Monday, July 26, 2010

Past, present, future

The following entries were originally posted on another blog. I thank them for the opportunity to look at my own journey and wanted to share it with you.

What Comes First The Reader Or The Writer?
Whenever anyone discovers that I write one of the first questions they always ask is, “So how long have you been a writer?” I’m never really sure how to answer. I suspect they mean how long have I been published, which to me isn’t correct because I was a writer long before I was published though I probably wouldn’t have called myself that then. Back then I just loved to read and often would write when the story didn’t go the way I thought it should or just for my own amusement. I have very early memories of my grandparents visiting on a Monday night and being excited to show them what I had written that week. I also have a very funny story written by me (about a golden fish who deid) in a letter to my dad when I could barely spell let alone read. So does that make me a reader or a writer first? My mum encouraged my love of books taking me to the library regularly letting me wander for hours among the stacks. The smell of the library is still one of my favorite things, to me it represented people and adventures and possibilities. The air of hushed anticipation of all the experiences that waited between the pages complimenting in a strange way the quiet pursuit of knowledge. I was upset when the town library installed a coffee shop and the pungent scent of brewing coffee banished the smell of paper and ink. I devoured Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl and fell in love with Watership Down. Then my mum introduced me to Dick Francis, probably earlier than she should but I was already reading way past the levels of my peers. From Dick Francis I moved onto Patricia Cornwell and my own writing changed into mystery and suspense. By this time I had read almost everything I was interested in in my local library except for the romances. So I had a look and I found Tami Hoag and Jayne Ann Krentz and a new passion was born. Eventually I followed romance through to paranormal romance thanks to Jayne Ann Krentz’s A Gift of Gold, Anne Stuart’s A Dark and Stormy Night and Rebecca York’s Light Street series. The internet came to our house and my world expanded again. My next love was ebooks. I found an online community of writers and authors and joined several groups, one of which belonged to Angela Knight. One day we began discussing the question which started my journey; how many of us who read also wrote?

The Accidental Author
It took a long time for me to pluck up the courage to admit that I was one of the group who also liked to write. The discussion changed to what we wrote and I read the snippets that the others sent to the group with interest and trepidation because I knew they expected me to contribute. I was terrified. No one but my family had ever read any of my stories, how could I put myself out there in a public forum for people who were essentially strangers? But the others had done it and I didn’t want to be a coward when they had the courage to put themselves out there for me. So I did. I had been working on a story about a shapeshifter who needed to find his mate. I called it Jack and Megan because I couldn’t think of a title. I only had half of a chapter and had no idea where it was going or if it was going anywhere but I posted it anyway. I bit my nails and waited on tenterhooks for the rest of the day for responses. To my delight they were overwhelmingly positive. There were gentle and some not so gentle prods asking me for the rest of the story. Rest of the story? What rest? I wrote a little more and sent it too admitting that it wasn’t complete. Once again they loved it but this time I received the private email that changed everything. It seemed that one of the members of the group was an editor for a publisher called Ellora’s Cave. I had heard of them. I had even bought books from them. ‘When you finish it, send it to me.’ She said and sent me into a tailspin. I was entering my final year of University, how could I finish a book? I had no time. I had never written anything that long before. I never even contemplated trying to become published, I’m not good enough.
I’m not good enough.
Remember those words because they will come back to haunt me. It took me almost a year to finish Jack and Megan and that long to think of the title, Believe In The Magic. I dithered over sending it talking myself into and out of it too many times to count but eventually I did. Two days later I received an email offering me a contract. Seems someone thought I was good enough.

All The Firsts
When my first book came out I was flying high and when the first cheque arrived I kept my promise to myself and used it to travel across the Atlantic to the Romantic Times Convention. I had been living it vicariously through various email groups for a few years and had always wanted to go. I wanted to meet the people who had been so supportive of me in person and I really wanted to meet all the authors I had grown to love. When I put on the badge saying published author for the first time I felt like nothing could get better. I was wrong, the next day my publisher surprised me with a box of my books in print. I sat on the floor in a corner of the room with the chaos of other Ellora’s Cave authors stuffing promo in bags around me and I breathed in the scent of those books and I cried. It’s difficult to describe how much that meant to me. I love ebooks. I love the convenience of them, the instant gratification that comes from finding a book at buying it and reading even if it’s 2am, not to mention that they are usually cheaper and as an author I love that I get more royalties from them. But there is nothing like holding that paper copy in your hand. It brings so many memories of my childhood and all the time I spent wandering among the bookshelves. Ebooks are the future but they will never replace print.
There were a lot more firsts at the Convention that year. First time someone recognised me, first time someone asked me to sign something just for the pleasure of having my signature, first book signing, first time I saw my book on a bookshelf in a store. I met so many friends I had made online as well as many new ones. It was an experience that guaranteed my attendance at the Romantic Times Convention every year for as long as I could afford it.

The Great Depression
I came home from my first Romantic Times Convention inspired and ready to write the second book but my personal life had changed. I had been forced to move away from my friends and family to work and the job was far from perfect. We were short staffed and a job that is stressful at the best of times was made worse because I was inexperienced and the support I needed wasn’t there. I was travelling 400 miles every week and working full time. Eventually my days off weren’t enough, I was tired all the time and had to force myself to get out of bed every day. I lost a lot of weight. I caught every cold flu and minor ailment that came my way. All my emotions were close to the surface and I just never felt well. I was miserable my writing was one of the first things to suffer. I had no motivation to open up that document and when I did I would sit and stare at that blinking cursor and nothing would come to me. It took all my energy to keep going, I had none left to be creative. I felt isolated and alone. For almost a year things piled on top of me until I couldn’t see the light anymore and I was just going through the motions. I knew something was wrong I just didn’t know what so I went to my GP. At the end of the consultation my doctor said ‘Do you think you could be depressed?’
My first reaction was denial. Of course I wasn’t depressed. Even working in the medical field I had falling for the stereotypes and I didn’t fit them. I left the doctor’s office scoffing at the whole idea. Deep down I knew he was right but it was a label I didn’t want. Soon afterwards a series of awful experiences at work made me re-evaluate my life. I admitted to myself that my doctor might have been right. I couldn’t continue on the way I was going for very much longer, I needed my family, I needed to be home. Within 4 months I had found a new job, it meant a pay cut and a daily commute of 90 miles but it didn’t matter. I moved home, joined a gym and even went so far as cutting my waist length hair to my shoulders. It took a while but with the support of my friends and family I began to reclaim my life, pulled my creativity out of the black hole and started writing again.

The Only Way Is Up
I wish I could say that everything went smoothly after all of those changes but it’s seldom as simple as that. The second book was finished in my initial burst of renewed energy but it wasn’t long before life got in the way again. I was closer to home but I was still working full time twelve hour shifts, mixing days and nights. It was difficult to keep my motivation when all I wanted to do on my days off was relax. Some weeks I was writing nothing and some I was only managing a few hundred words. I spoke to other writers about how they managed to work full time and write as well and all had different strategies. The common theme was 'write something everyday' otherwise it’s harder to maintain your forward momentum. I eventually finished a novella and sent it off only for it to be rejected. It stung but I figured it was my turn and the book perhaps didn’t fit. I rewrote the novella submitted it again to two different publishers and was again turned down. Those horrible words I asked you to remember started creeping into my head.
I’m not good enough.
I decided to take a break from writing for a while, focusing on work and other things until eventually the stories and characters started niggling at me again. Write me, write me. I joined Twitter and far from being a distraction, I found that seeing other writers talk about their craft and posting when they were writing was making the urge to get back to it stronger. They encouraged each other and shared word counts and I found that I wasn’t all that different. That some did only manage a few hundred words a day and rejoiced in it. We won’t talk about the ones who write five to ten thousand. Eventually I joined in. Since their voices were the loudest I pulled out the much rejected novella and totally re-wrote it. In the process I fell in love with the characters even more, pouring my heart into the story and finding joy in creating it. I shared it with my proofreaders and they loved the story as much as I did. The confidence I had lost was restored, this time they would find their place.

The Big Rejection
I suppose the title of this entry kind of gives it away. The novella didn’t find its place. This time when I submitted it, it got a hard rejection. Not just a form letter or a ‘sorry not right for this project’ or ‘if you re-write this’. This time it was thanks but no thanks, I didn’t like it. Also included was a helpful breakdown of all the things they didn’t like and no positives. I was devastated. I felt like I had put everything I had into the story, had had such confidence in it and it wasn’t good enough. Yep. There are those words again. They just keep coming back to haunt me.
It was at this time that I had what I like to call the online meltdown. I was terrifically upset and I wasn’t in a place where I could hide it. I tried to be objective, to let it go over my head but every time I read that email all I heard was ‘you’re not good enough’. I was ready to quit. Why would I keep putting myself through the wringer like this?
Yeah, I hear you all shouting at your PC and trust me, if I had been on the outside I would have done the same. I had lost sight of the fact that I was in a better place than some in the same situation. I had two books published already. Everyone was supportive but there were quite a few offers to kick my ass for being so negative. So why would anyone keep going? The answer is obvious but I wasn’t in a place where I could see it yet.

Never Give Up
It took a week before I was able to pull myself together after the big rejection and answer my own question. I would keep going not because I might find someone to publish another book or because I had already had some measure of success already or even to prove that I could. Those are good reasons but not the best one. I would keep going because I’m a writer and I can’t do otherwise.
I’d love to say I don’t care whether I’m ever published again but it would be a lie. Of course I care. Even before I started this crazy journey part of the joy of creating new worlds and characters was sharing them with others, even if it was just my grandparents. However I’m going to try not to let the bumps in the road get in the way. It would be nice to finish with the news that I have had another book contracted but I am still working on that.
Every writer’s journey is different and we all have obstacles to overcome. My biggest is self doubt. I’m sure I’ll never get rid of that hateful voice that says I’m not good enough but I am learning to embrace it. I have to listen just enough to keep my work improving and not enough for it to steal my confidence again. This is the story so far of my writing life, thank you for letting me share it.

1 comment:

Patrice said...

Hugs Cait! Was that RT 2006? I had such a good time that year and Bob still asks me about you and your Mum. Thanks for sharing your story. You make me realize my biggest obstacle is often myself. I need to stop listening to negative self doubts and, as the saying goes, just do it! Some of the most creative times I've had writing was when I did it for fun, fanfic with friends or just for me. Maybe I need to stop trying to figure what sells and just write from my heart. TY!

Hugs! ~ Patrice