Monday, May 12

What's Next?

I read lots of quilting magazines. Along with cutting and sewing instructions on quilt patterns, there are always skill levels. Beginner, confident beginner, intermediate, and—I think the last one is difficult. Goodness knows, I’ll never get to that one.

Professional writers have skill levels, too, though I’m not going to spell them out here. We’re complex, so we have many of them, and I’m pretty sure any one of us you asked would assign them differently. For the sake of the post, though, I’m going to call myself an intermediate. I’ve got eight books out there, with number nine coming up in October, so I’m not a newbie anymore, and no one ever attached the word confident to me at any level, but I don’t make enough money to live on, so…yes, intermediate.

I’m writing this to myself, today, but to you too, because—well, because I’m posting it. From that point of view—intermediacy—this is where I am right now, and I’m curious about you. Where do you consider yourself on those skill levels and how do you feel about yourself as a professional writer? I know it’s only Monday and things could change by the end of the week. Or, for that matter, by the end of this post. But how are you now?

What do you do when you have to come down? When you can no longer hold onto the excitement wrought by contracts, conferences, laugh-out-loud conversations with other writers, or YES! covers (or even NO! ones. A cover is a cover is a cover). When you sit down at your desk or in your writing chair or on the bleachers at the ballgame and look at the WIP and think, What am I doing here? I got nothin’. It’s not writer’s block—you’re still writing, after all. It’s not depression, because you’re…you know…not.

Do you work out? Do you go for a long walk or watch a funny-sad old movie or eat some chocolate? Do you sit there in panic mode because, Oh, my God, it’s over. I’ll never write a publishable word again. It is time to confine myself to succinct Twitter messages, sharing inspirational pictures on Facebook, and saying Good Morning to everyone who comes into Walmart.

You’re not a newbie anymore. You’ve advanced to the point that you give sage advice (whether anyone actually wants it or not) as opposed to seeking it. You don’t bother with agent and editor appointments at the aforementioned conferences because you’ve reached your own comfort level in that regard. You don’t panic about synopses anymore—you just say “Oh, yuck, not again" and start writing even though you’re pretty sure the finished product won’t bear that much relation to what you’re offering up.

What do you do when you feel like you’ve been at it too long, too hard, too unsuccessfully? Are you one who has counted her rejections, who knows how many manuscripts are under the bed? Do you remember how many Chapter Ones you’ve written?

Lots of questions here, aren’t there? The nice thing (for me) is that in the writing of this I found the answer to the question that pertains to me. The “coming down” part. And it’s easy. I’ll just keep writing till an Up comes along, because the Intermediate Level lets me know something will.

The reason for the other questions is where my sage advice comes in. I have no idea how many rejections my work has garnered, how many manuscripts I’ve written, how many I’ve started with great hope and stalled on somewhere between Chapter One and Chapter Six. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that I’m woefully disorganized. But there’s more to it than that. If I knew, if I’d really have gotten the creation of spreadsheets down pat, I’d have probably given up at some point along the long and crooked line to publishing. I would probably, at some point in the middle of those spreadsheets, have hated it more than I loved it.


So there’s my advice, which I do remember you didn’t ask for. If you have rejections, stories you’ve realized aren’t saleable, or non-finishers, set them aside. Don’t toss them (even the rejections can prove to the nosy IRS that you’re trying, really you are), but put them where you can’t see them. Then look at your nice blank screen and think What’s next. Because you are a professional writer and you’re ready to move to another skill level.

18 comments:

  1. I guess I would consider myself an intermediate as well...maybe one step higher as a writer but a few steps behind as a marketer, which I realize is equally as important. I've never had a problem with writing, never had a writer's block, never at a loss for an idea. I don't use outlines, just sit at the keyboard and it comes.

    But I despise query letters, synopses. I get lost trying to please editors. I once re-wrote an essay that McCalls had requested four times and in the end, the editor said it still just wasn't "warm" enough. I told her - "this is as freaking warm as it gets." So much for me and McCall's.

    I wish I'd worked harder at selling my writing when I was younger. I'm retired now and all the related letters and plot lines and synopses make me cranky. I don't want to be bothered. That's why I'm grateful for e-publishing. Write the book, publish it and people can take it or leave it.

    Still, envy people like you who mastered the intricacies of selling your work. I still think an agent, an editor, a publisher is the preferred way but I think it's too late for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It never worked out for me with an agent, either, although the ones I worked with tried and I did too. I would still like to have one sometimes, because of the business part--which I still hate--but I think I'm on the wrong end of the career for it. I envy you your column, Vic--mine was my favorite thing to write. Thanks for the comments.

      Delete
  2. I think I'd define myself as 'intermediate', too. I'm mostly confident in my work, I have 5 books out and 6 more coming over the next year/year-and-a-half. And another *secret* series I'm starting on this summer.

    I do have a file of rejections, but I don't know how many are in there. They'd come in, I'd file and forget...but I've never been able to toss that file. I guess some part of me needs it to be there, too. I do know how many Chapter Ones I've written on this road - 17, to date. Only 1 that still calls me to fix it up, drag it from under the bed. I know I never will...at least, I'm pretty sure. Because I'd rather start fresh than muddle through the really, really bad pre-intermediate Kristina writing. lolol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That one sounds like a good "Sunday book" project, doesn't it?

      Delete
    2. It does, Liz! And maybe...some day...

      Delete
  3. Great post, Liz!
    I too am an intermediate After 20+ years, I'm not a beginner, although I feel like one sometimes. I have no idea how many first chapters I've written, but I do know I've written 28 book with half published.
    For the last few days, I stare at the screen. Stuck? No. Bored with this project. Maybe it's time for a new chapter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Getting bored with a project always scares me. If it bores me, is it going to bore a reader? Good luck, D!

      Delete
  4. Wonderful post, Liz! Generally, when I get to that point, I've learned to calm myself down, remind myself I've already written a book a time or 50, and that the stalling is most likely a plot problem, not a lack of skill. I print out the pages and try to find that lost stitch, that derailed plot thread, and then weave it back together and plow forward. :-) I don't use spreadsheets or anything too fancy. One little pre-book brainstorming page, and then just apply Scene and Sequel over and over until The End :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have never printed out the pages--I think I'll try that next time. It's the hardest part of not being a good plotter, that when you're stuck, you truly are just that! Thanks, Shirley.

      Delete
  5. With 4 books out, I think I'd consider myself a beginning intermediate. I've never counted my rejections. What's the point? I've hired and fired an agent. I've published every manuscript I've finished, but I've got a couple partials that I love but which don't fit where the market and my career are right at this moment. After a too-long hiatus due to life events, I've just started writing a new book, the second in a series. If I were more career-focused, I would have cranked this one out quickly in order to make the most of the series aspect. But at this stage of life, I'm just not. I'm comfortable with my own priorities and have less interest in knocking myself out to meet the expectations of the publishing business.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, Alison. Much of the time, I know I'm not doing myself any career favors, but life favors?--you bet!

      Delete
  6. Thank you for the kick in the pants, Liz:) This is exactly how I feel at the moment, so great advice!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi, Molly. It's always important that we choose our priorities according to what's right for us, but it's just as important to be willing to CHANGE those priorities at the drop of a hat. Oh, man, more unsought advice...

    ReplyDelete
  8. I classify myself as a beginner. I have three books out, but not much of an audience. And I still make newbie mistakes. I have very few rejections, but since I haven't really thrown myself out there, I can see why. Never had an agent. If I get bored with a project, I stop writing on it for a while. I can't write something that would bore me if I were reading it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The being bored part, I mean. I don't want to write what I'd fall asleep reading.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I see myself as a "pre-beginner" I have written many things but they have been grant proposals and journal articles. Right now I am writing the dissertation for my doctorate. Writing a novel is on my post doctorate bucket list for when I am Dr. Carolyn later this year (along with getting back to quilting). You all inspire me that it is not too late to follow my dream to become a writer of novels. Thanks for all the advice I pick up here and the encouragement to not give up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's never, ever too late. Kudos to you for aiming for your doctorate! You've probably already started that first novel--you just haven't transcribed it from your heart to the computer yet.

      Delete