I love writing. Specifically, the craft of writing. The business of writing, though, can stress me out. Once my work goes from “doing it because I want to tell a story” to “doing it because I want to tell a story that gets published” automatically ups my stress factor.
Why is publishing stressful? Not to put too fine a point on it, if you don’t make your numbers, you probably don’t get another offer to publish another project, at least not at your current house. And those numbers (or lack thereof) stay with you, no matter what house you move to. (At least, they stay with your current byline.) It can be heartbreaking if a book you believe in doesn’t perform well; it can be devastating if a book you believe in doesn’t even score an offer from a publisher. (Trust me.) And that heartbreak, that devastation, can wreak havoc with your self-confidence as a writer. And that can lead to a crashing halt to your writing productivity. (Again: trust me.)
I’ve tried to not think of my writing in terms of potential publication. But man, is that hard. I tell myself, “Just write. No one will see it.” But in the deepest part of my heart, I don’t believe that. I write and I want to share what I write. I want to write stories that entertain, or stories that make people think, or stories that make people feel — or a combination of the three. I want my stories to be read. So how do I turn off the stress of publication? How do I take the business out of writing?
The answer is to get lost in the story.
The problem, however, is letting yourself get lost in the story.
Okay, so maybe that’s my problem, not yours. I have this obnoxious voice in my head, whispering about publication possibilities. “This new project is YA contemporary, and there’s a market for that.” “This new project touches on magical realism/surrealism, and there’s a market for that.” “You have to write fast, while there’s still a market for that.” Oh my God, getting that voice to shut up can be quite the trick. Worse is the voice of criticism, the one that reminds me of past failures so much that I can’t see past victories. These voices truly suck.
The project I’m working on is for my MFA in Creative Writing. (Yes, I want to teach creative writing. Want to take my class?) And even though this is basically homework, those damned voices keep whispering about publication, or questioning if the work is really good enough. Oh man, is this shit annoying. Worrying about publication and fretting over self-doubt has gotten in the way at least three times this past semester — this is the fourth time I’ve started my thesis from scratch. (The thesis, in this case, is a complete novel.) So yes, I’ve started four different novels over the past year. None of them are finished. Why? I keep getting in my own way.
So how do I get out of my own way and take the business out of writing?
- Get inspired. I’m reading a ton of books for the MFA program — novels, but reading for craft purposes (i.e., focusing on one element of craft in the novel). And this is a great way to lose myself in the craft of writing (which is a far cry from the business of writing). I just finished Rainbow Rowell‘s ELEANOR & PARK, and oh my God, do I need to read everything she’s ever written. Ever. Really. And that’s not just my response as a reader (because woof, what an amazing, brilliant book) — it’s also as a student of the craft of writing — the structure of the book is fantastic. It begins exactly where the story begins, and the author manages to weave in backstory quickly and effectively, but only after the catalyst event occurs. I could babble about this for days, so I’ll just rein it in and say that reading novels for the same audience and are in the same genre for the story you’re writing can be incredibly inspiring.
- Go with your gut. Another thing that’s helping is listening to my inner editor. (No, not the voice that’s whispering evil things about publication or criticism; this editor is internal, and doesn’t work for a publisher.) This is the part of my brain that knows how the finished story should look, and it sends out red-lined messages to the rest of my brain about how the story currently exists. Sometimes, this leads to writer’s block. Other times, it leads to trying something new. Just this morning, I realized that the right beginning to my (new) story might not actually be the book’s real beginning. I don’t know yet. I’m working on a scene that takes place before. Maybe the scene will make it to the final cut; maybe it won’t. For now, I’m rolling with it.
- Share. Writing can be incredibly lonely. Worse, when we write, we can get stuck in our heads. When that happens, the voices of publication (“Psst, there’s a market for that”) and criticism (“You didn’t sell the last book, what makes you think you’ll sell this book”) can become almost deafening. So turn to a trusted friend and share a scene, or a sentence, and get support. There’s nothing like validation. And let’s face it: sometimes, we need a cheerleader to do virtual cartwheels for us.
So there you go: my latest tips on how to take the business out of writing. And my unofficial tip? Marathon something on Netflix. (I’ve just started watching ARROW. Yay!)