Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Emotional Journey of a Writer

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.



I started this series because I wanted to talk about the emotional journey of being a novelist. In the first post, I shared how this series was inspired by a talk I've given the last two summers for parents of teen writers. My goal during that talk is to help parents understand what's going on in the mind of their teen writer. One of the tools I use is a graph, which I want to share with you all today.

The X-axis marks time as it passes and the Y-axis marks the momentum of the writer. I've found that this journey can apply to each process we just discussed - first drafts, editing, trying to get published, and the points between

The first thing that happens on your journey is your vision is cast. This is when you have a new story idea. Or when you're getting ready to dive into edits and you can imagine how great the book will be when you're done. Or when you're standing in the bookstore, looking at the spot on the shelf where your book will be someday, and you decide you're ready to pursue this publication thing.

You'll notice at this point you're high on momentum and early in time. (Please pretend there are lines on that graph. Thank you for your cooperation.)


After your vision is cast, you do some stuff. You write a chapter, you try your hand at a query letter, something. The uniformed optimism milestone is that first moment when you're like, "Huh. This is a bit tricky," or, "Oh. I didn't think I'd have that problem with this new story idea."

You're aware that obstacles are on the horizon, but you haven't yet identified much about them. Maybe you even blow them off - Oh well, I'll just write the next chapter! - and press on.



As the obstacles become clearer, you hit a place of informed pessimism. This is the place where young Stephanie would typically bail on a story idea. Because now you're able to label those obstacles.

In the case of a first draft, this might be the realization that your character is whiny or there's no tension in the middle of your book. If you're editing, this can come when you discover a big plot hole that you don't know how to fix. (Or that you do...but, wow, it's going to take so much work.) When I was pursuing publication, I hit the informed pessimism stage when I realized how few agents were interested in seeing YA novels.

And as you wrestle with your informed pessimism, you'll often come to the next stage:



I probable don't need to go into much detail about what check out is. Why am I even bothering? is the question that plagues me during times like this. I really think I have anything unique to say? Or, how could I have imagined that editor might like my book? This will never happen for me.

Sometimes the check out phase just lasts for a day or so. Other times it might last for a couple weeks or more. This doesn't mean I'm curled up on the floor of my office in the fetal positional (not always, anyway) Often I'm still plodding along, still doing my best to put my pen to paper. But the critical voices in my head have been given a longer leash than normal.

To get out of the check out phase, I often need the encouraging voice of someone else - my husband, my critique partners, or a kind email from a reader.

From the check out phase, you inch your way to hopeful realism. This is where you know what you're up against, but you've found a way to hope for success.

In a first draft, this might be my husband reminding me that I always feel like a story is hopeless when I'm about 75% of the way through the process. During edits, my critique partner can encourage me out of the check out stage by pointing out the strengths of my manuscript. Or in the pursuit of publication, my moments of hopeful realism often came from professional writers, agents, or editors who took a moment to encourage me.

When you dig into the hard work of hopeful realism, you chug your way along to:

At informed optimism, you've figured out what you're up against, and you have a strategy for overcoming it. You're thinking things like: I really am going to finish this first draft. It's not perfect, but I'm going to finish it! Or Well, that agent rejected me but said my writing is good - that means I'm close to finding the right one!

And then you cross that finish line and find that what you dreamed about all those months and years ago has been completed. You've finished your first draft! Or you've edited your book until it's rich, thought-provoking, and sparkly clean. Bust out the chocolate!

Tomorrow we'll talk a little more about this, but we'll pause here for now.


Where are you currently in this journey?

24 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Wonderful post at usual, Stephanie! I think I'm at the Hopeful Realism stage, but I might be at the Uninformed Optimism point. I'm really hoping it's the former. :)
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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  3. Oh, how many times have I been at the Check Out phase....and quit the story idea...
    I decided for my current novel that I wouldn't do that anymore, since I'm never going to get a novel done that way.
    I think I'm after the Check Out phase, in the Informed Optmism phase.
    Thank's for the post! Is this one of the sessions you did for the parents at the OYAN conference?

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    1. You know what? I'm going to print out that chart. I think its cool. Did you make it, Stephanie?

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    2. Yes, it is the talk I gave at the OYAN conference. (Or about half of it, anyway.) And you're welcome to print it out if you like.

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  4. I'm probably at the Check Out phase now. Working hard to keep going, but I'm ready to move onto my next story with everything. But, I keep getting more and more things to change on my other book. I'm ready for that one to just be done. The book I need to do isn't fun anymore. The book I want to do is a ton of fun. See my problem : (

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    1. Awwww. Here's a hug, Alyson! You'll make it! Don't forget to take a little break now and then, as long as you come back...:)

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  5. Think I've got uniformed optimism with the story I'm writing. And either hopeful realism or informed optimism with the one I'm editing. Yay!

    This is interesting so far...hmmm. :)

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  6. *Cough* I'm at informed pessimism. *Head desk*

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    1. *air pats shoulder* I was at the Head Desk stage (also known as the 'I hate this story' stage) not to long ago, just keep going! My dad says a lot of it is just being at the right place at the right time, and you have to keep trying! :)

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  7. I'm all over the chart. Well. For the one I'm writing RIGHT now... probably informed pessimism... :/

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    1. Well between that and the Check Out stage...

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  8. I literally just got over the checkout phase a week ago. I think everyone knows deep down that all writers go through it but once you hit that checkout phase its like, "Why am i the only writer who can't do this?" That's definitely how I was feeling. Anyways, thanks for the post :)
    http://escapingnormal.blogspot.com/

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    1. YES. It's helped me to be able to recognize "this is normal, this will pass" but it still feels yucky when you're there. Glad you've pushed through, Leah!

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  9. ~Thanks for sharing this, Steph! I hope I`m at Hopeful Realism, but I may be sinking back down to Pessimism...

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  10. Thanks for the post, Mrs. Morrill! I am...hm.... maybe hopeful realism? (But does it count because I am actually about to finish plotting a story, not writing?) I'm going to fight the checkout phase this time....hopefully I'll win... :) (naomiandbooks.wordpress.com)

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  11. Great post! I'm not really sure what my stage is. I haven't exactly gone through any stages of pessimism yet. I mean, I do look at my WIP and think "how am I ever going to edit this?" but I still have confidence that I will edit it... somehow. So I guess I might be in uninformed optimism? But that doesn't seem right at all... *shrug*

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  12. I'm at the Informed Optimism stage for my first draft. Just a few scenes away from "Vision Achieved".

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  13. Eck. Editing stage for me...informed optimist. The check out stages aren't usually more than a couple weeks where I decide to detach until I come up with an answer on how to move forward.

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  14. uniformed optimism milestone is where I am at in my new novel. :P It's tricky, but it could be worse! lol Awwe! I won't be here "tomorrow", I'll have to catch up on MY tomorrow! :/

    Great post, Stephanie!

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  15. I'm at the informed pessimism stage, I think. But I'm not having problems with my story idea. I love my story, I'm just having issues because I feel like I'm not a good enough writer to write this story. Also, I really liked my MC at the beginning of the story but now I feel like she's coming out flat. Does anyone have tips for writing introverted characters? I'm introverted myself, so this should be easy, but for some reason I'm having trouble making her personality show.

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  16. Genius chart, Stephanie! The "uninformed optimism" vs. "informed optimism" ideas really stand out because I've never seen it that way before. Those are definitely two different kinds of optimisms, and I never noticed it before!
    Right now, I'm... after "The vision is achieved" and before "The vision cast," hahaha. Currently I'm on my six week break, and spending time fantasizing about tons of someday-stories (and working like a madwoman on comics). But if I apply that graph to the entire novel project, I'd say I'm sitting at "Informed Optimism." I haven't begun revisions yet, but I really feel this story is big and, compared to my last project, not a total mess!

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  17. I think I'm somewhere between the informed pessimism stage and the check out. And it's hard to keep going when I feel like there is nothing to write because either it won't fit the story or it just won't be good enough.
    Thank you for this series of posts, Mrs Stephanie. They've really helped me understand more about writing and the author that I can be.

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