Write, or write not

on June 19, 2008

I just came off a satisfying week over at Ask An Author All, a listserv for RWA members where authors answer questions on a specific subject, often posting a lecture or detailed explanation about something.

Last year, Patti Berg and I did a joint week to the PRO loop based on our No Plotters Allowed workshop. We had a blast, so we’re giving it again online through Writers-U in October–the only online workshop we’re giving on this topic this year.

I’ve done this before — I think on the ALL loop I did the Romantic Suspense Triangle, and on the PRO loop I did the Hero’s Journey in Romance where I dissected a movie and went through the steps of the journey and how they intertwine and conflict and often run parallel (hero/heroine) and then in RS you have to have to add in the villain.

This time, my week was about Rule Breaking, and I did talk about rule breaking, but it turned into something else. I gave advice I believe in with my whole heart . . . yet many times I re-read what I posted and wondered why I wasn’t following my own sage advice.

And then I realized why, and I posted the following message (in part) at the end of the class, which I’m sharing here, at the risk of the wrath of those who don’t think that authors should share their struggles or insecurities:

It’s not easy being an unpublished author who knows, in her heart, that she can do better. That she has the desire to turn her dream into reality, but isn’t quite sure how. Writing itself is an intensely personal vocation. While we may have fun going out and researching our books, or going to conferences, or talking to writers, in the end, the actual writing happens between us, a computer (or paper for those of you who are insane enough to write long hand) and the characters in our head. Sometimes, a very lonely endeavor that no one–except other writers–really understand.

It’s not easy being a published author who knows, in her heart, that she can do better. Who sits at the computer and fears she’ll never be able to write a book better than the last. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just sold, or been in the midlist for ten years, or hitting the top ten NYT. That fear, and drive, doesn’t disappear.

We all get stuck. We either try to follow rules that don’t work for us, and ignore rules that do; or we find ourselves writing the same books over and over for fear of losing our readers if we do something a little different. . . . in the end, it’s all about you and the story. You and the computer. You and yourself. No one else is there when you’re writing your novel. And rightfully so. Because as soon as you open that window to listen to your cheerleaders, the naysayers will come in and whisper evil doubts in your ear.

You need to want it. You are who matters first. You need to ask yourself, if you knew you would never sell, would you still be writing. If the answer is yes, you’re halfway there. Because if you don’t love the stories, if you don’t love the hard work that goes into making a good book great, then your heart isn’t in it. . . .

. . . I’m a Star Wars nut. 🙂 One of my kids, my son who recently turned 7, also loves Star Wars (surprise!) A few months ago, he asked my husband to play Stratego after dinner. My husband said, “I’ll try.” My son, quoting Yoda, responded, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

So I leave you with this: Write, or write not. It’s up to you.

And this is where I realized that I hadn’t been listening to my own advice. I’ve been trying . . . but I’m not doing. I’m staring. Procrastinating. Listening to the doubts that are really coming from within. Yeah, we all get bad reviews. But with every bad review comes dozens of reader mail saying that THAT BOOK is the best you’ve written and they can’t wait for the next.

So the real doubts only come from me. And I see that. I know that. I can tell myself to put my big butt in a chair and write, and I can sit down and TRY. But in this business, you can’t just try. You have to do it. And do it again, and again, and again.

That’s the one thing I think unpublished authors don’t *quite* get (and even some published.) This isn’t meant to be a criticism. It’s something I didn’t get, either, until recently. If this is going to be your business, you need to think of it as a business–but write without any thought of the market or sales. It’s hard. I worry about doing things different–TEMPTING EVIL was a bit different than my other works. I love that book, but still I worry that it wouldn’t work with my readers. PLAYING DEAD is also a bit different, but I just read the page proofs and I love that book. Still . . . I worry.

So I’m a worrier, what else is new?

SUDDEN DEATH is due in five weeks and I have some written, but it’s pretty crappy right now because I’m second (and triple) guessing every story decisions I’m making. I’m not following my own advice of letting the characters drive the story. It’s worked for nine books, why not this one? Then I remember that I ALWAYS get stuck when I start driving the train, and only when I can get back into “the zone” and let the story tell itself do I truly free myself from the shackles of fear and doubt.

So I’m going to dive back to the beginning and start in a different place and salvage what I can. I’m going to DO it, not try.

The advice Stephen King wrote me 25 years ago when I was a 13 year old fangirl, brilliant in its simplicity, is now taped on my computer as a reminder: