Friday, April 04, 2008

The Endless Circle of Fiction Writing

I received the following question from a reader, and it’s really one of the many reasons why I admire authors and always try to respect every query and submission I receive (even though it might not always feel that way from your end. . . .).

When writing fiction, as an unpublished writer, how do you know you aren’t beating yourself over the head? Agents won’t talk to you without a completed manuscript, but then you have no agent to talk to about your manuscript in progress. Any suggestions for the hopefully up and comings out there?

The truth is that the decision to seek publication is a leap of faith. Faith that doing what you love is also something others will enjoy and something you can earn money from. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s any way to know whether you’re “beating yourself over the head.” And while it’s true that while working on that manuscript you don’t have an agent you can talk to, you do have other writers and critique partners who can guide you through the process, help you learn, and hopefully let you know whether or not you’re ready for publication.

Having never been in that situation I’m afraid I don’t have any advice from in the trenches. What I can tell you, though, is that if you really love to write and you do hope someday to be published, you need to be in it for the long haul. You need to be ready to take criticism as well as praise and you need to always try your best to listen with an open mind. Some of the things you hear won’t be of any use and some won’t ring true at the time you hear them, but might later down the line. I think, though, that the key to being a successfully published author is the willingness to learn and grow.

But I’d like to hear from writers out there. What made you stick with it or what makes you stick with? How do you know you aren’t spinning your wheels and how do you keep that faith alive?



Anonymous said...

Writers write. To me, it's as simple as that. Do I get discouraged? Of course I do. But that's why I have writer friends and writers groups. They keep me pumped and excited about what I'm doing.

People who aren't writers have asked me what the appeal is. It's not that easy to give an answer that non-writers get, but if they love to read, it's a little easier.

I tell them that for me, when I'm deeply involved in a writing a new story, it's 10x more fascinating, more compelling, and more intriguing than the best book I've ever read. What I mean by this is the "process" of writing pulls me in fast and hard, the telling of a story that's unraveling in my head as I write it is like a drug.

Whether I ever publish or not isn't really what gets me to write. That dream is what gets me to proof, edit, and do THAT until my manuscript shines as much as I know how to make it. The writing itself, that's easy. It's the editing and rewriting that's work, and not a lot of fun (for me).

The feeling of finishing a book is one of the best feelings in the world.

Diana said...

Writing is practically an addiction. If I go more than a couple of days without writing, I start to feel jittery.

I really hope to see my books on the shelves in the near future, but even if it takes a long time, I HAVE to keep writing. I need and crave that connection to the little world I've created in whatever I'm writing at the moment. That's really hard to explain to people who hate writing.

Sophie said...

Love this question! I think that at the core there must be an abiding love for both story and language.

I adore language, and finding a beautiful sentence - whether in a new thriller or a beloved classic or Paul's Letter to the Corinthians or on my son's friend's myspace page - is a high I'll never get tired of. Writing a phrase that pleases me? Delicious.

But you have to love the story, too. You need the ability to let yourself be swept along in the story world. The kind of people who poke you in the middle of a movie and whisper "that'd never happen" - they ain't part of our tribe. You have to have that edge-of-your-seat hunger to find out what your characters are going to do next, because that will get you to the keyboard every morning.

A final piece, for me, is the ability to limn emotions - the whole beautiful range - merely by imagining and then writing relationships and interactions. It's like waterskiing through the human experience. What could be better? But that's just me; I'm about 90% character-driven. I know there are other writers who are so plot-centric that it's the layers of development that are most compelling for them.

Anyway, despite the setbacks and rejections - and I've had *plenty* - eventually the successes begin to pile up, too. and then it's all worth it in spades!

Good luck to all my fellow writers out there!

Margay said...

Life is a leap of faith. Every time you get up and decide to do something, you are taking a leap of faith. If I drive on that particular highway, will I be safe? If I accept that marriage proposal, will I be happy? If I say no to my child, will I set off a temper tantrum that could make the Civil War look like a minor skirmish? Everything we do, every choice we make involves that one key ingredient: faith. And we make the leap numerous times a day, in many little - and sometimes not so little, ways.

Writing is no different. The pursuit of publication is no different. Every choice of word, sentence structure, genre to write in, agent to query - it all comes down to that little leap of faith. Whether we realize it or not, we are taking that leap every time we sit down to write and dare to call ourselves writers. What keeps you writing even when the business side of it has you frustrated? That's where the faith part comes in. It's faith in ourselves, our abilities, and the stories we just have to write and need for people to read - that is what keeps us writing.

beverley said...

What keeps me going? I can't help but write, it's just that simple. And then my thought is, I this is my PASSION, then I might as well try to make money doing what I love. If I never published a novel in my life, I would be disappointed, but I wouldn't regret the time I put into the pursuit of publication.

Jess Anastasi said...

It's who I am!
I can't say much more than that. I was already writing before I even knew I was a writer. Ever since I can remember, I had these stories and characters in my mind, and I was going to have to do something with them all eventually. I have no doubt that one day I will get some of my work published. That might sound concieted, but I have faith in my abilities and tenacity to achieve my goals. And in my opinion, if you don't 100% believe in yourself, then you can't expect anyone else to. Like I said, writing isn't only what I love doing, it's who I am.

Maggie Robinson said...

I've "only" been writing for about four years. The first three were close to pointless. I broke nearly every rule in my ignorance, but somewhere along the way I found my voice. I've been able to revise some of my "juvenile" fiction, which is a bonus, but I am eager to write fresh stuff. I wait for the weekends (when I do most of my writing) like a teenager with a hot date. I'm addicted, as Diana said.

beth said...

I've been struggling with this question myself, actually. At first, I wrote for fun--and the manuscripts didn't turn out too bad. But I'm working on something now with the knowledge that I want to be published, and that it's much more difficult to be published than I'd originally thought. But I'm not writing something that I think will be an easy sell...I'm writing a YA Fantasy with an entirely different twist on magic that may make it not marketable. I am writing this with the realization that the months I put into it may be a waste. I'm writing this with the knowledge that no one may like the story but me. I'm writing this because even thought I know it's hard to get published, and that this book may not be published, it's practice towards writing a publishable book, and I've got to get this book out of me before I can move on to another.

Aimless Writer said...

Because its what I do. Way before I even thought of publishing anything I was writing stories. Nothing felt better in my hands then a new pen and a fresh pad of paper. Just to put words on paper is a bliss.
Sometimes I get depressed and think of giving up on the publishing part of it but I never consider not writing. On Konrath's website he asks; What do you call a writer who never gives up? The answer is PUBLISHED!
I think other writers are a big part of what keeps me going. I've never been in a business where everyone helps everyone else so much. Its amazingly uplifting.
I think if I couldn't write down the stories, I would go crazy. The stories will come and I'll write them down.
It's just what I do.

Antony B said...

For me, the question is not why I continue to write (or at least, continue with the physical act of writing), because the other comments here explain why it is a joy.

No, the question I ask myself is why I spend so much time on the less enjoyable aspects. Why do I spend so much time researching agents, crafting submissions, and dealing with the rejections? All without any guarantee of getting published. That's where the wheel spinning comes in.

Personally, I'm not sure. I think the reason I keep at it changes. Currently, when my work is out on submission, I hope and wait for the personal responses. Right now it's the odd "I thought chapter 2 was very funny" or "You write well" comment from an agent that keeps me going. Even if it is followed by a "but this isn't for us."

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

I actually do think most agents empathize with writers.

I joined a Christian Writers forum years ago. One of the leaders there recommended the Compuserve Books and Writers forum. I never can remember the official name, but it is the one where Diana Gabladon hangs out.

I had an agent for my thriller, Dancing Horses, but we had parted ways. I decided to use the novels workshop there to get serious about my writing. I also posted my three childrens' books in the kid lit section and got some valuable help there.

It was like I had finally found a writing home.

The feedback and encouragement I got from the writers there was invaluable.

That being said, they are also professionals regardless of their state of being sold. Critiques are honest and sometimes frustrating. After you stop crying and beating your head on the desk, you realize it was good, solid advice.

Plus, the act of you critiquing others is also a learning experience. You think about things more as you write and don't make the same mistakes you might have noticed some others making.

Sometimes I wonder if I am ever going to learn to write well. Then I look at old things I've written and I realize I've come a long way.

POV still drives me insane, but I'm getting better. All is well at the I'm Ok You're OK Corral.

We just finished a firsts workshop there. We went from first lines to first five lines and so forth up to first chapters. Most of us will be moving to the novels workshop with the remaining chapters.

I think that's the whole key to not going crazy. You have to find a support group that is honest with you and helps you grow as a writer. They encourage you in the hard times.

I was recently wondering the same thing this writer is about beating your head against a wall. I asked Beth, a friend there and one of the most skilled writers I know, if I really had a chance of being published. She was pretty frank when she replied. It will take work and dedication, but it's worth making a sacrifice to pursue it.

I got my job at a horse racing magazine from a letter to the editor. They lost a writer and the editor asked me if I would be interested in writing for them. I told her all I had was a high school education and no training. She responded I had raw natural talent, I knew horses and she could train me if I would listen to her.

For me, that's the main thing. A person needs to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to advice from a solid group of peers.

Find a good support group, one where you feel at home. Give and take advice. Support each other. Grow together.

I'm going through a very bizarre divorce. I had some applications in with a company in Iraq and wondered if I should take a job offer if I got one or just stick it out here. If I take the job offer, I would have to put my book on hold for at least a year. I wouldn't be able to go to Surrey.

That's why I asked Beth if I am just beating my head against a wall. If I am, there is really no reason not to take a job there. I can always pick up my hobby later.

Of course, after putting two chapters through the wringer at Books and Writers, I am still asking questions.

Dragon Valley is the one everyone fell in love with. Paladin's Pride is the one which is nearly complete. I may be grooming the wrong novel.

Writing well is hard work. It's frustrating and depressing at times. It takes more than being a good story teller. It takes a lot of dedication and a thick skin. It takes a desire to improve and grow, as well as an open mind.

It's hard to do it on your own. A writer really does need a good support system in place. That doesn't mean a group of friends who will tell you how awesome you are. That means a group of friends who will dissect your darling and let you cry on their shoulders. Then they will shove you back to the dissection table to put your darling back together.

I was blessed to find Books and Writers and S Sixx. They are my anchors.

At the end of the day, though, you're the only one who can decide how badly you want it.

Bernita said...

Sophie said it well.

Keri Ford said...

I looked at several different careers, took a wide variety of classes in college, looked at upteen degrees...and none of them fit. None of them got me excited thinking about doing that job in my future. There were dreams I was able to give up on in a matter of months (or days if I could still drop the course.)

I knew writing was the thing for me when a year later I was anxiously waiting to get off work so I could get to my computer. Or when I was watching a great movie, but my mind started drifting to my characters.

I know the publishing world is still the place for me because I'm going on three years since I started my first horrid manuscript. Through the good and bad moments, I've never once thought about quiting. It's never crossed my mind. Writing has gotten under my skin and has turned into something I have to do, or I get irritable.

Richard Mabry said...

"Writers write." That sums it up. For me, writing is a roller coaster. When things flow well, I'm on top of the world and don't want to stop. When I'm stumped, I'm at the bottom with no apparent hope of getting momentum going once more.

I identify with Isaac Asimov: "If I were told I had only fifteen minutes to live, I'd type a little faster." Because writing is what I do.

Laura (Kramarsky) Curtis said...

I agree with everything everyone said about loving writing, but I think there's also a business component to writing if you hope to make it a career.

If you only have one story to tell, and you just want to tell it, that's one thing. If you want to quit your day job, you have to be willing to leave that first manuscript, the one you wrote before you started contacting agents and editors, before you had a finished novel for critique, under the bed. Because it may be fabulous, but it may not. There may be nothing technically wrong with it, but it may be unmarketable.

For me, the leap of faith was believing I had enough stories to tell--enough *different* stories to tell--to make a career out of writing. Until I could believe that, I didn't start contacting agents. That means I had two manuscripts under my bed before I began looking into publication. I didn't find an agent I wanted who also wanted me until the third book. (And those are the recent ones--my files are full of writing I never intended to publish, in genres I would no longer consider a career in.)

And that third book may end up under the bed, too. Even with the best possible agent, there's no guarantee a book will get published. Harsh, but true. That's why I am working on manuscripts 4 & 5 and planning how to change 2 so it would be marketable, as it isn't at the moment.

In the past week or so there's been quite a bit of discussion on the Smart Bitches about critique partners. A CP is your first line of defense against beating your head against the wall, along with writers organizations, author and agent blogs, conferences, etc. (You can actually get "pitch" appointments at conferences with agents and editors that will allow you to get an idea of whether your story is marketable, if that's what you're worried about, before you finish the manuscript.)

But, again, as others have said, publication has to be the secondary goal, with writing itself as the primary goal. That secondary goal means you have to do lots of things you don't like (marketing, for most of us, isn't a joy, editing, slicing and dicing our stories, tweaking and tuning so editors will like it), so you're better off if you enjoy the first part!

R.J. Keller said...

I'm with Diana. Although I'd love to see the words "publihsed author" next to my name one day, it's not what keeps me going. I have to write. Caffeine withdrawal is nothing compared to the pain of not being able to write for a few days.

Have you ever found yourself staring at the monitor as the words appear there, reading along in wonder/amusement/pain/tears...and then remember that the words are coming from your fingers? That moment when your heart and gut and soul bypass your brain to create something you didn't know you were capable of? I think we probably all have.

THAT is the reason to keep writing. Not for the agents (no offense; you guys totally rock), not for the publishers, or for the hope of seeing your books in Barnes and Noble. That stuff is great, and if it happens it's even greater. But the writing itself is what keeps us going.

Vivi Alden said...

I second what Diana said. For me, writing is in my veins, and when I get hooked on a story, it’s like an addiction. I will actually get anxious and irritable if I go a day without writing.

I won’t lie and say it’s easy to push on after being rejected. To me, it feels like someone doesn’t like one of my children. But that’s the level of commitment you must make to your writing. And often, if you write a book and it doesn’t sell, non-writing people will think you’re off your nut for keeping with it. You must believe in yourself. I know it sounds cliché, but it will be the main thing that keeps you going. And don’t assume that a rejection means it’s not good. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time was rejected by 26 publishers. 26! I can’t imagine my childhood without her books!

The best advice I can give to a first time writer is to NOT think about being published while you’re writing. You will inevitably alter your writing to cater to what you think will be published, and you’ll drive yourself mad. Mostly because you really don’t know what will and won’t be published. Just write honestly, write often, RE-write often, and then get feedback. Join a writers group, take a writing class and do something that connects you with other writers.

Mark Terry said...

Oh brother. I just knew as soon as I read this post that I'd know what the majority of responses would read like. Nathan Bransford had a similar question a couple weeks ago and the responses were similar:

It's an addiction, or, it's what I am, or, I don't have a choice.

Sigh. There really IS a free-floating obsessive-compulsive disorder going on out there in the writing world.

Okay. I started out the same way, determined to be a novelist. After 20 years of "banging myself in the head" I realized that although my fiction wasn't getting picked up, my nonfiction was, so I continued to write fiction, but did more nonfiction. And now I'm a full-time freelance writer. Sometimes my novels get published, too.

So, from my POV:

--ask yourself what you really want? Do you want to be published? In any fashion? Then self-publish. If all you want is a book with your name on it on the shelf, skip the agent thing, the publisher thing, write your manuscript and pay to have it published by iUniverse. Point to the book on the shelf, sell a couple copies to loving friends and neighbors, enjoy your delusions and shut up.

If you want to make a living at it, diversify. Most novelists don't make a living at it. It's not a bell-shaped curve, with a small percentage failing, most being successful and a few being wildly successful. It's more like a sheer cliff with a plateau at the top where bestsellers cling and the occasional outcropping along the sides. A tiny few make money and the vast majority sell about 2000 copies, if that. Welcome to the reality of fiction publishing. The 3-book death spiral is real. A lot of promising authors fall off the cliff.

But there's a lot of money to be made in corporate writing, business writing, technical writing, and in some areas of magazine writing.

So if "writing" is what you are and you have thoughts of making a living at it, try your hand at some magazine articles, some copywriting, some tech writing, maybe give a TV script a shot, or a play; look at company reports, and junk mail (direct mail, in the lingo of the industry). Even if it's not your cup o' tea it'll improve your fiction writing and you might actually learn something.

If you just want to write fiction and have it published, and don't care about really making money at it, then keep doing what you're doing, but consider small presses, too. Some of them are excellent (and can actually stay in business, like Poison Pen Press) and you might get published, make a little money (maybe) and can pat yourself on the back and call yourself an author.

But it all comes down to deciding what it is you really want. If you go into fiction writing with the notion of becoming the next Stephen King or JK Rowling, you're probably better off buying Lotto tickets. The odds are better.

Wilfred the Author said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chro said...

Writers, and other artists, are simply people with an excess of imagination. It monopolizes a large portion of their brain, and they have no recourse but to share what they imagine with others. Their creations are like babies, born from the womb of the mind. Just like some are driven to spread their seed reproductively, writers wish to share a part of themselves in the written word.

That's why writing is more of an addiction than a hobby, and that is why writers (the true writers) stick it out through thick and thin, and hopefully get published despite the mire and competition of the publishing industry.

Wilfred the Author said...

First, let me say that I'm not a writer. Well, not until recently. I love telling stories, but I looked at writing like kids look at homework. A necessary evil.

About three years ago, I was sitting with some friends, of course drinking was involved, and I was challenged to write a story that I was thinking about.

I love challenges. I started writing. Then I thought, what the heck, I'll start submitting. The form rejections came and I got pissed off. When I get that way, it's like somebody throwing the gauntlet at my feet.

It became a quest. I'm still agentless (yes, Jessica I'm looking), but, I have my first novel about to be released by Hilliard and Harris Publishing.

My motto has been preserverance is not the same as stubborness.

Chessie said...

The things that keep me going when I want to bang my head against the wall are the four manuscripts that are locked away in files in my computer that I never, ever open.

I know if I did, it would look like that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc, and I'd be one of the bad guys. (In case you've never seen it, my face would melt off in a claymation masterpiece.)

They are horrible. So how do they keep me going? I know I don't write like that anymore.

I've learned, I've grown, and most importantly, I know I'm constantly learning and growing. If publishing is a leap of faith, there is one solid promise in there. If you have the desire to learn about writing itself, you will get better at it.

One of the keys is finding a good group of writers to teach and support you. I'll add my nod to the Books and Writers forums on compuserve. They got me started and hooked me into RWA Online. The ladies there have taught me more than anything I ever learned in college about writing, the business of writing, and all points inbetween. (

In the eight years that I've been pursuing this goal, I had three or four where I didn't write anything I intended to publish. It was my learning time.

I came out of those years good at giving and taking a critique, and found a brilliant crit partner.

This was the first time I've felt like I was working on my writing on a higher level. And it was such a relief. Angie Fox is brilliant, and her first release, The Accidental Demon Slayer, is so much fun to read.

I believed in Angie. I believed in her story. I certainly didn't let her off the hook. I was very hard on her especially since she writes in first person, and first person is my least favorite narrative style. But she didn't let me off the hook either. She cracked the whip more times than I can count.

Now she believes I'm at the breaking point, so I have to believe it too, because my crit partner is no idiot. She's priceless.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

There's two questions here.
1. I write because it's the only thing that makes the voices go away.

2. I don't give up SUBMITTING my writing because of the support from my writing community.

If I lost faith, I'd still write. It would all reside in a box in my closet.

Anonymous said...

Why do I write?

It beats working 9 to 5 and I can work in my jammies all day.


spyscribbler said...

I had a strange and lucky beginning. By the time I realized I wanted to write, I didn't need faith. To take my writing to NY, though, I need plenty of it.

But I don't put my faith in talent or my stories or even my writing skill. I can keep going because I have faith in my ability to work hard, I have faith in my ability to analyze and improve, and most of all, I have faith in my determination.

nlnaigle said...

The point of the question is a fair one. Its not about whether youre going to write or not --- it was about knowing if youre work is heading towards a product that will enthuse the masses or be marketable from a commercial standpoint.

I hear ya and its a great question.
I think that critique partners and writers group are also an interesting support system, because in most cases they arent published either so how do you know they are steering you in the right direction???

I think Ive gained the best information from writers conferences where I can hear first hand from agents and publishers what they are interested in. That and keeping my eye on Publishers Marketplace about what IS selling and then doing the due diligence of reading those things to understand what they have achieved that maybe I havent quite yet.

Best of luck.
(pardon the dropped apostrophes .. for some reason they are not showing up although I am typing them .. I swear!)

Rachel Glass said...

Ooooh. What a plethora of comments I have to make about this one. Wonderful comments from everyone, and I heartily agree. Passion is the key element.

I'm trying to get my novel published at the moment. The response I've had from 15 queries is that 10 agents wanted to read it. From the ones who did, the feedback I received was that it's good, the story is likeable, but because it's not a paranormal romance or something standard they didn't feel like they could market it. . .

It's kind of heartening and disheartening at the same time, like "so you thought it was good, and it touched you, but you're passing." I understand the market and profit generation ideal, so I'm not bitter.

But I have been down-hearted as of late. The one thing I've kept telling myself is, finding an agent is like finding the right man. He has to fall in love with you and you have to believe in him.

I believe in my book, and I have heart that it will come to fruition. I guess in the long run it's mind over matter. If you believe in something strongly enough, work hard enough, and it will happen.

Joya said...

I'm not published yet and I don't have an agent yet, but I write because I need to. My parents have tried countless times to tell me a writing career isn't 'practical', and I can understand where they're coming from, especially after I switched from a chemical engineering major to an English major about 75% into my engineering degree, but if you have to write, you have to write.

It makes me happy to write, and when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing. Hopefully someone will read my work and feel that passion because writing is a very passionate thing, but until that happens, I'll be here, continuing to do what I love and what makes me happy. :)

KG said...

I have been writing seriously for 4 years now. I've been trying to find an agent, but have not had success...yet. How do I keep going? Well, each time I query, I seem to get a little bit closer. First, a bunch of rejects, then some requests for partials, then some who have liked the partial asking for a full....

I see this as positive progress, so I keep going with the next book and the next.

I have decided now that it is really a matter of perseverance. Those who have some talent and keep trying will eventually hit on that right combo. But if you don't try, you'll never do it.

This is what weeds out the less serious players. Those who don't have the true drive or desire will quit, because it is TOUGH to write a book...nevermind multiple books.

Kate Douglas said...

Beyond being what I do, writing is also what I am. In some strange way, it defines me. Maybe the fantasy world is so much more than the real one, maybe it's a control issue (Like I really control that muse?) or maybe it's merely the fact that, by putting words to paper I somehow define and shape my own world as well as the one I create. It's hard to describe, but the feeling I get when a story is almost writing itself is a truly addictive high and I can no more imagine life without writing than one without breathing.

Tanguera said...

Initially, because I promised myself I would. Once I got past a certain point, I wrote because I couldn't stop. The characters took over and I needed to know what happened, where they would be when I got home from work, who they would talk to next, how they would solve their dilemmas. Actually writing a 'book' was the fulfillment of a dream. Publication would be the cherry on the cake.

Becky Levine said...

What else would I do? :)

I'm actually going through this right now. I've been looking for an agent for what I think is a good book, and I've gotten lots of requests for pages and some very complimentary rejections. No specific suggestions, though, which is definitely frustrating.

I'm just about at the point of reevaluating. Not putting it away, no sir, but taking another look at it to see if there's something else I can hang a hook on, an edge I can push things closer to. I'm getting a few fresh eyes to look at it, and I'll be taking it back to my crit group.

Meanwhile, I'm starting on another novel. Because, yep, this is what I love, and as hard as waiting to "make it" can be, if you're writing ONLY to be published, that's just not it.

Great post, Jessica. Thanks.

Mark Terry said...

Your "what else could I do?" is the point of my rant, though.

What else could you do?

You could paint. Learn an instrument. Learn to draw. Take up gardening. Travel. Learn computer programming. Learn Tai Chi, karate, judo, yoga, fencing, knitting, croche, hell, crochet, badmitten, tennis, swimming, running marathons or triathlons, the list is seemingly endless.

But the knee-jerk response is often: I write because I have to.

But maybe there's something just as satisfying that wouldn't be such a tenuous business enterprise out there, that you just haven't tried yet.

Then again, not quitting ever is a common trait among the published.

Diana said...

I also agree with Mark Terry. I pay a lot of bills with freelance work, and I find a lot of satisfaction in knowing that someone turned to me to write copy because they can trust me to write something in a clear, concise, and interesting way.

There is still a lot of room for craft in technical or business writing.

Cathy in AK said...

I kept nodding my head as I read the comments, appreciating that there are others who feel as I do about writing. But there's one more thing that keeps me going.

Writing is something *I* do. Cathy. Not mommy, not Mrs. P, not Dear. Me. I found an aspect of my identity when I started writing, and I have no intention of letting her go.

Anonymous said...

I write to feel like, for the first time in my life, I can start something and finish it. I write with the hope that the dream will come true. I write because it makes me feel alive. I write to set an example to my children that dream require hard work but they can come true. I write to get the voices out of my head. I write for the joy and entertainment I bring myself.

If I knew now that I would never have a chance to share my work with others, I would still write. I think a writer is someone who HAS to write, an author is someone with the good fortune of being published.

Just_Me said...

Elaine Cunningham, who writes for Forgotten Realms and has other works published, wrote in her authors bio that if you wake up in the morning and want to write, you're a writer. It's as simple and complicated as that.

If you need to hash out details and discuss characters with someone find a good critique group. Critique Circle ( is the one I favor online, some people prefer live groups that meet once a month or more. Some people just use a good friend as a sounding board. As long as the group helps you by pointing out flaws and helping find solutions you're good. Groups that are overly negative, or overly sugary (IMO) aren't as useful. It's great to hear that someone "loves" your work but what you really need to hear is that you confused then for than on page 2 and your character is waffeling in the third chapter and that your minor character here contradicts a major plot thread written there.

Publishing is indeed the great leap of faith. But we always need good books so don't hesitate to write well and get published!

shannon said...

Wow! I ask myself this everyday when I sit down at the keyboard. I ask myself if it's really worth it every morning when I'm up at 6am to get a good hour of writing in before I head off to my 9 to 5 to earn a living because I'm not yet a published author.

I think a more important question to ask a writer is why do they write? Writing for me has always been in my blood ever since grade school when I was filling up the pages of my black and white journal even though we were only required to write in it once a week.

I blog and write today mainly for myself. Yep, I certainly long for the day when I can walk into a bookstore and see my book on a shelf or win a literary award or be interviewed by Oprah, but until that day comes I'm a selfish writer who does it for myself. It's a need to create that is just part of me and has to be fulfilled.

I have 2 finished has gotten a few rejections and is still waiting on other replies. I have no idea what to do with the other one because I can't find a market for it. I'm currently working on completing another, and have two or three more ideas lined up after that....still waiting for that day when an agent says yes and I can finally change my tag to "published author," but until that day comes I am a writer doing what comes naturally to me...almost as natural as breathing.

We all know from reading these blogs that publishing is a long slow process. Writing feels a lot like that too. That's why I have other creative outlets like photography and painting that help ease that creativity a little quicker sometimes.

I try to keep my eye on the page rather than crossing my fingers and waiting for my chance in the spotlight. If I wait for my day to shine, it makes the disappointment of a rejection letter only that more disheartening. So, when I focus instead on where my next character will find themselves, rather than whether or not my query will work its magic, it makes the writing process much more worth it in the end.

Anonymous said...

"especially after I switched from a chemical engineering major to an English major about 75% into my engineering degree..."

Oh, how it pains me to read that! I can almost hear the dollars slipping out of your future paychecks from here! And think of the extraordinary situations you'd find yourself as a chemical engineer--the marvellous technical insights you'd gain, the strange but intelligent people you'd be working with--that you could put into your writing that almost NO other English majoring MFA "Writer" type would ever have! Instead you'll be doing the same ol same ol' with the olther wannabe writers--English major, and when you can't live off your writing, you'll be teaching high school English.
Ugh. I urge you to reconsider. Remembe that M. Chrichton went to med school.

Candice Gilmer said...

If I don't write, my head will explode...

Just ask my husband -- he's been on the receiving end of many of my rants, temper tantrums, and depressive days where he just looks at me and says "Honey, have you been writing this week?"

When I snap at him a "NO!" he just sighs, says "I've got the kid, you go write." And he sends me to my room.

Nadine said...

Every single day, I doubt myself, but I stick with it because it is the one thing I want to do more than anything else.

I love it and compare it to reading a great book - except I get to decide what happens next.

Marianne Harden said...

I'm not one of those people who knew from an early age. I never journaled about my life, or loves, or secrets (Good God, mom could find it.)

But I have always read. Then one day I began writing and learning, writing more and learning more.

However, it was only when I lost a completed book via a stolen laptop along with my only memory stick that I knew I was a writer in it for the long haul.

I picked myself up off the ground, dusted off my depression and started to write the entire book again. Sometimes a story must be told, and a storyteller must tell it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting responses to this topic. I agree with both Mark Terry and Diana. I turned to writing (originally journalism) purely because I needed a job that fitted in with family commitments.

From there I wrote non-fiction books because the advances I received were more than what I was earning working as a reporter. I secured a five book deal on my own with a publisher for my non-fic books and spent the next two years writing these and reporting.

Then I decided to have a go at writing a novel. Oh, boy, this is so, so different from writing non-fic and so much harder to break in to. I do have an agent now, but as women's commercial fiction is very hard to break in to, it's a big waiting game and I still have to write many articles and features for newspapers and magazines every month in order to keep a roof over our heads.

However, despite the amount of time and dedication that it takes to write a novel and the fact that the year I spent working on my novel financially could have been better spent writing non-fiction work and selling it, to me, writing a novel is like jumping into another world. A million miles away from the life I live. It's complete escapism and for me that's why I do it.

150 said...


Before I went to college, my mom said, "Just get a good job and then you can do whatever you want in the evenings." Now I have an engineering degree, and engineering job, and I've managed to write a book a year since graduation. Consider finishing that last 25%!

Angie Fox said...

I think every writer hits that point where you have to ask, "Why am I doing this?" Because let's face it, you can be an amateur musician and people will still hear you play, maybe at a local bar or tavern. You can be an amateur artist, showing your work in restaurants or small galleries. But you really can't walk around handing out manuscripts to folks if you're an unpublisher writer. You have to go pro.

And that's really hard.

I've always loved to write too. Heck, I make my living as a freelance advertising writer. Mark Terry said it brilliantly when he said that if you have to write, there are far more lucrative ways to do it. Advertising is one of them. It's fun, the salary is great and if someone doesn't like an ad, they tell you why and let you fix it (and then they pay you).

Fiction? Not so much. Novels were something I did on the side to entertain myself.

It really is a leap of faith. Last summer, an editor requested to read the full manuscript of The Accidental Demon Slayer. I was estatic, and a bit concerned. I was only on Chapter 16 out of 24. And with two small kids at home, ramping up my writing schedule meant getting up at 4:00 a.m. everyday and sneaking in an extra writing session from 4:00 a.m. - 7:00 a.m. And also turning down freelance work. "Yes, you want to pay me, but instead I'm going to work all hours of the day and night for free and hope this book sells."

There were many mornings I'd walk downstairs in the dark at 4:00 a.m., questioning my sanity the whole way. But I finished that book. And the editor bought it. And I want to pinch myself sometimes when I see it up there on Amazon.

So, yes, I write because I like it. But I write books because there's nothing quite so exciting when all of the hard work pays off.

Anonymous said...

Question for Wilfred the Author:

I checked out Hilliard and Harris Publishing's web site--says they have a 6-month wait to hear back on new subs. Can you tell me, did they pay you an advance? Does the new Amazon BookSurge move negatively impact their bottom line? And have you tried to get an agent after your contract with them, or you decided not to because you already have a deal?

I ask because I too am considering a pub. deal from a small house, but have no agent.


Julie Weathers said...

"When writing fiction, as an unpublished writer, how do you know you aren’t beating yourself over the head? Agents won’t talk to you without a completed manuscript, but then you have no agent to talk to about your manuscript in progress. Any suggestions for the hopefully up and comings out there?"


"But I’d like to hear from writers out there. What made you stick with it or what makes you stick with? How do you know you aren’t spinning your wheels and how do you keep that faith alive?"

I don't think the question was why do you write? Multitudes of people write because it amuses them. It's like crocheting or gardening or scrapbooking. No one needs faith to garden, unless you have a really brown thumb.

I paint ceramics, do beadwork, build things out of wood, draw, build things out of horns and various other odd things. I don't need faith to do any of these things and I am seldom driven to beating my head on the desk over them.

If I decide to move my hobby from the self-entertainment realm to a profession, then it becomes more stressful. Then I question if I am artistic enough to appeal to the public.

I write because I enjoy it, but let's be real honest here. I also write because I think there will one day be a market for my stories.

Do I have doubts?

All the time.

That's where the faith and the support group come in.

Elyssa Papa said...

I've noticed a trend in my life. When I want something, it's usually a challenge and something I have to "fight" to get.

I write and when I didn't write because I just couldn't, it was one of the worst times of my life. I felt bottled up but I couldn't figure out how to unscrew the cap to write.

I'm not published. Yes, I query and I have stuff out. But I'm more prepared for rejections and am used to those. I don't know if publishing will happen; I hope it does of course, but I steel myself against the idea that this one dream of mine won't happen.

But I write because I can and it's just who I am, as corny as that reads.

Kate said...

I'm not discouraged about writing, but at this point I'm pretty discouraged about getting my first novel published. It's been workshopped and critique-grouped and revised practically to death, submitted to at least a couple dozen agents, and still all I hear is "you're a good writer but this isn't for us." I'm beginning to think it isn't for anybody--but how do you know when to give up on a particular book?

I'm working on novel #2, not sitting around twiddling my thumbs, but if #1 is hopeless I wish someone would tell me so I could stop wasting time, postage, and pain.

Anonymous said...


I'd stick with marketing #1 until #2 is ready to market. If you haven't gotten representaiton for or sold #1 by the time your queries are ready to go for #2, then that's when I'd put #1 on hiatus. Then you focus on selling #2, and beginning writing #3. You market #2 until it either sells or you finish #3 and have it ready to query. Then one day, maybe on #4 or even #5--you'll sell one, and when they ask "what else do you have?" you can trot out #s 1-4 plus whatever new outlines you have, and they'll be like "wow, we've got a real writer on our hands, here."

Julie Weathers said...

Kate, I would just keep submitting it while you work on your second novel. When you've done all you can do, then chalk it up as a learning experience for the next one.

You might also think about writing some short stories. Even if it's an e-publication, just having your name and story out there will bolter your self-esteem.

Bija Andrew Wright said...

I think the question comes from an unrealistic view of writing that we get in our schooling. In school, writing is judged by a more-or-less nurturing, encouraging teacher. If you write the way the teacher tells you to write and don't make too many mistakes, you get a good grade. You probably get extra encouragement for showing even a slight amount of original thinking. So people expect the writing business to work the same way: do what you're supposed to do, follow all the rules, get published, bask in success. And it doesn't work that way.

The truth is, you probably are beating yourself over the head. It's very tricky to make a living in any creative line of work, especially if you want any kind of creative control. The only reason to do it is because the reward is worth the risk. That's why I'm doing it.

Mark Terry said...

"It's been workshopped and critique-grouped and revised practically to death, submitted to at least a couple dozen agents, and still all I hear is "you're a good writer but this isn't for us."

For what it's worth, I was up around #100 agents when I picked up my agent, and she sold a couple of my books. It's a buyer's market (and probably always will be), so you keep at it until somebody agrees to rep you. Even Janet Evanovich has commented about being rejected by every NY agent at least twice before signing with someone.

Linnea said...

I kept going before I was published out of sheer doggedness. I loved my story and just knew there had to be someone else out there who loved it too. I keep going now because I adore living in the world I've created. I find it fun and exciting and quite frankly, addicting. I escape to it whenever I can. I don't think I can live any other way. Sure I have obligations in the 'real' world but the farther I get into my WIP the more of my waking time it consumes until it becomes rather irritating to have to leave it.

Wilfred the Author said...

anon 5:38

Yes I received a small advance. No the contract was not as lucrative as a large house. Actually, I have two agents that want to see my next work, which is in progress. I met these at conferences, one after critiquing the first chapter of my next project.

I'm looking at this as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. It's a decision you need to think hard about.

jmprince said...

Why do I write? Because my characters make me.

Anonymous said...


Anon 5:38 here--thaks for your response. Good luck with your books.

Kristin said...

First, I would agree that the former engineering student should probably finish that degree...if you are only 1 year shy of graduating, just stick it out, get a job making buckets of money and spend your nights & weekends writing.

However, I have to defend English majors! I was an English major with a double major in Spanish. I worked for 10 years as a technical writer and still do that on the side for extra money. There are other careers you can do with an English major beyond getting an MFA, living in a tiny apartment in NY, and writing the Next Great American Novel.

In fact, an English major is a good foundation for someone who wants to go into law or get an M.B.A.

Please put out of your heads that all English majors are the artist type who are willing to suffer for their writing...some of us are very logically minded people who love to read and enjoy writing!

Anonymous said...

Just thought everyone should read this post on Absolute Write about Hilliard & Harris. Take their comments for what you will:

Hilliard & Harris

Travis Erwin said...

First and foremost I have to entertain myself as I write the story. If I'm not excited to learn more about the characters or to see what comes next, how can I expect a reader to be?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:17--thanks for the H&H link on Absolute write, but did you notice those comments are dated 2004? Where's the current comments?

Picks By Pat said...

When I moved to Kansas City, I joined a writer's group, and it helped me enormously! I finally had a set of critics who weren't family, to bounce my work off and I've used their suggestions to improve my writing, and inspire me.

If you haven't shown your work to anyone and wonder, "Do I have what it takes?", I urge you to join a writer's group!

PaulaKay said...

My nine year old daughter summed it up well the other night. After going to the ice-cream shop where there were three sizes displayed: Like It, Love It, and Gotta Have It, my daughter said, “Writing for you Mom is the Gotta Have It.”

Alex Fayle said...

I write to get published. It's my retirement fund {grin}.

I used to say that I'd write even if I knew I'd never get published, but now I've decided that, for me, saying that is too negative. It's like training for the Olympics and saying "It doesn't matter if I don't get in and it doesn't matter if I don't strive for Gold. I'd still work this hard if it was just for fun."

That's not me. I'm ambitious. If someone told me that I'd *never ever* be published, I'd switch careers and build income that way. I know writing is not a big income generator for most writers, but it's something I love to do and know I have a talent for. However, that love has to be tempered by practical considerations.

So, as long as there is even slight hope for publication, then I'll pursue it with all my energy.


Anonymous said...

Sitting in my closet is a combined total of a half million words, with queries submitted to a combined total of 280 agents, netting requests for four partials and zero requests for fulls.

I'm 60,000 words into my latest effort and if it ends up in the closet, so be it, as it will be in good company.

Writing is what I do.

How Not To Write said...

As I blogged this post, it's probably fair of me to post a comment too...

I published a few stories way back in the late 80s/early 90s and then life sort of took over (career, family, etc).

Over the years, I kept writing, part habit and part obsession. I finished a few things, but as a hobbyist I never felt like they were worth sending out. Still, I kept the flame alive.

About a year and a half ago, I put together a website as a sort of joke, a shrine to my not writing, and a sort of rallying point to become more professional in my work and perhaps take it to the next level.

[Man, I hate that phrase! "Take it to the next level." Makes me feel like I'm in some Sly Stallone movie. Over the Top comes to mind. Oh, now I'm really embarrassed. Better get to the Q&A...]

Q. What made you stick with it or what makes you stick with?
A. It's cheap therapy. Seriously. I don't do well in corporate environments and writing helps me keep my sanity. At times, it's even fun.

Q. How do you know you aren’t spinning your wheels?
A. I don't and after 2MM words I think it's safe to say that I've firmly entrenched myself in the mud.

Q. How do you keep that faith alive?
A. Even though I'm stuck, I always feel like I'm about to heave myself out and so I keep on writing with that in mind.

J. Lea Lopez said...

I've always written because I felt I had to. I get stories in my head and they just won't go away until I indulge them a little bit on paper. I only recently decided to make the leap and try to polish something up to submit to agents. I'm still in the polishing phase--no query letters submitted just yet.

But what makes me stick with it? I just love it that much. I think it's the same with any other job choice. My husband sometimes comes home from a stressful day (he's a chef) and wonders aloud "Why did I decide to do this again?" And I remind him he does it because he loves to do it. We've all got those bad days where doubt creeps in and threatens to strangle us in our sleep. Sometimes we have weeks like that.

I think the bottom line is that if you love it enough, have enough faith in your talent, and the determination to continually improve that talent, then you'll stick with it. If you find one day that you don't love it anymore, then you'll stop. If you don't, then you'll be beating yourself over the head.