Friday, August 17, 2007

Writing For Someone Else

I had several titles for this blog, all related to the same topic. Among my favorites were: The Book That Just Won't Die, The Hardest Book "Evah", My Book: Elisabeth's Self-Inflicted Torture Device, and my personal favorite, A Writer's Guide to Losing Your Eyelashes, One Agonizing Page At A Time. As clever as those were though (and true), they didn't capture the true essence of this post, which in a nutshell is what happens when you shift from writing for you to writing for someone else.

I have always been the type of person who works well under presser. I am, by nature, a procrastinator. Give me three weeks to get something done and though I will work on whatever it is steadily, I will save the bulk of the work for two days before the deadline. I did this when I was teaching and had to figure grades. I did this when I was running the school yearbook and had to turn in pages to the publisher. I did this when I was querying agents and got requests on manuscripts that weren't "quite" finished. I did (am doing) this with regard to the conference (shhhh...don't tell Paty). It is - I have learned to accept - my pattern. It's not one I want to pass on to my kids, but for me it works. And I always do my best work, right down to the wire.

Being a procrastinator in this writing business though is probably going to come back to bite me in the ass. I'm already seeing the effects. The book I'm working on now is taking way too long. Wavy talked (jokingly) about excuses earlier in the week, and man-oh-man, could I give you excuses as to why this book isn't done. The kids are home for the summer, it's light too late and they don't go to bed, thus cutting into my writing time, I'm tired in the evenings, DH's work schedule has been erratic, I've been traveling, my two-year-old is in a mommy phase, this book is bigger than the rest, it's a reunion story and harder to write, no publisher is waiting for it yet. I could go on and on, but I'll spare you. Because I know you too have a thousand excuses you could pull up for what's keeping you from finishing your book at the present time. All of those excuses are true and valid and serious reasons as to why this book isn't finished, but last night, thinking about this blog and my propensity for procrastination, I realized at the heart of what's hanging me up isn't the daily stresses or my affinity for pushing things off. It's the fact that before this book, I was solely writing for me. It didn't matter when I finished a book or how long it took, it only mattered that I did.

Since signing with my agent, all that has changed. Suddenly, it's not just me or my friends reading my book, it's an industry professional who's patiently waiting for me to finish this book so she can start subbing it to editors. When I was subbing to agents it was different because they didn't know what I'd written in the past. This time, my agent knows what I wrote before and loved what I wrote before, and somewhere inside me there's this fear that the next one won't be anywhere near as good.

I've heard this before. Mostly from published authors who are trying to make their second sale. They call it the second book syndrome. What no one tells you though is that this can happen to you even before you sell, when you're simply waiting for that first sale and continuing to write. I talked to a writer at the Rita awards in Dallas who's repped by the Knight Agency and she said the same thing happened to her after she signed with her agent. Suddenly, she just couldn't finish anything if her life depended on it. She even went so far as to tell her agent she wanted to back out of her contract because she felt like a fake. Her agent, though (smart woman), encouraged her to stay on and keep writing, and she has.

Before I was agented, I thought getting an agent was the hardest thing. Now I know waiting to sell your book and continuing to write good books is much, much harder. And once I do that, I'm sure there will be even bigger obstacles in my way.

I am roughly sixty pages from finishing this book. But before I can go on I have to go back and fix some serious errors in the beginning. This is my process, and it works for me, so it's not something new and daunting. Seriously recognizing what's keeping me from finishing has been a big eye opener, and hopefully, will allow me to get this puppy done. At post time, I'm about halfway through the wip in my revisions and last night, after my little revelation, I added roughly fifteen pages of new material. I can't begin to tell you how fabulous that felt. Page totals aren't changing that much, but maybe, just maybe I'm on the right track.

If you are a published author (or agented), I would love to hear if you have experienced anything like the second book syndrome. If you aren't, please share how you deal with fears and self doubt and what works to force yourself to keep plugging away at your goal.


Karen Duvall said...

You'll probably get all kinds of responses to this question, Eli, since everyone's experiences with agents and being published are different. 8^)

I've had 2 agents in the past, and yes I felt some pressure while I was represented to have another finished book ready should the one they were shopping sold. It can be paralyzing, or motivating, depending on your mindset. I've been lucky (?) enough to experience both. With the mystery novel, I was frantic to have the second book in the series finished asap. But when it became apparent no quick sale was in sight, enthusiasm for the sequel waned and I began writing an entirely new book.

As a published author, there is unseen pressure to get another book on shelves before readers forget who you are. I think that's the real benefit of being prolific, which I'm not. But I have several pubbed author friends who make my mind spin with the number of books they produce on a regular basis, multiple series, and multiple publishers. I don't know that I could do that, but I've never had the opportunity to try, so...

Eli, procrastination is my middle name. Ask my husband. It drives him nuts. But I thrive under deadlines. It was so wonderful to finally be invited to write a book rather than try to sell a finished book nobody had asked for. That was a wonderful experience and I want it again! But it was a bit nerve-wracking as the deadline for that book approached and I was doing my procrastination thing. Pressure! But I finished and the novella comes out next month.

I don't know about everyone else, but I instinctively know that each book I write is better than the one before, so I don't worry that my next one won't be as good as the last. And just because I have three published books makes it no less difficult to get my manuscripts published. Maybe if I wrote only romance I'd continue to submit to The Wild Rose Press, but it's not really my main genre. So I'm focusing my efforts on other markets. Without a bonifide track record of significant sales, I have about the same ranking as an unpublished writer and still have to prove myself with a finished book. And even then, there's no guarantee of a sale. I can attest to that. 8^)

So you're not alone, Eli. 8^) I totally get where you're coming from.

Alice Sharpe said...

You ask the hard questions, grasshopper.

I think everything you are experiencing is totally normal. That's not to mean that everyone has these exact hang-ups or fears, just that a lot of people do. Despite thirty some odd books, I struggle with these same problems.

It does get different when you write for other people. I wrote the first 18 books more or less completely before ever submitting them. It was a good way for me to work back then as it gave me complete freedom. But I wrote the second book in about three weeks because I was afraid of the 2nd book syndrome, and then the year after that, I wrote five books because I was driven to prove to myself I could do it.

Back then, a few relatives read my books and a bunch of people I didn't know. Fan letters would reassure me there were readers out there. It wasn't until I started getting close to the people within this group who so generously read my books that I began experiencing a new kind of stage fright. People who don't love me (i.e. have to spend holidays with me) reading my work. What if they discovered I'm a fraud? Ack!

So, yes, there's always something.

However, you are in luck because this subject -- fear -- is one I have given more than my share of time to thinking about and I have reached a conclusion which I am now going to share. Lucky you!

This is what I tell myself when I get discouraged or worried that my wip sucks or that I can't finish it or that the editor and senior editor will ask each other what in the hell I was thinking or that later someone will read the book and wonder how I could have gotten something so silly published or I will read it and see all the holes and the places where if I had been smarter and more clever I could have made a book a hundred times better....well, you get the drift.

This is it -- do it. Ta-dah!

Yep. Think Nike. Just Do It. There's a quote in a magazine I saw yesterday. Someone named William Eardley IV said, "Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in."

Acknowledge your fears, and do it. Suffer the doubts, then do it. You cope by.....doing.

It doesn't matter if you are an 11th hour girl or a chart maker. It doesn't matter if you read a million books on self motivation or hit your head against a wall. It doesn't matter if the words flow easily or have to be yanked out one by one. It doesn't matter if you love the process or hate it, the one and only way you will conquer any of it (and by conquering, I mean finishing a project) is to.... do it.

I deal with the fear and self doubt by continuing to work. What else can I do? Freeze? I've tried that. It doesn't help. First book, second book, first agent, first sale, thirtieth book ... I'm sorry, but there will always be something to worry about. And I don't know ANY writers who do not experience the fears and self doubts you express in this blog.

The ones who end up successful in whatever connotation that word means to them, are the ones who use their ambition to fuel their drive and who, despite everything, in the end ... just do it.

People like you who last night thought this through and proceeded to write 15 new pages despite the pressure of a waiting agent. People who recognize their fear and it.

Btw, I love your alternate titles!

Paty Jager said...

Great blog, Eli! And great answers from Karen and Alice!

I agree with Alice- Just Do It! There's a reason for the saying. If you don't, you'll never know if you could have been a success and which is going to eat at you more? Not finishing the book and forever wondering or finishing it and learning yes it worked or no it didn't? I like to have answers. I want to know why it did or didn't work, I'd go crazy wondering if I'd made the right decision if I didn't finish and get it out there.

Fears- Yes! I'm still quivering inside waiting for a review of Perfectly Good Nanny. I looked on Fictionwise and I've received two Greats and one Good from readers, but I'd like to see what a reviewer has to say. I'm also scared the second Petticoat book won't stand up against the first. Everyone liked the first one so much and they requested the second to tie up loose ends (which I hope I've done sufficiently) and they want a book about each of the brothers. But how am I to keep the reader engaged in each book? Can I keep them engaged? Knowing I can't have outlaws, shootouts, and hangings in every book. To me that would get old, but will I lose readers if I don't incorporate all of those elements into each book?

Fears- I got a boatload! LOL But, I want to please those readers who request more, so I am swallowing the fears and trying to come up with entertaining and twisting stories for each of the brothers. I'm just doing it!

Alice Sharpe said...

Two more things.

I think Karen is right. I think every books gets better than the last for all of us. Some stories are more compelling than others but that's subjective. It always amuses me when people think we just dash these off while doing other "important" stuff. We take out our laundry list of "how to write a romance" and tick off the points one by one. Piece of cake. But you know better and you know that the book you are working on has more of you in it than the one before. And that some part of you believes in it or you would have trashed it by now. Try using the fact your agent is waiting as a deadline instead of a possible censure. I guarantee you that if you love the book you send and are proud of it, she will, too. Now editors, I don't know about them!

Secondly, Drat! I forgot the secondly!

Btw, Paty, great list of worries! And I thought I was neurotic!

Danita Cahill said...

As someone unagented, and unpubbed in fiction, I can't offer sage advice, only what works for me: I write steadlily along, everyday or nearly so while in the throes of a book. When I'm done, I'm done for awhile. I don't want to write anymore for sometime. Weeks, maybe months. The Work in Progress, which is now The Work Which Has Been Like a Boil on my Back is finished, and so am I.

I'm in this stage of the process now. On vacation. Out to lunch. Free as a bird. It's time to get my life back in balance, catch up on the dust in the corners, paint the shed that needs a new coat, lose those seven pounds I gained sitting on my butt day after day while pounding the keyboard.

I revel in the having written during this time. I do other creative things, like gardenign and taking photos. And I think about writing. Yeah, that's right. It's poking at me again all ready. Even in my sleep, "Come on, Cahill, here's a couple of weird dreams to get your imagination flowing."

So, I know the time is coming. Soon. When I will once more park my ass in front of my laptop and pound the keys daily in the never ending battle towards storytelling and publication.

Danita Cahill said...

I guess I didn't really address the issue of fear in my comment. Sorry. I like what Alice says -- Just do it.

And by the way Alice, what makes you think just because you don't invite us over for Christmas dinner that we don't love you? Pish shaw!

Alice Sharpe said...

Danita -- HA!

WHat a treat to have you back on line!!!!!

And to prove my theory works, I made myself sit here today and the synopsis finally started flowing. Yea!

Danita, you sound just like me, anymore. Work hard (the boil), finish, play and work at other things, then whamo! another boil starts to grow.

Danita Cahill said...

so glad to hear I'm in good company, Alice. Makes me feel better, no ha about it.

Genene said...

Yep, I'm a procrastinator too -- well, I'm actually becoming a reformed procrastinator. Because as Alice and others have said, I've discovered I have to Just Do It!

I don't want to give up any of the pieces of my life, and I have the whole new promotion piece for my books coming up quickly. So I am becoming more focused and more productive (that's a positive affirmation!). Plus giving my editor a date I'll have this manuscript done helps. So yikes! It's back to work!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Thanks everyone, for all your answers. So sorry I didn't respond sooner. I was out of town for the weekend and didn't get a chance to read comments.

Karen, glad to know I'm not the only procrastinator out there. :) I, too, think every book I write is better. I think this one is a more difficult plot though, and that's really challenging me. Though in a good way. But man, oh, man, the next book better be a gimmee. I think I deserve one after this. :)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Thanks, Alice. ;) You're always good for the ego.

I like the "Do It" philosophy. I'm sticking with that one. ;)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Paty, I'm in awe of how you "do it". You've been so prolific lately. Definitely an inspiration for the rest of us.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Glad you're enjoying your "vacation", Danita. I think we each know what works for us. Glad you've figured it out.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Yeah, Genene! Procastinator's unite! You'll have to let me in on your "reformed procrastinator" secrets some time. ;)

How's the new book?