Friday, December 04, 2009

Are We Having Fun Yet ?

This post is a product of a conversation I had with a friend who has decided to give up writing. Bummed me out. She's really talented - great insight, quirky humor, sense of the dramatic and adventurous is spot on. She'd set a goal in January of finishing her second book by October and entering it in the Golden Heart. Didn't make it so now she's done. Makes me sad and also makes me wonder.

At what point is it time to throw in the towel and what reason is good enough to give up on something you've worked so hard to attain?

How many of you enjoy every minute of writing, every minute of the process? For how many of you is it fun every day and you jump up ready to get at it and don't want to get out of the chair, even to go to the bathroom?

When I was in high school I was in the marching band. Fortunately I played the clarinet. Not a particularly heavy instrument to carry around in 100 degree heat in Alabama in August. I felt really badly for the tuba players. All that weight on their shoulders and standing at attention for hours on end. As we stood in formation in the boiling heat, sweat dripping while our director stepped off the next formation we used to ask each other in sneaky whispers "Are we having fun yet?" The answer was always "Not yet, but it's coming." Until we heard a resounding thud and the sound of a big bell tolling. One of the tuba players had hit the dirt, bell first, and the baritone sax player would say "NOW, we're having fun."

Writing is kind of like that. You write and write and write. You suffer the tortures of hell. It's fun if you and your fellow writers can commiserate. Sometimes you get to perform and everyone applauds. Sometimes you have to stand there and boil and let a master step off what you do next. And sometimes it gets so bad you feel like a tuba player in full gear going down for the count. Is any of it fun? All of it? Why do you keep doing it?

How about our published authors? You've got the contract. You have made it! Does it get any better? Any worse? Are deadlines killing you? Are there times you are ready to throw in the towel because it isn't fun or you think you'll never top what you did in your first book or you can't finish books as quickly as Nora Roberts? I mean Harper Lee wrote ONE book. One! It won a Pulitzer Prize. Talk about pressure. Was she having fun? Did she enjoy the process. How long did it take her to write the book and why didn't she write anything else? Ever wonder? I have.

I take about 8 months to a year to write a book. Eight months to a year of every minute of my free time and I produce ONE BOOK. I've produced three since I started this writing thing almost four years ago. That is SLOW. I hear about other people writing books in three months and I am amazed. And scared. And slightly ticked off at their ability to do so, but I'll get over that. One day. And how many books do you write without getting one published before you finally say "I'm not cut out for this."? By the way, what's the longest you've taken to finish a book? The shortest? Be truthful, even if the rest of us might throw rocks at you.

I started training to be an opera singer at the age of sixteen. I began auditioning for roles with opera companies at the age of twenty. I was invited to audition at the Met in New York at the age of twenty-five. I sang beautifully. Didn't get the part or the contract. I auditioned for years. Got some nice compliments. Got some raves. Got some "Don't call us, we'll call you's." What I didn't get was a contract or a role. I was twenty-nine when I sang my debut role as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflote in Austria. For those of you who don't know, twenty-nine is OLD for a soprano to debut.

And all of those hokey movies are true. When you are a singer you spend hours singing scales over and over again. You do vocal exercises. You spend hours listening to recordings of operas. You spend hours alone in a practice studio, just you and a piano and teach yourself the entire score of a 3 to 5 hour opera all by yourself. You rehearse with a pianist. You rehearse with a vocal coach. You eat, sleep and drink opera. You drag yourself (and sometimes your husband or your parents) all over the country to audition for bored opera directors who act like they are doing you a favor by listening to you. It is NOT fun. It is lonely, hard, sometimes depressing work. And many of my fellow aspiring singers fell by the wayside. Some of them were far more talented than I. Better looking too. (In the States that matters. In Europe all they want to know is can you sing and you can you sing over a 250 piece orchestra without a mike.)

Why did I stick with it? I have no idea. Can't decide if I was stupid, naive, stubborn, ambitious, masochistic or just didn't know when to quit. Or maybe, just maybe I knew in spite of all of the work and insults and pain and all of the hours spent slaving over a role alone with no hope in hell anyone would ever hear me sing it I kept going because sometimes you have to see it through no matter what. Sometimes what you are creating isn't about deadlines, or money, or fame or receiving some sort of praise from someone. Sometimes it's about doing it for yourself, as a sort of legacy, to say "I was here. I created something from myself. And when I'm gone, somehow it will still be here forever." Somewhere on the wind are the notes I sang in my debut role twenty-two years ago. They will always be part of the wind.

Why do I write with no idea if I'll be published or not? Cause I ain't done yet!


Christine said...

Louisa, this post is rather timely for me. Got another R--it hurt cause it was on a full request from an agent in one of my dream agencies. She didn't connect with my writing. I was floored. I just was floored. And it has been about 4 years for me as well. Got three books done (one I'm trying to market now has done very well), and I'm on my fourth.... but.... I wonder how long I should go on spending my family's money on this crazy obsession, taking classes, money for memberships and courses, money for conferences and clothes I only wear to the conferences, money for submitting and entering contests in the hopes of catching one editor's eye. I do wonder.

But I can't NOT write. It isn't always fun. The process is maddening at times. The business is TOUGH. This profession is NOT for the weak hearted. Rejection is upon you all the time. It's lonely, and in romance, not many people take one seriously.

But I can't NOT write! I won't give up. I will figure out a way to have fun with it no matter where I am on this journey.

Thanks for a great post.

Callie James said...

Wonderful post. I'm right there with you on the R, Christine. Every time I get one, I do that self-doubt thing for ... well, several days. My husband has to reassure me at least four or five times a day when I ask him repeatedly if my writing is indeed crap. Where I get this notion, I'm not sure. The R I got was very nice, from an editor, who gave me specific comments. I can tell you there was nothing in there that told me I was a crappy writer. No, I do that to myself.

Here's what you do. Quit. Try it. See if it sticks. If it doesn't, you know you were meant for this. Keep at it. Hang in there. Take each R on the chin and move on to the next hope. Keep improving your craft.

I've quit several times over 20 years. I was lucky if I could stay away from the keyboard for more than 6 months.

Maybe she'll try again. It's difficult to make goals for ourselves and not meet them. I think we think it's easier for everyone else. It isn't. That's what's so great about being part of this group. Reading Christine's post, that could be me. Easily. I'm nodding through everything.

Writing to me is like marriage. You love it. Sometimes it isn't so great. Hang on through those times and remember how much you love it.

And keep writing.

Jeanie said...

Louisa, this is truly though provoking . . . and scary! I don't know the answer to your questions! If you give up, you sure won't make it, but when is enough enough? I, also, as a slow writer. It took me a year to write my latest manuscript. Behind that are ten years of struggling to write two other books in a fantasy series. Slow going, all of it. Of course, I am a mother and I work full time, so I give myself credit for that. I, too, have to cram writing into my free time . . what little I have!

For me, the hardest part of the process is making myself settle down to write. There are always thousands of excuses and reasons not to tackle that next page, next project, revision, query letter (yuck) or synopsis (double dog yuck). But, once I start I don't want to quit!

I am not done yet. Not by a fer piece. And mostly I'm having fun . . . much more so since I've made so many wonderful writer friends! It's a crazy little club we belong to, but ain't it grand?

M.V.Freeman said...

I'm with you Louisa,
I'm not done yet.

Sure, I haven't met certain goals this year, but you know what, I am not giving up. Sure, the time I get to write is minimal, but that's ok.

I like to write (granted, there I days I think exactly as you stated "I'm not having fun yet, but I will").

I'm just going to keep on going.

Christine said...

I think the important thing is to step back every once in a while and just write for sheer joy of it. That's why I love first drafts... ooh, that's the fun part. Germinating the idea into a kernel of hope.

Kris Kennedy said...

What a wonderful, beautiful post. I love your story about marching band practice, and the answer to 'Are we having fun yet?' : "No, but it's coming." I LOVE that.

And . . . it's so true, about the process of accomplishment. After all the accolades and the ego-boosts (or hits) there is something different about those who persist and those who don't. And it has to be about something driving from within, whatever that may be, or else you simply can't persist past the pain of that failure, over and over again.

And the 'failure' (I define 'failure' as things not turning out as I'd planned/worked for, so it happens to me about 5 times a day, minimum) it doesn't stop when you're pubbed. You're being judged every single time, and last time's effort won't carry you far. Game's on every time and the bottom line is money.

Your time is coming, Louisa. I can feel it coming. And I can't WAIT.

Carla Swafford said...

The longest time was around 4 years. The shortest 3 months. What's so funny about that is the one that took less time was longer in length. LOL! I finished my 9th book this year - took me 4 months.

My husband tells me it's a pipe dream. But me? I can't see giving it up and I've been trying for a long, long time.

Oh and while doing all that writing, I've worked full time with lots of overtime, raised two children and put up with a pessimistic husband.

Some little tidbits: Kelley St John wrote 11 books before she was published. (She writes fast, but that's still a lot of books.) And Kate Lyon's first book took her 12 years to write and it has won a bunch of awards.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Great, thought-provoking post, Louisa. Like Callie said, I think if your friend was really meant to write, she wouldn't be able to stop.

It's the difference between wanting something and being willing to work for it. I'd love to *know* Spanish, but I don't want to *learn* it.

With writing, I love it, even when it's tough, and even if I--God forbid--never get published. I can spend 12 hours at the computer writing, revising, doing writing class homework, reading about writing...and the day just flies by.

I started writing in January after a 22-year hiatus, and I've finished two MSs, and written about 100 pages of three others (2 of which should never be revisited!).

I have the luxury of being able to write full time, and my stories don't require a lot of research. My goal is 1000 wpd, but some days I labor over 200 and other days I fly through 3000.

Thanks for making us think! =)

Helen Scott Taylor said...

What a wonderful post. I think you summed up why people keep going at any endeavour in your penultimate paragraph.

If someone gives up without succeeding, to my mind they didn't want it enough. I don't feel that I have a choice about whether I write or not--I have to. When I reach the end of a ms and decide to take a few days off before I start the next one, after a day I'm getting itchy to start work again.

On the subject of deadlines--I like them. For me they work to focus my mind and keep the pressure on me to produce and not let a day slip by without making progress.

Sometimes writing isn't fun, sometimes it's downright hard work and frustrating. But the golden prize at the end of all the hard work is finishing up and knowing I've done a good job.


Helen Scott Taylor said...

Oh, forgot to say, I have been taking about 8 months per book up till now. I have promised myself that I shall now only take 6 months and produce two books per year. I have no idea how some writers write so fast. Nora Roberts produces a book a month or thereabouts. Amazing!


Christine said...

I think writing before one is published is a lot like struggling with infertility. I went through the infertility years ago and one book I read said you have to decide what your end game is, how far you're willing to go financially and personally. And you have to know that BEFORE you start. It helps me to know that there are caps to what I will spend--financially and personally-- on achieving the ultimate goal. But I have no control over getting published. Just as I had no control over when I would get pregnant and stay pregnant. I knew I wanted a baby, desperately wanted to be a mother. But I had financial limits and I didn't want to put my marriage through hell to achieve that goal. We had a plan, an exit strategy. Oddly, when I thought the end had been reached without a baby, I discovered I was pregnant. Sometimes, when we think all is lost, we discover the beginning.

I have my end game, my strategy and what I'm willing to sacrifice as a writer. I'm bloody fortunate that I can write full time, I have a super supportive husband and daughter, and I am too ornery to give up. BUT there are limits to what I am willing to give up for this obsession.

We are all very fortunate to live in a country where pursuing this type of goal is a reality. We are very fortunate to live in an era where women are allowed these types of freedoms. It is a PRIVILEGE to write fiction and not be published -- I could have worse problems to deal with... far worse indeed.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Helen: Great use of the word penultimate! ;-)

Christine: I loved your analogy to the fertility process.

Louisa Cornell said...


Well that just stinks about the rejection! Still, this was about her ability to connect with your writing. It wasn't about the writing itself.

And I LOVED the infertility parallel. That is exactly what's it like, isn't it?

And I think your approach of being determined to have fun with it no matter what is the right way to go!

Thanks for your insight and humor. You really nailed it.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Callie!

I think you are right about quitting and seeing if it sticks. I wanted to be a writer from the time I was nine. The music career came up and eventually took over. I started writing seriously again at 47! Big hiatus there, but the stories were always there. They wouldn't leave me alone.

Louisa Cornell said...

Jeanie, my peep, with all you do I have no idea HOW you manage to find time to write your BEYOND hilarious and OUTRAGEOUSLY sexy paranormals!

And like you said it is fun mostly,except when it's not.

And if the idea of quitting scares you, you are right where you need to be!

Louisa Cornell said...

Exactly, M.V. ! Just keep going! Like climbing a mountain. If you just keep going up you WILL reach the top!

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, Kris, my Pixie Sister! Thanks for stopping by and giving us the perspective of a recently published author. Ladies, if you haven't read Kris's books you are missing a treat!

And you're right - failure is what happens when it doesn't turn out how you planned. Success is getting up and going at it again until you get it right.

Victory goes to the stubborn or the persistent, depending on your POV !

And from your lips to God's ear my Pixie Sister!

Louisa Cornell said...

Carla thanks for the tidbits! Definitely encouraging to those of us still in the trenches.

And when you DO publish, I suggest your buy your hubby a pipe and tell him to SMOKE IT!

Louisa Cornell said...

You've got a real handle on it, Gwen and it sounds like you're treating it like a job, which it is.

I just know there is a contract out there with your name on it.

Louisa Cornell said...

Hello, Helen! Another Pixie Sister and a Wild English Rose to boot!

Anyone who hasn't read Helen's book The Magic Knot, you don't know what you're missing. And her next book The Phoenix Charm comes out on my birthday! Already pre-ordered it. Happy Birthday to me!

You're absolutely right about finishing up and being able to feel the satisfaction of knowing you've done a good job. So many people SAY they are going to write a book. I am always amazed that i have!

Two books a year is a good goal. I need to work toward that myself!

Christine said...

You know I read all these posts and I am reminded about one main reason why I keep writing: the people I know who write who support me. Awesome post. Awesome people. We're so lucky to know each other! That's been the blessing of the journey. The amazing and incredible people I've met along the way.

Cari Hislop said...

Loved the post and all the comments! I endured one year of marching band. I played the flute which was unfortunate because the pants I was issued were too small and the zipper would come undone at the most inconvenient moments ie while in a parade. I ditched band for French which was a smart move! I don't know why it never occured to me to get the pants changed for a larger pair...self torture? I think so.

It makes me sad when people who are talented at something give up.
One of my sisters is a trained Opera singer and is finding it hard to get anywhere, but she has the most wonderful voice. I tell her if she gives up I'll kick her in the backside because singing is what she loves, it's why she breathes. For her to give up would be emotional suicide.

At the end of the day we have to do what we do for ourselves. My sister needs to sing for the joy of it and learn to forget the what if's. I write because I want to know what happens and I have to get the voices out of my head or I'd go crazy. I love writing. I love hearing the characters talk to each other. I love seeing the story unfold. I love the craft of finding just the right word. I love how a book is a giant mental puzzle that solves itself. I love getting in the zone and feeling the words pour out. I love how my characters make me laugh with the things they say. How much is too much? How many drops in the ocean?

It would be SO annoying if my books were to become NY Times best sellers after I died, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter if I end up on the NY Times best seller list if I'm enjoying the journey. I often stop to smell real roses, but I need to work on mentally smelling the roses and enjoying all the little moments of my art.

For me every book seems to have it's own unique gestation period, but I'm coming to accept it. This year...with less than a month remaining...I have not finished a single story, but I've worked and I'm close. Next year will be a bumper crop...maybe I should think of myself as an Asperagus writer...four years to harvest! Thankfully sometimes I'm an apple or a cucumber writer...but who cares as long as it tastes good!