high school, but everyone is different.

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  10. Thank you for this post! It's helped remind me of what I love about writing.

    I love that at the moment, I have no pressure on me about my writing.
    Yep, parts of my story are probably awful. And yep, there are days when I can barely bring myself to write 100 words.
    But so what? It's still heaps of fun, and I'm still achieving far more on my story than I ever have before.
    I like having that freedom, having no worries or deadlines.

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    1. I love hearing that you're achieving more than you have before. Wonderful!

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  11. I am going to have to say I like it best that I don't have to have such a strict dead line. I am only to set myself goals but as soon as I *have* to do something, it becomes a chore. I get moody, and stressed out. And that is no way to write a good story.
    A little off topic here, currently I am writing a story that so far I have really been into. I love the characters, I started the story from the end of the book so I know the entire plot which is like a total YES!!!, and I am REALLY passionate about it. Lately I have been having my doubts about it though because my story voice is different from most books out today. I can't really explain it but lets just say it is like a classic narrator. I love the classic narrator voice for the classics (Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables) but these days, it just isn't "in." Anyway, this has been feeling my head with doubts and I want to know if I should just end my story right now. I would change it but it just doesn't feel right told any other way. I have gone five chapters into my story now and it is apart of me. A part I can't change. Any help?

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    1. From Amo Libros: Oh, I know that feeling! I haven't worked on my novel for over a month because I had gotten into this cycle of "must be perfect, must stay on schedule, must move ahead, must make story good!" No faster way to kill a first draft. I've decided to let it set until I figure out how to shut off the cycle. Meanwhile, I shall do something else that's fun!
      Personally, I love the "classic" narrator voice, and I think other people do to. Just because it's not the "in" thing doesn't mean it isn't valuable. Tom Sawyer and Anne of Green Gables are still very popular, and you never know: by the time you finish your novel, that kind of voice may be back in style again. Whatever you do, don't quit. If the story has ahold of your heart, write it and do not let ANYTHING stop you. And remember, a good story can resurrect a style. If your story and characters are compelling, no one will care what your narrator sounds like - The Lord of the Rings is super popular and it can be very difficult to read.
      Write what's in your heart, worry about compelling characters, tight plot lines, or narratorial voices later. This is the time to write and enjoy it!
      God go with you!
      ~Amo

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    2. Thank you so much Amo! You have NO idea how encouraging that was to read all that and I am really feeling that good old confident I was so full one when I started my story back! Thank. You. SO. Much!!!!!

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    3. I agree with what Amo said. Those things come in and out of style, and who knows what will be in next month or next year? Heck, maybe you'll be the one to bring it back :)

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  12. From Amo Libros:
    Say, Mrs. Morrill, when will that book be out?

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  13. Yes! I get cranky when I'm not writing too (weird, but true). Must. Have. Book. In. Progress.

    I'm always frustrated (okay, be honest, freaked out) that no one will ever *see* and *like* my work. As an unpublished writer, that's tough. But I love all the perks you listed. Right now, the good thing for me is I'm free to edit and change as much as I want.

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    1. Glad I'm not alone in my writing withdrawal crankiness, Cait!

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  14. I really like the feeling of being able to write whenever I want because there's no reason for me to finish at anytime. Although, the story I'm working on I have a personal finishing goal for, no one's pressuring me to do anything!

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  15. Ooh, I'm so excited for the Go Teen Writers book! Will you be able to share the release date anytime soon? :)

    I'm still working hard to finish my first novel, but I'm making quite a lot of progress. I think my favorite part of this step of the journey is dabbling in different writing styles and genres, and discovering what works best for me.

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    1. March 1st is our release date, Jill.

      And, yes, that dabbling time is so fun! Enjoy it!

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  16. I like being able to write whatever I want, and not having to worry about quality or deadlines.

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  17. This post almost makes me go "Maybe I'll just permenantly stay an amateur writer." I like being able to write when I feel like it, but also being able to *not* write when I feel like it, and spend forever planning, or looking up names for my characters... And the fact that I can write historical fiction, high-fantasy and high-school stories without anyone going "Wait, what?"
    I hope you write a post next on the perks of being a published author, or I might just enjoy this forever! =)

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    1. Lol, Alice. There's certainly nothing wrong with remaining an unpublished writer. For me, the biggest perk of being a published author is the emails that I get from girls who say my books helped them through a rough time or changed the way they viewed the world. I mean, what could be cooler than THAT?

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  18. Fabulous post, Stephanie, and good point! Being a published author has always been a dream of mine, but I agree - it's not as though "being published" is the end destination (though it's certainly a huge writing milestone). Being where I am now, though, I definitely appreciate certain aspects of being unpublished. For instance, at the moment I'm working on the second draft of my novel, and I can still see things in it that I could do better. The great part about being unpublished is that I have the freedom to tweak it in my own time, and take as long as I want, before I begin searching out an agent! So, although I'm excited about sharing my work with the world as a bound-and-printed book, I do still recognize the silver linings of anonymity. ;) Thanks for this great reminder!

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  19. I've been trying to get published and it can be one of the most stressful things for me because I want to succeed, but I'm happy to say I've learned to just enjoy the ride because if I keep trying my hard work will pay off. :)

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  20. Okay, love this. Nothing like a pre-Thanksgiving gratitude reality check.

    I know I should probably say something like if I were published, I probably wouldn't have the grades that I have now, but...:) I think I'll go instead with the ability to flit. I can create back cover copy for an old ms, edit the proposal for another, all while writing at least 100 words in a new WIP. That's pretty freeing. I've never been one who was able to write a little of this and then move to another story (I admire that, Stephanie!) but I am thankful for flexibility (flitability?).

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