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.)
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.
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?