Byron, birthdays, and putting back the joy

Happy birthday, Byron, 221 years old today! I’m blogging about him on Delle JacobsIn Search of Heroes blog today (or possibly later today, as Blogger has been a bad boy–doubtless in Byron’s honor–and Delle and I are three hours apart), so come on over and visit.

It’s also the birthday of my dad, the Old Man who is not a Tree, who is a mere 98 years old. He was born the year the Titanic sank. He remembers traveling alone on a train when he was very small, and being given chocolate by soldiers on their way to the front in World War One. I’m sorry I don’t have a digital image of him.

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of the new year, we talked about various things we intended to do this year, and one of the big issues that a lot of us were interested in was how to put the joy back in writing. I suspect that this could cover several posts, but I’ll get the ball rolling here. And not only writing–this could apply to any sort of creative endeavor, something to which you’ve made a commitment but which now seems stale.

Let me get personal on you here. When I first started writing, it was an amazing experience. I’d come home from work and produce a few thousand words every evening, more on the weekends–I wrote 14k words one weekend. I’m not saying they were good words, but they were prolific and they were there, and that’s half the battle. I dreamed and daydreamed about my characters. I wrote whole scenes in my head and typed them up, word for word. My subconscious kicked in at the drop of a hat. I developed a sort of ritual of placing my fingertips on the keyboard and breathing. Then I wrote and wrote. My mantra at the time was just do it (not very original, but it worked).

Smugly, I acknowledged that I wasn’t one of those writers–the ones who were always complaining about having to write and doing anything–housework, even–to avoid writing.

And then I became one of those writers. What happened?

Part of the problem (don’t kill me, please) was getting published. For one thing, it’s really easy to get all tied up in the niceties of marketing and promotion. If you want to get some perspective on this, read this article by Julie Ann Long on the Tao of Publishing, based on the presentation she and her agent made at nationals in San Francisco last year. I realized fairly recently (duh) that the success of your book (in print publishing, at least) is determined by your print run, a number chosen by your publisher and completely outside your control. Unless you’re one of the rare exceptions and your book takes off, with or without your efforts, leading to multiple print runs, you won’t make the bestseller lists.

Also, once you’re published, you find yourself up against all sorts of expectations, or perceived expectations–those of your readers, your agent, your editor. You must keep writing about the Regency, you must write the same sort of books; yes, you may long to write about reindeer breeders in fifth century Lapland, but at the moment it’s just Not Hot, so write it in your spare time. (What spare time?! I’m too busy blogging, pricing promotional items online, googling myself, and handing out bookmarks to strangers!)

Also something from the past may come to bite you on the ass as we say in the Regency. In my case, it was something I heard all the time during my formative years: that if you enjoy doing something, you won’t like it if you do it as a job. This is in direct contrast to the mantra of the 1980s (and beyond?) that you should do something you love and the money will come.

I did my best to disprove the family theory by doing jobs that I did indeed love, but writing was a different matter, and I had to really struggle with this. One thing that helped was looking at the theory in perspective; this was the theory of my parents and their generation. At least three of them wanted to be professional musicians but found that circumstances–being the only one in the family with a job during the Great Depression, World War II–made it impossible for them to fulfil their dream. One of them was talked out of it by her jealous sister. And musicians generally have to grab the opportunity at a time when they’re at the peak of their physical dexterity and mental alertness; a year or two can make all the difference.

Whereas writers… well, I was a late bloomer. I’m not someone who wanted to be a writer all their life. I’m not making any great claims to mental alertness either, but it’s a different process.

And the bottom line–I refuse to accept this theory that was drummed into me along with other dubious advice from my family. I will trust my instincts (a good rule for writing too).

That helped, and strangely enough, just writing–just doing it–helps. I finished my revisions for A Most Lamentable Comedy (August, 2009), and that helped me get back into the swing. I’m started a new partial, and that’s always fun, by participating in a BIAW (book in a week) with my local chapter. My agent told me she liked my idea for my next Little Black Dress book (I posted a short excerpt last week). Oh, and I got an advance check, and that always cheers me up, even if I’ve spent it several times already. I’ve decided early what I’m going to do for promotion in August so I can concentrate on writing now.

So yes, you can put the joy back in. I feel it’s presumptious to give advice to people without contracts, but I will say that now is when you can get really good at writing; hone your voice; play around with different conventions and historical periods. Have fun. Build inventory, because you may be the one who introduces romance’s next trend, hot love among the reindeer herds in fifth century Lapland. Determine to have fun throughout the process. Rejections–and I get a lot, honestly, still–are an evolutionary process to find the house and agent who are right for you and your style.

So what do you think?

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