Sunday, October 24, 2010

NaNo Decision and The Writer's Low (Reposted from the MTV Books blog)

Here is the last of my series of posts on my writing process/progress/lack thereof this year. It expresses where I am at now, which admittedly is not a good place. But hey, we all go through, as the comments I've copied at the end will show you.

As for my decision about National Novel Writing Month, I'm leaning toward trying it. My attempts to work on the bartender book at the beginning of this week went so badly that I decided to shelve the project indefinitely. I've done this before with the book that became Ballads, but that was after I'd finished it when I realized what I'd written was too autobiographical for comfort and what I really did was set it aside for a few weeks before I started revising it, but then I stumbled upon the idea that became I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE and I got so caught up in it that I didn't go back until I finished. I'm feeling differently about the bartender book though, like by shelving it before I even finish a rough draft that I am betraying my characters, giving up on them. And of course as soon as I decided to officially give up and start thinking about a new story to try for NaNo, a friend of mine said something that gave me a little insight into the bartender book, a little... I'm not sure if it's enough to solve my problems, but we'll see. I'm (trying) to take a couple days off right now and not think about anything though that isn't really working. I'm actually thinking of several different story ideas. I have a writer's group on Halloween and I'll probably give the bartender book one last go that day and unless it miraculously clicks, I'll be opening up a fresh file on Monday morning and starting a new book.

I'm not even sure what that new book will be yet. I keep getting nervous about everything I think of. I still have the paranormal YA that dabbles with Greek mythology and the idea of Crow-style vengeance coming from a teenage girl in my back pocket. A partial of this made the rounds to editors and a few want to see the full, but based on their comments and my own doubts, I don't feel like that story is right and I wonder if I should just start over. Then there is the post-apoc YA that I keep mentioning. I've done a bit of research for that over the past couple of days, but I'm afraid I won't be able to pull it off. And last but not least, after writing an essay about my experiences with bullying in junior high, I have the inclination to write about certain experiences from my teenage years, perhaps even as a book of essays or a memoir, but first of all, I'm afraid to do that because I worry it will upset friends and secondly, I don't know if there is even a market for that.

So, um, the NaNo decision is still I guess largely undecided. Like I said, we'll see if I have a breakthrough on the bartender book on Sunday and if not, Monday I will just put whatever words on the page I'm compelled to write. For me.

Anyway, here is the Writer's Low post that I put on the MTV Books blog a couple weeks ago. I wanted to have it hear to show what my process has been like this year and to share the encouragement I received from other writers because we have all been there.

The Writer's Low

I apologize in advance for how pathetic this blog entry is going to be. I've been holding all this stuff in for about a month now and I just have to let it out. Maybe if I do, things will get better. But I promise not to be so lame again.

Anyway, you've been warned....

Back in May I blogged about rediscovering my writer's high. Unfortunately right now I'm in the opposite situation: the deepest darkest writer's low.

The book that I was so excited about back in May--the bartender book as I'd been calling it since it is set largely in a bar-- quickly became the bane of my existence this summer. My agent loved those first 100 pages that I loved, but she pointed out that it's a hard market, so she wanted me to write a full. No problem, I said and I had every intention of getting it into her by the middle of September or early October at the latest because she was going on maternity leave. I set about writing as fast as I could, telling myself that it could suck and I didn't have to actually enjoy writing it because rewriting is my favorite part, if I could just get the words on the page to revise, I'd be happy. But for the most part I felt miserable. I hated the words. My goals felt increasingly impossible. I just kept digging myself into a deeper and deeper hole of writerly angst. I stopped even posting the occasional progress reports on my blog because I was afraid if I posted my true feelings about how I felt about my book and my career in general, I would scare off my few readers.

As mid September approached and with it, my agent's maternity leave, I emailed her to say that I wouldn't have the book in. My goal had been unrealistic, too high pressure for me. I was aiming for December 15th now when she returned. Once I said that, it was like a weight had lifted. I'd also finally worked my way to a point in the book that I felt I could write really well. (A funeral scene. I am at my best when my characters are at their saddest, what can I say?) The story started flowing. I remember why I was writing that book and why I loved those characters. And I thought maybe everything would be okay after all even though I saw how dark the horizon was. I didn't know how to end the book, but I hoped that if I continued to put one foot in front of the other I might just find my way. I had a vague idea after all. I had an outline carefully written even though it didn't sound right any more, but maybe just maybe...

On September 20th (and I remember the date precisely because it was my brother's birthday and I took him to a concert that I hoped would reignite my muse), it all came to a grinding halt. A secret was revealed. Characters reacted. And then.... nothing. I didn't know where to go next. Nothing I'd plotted previously seemed right. So I've spent the past few weeks in various stages of angst. Sometimes I'm quietly ignoring the fact that I absolutely can't seem to write and definitely can't write well or come up with the correct storyline for my characters. Sometimes I'm having huge nervous breakdowns like crying in the shower, making myself physically ill breakdowns because I think I broke this book. I think it is beyond repair. I can't see how to fix it and I don't know where I will find the energy to start a new one.

Yeah, see why I haven't been blogging about this? It makes me feel pathetic. It's strange. When it comes to blogging, I'm generally very open. I've talked freely about the self injury in my past, the abusive relationship, the struggles with depression, drug and alcohol abuse, but when it comes to how I've been feeling about my career lately, I've been very hesitant to share, fearful that I will come across as whiny, ungrateful, pathetic, etc. I can be a perfectionist and I don't like admitting when I feel like I've failed.

But I feel like I've failed.

My first two books, especially my second, which I put my heart and soul into, have not done very well. I fear that soon they will go out of print. I feel that the only way to save them is write a really good, much more successful book that will make readers hungry for my backlist. I wish that I had spent more time writing that book instead of promoting the other two since I didn't really have the money or skills to promote it in such a way that would make an impact.

Since those books came out, I have been working on two books. The first was submitted to MTV Books as my option book. They turned it down. I had an idea to make it into an adult book, the bartender book, which would be more in line with my vision for it anyway, so I tried to stay positive. I also had a YA paranormal idea, that I was very excited about. Wrote a partial of that, which made the rounds and received rejections, though a couple of places said they would be interested in seeing the full. So the plan was to try to finish both of these books this year or early next year. I started with bartender book because I was the most excited about it at the time, but then came the block.

The block is partially to do with me struggling with the story, which is normal. It has happened with my other two books as well. But since I wrote those other two books before I had a real idea of the publishing industry, I didn't have two of the issues that I am having now.

The main one is word count. My books always start out long. I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE was 150,000 words in it's first draft. I had an inkling that that was probably too long. It sold at 112,000 words, which I didn't know was too long, but it was and I eventually got it down into the mid-90s. Right now the bartender book is at 115,000 words and I still have a lot (and I mean A LOT) of loose ends to tie up, so I'm looking at another 150,000 word draft, but unlike with IWBYJR, I don't have an idea of how to shave it down. There aren't any real subplots to cut. It seems that the story I came up with is simply too big. And I freeze just thinking about how I can possibly fix it. Also, this makes me want to rush the ending and it makes me doubt every idea I have for the ending.

And for me, when I start to doubt one thing, I start to doubt *everything*. This leads to the other issue I didn't have before I was published--dwelling on if the book will sell. I never concerned myself with markets before. But now I think, this is another contemporary realistic fiction book with quirky characters. It's going to have the same fate as my other two books--if someone will even buy it this time. What if I'm turning myself out inside out again and end up really disappointed. Should I be working on that paranormal instead? Maybe that had more potential or what about that post-apocalyptic book that I literally dreamed up a year and a half ago on my 30th birthday. It was dream, maybe that's a sign. I should have written it then, post-apoc is huge now. Maybe if I had just dropped everything and written it, I wouldn't be freelancing and bartending and teaching (don't even get me started on the teaching--the other thing that has completely screwed up my fall) just to try to make ends meet. Maybe I should give up on the bartending book, at least for now and try to write that post-apocalyptic book for NaNoWriMo (which I have never attempted before because writing super fast is not what suits me well). I have cheated on the bartender book a little bit by writing that one and it felt kinda good. I don't know a ton about the story yet, but it's interesting....

But it also felt bad because I've been beating myself up big time that I haven't finished a full manuscript since I finished revising BALLADS OF SUBURBIA almost 2 years ago. I have to finish a full book to sell another book and I feel like if I don't finish and sell another book soon, the few fans I have will forget me and I am so so so grateful for them, I have the best fans in the world and I feel like I'm letting them down terribly.

So yeah I wish that I could write faster. I wish that I could write better. But right now I can't seem to write at all. And I have friends urging me to take a break, but I feel like I can't. I've already spent a month making no progress on my writing. If I take another week off there is no way I'll finish this book and revise it by December 15th. If I don't finish a book by the end of this year, I'll be incredibly frustrated with myself, even more than I am now.

Thanks for letting me vent about this. I promise not to do it again since I don't want to be the Debbie Downer of the blogosphere. But maybe some of you out there have advice. Tips on how you got through your writer's lows or blocks. The typical stuff that I do--the music, the running, the doing other tasks to try ignore it and hope genius will strike--hasn't been working because I think I've almost got myself to the point of creating a writing phobia. I'm so scared of being stuck and of failing that I *am* being stuck and failing. So thoughts? Should I cheat on the bartender book with the idea from the dream? Should I force myself to take time off from writing completely and then go back to the bartender book? Should I just keep plodding along? That is, after tomorrow. I'm taking off tomorrow for sure to shop for Halloween costumes. Hopefully it will make me slightly less neurotic.


Because I don't want to be too much of a bummer and would rather show what a great community writers have formed, I thought I would post the comments I got on this blog here because they were amazingly helpful.

Jasmine said...
This reminds me of my senior year in high school. I was going to be the first since my mother to graduate, and I was so nervous and felt so much pressure about it that I eventually developed major anxiety and couldn't leave the house and dropped out. It sucked, and was probably the darkest time in my life, but I got through it. And you'll get through this.

Just take a breath, and give yourself a little credit. You've written two amazing books that capture real teen life in a way most others don't even attempt. You handle emotion with a grace other writers dream about. I mean that scene with Louisa and Emliy? Breathtaking. And the scene where Kara tries to tell Liam about Christian, but all he can focus on is that she's high on heroin still pops into my mind all the time.

You're great. And even if your books do go out of print, they will never go out. There's still libraries, word-of-mouth, lending (even yard sales probably--which might not make you feel to good, but I'm digressing)my point is, new people will always be reading your book. I've come across books in the most unusual ways sometimes, and they've turned out to be great.

I hear where you're coming from about the contemporary. For two years I tried to sell two comtemporary YA's that one critic harshly said was about 'a hapless seventeen year old with no luck and no happy ending'. But when I switched to paranormal romance, it sold in the first round of submissions, so maybe a change of genre's could be the break you're looking for. I hate to say give up on the bartender book, but it sounds like you're trying to work with it, and it's not working with you. At any rate, it will probably help to work on something else for a little while.

Another tip I have: have you considered breaking it down into two books? It sounds like the story you want is just too long for one book. It's not like a story can ever be too long (Lord of the Rings comes to mind) but maybe there's a part where you can break it off, tie up a main plot so book 1 is over and then that would give you plenty of room to breathe and tell the rest of the story.

I hope this helps. I'm loads sending positive energy vibes your way!

October 13, 2010 5:27 PM

Loretta Nyhan said...
Oh boy, Stephanie.

At first I thought, she shouldn't post this, it's too much, but then I thought, how brave.

This can be the reality of writing, of the publishing biz, of the creative life. And not just for you, but for lots of writers, myself included. So...thanks.

But my thanks doesn't help you much. I don't know if my advice will either, but here goes:

Right now it's important you write what you want to write. If it's the story that came to you in a dream (sometimes those are the best, no?) so be it. The bartender book can sit on the shelf for a while. Your agent wants to go out with a good book, a polished book, and she will wait. And if she's coming back from maternity leave, she'll be crazy busy for a while anyway, so she might not even be able to give you edit notes until after the holidays.

When I'm experiencing a low, I reread something I'm proud to have written. I know it sounds narcissistic, but it helps. I also find something to write that ignites my brain--even if it's not what I've been working on. Lately I've been working on a revision, and cheating on it with my next book. It's meant my agent is getting the revision a little late, but I think it's helped, and my book is better for it.

It's so hard, though. In this biz, even though we spend so much time waiting, it often seems we do not have the luxury of time.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I know how you feel, and you are not alone (God, I sound like last night's episode of GLEE. Sorry. But I think you know what I mean.)

October 13, 2010 5:28 PM

Amanda Ashby said...
Steph - this sucks. You are so awesome and we all know that writing can take us to some bad places but you WILL get out of this.

My only advice to you is that for one day you should just tell yourself that every writing decision you make is the right one. Even if it seems wrong at the time (and your inner demons start shouting and demanding that you second guess yourself) just keep saying it over and over again that all your decisions are right, because the more you trust and own your process, the easier it will be for you to get your clarity back. And you WILL get clarity back because I wasn't joking when I said you were awesome!

October 13, 2010 5:30 PM

Harmony said...
I don't have any official writerly advice considering I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to publishing but...

Your fans are going to love you no matter what. We're not going anywhere, even if it takes 10 years for your next book to come out.

If you can't think of ways to cut the bartender book down, maybe your agent will be able to come some suggestions or even crit partners. Sometimes other people can see things that we can't. So focus on writing "The End" and worry about the "ohmygod, this isn't going to sell! what do I do?!" later. (Which, I know, is waaaay easier said than done.)

But honestly, if you're really, truly stuck, take a break. Write something else. Attempt NaNo. Write your dream book. Then come back. Maybe writing something else will trigger the perfect solution to the bartender book.

Either way, don't give up! :-)

October 13, 2010 5:30 PM

Heather said...
I'm so grateful you wrote this, Stephanie. So beyond grateful. Why? Because it's real. It's grit. It's absolutely honest. I haven't read such a REAL blog entry in so long and I utterly admire your bravery in posting it. Thank you. I think so many people (especially legit published authors) fabricate their highs and soften their lows when it comes to blogging, which is lame and doesn't do anyone any good.

I also connected with this as strongly as I did because I'm having the worst writing "block/doubt/melt down" of my life. Crying in the shower? Check. Been doing that daily, as well as crying in a heap on my living room. And at the mailbox. And screaming to metal in my car.

And I haven't been published... I don't have any of your demands or high pressure, so I can't even fathom the intensity of what you're feeling.

I don't have any wisdom to offer. I'm lower then your low and probably always will be. But I am a total Stephanie fan and admire you deeply (as an author and as a person), and that is never going to change. People aren't going to forget your work. That's not going to happen. You're not going to let it happen. And I have no doubt I'll be seeing another Stephanie Kuehnert novel in bookstores soon.

Whenever I'm really infuriated with my writing (like collapsed beneath the dining room table to hide from my doubts sort of infuriated), my mom always says, "Bird by bird."

I'm sure you've heard that before, if not read Anne Lamott's book, but I thought I'd share. The funny thing is that whenever my mom says that, I tend to get really REALLY pissed off. But eventually, gradually, it seeps beneath my hot skin and helps. Helps a lot, actually.

So. Yeah. Bird by bird. :)

Apologies for such a messy rambling comment!

October 13, 2010 5:31 PM

Jennifer Echols said...
Whenever I hit a writer's low, I might not come out and say it, but you can tell because I start blogging and tweeting about all the how-to-write-a-book books I'm reading. That's just how I am--I think a book can solve anything, and sometimes it does.

For instance, I've been in a low, but finishing Sol Stein's HOW TO GROW A NOVEL yesterday really helped. He was an influential publisher, editor, and novelist for many years, and he has lots to say about how HARD it all is. It ought to be hard if you're doing it right. Specifically I've been wondering whether I'm going in the right direction with a revision, but today I feel 100% better about it.

He also talks about how hard and how unfair the publishing industry is to terrific writers.

Like Heather, I've heard lots of people sing the praises of BIRD BY BIRD, and I've read it but I just don't get it. But I've read so many other books on writing that have changed my life and my outlook for the better: Stephen King's ON WRITING, David Morrell's LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, and especially Ray Bradbury's ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. He creates the loveliest persona for himself, you can't help but cheer for him as his younger self figures out how to make a career out of writing. And one thing he says over and over is that the publishing industry is hard, rejection is painful, and you have to use that as fuel! Disguise it but write about it, and write about your eventual triumph.

Whatever form the bartender book takes, I can't wait to read it. I know it will be wonderful.

October 13, 2010 5:50 PM said...
I read your tweet about this and I had to write. I've been there. I've wanted to quit writing several times. I get the fear, the doubt, the worry. But the truth is don't give up. Don't let your doubt consume you. Doubt your doubts!

When I wanted to quit writing, I read the Artist's Way and slowly made my way through the 12 lessons in the book. It might seem like a hokey book but in all honesty, it helped me get back on my feet and write again.

As a writer, there are moments of intense greatness when the pages flow and you've got it all pouring out of you. But day to day, it's harder to slog out the pages. So just write your way through the bad and believe in yourself.

I hope this helps!

October 13, 2010 5:51 PM

Stephanie Kuehnert said...
Thank you all so incredibly much for your heartfelt comments. I was worried that maybe I should take this down, that it is too much, too honest, but Loretta and Heather, you really convinced me I shouldn't. And you all have given me something to look at and re-read to get through this low. Jasmine, I really appreciate how you felt about those scenes of mine. And I really struggled with that Kara/Liam scene so it's good to know I pulled it off.

Amanda, I really like that advice you gave about telling myself that every decision is right. I think I am just so focused on the time it has been taking me to write something new that I forget that even if I write in the "wrong direction" I will discover something new about the characters.

Harmony, it's fans like you that keep me going, it seriously is. You don't know how much I appreciate you. And I think you are right that I should keep going toward THE END if I can... if it isn't too overwhelming and if it is I will take a break.

Heather, sounds like we are in the same place. Don't give up, girl. I believe in you.

thank you for sharing all of those book suggestions. I haven't read a lot of books on writing but I will check those out. I saw your tweet yesterday about how if it isn't hard you aren't doing it right and I thought hmmm maybe I am doing okay then, so I will absolutely be getting that book. Maybe what I need is a reading break.

Thank you all, seriously, for your advice and cheerleading. I'm glad I faced my fears and posted this.

October 13, 2010 6:00 PM

katebakes said...
Here's what I think, and I'm sorry if I'm reiterating what everyone else has said, I didn't read their comments. I think when you know what you want to say, you need to focus on it and ignore everything and everyone else. I also think the opposite holds true; when you are stuck and don't know what to write, the best thing to do is to open yourself up, and by that I mean read. Read, read, read, read stories that you love. Stories that give you that gushing feeling in your chest, that drop in your stomach. Stories that make your nose prick and your eyes well. Read and allow yourself to unabashedly feel and be sucked in. Remember what it is you love about books. Then give yourself some time to love your characters. Think about them. A lot. Think about their hopes, how each of them would want the story to continue, how they would want it to pan out. Or how they wouldn't. I bet you'll find your direction in there. As a friend once beautifully told me, "All your answers come from your characters."

Do not think about your deadline. Right now it's looming and freaking you out, but really you have over two months. That's a crap ton of time- the difference between pools and sleds. Think of it as this allowance ahead of you, ready to be filled, rather than a constraint. I'm always amazed how much my self-talk influences my attitude. And I'm super sorry if this post is preachy or advice-columnist. I'm a solutions girl. There's always a way. And you *CAN* do this. Stick with your book. Finish it. You'll be immensely proud of yourself when you've accomplished this goal- more so because of the struggle.

October 13, 2010 6:19 PM

Nomes said...
thank you so much for sharing this.

it has really struck a chord with me. i struggle with the same things in regard to my writing and sometimes pressures of life in general.

i really respect you for putting a voice to such a common feeling.

i'm actually kinda in awe of you and despite confessing to being so low and feeling hopeless this post has oddly given me hope.


much love and best wishes from me

October 13, 2010 8:28 PM

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...
I think that if the book is giving you that much trouble, you need to take a breather. I know with my old WIP, I was just entirely way too close to it, I couldn't even see it anymore. Maybe play around with your new idea for NaNoWriMo and see where it takes you. Who knows by the end of the week you might be dying to jump back into your bar book.

But don't worry a bit about your fans not coming back to you! I don't care if it take you another 5 years (which ya know, I really really hope it doesn't) but I will still be DYING to read whatever you come up with next!

October 13, 2010 8:53 PM

John Knowles said...
Whenever I get stuck, I usually move on to a different creative venture or get stoned and stare at my computer for hours.

I would say, like pretty much everyone else here, that you already have written two amazing books as it is, so you have no need to worry.

Just keep at it, I'll always read your books, unless you write a shitty one (Which isn't possible coming from you.)

I'll pull a random reference out of somewhere... ... ... Kurt Vonnegut wasn't taken seriously or cared about for a really long time. Bam, the best American Satirist. Grapes of Wrath was panned and ignored, bam, Steinbeck wins the Nobel Prize. Salinger was ignored and panned and then all of a sudden his dumb book about a guy who doesn't get that ducks migrate and has to pay hookers to talk to him is now part of the angsty teen uniform. I think these things take time. Same for Brave New World, 1984, Lord of The Flies, the list can go on. I think even Moby Dick was ignored when it came out. Catch 22 was like six years past it's deadline and it's title made it into the cultural lexicon.

Relax and just write, eventually you'll hit on a big idea and then like 52 million people will be claiming to be the one who heard of you first.

Also, advice? I have around 20,000 words so far. Can I send in a partial draft to whomever? What exactly do I do? Also, was it hard to find a publisher who didn't care about multiple perspective switches?

October 13, 2010 11:13 PM

Rachel said...
WOW Kudos! I am so proud of you (doesn't that sound patronizing? Sorry!) for posting this! I am a newbie writer and read all the time about the highs of writing. Even the occasional blurb about a writing block is cheerful and does not sound like anything I can relate to. This? This post? Totally relatable. Thank you for sharing b/c I know I will be there and will be able to think back on this post and know I am not alone.
For what it is worth, I have not read your other two books although I heard them mentioned, BUT reading THIS post, makes me want to go request them right now at the library or on Amazon. If you can be this real and honest and raw in your blog posts, I have a feeling I will love your fiction :-)

October 14, 2010 9:59 AM

John Knowles said...
Rachel: Oh she is just as raw as in this. Even more so. I got so involved in Ballads that it actually felt like I was there. The characters are written amazingly. Even the antagonists have deep back stories that make you feel for them. The ending is great too. Same for Joey Ramone, although it's a little bit more light hearted. I've read that book so many damn times I could probably recite the whole thing from memory. Also, the way she writes about music reminds me a bit of Jack Keroauc.

October 14, 2010 10:13 AM

BookChic said...
I don't really have a long comment or any advice to give, but I do have this: *hugs!* And I hope it helps.

As for your fans, quite a few are bloggers and you should know we're always on top of any new book that's coming out so even if it takes a few years for your next one to come out, we'll be there for you and remember how much we loved your first two books and can't wait to read this new one. You'll never be truly forgotten, especially since your books seem to rank in the Top 5/10 of Bloggers' All Time Favorite Books. Plus, there was that fan at PAYA with the tattered Ballads.

Also, it's interesting how you talk about your books being forgotten because I'm putting together my blogging schedule for next month and have tons of free space (that hasn't happened in several months) and I'd been thinking to myself "Now might be the perfect time to finally read and review Ballads." So I'll be doing that. I know I'm only one person, but hey, hopefully you can get a few more sales from my review. :)

Anyway, this ended up being longer than I originally planned, lol. I ramble too much. But always try to keep in mind that your fans will always love you and your books, and hopefully that can give you the strength to keep going on this rollercoaster journey of being an author.

October 14, 2010 12:17 PM

Stephanie Kuehnert said...
And another round of thank yous for the rest of you chiming in with (great!) advice and words of encouragement.

Book Chic, bloggers like you really do mean the world to me and I would be honored if you read and reviewed Ballads. Any boost helps, and thank you for reminding me what an impact my stories have made. That is the important thing.

typecraftwriter, I will check out the Artist's Way.

Kate, all of what you said rang true. I do want more time to read and perhaps I will take it this weekend if I am still feeling stuck. And yes, the love of my characters is always what keeps me going.

JYTBB, that is a good idea to even just start NaNoWriMo and dive in and see if it leads me back to the bar book. It may.

Nomes, glad my post could give you hope, I was afraid I was being to self-indulgent and personal and blah, but I am glad I could help.

And Rachel, likewise, I am glad you appreciate my honesty and if you pick up my books that would mean a lot to me and please let me know what you think of them. I hope you enjoy them.

John, thanks for the praise about my books. In terms of advice. Finish your manuscript. Even before the recession it was incredibly difficult for a brand new author to sell on partial. Now even someone like me, a midlister with a couple books out can't sell on partial. Only big bestsellers can sell on partial or proposal. So finish your book, polish the hell out of it and then start querying agents.

October 14, 2010 6:13 PM

Melissa Walker said...
Love that you wrote this, Stephanie. We have ALL been there. Seriously.

Everyone has given great advice, and I'd like to second Harmony's NaNo idea. Something brand new, one month, a spark of fun that you never have to show anyone, just to get the writing flowing.

Maybe on the other side, the bartender book will make sense.

Consider it? xx

October 16, 2010 12:31 PM

Bev Katz Rosenbaum said...
Hey, Steph, right there with you. I've had tons of short things published (essays, short stories) since my Popsicle books, but haven't managed to sell another novel. Tons of compliments about my writing but no sales. I'm still plugging away--writing, teaching, and editing in addition to doing the short stuff. I think lots of published writers have long gaps between their books, so don't let the fact that some people publish every year freak you out. Ditto the possibility of losing your fans. Teen readers move on to adult books after a couple of years anyway, so you're looking at new crops every so often no matter how frequently you publish. It's not like an adult readership. You're a great, great writer, and I know you'll get there eventually!

October 16, 2010 1:16 PM

Lisa Schroeder said...
Stephanie... I am sorry you are in such a dark place right now. A lot of us CAN relate. This is such a brutally tough business.

I can tell you that after a YA novel I spent a year writing didn't sell, I went to work trying to rewrite it as a MG, because that's the feedback we got from some editors. I tried and tried, and around chapter 9, in tears and literally sick of the thing, I opened up my idea journal (do you keep one? I highly recommend it) and I opened to a page of words and thoughts I'd had about six months earlier. I thought - I want to write THIS book, whatever it is. I started playing around with some what ifs in my head and an hour later, I had a seed of an idea.

I put the other book away and started in. It felt like I'd been let out of jail!! The words flowed and writing was fun again. It was something new and different for me and I didn't worry about what anyone would think, I wrote it for ME. I found the joy, in a new story, in new characters, and I didn't tell anyone what I was writing. No one knew, and it was just me and the story. Pure and total bliss.

Again and again, what I've learned is I have to shut off the noise, go deep inside, and write not like a published author, but an unpublished one. I don't tell ANYONE what I'm writing. I just write. It's the pressure that kills us, don't you think?

I hate to say start something new now, when you really are close to finishing this book you've been working really hard on. BUT sometimes it is SO freeing.

I never did finish the rewrite. And I probably won't. The other book is out on submission now.

Hang in there. Follow your heart. And sending you LOTS of hugs. You can do this. Remember, it is always darkest before dawn!!!

October 16, 2010 3:23 PM

Amy Fellner Dominy said...
Just wanted to add my thanks for your honesty! I'm very new at this (my first book won't be out until next year), but someone asked me what's the most important thing I could share about writing.
And I said, "It's hard."
I don't feel like we always get that side of the story. I always heard writers talk about how the words write themselves, and it's such a joy, blahblahblah. And yes, it can be like that, but it's also hard work.
I think it's important for us to know and remember that. When we struggle, it's not because we aren't talented or capable or deserving. It's because it's incredibly difficult. Just reminding myself of that makes it easier for me.
So keep plugging away and I will, too.

October 17, 2010 12:04 AM

stephhale said...
Steph- You are amazingly brave to post this. I know exactly what you are going through. Medical problems have completely dominated my life this year and I've been way too busy sitting around feeling sorry for myself to get hardly ANY writing done. I feel like I'm starting to get back on track VERY slowly but still beat myself up for all the time I've wasted. I'm also signing up for Nano for the first time. I hope it helps us both!

October 17, 2010 3:04 PM

B. A. Binns said...
Relax, take a deep breath, because I think you're right, these lows come to us all. But there's another high somewhere off on the horizon. I go through regular "I love my book", no, "I hate my book" spasms. I just finished a few weeks of hatred, so things are looking better now. You're normal, and it's OK to have a few doubts and worries. Just never let yourself completely stop writing.

October 17, 2010 6:02 PM

Kathy Picciano said...
Stephanie, thank you for your honesty, especially about publishing and selling your books. I choose the self-publishing route and was getting very distressed about marketing and getting my book out. I have since learned, and as you have confirmed, it is just as hard for authors who are published through a big publishing company to sell books. The one thing I really liked about self-publishing is that I had creative license from my cover - which was designed by a high school student in Barrington, IL - to my word count, which I kept to 75,000 words.

I'm not sure what I am experiencing lately is writer's block like you, but my first book was well accepted by those who have read it and all asking for the sequel, which I had written most of while writing the first book. My dilemma, I keep wondering if I am developing the characters enough, is the story flowing like the first, blah, blah, blah. My first book came out of no where and I just sat and wrote, now I think, I'm thinking too much and it makes it harder to create - My advice to you and more to myself - stop thinking about who will read it, will it sell and enjoy the process of creating and living in your wonderful mind.

October 18, 2010 8:26 AM

Stephanie Kuehnert said...
Wow, thank you, thank you, thank you all for your comments and advice. I seriously did not expect such an outpouring and from so many people I respect and admire so much.
Melissa, I am definitely considering it. Thanks for the advice.
Kathy, excellent advice as well. We should both take it.
Bev, sounds like we are in a very similar place. Thanks for reminding me that I don't have to be in the once a year club.
Amy, glad my honesty helped in some way :)
Steph, sorry to hear about your medical problems and I hope NaNo helps you shake things loose again.
B.A. thanks for that reminder.
Lisa, your story really sticks with me in particular. I am really close to the end of my revision and I do think it is the right thing for the book so I want to finish it, but maybe I do need to step out of jail and be free. Darkest before dawn, I hope so. I keep telling myself that. :) Thanks again everyone!

October 19, 2010 12:03 PM


Amy Lukavics said...

I wish I could help you as far as the writing goes, but the truth is that I over edited my first novel for a whole year and it had to be put away. Am revising my second now, and I struggle every day with doubt and confusion about the legit-ness of it all.

But I CAN say, that your fans will never forget you. We expect nothing of you, because the reason we are fans in the first place is because you have already affected us heavily in a way that could never be erased. Letting us down isn't possible. Everything new that comes from you is simply a (major) bonus, haha.

Plus, your honesty here is so appreciated. I sometimes go a little crazy over here too, about the horrors of being so unsure or if I've used all my 'writing juice'. To know that I'm not alone has been great. And in that sense, you are giving your fans more and more with every post.

You rock, Stephanie! And have a very fun and spooky Halloween.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Amy, you are not alone. Clearly I have major doubts as well. I am glad that my honesty is appreciated and that I can't let you down. Your honesty is appreciated too, it really helps me :)