Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Can we be honest for a second?

I've been thinking about this post for a long time, trying to figure out how to say what I want to say. Because the thing is, this is exactly the kind of post I try not to write.

We're taught not to put anything negative online. Not to vent or complain or express fear or doubt. It could make us look bad. Make our books look bad. Maybe make us seem unprofessional or ungrateful for how far we've come, or what we have. And I agree with that. All of it.

But at the same time...when all you see is positivity and strength coming from all the other writers, it can make you feel like you're the only one struggling or doubting, or worrying. The only one stressed or frustrated. And it can make you wonder, what's wrong with me? Why is this harder for me than everyone else?

And the truth is: it isn't.

This business is hard--for everyone. I didn't know it until I made friends with writers, talked to them offline, one on one. Then the truth came out. And it made me feel so much better because I realized I wasn't alone. So I wanted to share what I learned with you guys, in case you haven't had the chance to get that kind of honesty.

Here's the reality: writers worry.

They worry they will never finish writing their book. That their critique partners will hate it. That an agent will never represent them.

When they have an agent, they worry that they chose the wrong one. Or that their agent will decide to drop them if they don't nail the revision, or sell right away. They worry their agent will hate their next project.

When they sell their book they worry that their editor won't like their revision when they turn it in. That they'll hate their cover art. That their publisher won't give them enough promotional support. That their book won't sell. That people will give it terrible reviews. That no one will show up for their signings. That they will miss the deadline for their next book. That they will never sell another book again.

And sometimes, those things happen. Writers change agents for one reason or another. Projects get shelved after months on sub without selling. Writers get notes from their agent or editor that they disagree with and think: what am I going to do? Sometimes they hate their cover art. Or they struggle with their next book--sometimes even missing a deadline or two. Or they turn in the draft and their editor hates it.  Books fail to earn out. They get bad reviews.

It happens and it sucks. Writers cry and lose sleep and wonder why the heck they're going through all of this. They even consider giving up sometimes.

But here's the lesson: THEY DON'T GIVE UP.

They keep going. They turn to their friends (offline) and share their woes and lean on each other and keep going. Because yes, this is a tough business. But writers need to write. It's part of who we are. (One of the primary reasons why I'm convinced writers are all a tad masochistic :) ). It's HARD. But it's also what we love to do. And for every bad, stressful day there are wonderful days. And for every scary, negative experience there are wonderful experiences.

So don't worry that you're the only one to get discouraged or struggle--we're all right there with you!  We might not talk about it on our blogs or Twitter (and you shouldn't either). But we are there with you. We know what you are feeling. We feel it too.

Don't give up. Don't think there's something wrong with you. This is all part of the journey. Just dust yourself off and keep going because you will get where you want to be. There will be good days to replace the bad.

And do yourself a favor: make some writer friends and get together sometimes. Commiserate and share and laugh (and maybe drink some alcohol if you're so inclined). You will feel SO much better. Remember the key: you are not alone. And you WILL get through this.

Need more proof? Let's see if I can drag it out of people in the comments. Let's be vaguely honest for once. Have any of you struggled on your journey toward (or through) publication? Raise your hand if you have!


  1. *Raises hand* I've been trying to actively get my writing out there for five years. Tears, anger, crying, depression, doubt, worry, just absolute misery alongside ALL the excitement, thrill and joy. It is only THIS month that I've started to get some 'good news' coming in. I'm glad I've stuck it out. But it is HARD. VERY HARD. And slightly damaging to the soul ... don't you think?

  2. You just crawled inside my head and ripped out all of my thoughts. We all go through different levels of stress but we KEEP GOING.
    Well done...

  3. People who wake up one day and think they can write a book have no idea how stressful it really is! There are days when I struggle to stay positive and think about quitting too, but I always end up sticking with it because I am a writer.

  4. I feel like this at least twice a day. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is pure stubbornness.

  5. Yes, almost everyday a little voice tells me I'm not good enough and that I should quit. I wonder if I'm the only one with so many doubts. Thanks for sharing that others have the same ones and that they don't seem to go away. But you're right, we have to write or we'd quit. I'm so glad to have met people like you through blogs to support me through the many self doubts and hopefully share all our future joyful news.

  6. Thanks for this post Shannon. I've had my fair share of bad news just recently and asked myself the same question and came up with the same answer as you. I have to.

    And with the support of other writers, I find the strength and drive to keep going.

    Great post! I needed this today!

  7. Dude...I live in angst much of the time. When it's really bad, I hide... not even able to have lunch with a friend whom I KNOW gets it...that's just what I have to do sometimes!

    And yea, my writerly friends are what hold me together some days.

    GREAT POST Shannon!

  8. Both of my hands are raised! Thank you for this post. I agree. Yes, we all have those days, but we have to pick ourselves up and get on with the business of writing. It's in our blood, there's no escaping it.

  9. Awwwww it's certainly a tough and thankless road sometimes this writing malarky!!! :-)

    Good luck to all you on your road to publication!! Take care

  10. While there is tons of positivity and support through writer's blogs, I've never been afraid or ashamed to vent my frusteration. Because while, yes, we all need the sunny outlook on the process, EVERYONE here understands the hopelessness, fear, and frusteration that comes with the territory. I mean, as long as I keep it to a 'I'm going to explode if I don't vent' minimum-- I think it's important to be honest on our blogs about ALL sides of the process and not just how upbeat we are about the whole thing. If anything, writers understand (even better than people in my real life, unfortunately). We do worry more than most and it's great to have a place to come for support. Great post!

  11. I so could have written this post! I worry every time I pull out my wip that it's not good enough, that I'm a hack and everyone will hate my story and that there's no point in plugging away at it. And then I get back to work :)

    I'm so glad to see I'm not the only one!

  12. Oh, how spooky. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Just keep trying, just keep trying (sung like Dory) lol I'm not normally up this early, can you tell?

  13. I love posts like this because I really respect vulnerability and honesty and authenticity. As for me, um, yeah, I worry. I tell myself I am just starting out and it is okay if this first project isn't the one to get me a deal, that I will keep plugging away, but the truth is, I worry others will hate it. I worry that if agents do, that I'll want to throw in the towel. I worry that I won't want to throw it in, but continue writing as obsessively as I have the past two months and that my role as homeschool mom to my beautiful daughters will suffer. And worry about every other small thought in between. But I try to focus on all the positives--like I am setting a good example for my children that reading and writing are excellent pursuits, that following your passions are worthy things to do and hopefully that dreams can come true with enough work and determination :-) Thanks Shannon for a great and thought provoking post!


    First of all, I will preface this by saying I'm so happy to be published and for the chance for others to read my work.

    But! I never realised just how stressful it is having others read what you've been slaving away on, and knowing they're passing the inevitable judgment on it. Writing is so subjective and of course you can't please everyone, but even so... it does makes me lie awake at night and stress over everything you mentioned! Thank you for your honesty!


    Are you kidding? Struggling is just part of the process. We all struggle. That's life. I do talk about it, or at least I used to, on my blog, but I tried to use my mistakes as a lesson for others so they could avoid them.

    But when it comes to just venting, you're right, it should not be done publicly, but DOES need to be done. That's what friends are for.

    On the other hand no amount of discouragement should be able to make us give up. The only way to guarantee failure is to stop trying.

    Thanks for this Shannon. Truer words ...

  16. I worry about all of those things, even the ones about getting bad reviews, and I'm not even published. I think it comes with the territory. But, yeah, the friends help. Just encouraging each other and venting to each other. Knowing you're not alone is so important!

    Thanks :)

  17. hi miss shannon! wow look how much writers got their hands up in the air. what you said is just real true. i could see it and feel it on lots of blogs. i like how writers could share out their tears and fears. whats cool is we could lean up on each other and say how we feel and that makes it so we just keep going and never give up our dreams.
    ...hugs from lenny

  18. Every worry you listed has been mine.

    I worry that I'll never, ever, ever emerge from these edits. That, if I do, I still won't be happy with the book. That my unhappiness will seep into my query. That any and all agents who read my query will realize this and reject me.

    But I press on. :)

  19. *HAND RAISED. High. Waving frantically.* Shannon, I so totally heart you, girl! You are such a source of support and encouragement and positivity for the rest of us. Your sincerity and honesty are a treasure! :-)

  20. I will just say that without my writeoncon girls... I wouldn't know about all the super secret stressing that happens ALL THE FREAKING TIME...

    But, yeah--it all happens. We just can't give up. EVER.

    *repeats last two sentences over and over again*

  21. +JMJ+

    Oh, man! You know what, Shannon? I don't even feel that I'm a writer anymore. I got some bad criticism a few years ago--not even the constructive kind, but the uncalled for personal kind--and even though I know that, it's been hard to get going again. And yet I still hang out at writers' blogs because I wish I could be like you guys.

    Anyway, I won't bore you with the details of my saga. Thanks for writing this post.

  22. There is an evil little voice that whispers to me on the bad days:
    "You suck and nothing you write even makes sense. When agents read your query they are gonna laugh at how badly you suck."

    For some reason he sounds like the Count from Sesame Street. I think I have unresolved childhood issues.lol

    Great post and glad you're being honest. It's refreshing and helps a lot to know we are not alone. I don't plan on giving up.

  23. Absolutely wonderful post, Shannon. I think a lot of us feel as though all we see is "good news" and a few "oh it was hard, but I didn't give up..."'s and we get frustrated. It may sound terrible to say this, but misery does love company, and in that sense, us worriers/strugglers/writers who've spent years trying to get somewhere - we need to hear we aren't alone. That agented and published authors everywhere have had dark times, have been frustrated, and as you said, worried (and still are, a lot of the time). It helps us know we're not alone, that we're normal. That obstacles can come in our way, but perseverance is what gets us through, eventually. =)


  24. How refreshingly honest. Thank you.
    I raise my hand - and a glass (because sometimes a girl has to drown the frustration in a pina colada) - to this.

  25. Well I guess that's another memo I missed *laugh* because I have always been open and honest on my blog about the struggle I have with the words and all and the feedback has always been supportive and equally honest.

    In this case you really do get back what you give- even if there is the occasionally Pollyanna "Oh don't be such a grumpyface!" in there that drives you absolutely bats whether you admit to it or not (at least it does me.)

    I liked this post a lot. I have to pick carefully what I read on the blogs these days for my eyes sake and this one pulled me right in.

    There is only one thing more- sometimes, people do 'give up'. Sometimes, if they do, whether giving up means leaving their writing behind to go after other dreams/interests/spend more time with the dog or just giving up on getting published traditionally or otherwise, sometimes they do, and sometimes, it's for the best.

    Life is important, being happy, most important of all and as Nathan Bransford's brilliant Commandments for a Happy Writer point out- there is more to life than just what we leave on the page.

    Great post. Thanks for your honesty.


  26. It is hard...and I know you're not supposed to show your insecurities and fears and vent online, but you know what...I do sometimes. I want people to know I am a real person. I'm not some weirdo perfect person...I have the same feelings as everyone else.

  27. You are so right. It happens to all of us . . . and it always will. It's a daily struggle, but if you don't keep that voice of doubt in check, it'll consume you. Thanks, Shannon. Great post!

  28. Yup. Raising my hand over here. And I definitely second you on the idea of having real life writer friends. It's good to have someone you know in real life to talk to about your worries-- and your triumphs!

  29. There's so many ups and downs, it's hard to keep track! But the more times I go around the roller-coaster, the easier it gets to tolerate those stomach-dropping days.

    Thanks for the great post!

  30. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! I seriously feel like I am the only one struggling with this!

    I did have an agent, about a year ago, and worked on a few rounds of revisions. I didn't nail that revision. We parted ways.

    It was so heart-breaking! And all I read about are book deals and people getting agents! It really made me feel like I am the only one failing.

    But I haven't stopped writing. And I've learned a lot, each step of the way. Thanks for this post. It was much needed!

  31. Holy mother of pearl! You want me to spill all my angst and secrets??

    Um, have you read my blog? It's pretty much the most depressing thing on the planet. I think people can see my moods there, easily, in every post.

    Feeling frustrated? Elana vents.

    Feeling happy? Elana shouts for joy.

    It's all there, bared for those who know how to look.

    And, uh, yeah, it's good to have people behind the scenes too.

  32. I tried to sit on my hand, but it keeps popping up. Count me in on the struggle and doubt poll. But other writers, like you, help me keep going.
    We may work hard and fail, but if we never try at all we definitely fail. So any time I can give another writer a hand up, I will.

  33. I'll join you, Shannon.
    1. My debut is coming out and I worry people will think it's lame.
    2. My agent is subbing my second book, and I worry it won't sell.
    3. I'm writing my third and I worry the major suckage can't be fixed.

  34. You said it! Great post. Great advice!

  35. haha - you all may worry, but I am the QUEEN of worriers. Yes people, I rule the kingdom of worriers. And I'm sorry it isn't a more fun place to be. But it is what it is, and we just have to make the best of it, and find joy in the little things.

    Celebrating the things that come along and go well. That's why I'm thankful for the kind people in the kidlit community. We may worry a lot, but we are also REALLY good at cheering each other on.

  36. Absolutely! And you're right, finding friends in the writing community is both 1) easy and 2) essential. They are the most supportive understanding group there is. I couldn't do without the buds I've made over time.
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  37. *raises hand*

    I worry about every single one of these things. And some extras.

    I LOVE this post. It's like you broke into my brain. It's hard not to feel lonely in this journey, but it's good to know other people are going through the very same thing!

  38. So great to see so many of you chiming in. See? We really aren't alone in our struggles. It may feel that way, but it's hard for all of us. And yet we still keep going.

    Thanks so much for sharing everyone. I'm hoping even more people will join the conversation. :)

  39. *hand up* ...
    The hardest time for me is when a rejection comes in when I'm hormonal. The tears just keep flowing... and flowing... and flowing...
    thanks for a great post.
    Now ... off to keeping on keeping on... never give up ...

  40. Thank you so much for this post! I am currently researching (i.e. reading over 20 YA books a month). Sometimes I wonder why I bother. This helped to lift my spirits!

  41. I worry all the time. About everything. I'm currently worried that my WIP is a trite pile of crap. This will last for awhile, until I find something new to worry about.

  42. Insecurities? Me? I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about because I live in a magical land where everything is perfectly PERFECT. *insert maniacal laughter*

  43. Sure, we're told not to put anything negative or venomous out there--this isn't that. This is actually a very positive, very uplifting post, as I'm sure you can see from the whole stream of comments above mine. This brings people together, in such a solitary pursuit.

    I worry that my stuff is trite and nobody's telling me it's terrible! I worry that it's unoriginal or incredibly wordy, or that the jokes aren't funny. I worry... I'm sure there's a character limit eventually on the comments box. I worry! And having a community around me like this helps with that a LOT.

  44. Wow, it's like you're in my head. Scary!!!! Scarier still, it what comes after we finally manage to land an agent. Hmmm. Maybe I'll just go back to bed. Seriously, the before agent part is starting to sound not so bad. :D

  45. Yeah, I'd say I'm pretty much terrified that I will never get an agent. That my writing will never be good enough and I won't even know it. And that all my writer friends I've made will pass me right by in their success and I'll be left alone. :(

  46. Oh, yeah, my hand is up. I worry constantly. (And you're totally right - writers are masochists. I've said it before, and I'll say it again.) But it's the "Keep going" part that makes us writers, and not dabblers.

  47. I don't have a problem with complaining online- it's all in how you do it.

    "Today is a tough day." or "Submitting to agents is just as hard as they said it would be." Those sort of things are perfectly fine, and to me, expected.

    "Agents SUCK!" or "WTH is wrong with my publisher?" so not cool.

  48. *Raises both hands*

    *And feet*

    *And 20 toes and fingers*

    Been there and done that ten million times.


  49. Thank you for this, Shannon!! Made. My. Day.

    Oh, and that whole doubt thing you've got going on?

    Yeah... It sucks at life. Time for some cold shoulder :D

  50. I am sure there is not one correct process or routine that we should do after we publish a new blog post.


Yay-I love comments! Thank you so much! (But please remember to keep your comments spoiler-free. Also, I try to keep this a happy, positive place. Friendly debate is fine, but always be kind to each other). <3