Please welcome Alan Baxter, author of RealmShift and MageSign, who reminds us how important readers are to storytellers. I couldn’t agree more that the business of bookselling can be incredibly frustrating at times, but it is those times when we connect with readers that truly inspire us to keep going.
Running Against The Wind
So CJ asked for guest posts about what motivates us to keep writing when things aren’t going so well. It set me to thinking about what really does drive me. First and foremost, I have the need to tell stories. I have no control over it, and it doesn’t go away. But that’s only half the deal. There’s no point in me telling stories if no one is reading them. Writers need readers like plants need rainfall – it sustains us and makes us grow.
In the face of constant rejection or low sales, however, we can often be left wondering when the hell the next rain shower might come. Sometimes we’d settle for a light mist, even a heavy dew. Anything to remind us that what we do is worthwhile and appreciated.
My motivation comes mainly from the knowledge that I’m constantly improving. Even in those lean times, when it seems like I can’t sell a story to anyone, or book sales are really down, I know, deep down, that I’m working on my craft, improving my skills and telling better stories. People didn’t buy anything of mine for a long time. Then, slowly, I started to make some sales. Then better and better sales, in all lengths of fiction. So I know I can do it, I know I can keep getting better and I know that the rejections will always far outweigh the acceptances. But all the time I can push myself and see better results, I’m going to keep pushing.
I reassure myself with the knowledge that pretty much every other writer I know goes through the same stuff. And I know a lot of writers. We’re all striving to be better, we’re all facing regular rejection and we’re all persevering, determined in the knowledge that if we keep at it and keep getting better, we’ll keep making sales. However infrequent they may be.
The writers who sell books by the million and can get pretty much anything they write published are very few and far between. There are so many more midlisters and up-and-comers out there working their arses off for some recognition. I know that I always have stories to tell. I know that I’ll keep writing, no matter what. So I’ll be damned if I won’t keep working hard to sell those stories and get ever more readers.
And if I never sell another story or book, if I never get another reader, so what? That would be very sad, and, honestly pretty unlikely, but I’m a writer. It’s what I do. If I only did it for the readers, the sales and the accolades, I’d have given up a long time ago. Those things are thin on the ground most of the time. I do it because I do it. It’s a part of what defines me. And the beauty is, I know there are people out there reading and enjoying my work, and I know, if I keep at it, there will be more. That’s motivation enough, aside from my inability not to write anyway.
It’s a special kind of insanity that we writers are victims of, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We may as well embrace it.
Alan is the author of the contemporary dark fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign (Gryphonwood Press), and around 40 short stories in a variety of journals and anthologies worldwide. He’s currently trying to find a publisher for his third novel and working hard on his fourth and fifth. Learn more about him and his writing at www.alanbaxteronline.com
Please welcome a new friend, August McLaughlin. A former model and actress, August has found her calling writing fiction. I highly recommend visiting August’s blog while we await her first book. You’ll find her writing polished and insightful. You’ll be glad you paid her a visit.
Forging Ahead Without Going Crazy
The moment I set foot in Los Angeles in 2005, I was a giddy firecracker. After years of working in the fashion industry, I felt I’d found my calling in acting. Shortly after my arrival to the film and TV mecca, I sat down to dinner with my theatrical agent. He asked me a question his first acting coach posed to him. It went something like this:
“Imagine yourself in your seventies… You’re living in a studio apartment, eating Top Ramen for dinner and performing in a play at a little known black box theater, making just enough money to get by. Would you be happy?”
My agent responded, “NO,” and began pursuing an alternate career. My answer? A resounding “YEEE HAA, YES!” I loved acting, and I’ve always believed in following my heart’s desires. The only way I could see myself quitting acting, was if something I loved more came along. I couldn’t imagine that. About two years later, it did.
I have plenty of downfalls, but the tendency to give up isn’t one of them. If I’d left acting because I wasn’t booking enough work or wanted a more stable income, I’d say I surrendered. But neither was the case. I quit because I knew with my whole heart and mind that I was, and will probably always be, a writer.
If my agent asked me a similar question about writing today, my answer would be an even more enthusiastic YES. That’s not to say I don’t believe or desire success or financial stability; I do. The joy for me, though, is in the journey. Taking that path and trusting it leads to success of many kinds. That’s my compass. When I feel challenged, I remind myself of that. Then I sit down to the page and keep going.
When C.J. asked me to share how I stay motivated when times get tough for his fantastic blog, I was stoked. When I sat down to write it, though, I came up empty. I just…keep going, I thought. Why wouldn’t I be motivated? I quickly realized that there’s much more to it than that.
Forging on no matter what is vital, but that doesn’t mean overworking, never relaxing, or hitting back-to-back literary home runs. When I first began writing, I was under the impression that more meant better. I’d cram as much as I could into every day, barely stopping to breathe. This took away from my writing quality, my sleep and even my finances. I’ve since learned the value of rest, full days off, friendships with other writers and setting boundaries. (Every time we say “Yes” to a lunch, volunteer work or walking the neighbor’s dog during work time, we’re saying “No” to writing…)
If your brain feels sludgy today, rest then write tomorrow—assuming you’re not facing a deadline. If you think best during morning or evening hours, work then, but also leave room for play. Aim to move forward, rather than for perfection. Sleep enough. Eat well. Don’t forget to breathe. And when the going gets rough, don’t be afraid to seek help. One of the attributes I love most about the writing industry is its supportive nature. Lastly, listen to your inner voice. I can’t tell you how many times my instincts have saved my writerly butt. We often have the answers we seek, and need only to tune in and listen.
What keeps you motivated and moving forward? What has your inner voice been suggesting?
Please welcome my friend Toni Kelner. We’ve shared some fun at writer’s conferences and working together on a murder mystery and we’ve also had the joy of sitting together at a book signing (with 5 other writers) when two customers showed up. Writing is filled with highs and lows and Toni is here to give us some insight into hers.
Sometimes Writing Sucks
by Toni L.P. Kelner
I’ll be honest. Today it sucks to be a writer.
I’m in the middle of a new novel, which is the first in a new series, and I’m not feeling happy with it. I’m not at all sure that I have a handle on the protagonist, my premise is kind of strange and the plot is creaky as all get out. I’m so far behind where I want to be that it’s not even funny.
There’s really only one reason I don’t call my editor and confess my ineptitude and lack of professionalism before making arrangements to return the advance and slink away into the sunset.
Here it is:
Yesterday didn’t suck.
That’s when Ace books released An Apple for the Creature, the latest in a series of anthologies co-edited by NYT bestseller Charlaine Harris and myself. I’m really proud of this book.
Charlaine and I invited eleven other writers to come up with their takes on supernatural denizens and schools, and were just delighted with what they came up with. We’ve got Charlaine visiting kindergarten while Rhys Bowen reminds us of the horrors of high school. Steve Hockensmith introduces an unusual college professor and Donald Harstad teaches a special class for law enforcement. My own story is adult ed, of a sort–an educational conference for werewolves. That’s just the start, and we love them all.
The cover is gorgeous, and we’re getting display space at the front of my local bookstore, and people have been sending kind words about it, and I put the finished book on my ego shelf to look at and smile proudly.
It was an wonderful day to be a writer.
That’s what’s getting me through today. I keep reminding myself that I’ve written books before–a bunch of them, in fact–and while I’m hardly objective, some of them have been pretty good. So it’s reasonable to assume that I can do it again if I don’t give up.
The fact is, there were some sucky days while working on An Apple for the Creature. Some emails got lost which slowed down the process, there was some disagreement over edits, the first cover design was really nice but didn’t quite work for the theme, and one of the contributors was so late I was starting to think she’d never finish the story.
It may not be professional for an anthology editor, but I’m going to name names. The slow-as-molasses contributor was:
Toni L.P. Kelner
Yup. Me. I just went back to my notes for “Pirate Dave and the Captain’s Ghost,” which is my contribution. At various points, I was sure that every character in the story was a cliche, the “jokes” weren’t a bit funny, there was no emotional growth for the main character, and the plot was full of holes.
That sounds kind of like today, doesn’t it? Yet, I did finish the story and was happy with the result. When I was reading galleys, I even smiled at my own jokes.
So right now I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I can get through this particular plot problem and get a better feel for my protagonist, I’ll finish up with a manuscript that I can be proud of. And maybe about this time next year, I’ll have a great cover, enthusiastic readers and booksellers, and a new book for my ego shelf.
Come to think of it, that makes two reasons I keep going on those days when it sucks to be a writer. I keep remembering the wonderful yesterdays, and looking forward to the awesome tomorrows!