I’ve noticed more and more new writers asking the same questions about writers block and an author’s writing style. I decided to share my story, with the hope that that might help or inspire other aspiring authors like myself. I know the title of this article might seem strange but bear with me; it will all make sense soon.
I’ve been writing for the majority of my short twenty-eight years on this planet. Even when I was small and still using crayons, who am I kidding, I still use crayons but you get the idea, I was little, I loved reading but was condemned to live in a small town with only three to four stop lights at the time and even today the cows outnumber the residence by a considerable amount. Our public ‘library’/ history museum consisted of one room and one librarian. And as luck would have it, a lonely aging woman who had the pick of what books the library stocked and needless to say she used it as her own personal book store. As a young impressionable ten year old girl titles like ‘love of a highland warrior’ and ‘how to seduce a rogue duke’ were not the least bit what I had in mind.
The school library wasn’t much better off though the books were geared more towards children, thankfully, though I had had my fill of Goosebumps and Anne of Green gables. My schools weren’t exactly known for their excelling academics though it got somewhat better when I got into high school and was able to take college level classes. Though before the 10th grade my friends and I had to make do with what we had.
In 5th grade students are required to take a reading test to make sure that the students are up to par. Most of the students rated at a 5th year reading level as expected, overachieving is not common in small towns. Myself and two other students however rated at a college level, so titled because the test wasn’t capable of ranking higher than a 12th year level so if you surpassed that you were ranked as ‘College.” Even at ten I found this annoying, I wanted to know my exact ranking so I knew where I could improve. Yes, that was the type of child I was, I loved math, loved checking my grades and making sure I had the scores that I wanted. I collected beanie babies and they were not toys. They went into individual clear cases and had the covers on the tags.
Oops, little off topic, back to my story. The other two students just happened to be my best friends, and now we had proof. Even the schools had tested us and we had a paper that stated plain as day the reading material provided by the school was too juvenile for the three of us. Don’t get your hopes up, the district was not about to spend any of their meager budget expanding the library when the football team needed new jerseys and practice uniforms every year though the team hadn’t won a single game in four years. After all, small towns have priorities. We had the worst team in the state but my town loves their football, who cared if a few students showed talent and potential. If we were so smart we should be able to get out on our own.
Without enough reading material to keep us engaged the three of us started writing our own. We wrote short stories and swapped them back and forth, we collaborated on longer ones together, one of us writing a chapter and sending it to the next person who would write the next chapter and so on and so forth. Our stories became more elaborate and mature as we grew older. Even in high school we would sit in the same spot we always sat all three years that we were there, writing and exchanging the good books we purchased with our own dime. Finally, we graduated and went our separate ways. We are still somewhat in touch though we’ve drifted farther apart. As far as I know I am the only one still writing.
So 18 out of my 28 years I have spent a good deal of time writing though I never had the intention of publishing anything. I studying journalism, political science, art, history and realized I hated journalism I transfer to art school. Writing stayed as it always had, a way for me to escape for a short amount of time, blow off steam and just relax. Years of listening to my mom tell me to send my stuff into newspapers and literary agents and I had become somewhat immune to her insistence. I developed a knee jerk reaction to her suggestion, denying it and telling her they were just too personal to share with others. I kept all of my work in a notebook and folder in my nightstand, for my eyes only.
One piece of work I kept going back to, one I will happily post the first chapter later if you wish. I loved the story; it was one I returned to again and again for years. I even watched movies and TV shows that were similar to get ideas and inspiration. It was one I was feeling more and more compelled to share. Over the years of writing and rewriting it I had managed nearly 85,000 words which according to the majority of Google searches was roughly the perfect size for fantasy novels publishers were looking for.
I doubted myself, put it away, took it back out, worked on it some more, talked myself out of it and slipped it back into the drawer. Finally I just sucked it up, held my breath and started writing query letters to agents and publishing companies. Over 6 months I must have sent out dozens of queries. Not one response back. Not one.
I stopped sending them out and researched more ‘how to get your work noticed by publishers’ and the like. I would skip over self-publishing because my naïve, proud self thought no self-respecting writer self-published. I read article after article about how busy agents are and the high volume of letters they receive, how easy it is for them to pass over your query or how many agents don’t read you manuscript if your novel doesn’t fit into their specific requirements. All of my research was rather discouraging and I realized how authors that score agents could be random luck, something I do not possess.
In order for my book to be seen there had to be the perfect set of circumstances at the perfect time for my book to be picked out of the piles and piles of books they receive on a daily bases. All I could see was the classic office with towers of paperwork so high and so many to the point the desk is nowhere in sight under the mountain of folders and all you can see of the agent is the top of someone’s head. How in the world are they going to even find my book let alone have the time to read it? No wonder it takes months and months just to receive a follow up email let alone have someone read enough of it to like it. So now not only do I have my own self depreciating doubt nagging at me that I will be a failure, I now have to contend with random chance. I am now considering pulling a legally blond level form of self marketing by sending in my query via singing telegram complete with a guy dressed as a dancing leprechaun holding my bright read envelope with a flashing neon sigh screaming “READ ME”, exploding confetti and the smell of homemade cookies wafting by every time someone even looks in its direction. That is after I decided a flash mob might be a little too much.
Finally, I receive an email. Just the one, a very polite woman has enjoyed reading the first ten pages as she requested in her profile. She liked what I wrote but it wasn’t the type of novel that she worked with. At the point, I had gone from dancing in excitement to collapsing heartbroken into my overstuffed comfy chair. She suggested another agent and told me that I should seriously consider adding another 5,000 words before I query the other agent. He’s particular about this genre and would expect me to have over 90,000 words.
5,000 words!!!! AHHHHH, can I just cut off a few fingers and give you those. In my mind the book is perfect, it’s complete. Adding another 5,000 words is going to make it sound cluttered and dragged out. Grrrrrr.
So I spend a few weeks rereading and rereading my book trying to figure out what areas need to be expanded on, what chapters could use a little more detail. I have now understood the meaning of writers block to the fullest not to mention performance anxiety which is something I’ve never had to deal with. Ever. I think I have an ulcer. In a desperate attempt to calm myself down and try to appear as a normal, put together professional writer who wouldn’t mind at all if her manuscript was rejected; ‘I can handle rejection’ has become my mantra, as I chew what is left of my nails down to the wick and might need to switch from wine to grape juice for a while. Is my hair falling out?
I start writing something else. Anything else to get my head away from the total and completely awful way that I have just exposed myself to the world by releasing a small part of my soul and handed it into the hands of what I am now imagining to be an overworked underpaid robot of a person tirelessly working to get ahead of the never ended flood of manuscripts. The image from Harry Potter in the ministry of magic has now appeared in my dreams, but instead of desks with ministry workers stamping muggle pamphlets it has now become an assembly line of agents blinding returning emails without actually reading them.
What have I done?
How could I have subjected my baby to something so demeaning? After all, I spent years writing that, it is so much better than some measly second rate crap. Right? I need a distraction. I throw myself into a complete different story, new characters, new point of view, new world, new story. It’s like falling in love all over again. My new characters are witty, charming. There’s tension in this new book that wasn’t in the old book. The conflict is entirely different.
A week goes by and I wake up from my writing coma, what year is it? When was the last time I showered? Do not smell that. Good lord, I’m starving. Where’s my cat? Right, she’s in my lap, where she always is. Has she eaten? She must have or she would have cried and cried until I fed her. She seems fine. I poke her to make sure she’s breathing. Yup, she’s ok. She rolls over to give me an annoyed glare while also demanding I rub her belly. My eyes are blood shot, the pads of my fingers may no longer have fingerprints due to the hours I spent typing incessantly. I stretch and look over my work. Reaching up with the mouse to click on review and see what my word count…..
Holy mother 4$%#* WEAPONS OF MASS DESCRUCTION. 123,384 WORDS!!!!!! How? What!! That’s……. HOW?
Somehow in my way of overcoming writers block and my failure to come up with a tiny, itsy bitsy insignificant 5,000 words I’ve just written a whole new manuscript with over 120,000 words. But…ah…what the..ugh…. What else is there for me to do, so I reread the new manuscript, and reread it again, correct some grammatical errors, remove some pieces, add others, fill in the gaps.
I love it. I absolutely 100% love this new story of mine, how in the world did I write this so quickly. It took me years to write the other book and now there’s this. I add some more chapters that I had skipped over, after all I am one of the writers who does not write in sequence, I jump around from place to place. Now I’m sitting at 160,000 words. OH NO, much much too long. So I have two novels worth. I think back over and realize there is a perfect spot to end book one and began book two. Now I have one competed-ish novel that sits at 120,000 words and a second with just over 60,000 words. With enough in my head that I haven’t committed to typing up yet that could complete book two and possibly a third.
I think it’s time to return to my first novel, and finish what I started there so I can send it to more agents. Rereading that novel I realize just how spotty the writing is. I had been so consumed with my own novel for years that I hadn’t realized that what I was imagining in my head had not come across on the pages the same way. It felt rushed; the characters needed more depth and substance. Screw 5,000 words it needed at least 10,000 maybe even 15,000.
I have an ugly baby.
As the author I had been so consumed with my own story that I hadn’t taken a good look at just how ugly my first book really was. I had fallen for the same thing so many writers do, they think everything they write is wonderful and people will love it without realizing they have created a monster. I was Dr. Frankenstein and my work was trying to be released into the world on poor unsuspecting readers and all I could see was that I had dressed it in pretty clothes and lovely linguistics.
What have I done? And all those agents that I had judged and made assumptions, though I may have been somewhat accurate I had also grossly exaggerated their positions. All so I could delude myself into thinking my ugly baby was a bestselling novel instead of realizing that maybe it’s something only a mother could love. Wow, I had learned something entirely new about myself and I wasn’t all that happy about it either but now I know. Now I can fix it. I have recently gone back over my ugly baby with scissors and white out all with the plan to rerelease my new and improved plastic surgery baby and maybe, with some encouragement I might get a response back from agents.
In the meantime, since I am virtually undiscovered and a competently untried author I have decided to try the self-publishing route with my “distraction” novel. After all, many of those ‘how to site’s’ suggested starting an author site and getting a following. Agents are more likely to look at your work if you have credentials in the industry. With new humility and some badly needed lessons I have jumped into the world of writers and publishing with both feet. Swim or drown I’ve got a whole new perspective on myself and my work.
Hopefully, if you are a new writer like me and have fallen into the same stereotypes that I have than this might give you some incentive to take a second look over your own work or if not than I wish this was entertaining if not enlightening. You’ve read this far so something must have kept your attention.
Thanks for reading.
N.J. Kuhr –