Archive for the 'psychology' Category

Monday, October 24th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
The Closest I Ever Came to Quitting

I occasionally make references to the time I almost quit writing.  Or at least, quit trying to get published.  In hindsight, I don’t know how serious I really was, but I definitely remember it as the lowest moment in my career.  It’s still vivid.  Surprisingly, this came after I’d been published.  I’d sold maybe a dozen short stories to some respectable magazines.  I was on my way.  So what happened that would make me think about quitting?

A big part of the problem was expectation.  I thought things would get easier, and they didn’t.  After selling those dozen stories, I went for a year without selling anything.  I got an agent, then left the agent, who hadn’t done anything for me in eight months.  I felt like I’d wasted so much time.  I was writing my fifth novel in something of a fog of despair, assuming it would go the way of the previous four.  (I figured that #4 wouldn’t sell any more than the first three had.  But it did, less than a year later — #4 was Kitty and The Midnight Hour.  #5 became Discord’s Apple.)

Before I’d sold any stories, I had that one blazing, shining goal ahead of me:  get published.  That was it.  Once I accomplished that, what was my goal?  Get published again?  And again?  While collecting just as many rejection slips as before?  I felt like I’d gotten on a hamster wheel and was running as hard as I could, not getting anywhere, with no end in sight.

One day through this, I was talking with my mother on the phone, and I can’t remember what set me off, but I started crying and I said, “I can’t do this anymore.  It’s too hard.”  I don’t remember anymore exactly what “it” and “this” were.  The preponderance of rejection?  The endless cycle of writing stories and sending them out, over and over again? This still mostly involved stuffing envelopes and trips to the post office — a physical act that I think gave the whole process a sense of weight that electronic submissions don’t quite match.  I pictured myself stuffing envelopes and making trips to the post office for the rest of my life, with nothing to show for it.  I felt like all the forward momentum I’d accumulated over the three years since making my first short story sale had vanished.  Progress in this business isn’t measured in a linear, constantly ascending graph, but in fits and starts, leaps and setbacks.  If I really wanted to be a professional writer I was going to have to keep doing this, and experiencing this, for the rest of my life.  I didn’t know if I could handle it.

You know what my mom’s response to me was?  “What else are you going to do?”  Spoken in a very remonstrating and frustrated tone of voice.  She was right — I didn’t have anything else.  If I didn’t write, I was going to be an administrative assistant wage slave for the rest of my life, and no doubt miserable.  Even more miserable, that is.

I talk about this point in my career as a warning, and I hope as an example for others:  you are not alone.  Even after the first few blushes of success, you’ll experience setbacks, and you’ll feel horrible.  After you’ve made the first sale, you still have make the second, and it may be just as difficult.  Things may get easier for awhile — but then they’ll get tough again, and you’ll feel lost.  Like you failed, somehow.  But all these feelings are normal.  What gets you through it?  Good work habits — and a love of the work.  I still had stories I needed to tell.  That phone call I had with my mom happened after I had sent out yet another round of query letters.  And it was just a week or two after the call that I heard back from what became (and is still) my agency.  My habits, and my goals of sending out stories and queries every month, saved me from following through on my threat to quit.  Thank goodness.

Monday, September 12th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
The Power of File Names

I did something last week I haven’t done in a while, writing wise.

I’m in the messy middle of Kitty 11, and it’s really messy this time.  (I say that every time, I have to remind myself.)  I finally got to where I couldn’t move forward anymore.  I had to go back and fix the broken bits.  I knew how I wanted to fix them, I’ve got a new outline for how everything fits together.  I just had to buckle down and do it, however much I dreaded it.  Boy, did I dread it.  I worked on another project that isn’t due until November rather than tackle this one.

Finally, I pulled out an old trick:  I saved the file under a new name (or a new number version, at least).  Then, I started hacking with impunity.  Scenes I thought I needed but turned out to be red herrings — gone.  Superfluous information that had to make way for new, more tightly written transitions — chopped.  It’s frustrating, working for several hours and ending up with the same word count I started with.  But I can see that the story’s getting better, coming together in a way it wasn’t before.

I’ve always gone through this stage of pre-rough draft revision, but it’s been awhile since I did it with a new file, preserving the old version.  For the last few books, I think I was under tight enough deadlines that I didn’t have time to dither.  I didn’t wait around to start cutting, and wasn’t as attached to the earlier drafts.  I knew what needed to be fixed and just did it.  This time, I have a looser deadline, more time to ponder, and I didn’t look at the manuscript much at all through the last month of traveling.  I dreaded what I would find when I got back to it.  So I pulled out the old “save as” trick, and it seems to work.  I’ve got some of that forward momentum back.

It’s a purely psychological trick — by working on a new file, I can tell myself that if the new scenes and revisions don’t work, I can always go back to the old version.  I’m not really deleting anything, I’m just trying something new.  Giving myself permission to play around, rather than telling myself I have to rewrite.  That seems to free up some creative muscle.  It’s important to note:  after saving the manuscript as a new file, I’ve never, ever gone back to the old one.  I might double check a line or detail.  But the new file always becomes the working draft.  As usual, my subconscious knows what it’s doing.

So there it is, another trick for the tool box.  If you’re having trouble seriously revising a manuscript, try saving it as a new file and see if that shakes things up.

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 by Charlene Teglia
Fearless Writing

In college, I did one really smart thing; I majored in psychology because I thought it would make me a better writer. It did, and it also exposed me to some really interesting thinkers and led to me reading Rollo May’s  The Courage to Create. If you never read a craft book in your life, you can still read that book and come away with a whole new appreciation for what it takes to be a writer, what it takes to do anything creative. The  main thing it takes is the willingness to do the work, however scary that might feel.

A recent interview with legendary comic writer Alan Moore from Wired brought this home to me all over again this week. It’s a long interview, but what he has to say about writers is something particularly pertinent in in the midst of Borders’ liquidation, agents becoming publishers, and contracts asking for more while print runs and advances shrink. To paraphrase, he asks what can you expect writers to contribute to culture when they’re afraid to ask for a raise.

It’s a valid point. If I’m afraid to rock the business boat, am I pulling my punches on the page? Watering down a scene, backing away from an image that’s too harsh, too powerful, and substituting something more palatable? Trying to make nice instead of trying to make something meaningful, something honest?

We write popular fiction, genre fiction, and our job is to entertain. But it’s also our job to be honest, to be fearless in expressing our vision, saying what we mean, going for the jugular when it’s called for. Or we end up with a finished product that doesn’t really make anybody laugh or cry or rage or make them believe they can overcome and triumph over their circumstances like the hero in a story.

A good writer friend once told me you have to write a “very” book. Very funny, very sexy, very scary, whatever. You have to know what you’re setting out to do, commit to it, and do it, no holding back. You don’t get a “very” book without writing fearlessly.

This is why writing fast often works really, really well; write fast enough and you don’t have time to be paralyzed by fear or to second-guess yourself.

Read the last scene you wrote and ask yourself; what would I say or do here if I wasn’t afraid of what somebody might think? When we’re creating is not the time to be cautious. It’s the time to throw caution to the winds. There’s plenty of time to tone things down in editing if you go too far, but time and time again when I turn in a book where I’m sure I went too far? My editors have never  thought so. Which tells me I probably didn’t go far enough.

My writing wish for us all is that we write fast, write furiously, write fearlessly, and go as far as our imaginations can stretch.

Monday, July 4th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
A NYT Bestseller Has a Meltdown

So, I wrote up an entire post for today, then decided not to post it.  It’s full of whining and insecurities.  Completely irrational insecurities.  I went back and forth, telling myself that this blog is about the reality of being a working writer, and insecurity is a big part of that.  Moreover, I think it’s important to tell people that being a NYT bestselling writer doesn’t make those insecurities go away.  In some ways, it may amplify them — high expectations mean spectacular ways to fail.  I really want people to know that landing on the NYT list doesn’t solve all your problems.  It’s nice, it opens doors, but it’s not a finish line.

Early on in my career, I frequented a listserve for writers.  I had only sold a few short stories at the time, but that still made me one of the most published writers on this particular list.  One day I posted a heartfelt warning, discussing how hard the business was and continued to be.  I don’t even remember exactly what the topic was that instigated this.  But one of the responses I got back was, “What do you have to complain about, you’re published.”  Yes, people really do say that.  My posting to that list slowed way down after that, since I felt like a lot of what I was saying was coming across as over-privileged whining.

That’s partly why I decided not to post my original rant.  Because it was kind of a whining freakout.  I’ll try to say the same thing, but more objectively, with less emotion:

I’m worried about the new Kitty book.  It’s gotten good professional reviews but Amazon reviewers don’t seem to like it.  Or rather, they like it but not as much as previous books.  I’m trying to tell myself that this doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, it means I’ve generated very high expectations, which is good, except that eventually I’m bound to disappoint someone.  And as my friends keep telling me, I’m always worried about the current book.  I go through this every single time — same fears, same worries, everything.  I forget how bad it is, every single time, until it hits me again.  So, there’s no reason to worry, right?

Really, I shouldn’t read reviews at all, but I’ve said that before, and I yet keep reading them.

Here’s one of the other realities of being a NYT bestselling writer:  the anxiety of wondering what happens when I’m not anymore.  I mean, I’ll never not be.  That’s just how the marketing works.  “NYT bestselling writer” will be in my obituary.  But what happens if the next Kitty book doesn’t hit the list?  Does it mean I’m done?  It’s that problem of expectation again.  My definitions of success and failure have changed. How strange is that?

I’m trying to remember that my anxiety is normal.  What I really need to keep in mind:  there are things I can control, and things I can’t control.  How people respond to the book, whether it ends up on the list, are things I can’t control.  All I can do is try to deal with my anxiety in a sane manner (Wine?  Knitting?) and move on.  I think I wrote a good book, and I’m trying to make the next one good.  That’s all I can do at this point.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 by Sasha White
Know when to walk away.

It’s crucial to the success of an authors career to understand that writing a great story is work. Some ideas will flow and grow naturally, and some will take every ounce of heart you’ve got, along with some blood, sweat and tears. That does not mean you don’t try them out…it just means that you need to learn when to call it quits.

Not every idea you have is going to be an easy one, and it’s imperative you realize this. Sometimes, an idea seems perfect and magical until you actually start working it out. Then holes pop up and characters become unbelievable, or worse yet, turn to cardboard.

Knowing when to push through and make a story work, and when to walk away and leave it for another time is a big thing.

Some author friends tell me they’ve never run into an idea that they haven’t been able to make work, but a couple of  others have let me know that I’m not alone because I, for one, don’t always get it right. There are times when pushing and pushing has worked, and times when it hasn’t, and I’ve sat down and tried to work only to stare blankly for a couple of hours before forcing myself to actually get words on the page, then hate those words and trash those pages forever.

I wish I could tell you how to know the difference, but I’m still working on that myself. What I can tell you is that it’s my belief that as long as you honestly put everything into each and every idea you try to make work, you won’t regret it when you realize that one of them isn’t working. It’s important not to give up or walk away too early, because that can become a bad habit.  So instead of giving advice this week, I’m asking for advice. Tell me in the comments if you’ve ever walked away from an idea, and if you have, how did you know it was time?

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Sloppy Writing

(This is adapted from a post I did on my own blog last month.)

Something I thought about a lot on this last revision (Kitty 10) is how sloppy my writing was.  How sloppy my writing is still, even after 20 years of working at writing.  It may even be more sloppy now than it was, say, six or seven years ago when I trying to sell my first novel.  I kept correcting things that I knew were wrong, grammatically incorrect, vague, and confusing, and I kicked myself for not catching them on the first draft, because I really do know better.

However, I think this is subjective.  All in my own perception and not really  objectively true at all.  It’s impossible for me to tell (unless I went to dig up some old rough drafts, which I don’t really feel like doing).  I came up with two possibilities:

  1. Yes, my writing is actually sloppier because I’m writing the first drafts faster, because of deadlines and scheduling and so forth.  First drafts don’t matter if I can catch the problems on the revision, so I really shouldn’t worry.
  2. My writing isn’t any sloppier than it used to be, but as time has passed and I’ve gotten (I hope) better, I’m actually much more sensitive to sloppiness and mistakes than I used to be.  I’m actually catching more sloppiness, fixing more mistakes, and (I hope) getting better at this.

As with most things, it’s probably a combination of the two.  But sometimes, it feels a bit like whack-a-mole — for every problem I fix, two more seem to creep in to take its place.

To think, there was a time when I thought this would get easier. . .

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 by Sasha White
A plus for social sites…

Usually when I see a blog post by an author about social networking sites it focusses on the promotional angle of things. And there is no denying that places like Facebook and Twitter are handy tools in that area. However, I want to mention that there is another plus to being apart of those places. Support.

We all have our support network,friends,family and so on.(or we should have a support network), but sometimes that isn’t enough. Especially if/when you’re in the middle of a meltdown and everyone you know is too busy watching the superbowl to listen to you whine about your story issues.

I want to share an example. In case the superbowl comment didn’t give you a hint, I had a bit of a meltdown on SUnday when trying to write a story. The same story I’ve been trying to write for over a week. Okay, so a week of trying to start a story doesn’t really warrant a meltdown,. But what if I’d just spent the past 3 months trying to start another story-never getting past the first 500 words? So with that in mind I switched ideas, and started from scratch so I could make the deadline that had been set (Feb 10th) That gave me 10 days to write a 12k short story.Not that bad really,1k a day. As long as I could get started. Only I couldn’t. My new idea that had felt so exciting last week petered out and I was left with nothing but dread inside me.

so I posted on Twitter (and Facebook, as my twitter feeds into my Facebook) about thinking I was crazy to think I could ever write again.
That got a few comments, and on Facebook the comments turned into a discussion which led me to write this in the notes section to explain what I was feeling and why I was in such a mood.

Someone please kick me in the head….
maybe if you rattle my brains something creative will shake loose.

Here’s a couple of ideas…maybe you can help…:)

The story theme needs to be centered around a Rock somehow…and I want to connect it with my previous contemporaries…
so..Idea 1)
Straight -up Simon Banks (can either be cop or DR..was originally thought to be Dr, but then I felt lazy with research…I already know lots about and it would work) is in a bad place in his life because his little sisiter is in a coma, and he feels like it’s his fault. (Big Brother guilt, no real reason)

He walks into her hospital room to find some freinds (other characters from my other stories) had brought in a holistic healer to work on her since there is no medical reason for her to be in a coma. As a traditional Dr,(or just a set in reality cop) he ofcourse derides the holistic, and so on. But really, that it’s. I have no plot for the other 8k. LOL and there needs to be more than the relationship and it’s oppsites attract thing or it will be just a rewrite of THE DEVIL INSIDE from Sexy Devil.

I could go stalker angle with how the sister got hurt,head trauma, and that could add something, but it doesn’t excite me as I can’t thnkof anything new to bring to that to make it so not cliche.

I have another idea about revisiting Karl and Lara from WICKED, but it would be no real story, just sort of their HEA with hot sex… and really, is that enough?

Same goes for Kelsey and Harlan from My Prerogative…

So, keeping in mind Carrie post from a couple weeks ago on Pretty Good v good v Sellable , and Charlene’s post las week on Being Special. I was in a pickle.

It would be easy to blame those posts on my block, but in reality it was me. I’ve always been better under pressure, when I have to think on my feet and not think too much, and over the last couple years, during my break from writing I’d convinced myself that a new writing process would work for me. Then reality hits, and guess what?That new process, the whole plot, just a little, didn’t work for me.
I’ve always known I’d never be a full on plotter, but I thought “Hey, if I have an outline, that would work.” Yeah, not so much. All I see when I try to think past the first scene in a story is holes. And the more I look, the bigger the holes get, then the tighter my chest gets, and the harder it is to breath until I just want to quit. And I hate quitters, so I get mad at myself, and yeah, that really helps. *snort*

Anyway, the point is, when iI put it out there that I was feeling like I should just give up and move on with something else (something non-writing) I got a response-from more than one person. Other writers,, and readers responded to alternately cheer me on, give me advice, or kick me in the butt. Maybe because it wasn’t my normal support network, but those responses somehow seemed more honest and heartfelt because these people really had no reason to lie to me. They also had no real reason to support me. They just did it because I’d put it out in the open, and they understood. They showed me the love, and it helped.

After being online for some tim, I took a nap for an hour,woke up refreshed, with a new idea, and I started in on it immediately. I’m going back to my old process –Don’t think too far ahead – because it works for me. Just like reaching out into cyberspace for some psychological support did.

Just something to think about the next time you hear someone say Facebook or twitter or blogging is a waste of time if you’ve got nothing to promote. Making friends, sharing yourself, and finding support is never a waste of time.