I knew what kind of writer I was. I don't mean genre vs. literary, fiction vs. journalism. I mean, I thought I knew what KIND of writer I was, what my method was, how my mind worked and my habits held. It turns out, I was all wrong.
When I wrote Storyteller, I was the type of writer who had to work in silence. My day job is nothing short of bedlam and the time I set aside for writing has always been a blessed and sacred oasis of silence. Outer silence, that is, so that inside I could hear the rhythm and songs of the stories that turned me on so very, very much. These were my stories, my characters, my world-made-by-hand and there was no place I felt more at home. I set huge word counts for myself and wrote with crazy abandon.
After the first manuscript was finished and polished, I started the submission process, got an agent I trust and have been waiting patiently for great news on the series' fate. (The patiently part is a tad generous. Okay, extremely generous, but cut me some slack, alright?) I wrote the second in the series because the story had to come out and, again, silence and discipline were the keys to get me to that blissful groove where the story just flowed.
But then what? We all know how slowly the publishing world works. Writers have to write; it's the only part of the publishing process we have any real control over. So I decided to try a new project, a new genre – mystery. I did my market research, read some of my old favorites, read some great resource books and got underway. My agent liked the project; early word from editors was positive. Things were rolling, right? Wrong!
The first mistake I made was ignoring a teeny-tiny voice in my head saying "We don't want to write this! We don't like this hook!" Not a good voice to ignore during the first chapters of what you hope will be a long series. The second mistake I made was ignoring viral bronchitis that was just setting in. Long story short, the first hook was sent back to be reworked; said rework was rejected again with a phrase I used to find flattering: "We like her writing but the project isn't for us." It's become the literary equivalent of "It's not you, it's me." It's very positive feedback to get, but it starts to feel like almost going to the prom. You don't have a lot to show for it.
Then came the period my family and friends tactfully refer to as "The Set-Back." Let's just say it wasn't pretty; it wasn't quiet but it was blessedly brief. I tore down my writing station. I threw out all my previous drafts of the mystery, notes, etc. I used some remarkably colorful language, even for me. And I completely stopped writing. I didn't know how long I would stop, but hell itself could not have gotten my fingers to that keyboard.
It turns out I was a lot sicker than I had originally thought (which I'm using as my excuse for my abominable and petulant behavior) and I used my recovery time to take apart the image I had of myself as a writer. First let me say that recovering full lung capacity is a hugely enlightening experience, especially when you're ramped up on steroids, and I hit some pretty high levels of euphoria. Here's what I learned:
NOT ALL STORIES ARE THE SAME SO THEY CAN'T BE WRITTEN THE SAME WAY. It's so ridiculously basic, you'd think it a no-brainer but for me it was a revelation. My urban fantasies are full of tradition and new language and violence and in many places read like a dream. It makes sense they would be written in a near-dream state. My mysteries are light-hearted and (hopefully) clever. They need noise and chatter and levity. I don't think they can be written in a silent room. They don't necessarily benefit from the grounding austerity of black coffee. A nice cold Stella Artois has gotten me through more than one clunky scene, despite my old insistence on keeping writing and drinking separate. (Some of you who know me well are probably shocked at that old rule, but it's true.) The effortless word counts of one project can't be expected, and would probably suck, for a different project, so there went another old misconception. Pantsing was replaced with plotting; for the first time ever, characters needed notes.
Over and over, old notions of myself, my habits, my identity went tumbling away, leaving only two irrefutable truths:
I AM A WRITER BECAUSE I WRITE. I love writing. I love telling stories and nobody has the final word on how I get those stories onto the page but me. And second:
WHEN WRITING, CARROT STICKS ARE NEVER AN ACCEPTABLE SUBSTITUTE FOR M&MS. Sorry. I've tried. There are some universal laws that cannot be broken.
So how about it? Ever had your own writer self-illusions shattered? Altered? How did you cope?