I should have known this would happen. In fact, it’s been happening for the past two weeks. The incessant pinning, the random web surfing, the gorging on reality television and cookie dough ice cream, all instead of FINISHING THIS SERIES! I’m normally not a procrastinator. Being a crazed worrier usually keeps me from putting things off for fear of all of the disastrous “what ifs” that could tragically occur in the meantime but this next project on my to-do list is a totally different animal. It’s the fourth book in my YA series. FOUR. I’ve written THREE other novels in the past year, all of which are in various stages of completion. THREE. That’s a lot. A lot of words and a lot of hours and a lot of heartache and a lot of doubt. I’m exhausted. But there’s still one more to go.
Which is why I’m watching The Real Housewives and eating Chick-fil-a and pinning wedding cakes. Because my brain is just not ready to go there yet. But can you really blame me? By the end of this journey I’ll have written almost 400,000 words and there is absolutely no guarantee that it’ll all be worth it. For the past year my book sales haven’t been stellar and while I never allowed myself to obsess over the fact or even fully acknowledge it as some kind of failure, my expectations for this next project are different. I loved writing each one of my first three novels. I loved the freedom of writing for me and the freedom of self-publishing. But this time around the stakes are higher and so are my hopes. Because this could be it. Really, this could be it.
If I could just type that first word…if I could just type anything at all. If I wasn’t so terrified maybe I’d type that first word today. But since I am terrified, of failing and actually feeling it this time, I won’t. I won’t force it, not today. And not because I think procrastinating is healthy or that that voice in my head is actually right, but because I don’t want the first word in the final book of my very first series to be conjured out of fear. Or at least not just fear. I want that last first word to be conjured out of hope and conviction and pride and love and okay, maybe a little fear too. But most of all I want it to be good. And today I can’t do good. Today all I can do is this.
I used to think that growth only happened in a straight line and that as long as I wrote every day eventually I’d reach a point where it wasn’t so hard anymore and I’d have the answer to every question and enough experience and insight to crank out amazing works of art in half the time. But something strange has happened during the writing of my 7th novel, something terrifying and totally unexpected.
Like big time.
I used to have the bad habit of going back and editing during a first draft, which was tedious and made the process exponentially longer. But it also yielded pretty solid first drafts that I was actually really proud of. So many things have changed since those days. My style is a bit less lyrical and the stories I write are more plot-driven; I also no longer stop to edit (or sometimes even think) during the writing of a first draft, three things that have inadvertently made me a much faster writer. But now that I find myself on the other end of the “self-editing” spectrum and have become an expert at beating my inner critic into silent submission, I’m wondering if her two cents might actually have some value after all.
Learning to end the cycle of self-doubt and self-loathing that plagues every writer, especially during the writing of a first draft, is important but for me personally, writing without any fear or reservations is a recipe for disaster. And let me tell you, this manuscript is definitely a disaster. I’ve been working on it during my time away from my YA series and after finally reaching the halfway point, I’ve never been more disappointed in myself. The idea itself has potential, so at least that much is salvageable, but when I read back through what I have so far, I don’t recognize myself in any of it. It’s so bare that my voice has nothing to cling onto, which means that neither will my readers. I was shocked at first at how terrible it actually was, not to mention on the verge of panic, but it made me wonder if maybe I was overreacting (something I tend to do on a daily basis). And I also started to wonder if maybe what I was experiencing was actually normal.
Life isn’t linear. It may seem that way but the truth is life is messy and crooked and there are more valleys than there are peaks. Creativity works the same way. It’s fluid and always changing and progress doesn’t happen all at once or all in one direction. I still believe that writing every day is the only way to truly improve but I also believe that setbacks can happen any time, regardless of how solid of a writer you are. I’ve grown out of a lot of bad habits in the past few years but unfortunately I’ve also adopted some new ones, proof that you never stop learning or growing or changing for the better or for the worse. Because in life there is no finish line and there is no perfection. Everything we are and everything we do is a work in progress and failure itself is a big a part of that progress. Because we’re not molded or strengthened by the things that coddle us, but we’re molded by the things that hurt, by the hard things and the scary things. The things that break us. Because it’s only the broken that can be mended and it’s only the broken that can be made new.
I’m in the middle of revising the last chapter of the third book in my new YA series and it’s just hit me that when I count all of the writing and revising I’ve done and all of the writing and revising I still have left to do, I’m officially at the halfway point of developing and creating this series. Halfway, as in once I start the first draft for the final book in the series, with just that first sentence, that first word, I’ll be closer to the end of this process than the beginning. It’s a really exciting thought but it’s also a really scary one because at this point it’s too late to turn back.
If something’s not working or if something doesn’t make sense or if the concept is totally unoriginal or something else terribly horrifying goes wrong, I can’t just trunk this entire series. At this point I’m so emotionally invested in this story and this journey that I’d have no choice but to fix it. So there is no backing out. There is no hiding or running away. I have taken on the responsibility of telling this story and that means that not only do I have to tell it right but that I have to finish. Both equally as hard, both equally as terrifying.
Writing this series has been incredibly fulfilling for me in so many ways, many of which I’ve only realized during these brief moments where I actually just stop and reflect. But probably the greatest thing has been just to live in this world for so long, undisturbed, without obligations or expectations. I’ve been free to do this because no one is pressuring me or waiting on me but myself, which means I have the time to do things right and with purpose. It feels good just to write. To sit down every day and know that regardless of whatever comes of this, I did it for me. It feels good to trust myself and it feels good to BE myself.
I daydream a lot about the fall and about all of the amazing things that could happen after these books are out there in the world. But ever since I made the conscious choice not to publish anything new for so long, I’m also learning to really appreciate the freedom that goes along with that choice. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be patient and to grow and to learn. I’m learning so much about myself and about what I’m capable of and without being doubtful or negative concerning the future in any way, I’m realizing that regardless of what happens I already have so much to be thankful for.
Sometimes I get so caught up in the end result that it’s all I can see and it’s all that I want. But I’m beginning to realize that it isn’t the end result that’s the most rewarding. It’s the journey. It’s the journey I crave and it’s the journey I will be grateful for above all else. Because it’s the journey, the actual sitting down every day to write, that has made me rich in more ways than I can even comprehend. Writing these books keeps me sane, they give me purpose, they give me passion. Writing these books inspires me and comforts me. But most importantly, writing these books just makes me happy.
April is all about fresh starts for me. I’ve disappeared from blogging for a while and living 24/7 in the world of my upcoming YA series but this month it’s time to start something new, and not just the FINAL book in the series but…wait for it…a New Adult Contemporary Romance that already has me terrified at all the feels I’ll be experiencing during the actual writing AND a brand new series. Something equally as terrifying but also really exciting because I don’t plan on working on it alone. It’ll also be my foray into “Dystopian-esque” territory, yet another genre I can’t wait to knock off my list.
But first it’s time to celebrate March’s accomplishments! There weren’t many but at least my progress is steady. First up, book 4 is still waiting for it’s FINAL copy-edit. I suppose I could crank out the changes that need to be made whenever I feel like it but every time I think about opening up the document I have all of this anxiety. I’m about to start the final book in the series and the fact that this project is actually nearing the end is really scary for me. Maybe that’s why I’m holding off on those copy-edits until the last minute. I just can’t bare to think about parting with that first book just yet, let alone the entire series. Which means this fall is probably going to consist of many tears and many binges on cheesecake and peanut butter cups.
The third draft of book 5 is finished! And it is now in the hands of one of my trusted beta readers. Once I get her feedback I’ll be ready to tackle the 4th draft and then send it off to a few more sets of eyes.
As for book 6, which is the third novel in my YA series, I’ve been working on the 2nd draft for the past three weeks and I’m so relieved to say that I should have everything wrapped up by Friday! It’s not perfect yet by any means, but it is decent and decent for a 2nd draft is all I can ask for. I plan on contacting a few initial alpha readers soon to have them read over this early draft and hopefully I’ll be able to dive into the 3rd draft sometime in mid-May.
My 7th novel, which is also my latest Contemporary NA, is now sitting at just under 34K, which is not quite my target of 40K but it’ll have to do. I struggled with being loyal to this project last month. I’d designated weekends specifically for working on it but I recently started a new job that requires me to work on Saturdays and come Sunday it was just really hard to feel motivated. Especially when every day that passes I’m getting closer and closer to finishing this series, which means lots of planning and stress and anxiety and just freaking out in general. But I had a breakthrough in the past couple of days, probably because my main characters finally started kissing, so hopefully it’ll be smooth sailing from here and finger’s crossed the first draft will be done in a couple of weeks.
I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end of March without having to totally re-work my timeline but despite a week of near collapse and totally blowing off every responsibility I had including cleaning and bathing and many days eating, I’m right on schedule. Which means that at the end of this month I’ll still be able to start the LAST book in my YA series as well as dive into some other genres–one that I’ll always have a soft spot for and another I can’t wait to make my own. And the best news is this month didn’t kill me like I’d feared it would! Unfortunately April will be a totally different story and since I’m working two jobs now AND planning on starting so many new projects at the same time, this month will definitely be all about balance. I just hope that I can find it before I end up face first in a bowl of chocolate pudding. Actually that sounds kind of awesome.
I’ve been in hiding lately in an attempt to finally finish this YA book series which started out as a standalone and then became a trilogy and is now a total of four books. I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster, something I know all of my fellow writers can relate to and even though some of my “coping mechanisms” for stress and writer’s block and just fear in general may be a bit unorthodox or maybe even to some of you downright insane at least they work. Well…most of the time. Okay sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, hence the extreme variety. But for any of my fellows writers who are stuck or blocked or just downright terrified I’d definitely recommend giving some of these methods a try.
- Candy-Some people smoke cigarettes, some people do shots of tequila, and I gorge on chocolate or anything within arm’s distance that is made of sugar and rainbows. Not only will it lighten your mood but by knocking back an m&m or a chewy caramel and creating a false sense of reward you will be able to trick your body into thinking it’s already accomplished something great and deserves a treat.
- Writing on a yoga ball-It’s bouncy, it’s good for your back, and it’s just plain fun. Let’s face it, sitting at a desk all day isn’t enjoyable, comfortable, or ideal for our health. And since nothing gets the creative juices flowing like exercise why not write and get a little physical at the same time. Not only that but it gives you a soft place to land when you feel like jumping off a cliff.
- A hot bath infused with vitamin e-This is to detox your body of all of that sugar. Not only are baths relaxing but I find that I do my best thinking when submerged in water. If you respond better to fear you could always water board yourself until you come up with the solution to that plot hole that’s been driving you mad or if you prefer a more playful approach you can turn your soap and shampoo bottles into characters from your story and act out crucial scenes right on the edge of the tub.
- Role play your Oprah interview-Nothing cheers me up more than pretending like I’m already rich and famous. Visualization is truly the secret to success, which means wishing will get you nowhere in this world. Dreams don’t come true because we wish for them. Dreams come true because we think them into existence. Remind yourself on a daily basis what your vision is and how you’re actively achieving it and one day you’ll be sitting with Oprah and talking about how amazing you are.
- Plan a “staycation”-Nothing induces more guilt in a writer than idle time, which is why we rarely take a day off for fear of wasting it on watching reality television and drinking wine when we could be adding three thousand more words to our WIP. But here’s the thing, we need breaks. Regular breaks. But if you’re like me and can’t stand to just lay around when you could be writing, here’s a tip. Schedule meaningful free time for yourself where you and your friends or family are actually doing something worthwhile. If you can’t go out plan a “staycation” complete with a really ambitious home-cooked meal with desert of course and eight hours catching up on House of Cards because you only like classy narratives.
- Disappear off the face of the earth-Or maybe just from social media. I’m one of those authors who still hasn’t figured out how to navigate social media and seamlessly incorporate it into my daily life. Blogging is a different story. I love blogging and I love connecting with other writers and readers but when I’m in the middle of a project, sometimes it’s just not possible. Sometimes it’s okay, actually it’s more than okay, to step away from your Twitter and your Facebook and your blog and just focus on what needs to get done.
For Writer’s Block:
- Candy-See above.
- Read all the books-This is going to sound strange but sometimes when I’m in the middle of a WIP I have this fear of books. Of reading them and sometimes just looking at them. I know as writers we should be reading as much, if not more, than we write, but sometimes I’m stopped by the fear that I might read something so amazing and so gut-wrenchingly perfect that my own work will look like a disaster in comparison. This fear hits me at some point during the writing of every project, usually when I’m stuck, but you know what? This frightening scenario has never actually happened to me. Do you want to know what has happened? Every time I’ve chosen to pick up a book when I was feeling stuck with my own I’ve had some kind of epiphany. Reading inspires. It unlocks things in us and it reveals things to us we couldn’t see before and it’s the fastest way through writer’s block that I know of.
- Harry Potter Move Marathon-Because there is nothing more magical or more inspiring than the story of an orphan who triumphs over evil or the story of the author who created him who just happened to be piss-ass broke and is now a billionaire. Not to mention once you come to the glaring realization around the end of the third movie that you will never write something as spectacularly world-changing you can stop trying to be perfect and just write.
- Read negative reviews-Not of your own work. That would be counterproductive. The thing is, writer’s block is often caused by our impossible pursuit of perfection and we spend hours analyzing and re-writing the same paragraph because for some reason it’s just not right and because we’re holding it to some standard that doesn’t exist. But there is no such thing as perfect and there is no pleasing everyone, which is evidenced by all of the negative reviews given to New York Time’s bestselling books. However few, I promise, even your favorite author has some unflattering reviews of their books out there. Take a stroll through Goodreads or Amazon and you’ll see what I mean and not only will you probably have a good laugh you’ll realize that it’s all relative and you might as well write for the only person whose opinion really matters–you.