Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Just a Phase

Lately I've been reading through Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing, a how-to/inspirational hybrid collection of advice, story prompts and writing exercises. The format is part faux scrapbook, part text, with plenty of illustrations and quirky fonts to hold the reader's interest and get the point across without giving a beginning writer a bad case of how-to-itis or a pro the yawns.

So far I appreciate the energy and enthusiasm Monica poured into this project, although part of me thinks I don't need books like this, as I'm someone who has been there/done that/bought the t-shirt/made the photo CD/forced everyone watch the slide show 40+ times now. Another part of me keeps buying and reading new how-to books and taking a great deal of pleasure in them. I blame this on the writer phase I'm currently going through -- The Battered Believer.

Phases happen throughout a writing career, and generally start with these:

The Heaven/Hell Rollercoaster: every yet-to-be-published writer who does not publish the very first thing they write takes at least one ride on this one. You write (heaven), you don't sell what you write (hell). Occasionally self-doubt makes the ride run backward: You write (hell), you don't sell what you write (heaven.)

Like a Virgin, Part I: A powerful state of euphoria in which the rookie writer usually lives after they sell for the first time. The rookie loves everyone and can do nothing wrong. Neither can Publishing. A certain phase-related blindness sets in and can occlude the writer's perceptions of the industry. Also known among writers as The Honeymoon phase.

The FIGMC Panic: (Named for the corresponding state in military service known as FIGMO) Post-euphoric hard crash that happens when the rookie writer suddenly realizes Eff, I Got My Contract and the enormity of what it means to be a published author descends with a vengeance.

Like a Virgin, Part II: A second surge of euphoria that occurs just before the writer's first published work is released, and everything about writing and Publishing is wonderful again. Until the first week's sell-through numbers come in and the lists are published, anyway.

The Honeymoon Is Over: Strikes after the writer's first release, which probably did not set sales records, make any of the lists, or otherwise set the Publishing world on fire. Aka The First Big Reality Check.

I've been through those and a couple of other phases. The one I'm in now is full of paradoxes -- faith and knowledge, experience and wonder, cynicism and hope -- and while frustrating, it's also pretty interesting. If a writer can be fire and ice at the same time, I'm there.

The next stage I see coming up fast is the Is It Still Worth It? phase that seems to hit around the 50 book mark. It can also be triggered by a hard-won career high or industry honor that was touted to be All That but turns out to be just another So What? For a writer in this phase, the temptation to go out on a high note must be overwhelming (as probably is the darker impulse to Quit in the Midst of a Huge Success to Show the Bastards They Don't Own Me or My Art.)

Whatever phase a writer is in, it's good to remember that they are, like adolescent acne or midlife crises, usually temporary. Being stuck in a phase could mean you haven't worked out what you were supposed to learn from it to move on. I think the paradox of The Battered Believer phase might just be the entire lesson -- that the writer can know better but still dream. If so, maybe it will help me skip the Is It Still Worth It? phase and head into the next, hopefully something I can refer to as my Totally Addicted to Chocolate period or What Can I Do With All These Millions? stage.

How would you describe the writer phase you're in? Post your answer in comments (or, if you're not sure, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Wednesday, August 13, 2008. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner an unsigned copy of The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

45 comments:

  1. I love how-to/inspiration books far too much...

    As for a writing phase, I'm in the "Procrastination via Research" phase. It's... ridiculous.

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  2. I'm at the WHAT-THE-HELL-WAS-I-THINKING-THERE'S-NO-MARKET-FOR-THIS phase. Or maybe I'm at the EVEN-IF-THERE'S-A-MARKET-FOR-THIS-IT'S-STILL-CRAP stage. Neither is pleasant.

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  3. My phase: Should I Keep Plugging Away At This, Knowing The Odds Are Stacked Against Me? So far, the answer has always been "Yes."

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  4. ManiacScribbler12:38 AM

    I'm in the Heaven/Hell Rollercoaster right now. I just finished my first edit, but now I have to go back and do all the work. Haha I'm going to do one more run through and see how it all pulled together. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
    ManiacScribbler =^..^=

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  5. I think I'm still at the "where the hell do I start?" phase, miles away from honeymoons or disillusions. :)

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  6. I mostly veer between "I Know I Can, I Know I Can" and where I am now, which is "I Know I Can't, I Know I Can't."

    When I'm in the latter, I contemplate making 2 PhDs my goal in life instead of 1 PhD and getting published.

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  7. I'm in the I haven't even sold yet phase, but will stick to it..

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  8. Similar to May, I'm in the "I Think I Can Oh S* I Can't" stage. Some days (just after a submission) it alternates every five minutes.

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  9. I haven't started submitting stuff yet, so I'm not quite to the Heaven/Hell Rollercoaster yet. I'm just trying to mentally prep for it, since I'll probably be encountering it in a year or so. I like revalkorn's additional "what the hell was I thinking there's no market for this" stage--I suspect I will be there quite often.

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  10. I'm mostly in the honeymoon phase at the moment after selling my first story but with major asides now to 'What ARE you doing? ROCKS write better than you do!'. These rocks laugh at me a lot.

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  11. I'm at the will-this-editing-ever-end phase, otherwise known as I-thought-I-was-better-than-this. Sneaking up behind is the old faithful phase of YOU-SUCK!

    The trick is to ignore them and keep going.

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  12. I'm in the Now What? stage, also known as the Is Walmart Hiring? stage.

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  13. I'm in the Nothin in Life is Easy so Stop Whining stage. I'm tired of hearing my own excuses LOL.

    Please don't put me in the drawing. :)

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  14. I'm in the "I read all the helpful blogs, write everyday but never seem to get around to submitting phase." Don't get me wrong, I have an entire drawer full of rejections... I keep telling myself that's only because they don't know me yet, or haven't really read me... but they will, one day!

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  15. I'm in Revision Hell. Halfway through the manuscript and I'm still not sure the changes are going to be enough to make the WIP as good as it could be.

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  16. *G* I like your battered believer stage. Gone through the honeymoon and the virgin stages and survived, and I occasionally dance with Is it still worth it.

    Yeah, battered believer. Or maybe I'm caught in the grin and bear it or beat my head against the desk until oblivion strikes stage. Or are they all the same....

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  17. I'm in the "I'm going to get this right" phase. Where you're just trying to identify and fix all major flaws in your story. It's fun, because of all the highs and lows. ONe moment I'm celebrating the completion of one part of it, the next cussing the story out because another flaw had the adacity to reveal itself.

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  18. The Honeymoon is definitely over.

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  19. I've mentioned this one before in comments.

    I'm in the "hole in the doughnut" phase. With some small sales of short stories and my very good agent submitting my first novel (which has been out to many editors for many moons), I feel like I'm in the hole of a giant doughnut. Sweet success is all around me, but I can't reach out and get a bite. I honestly don't know how close or how far away I am from a first novel sale.

    I like your breakdown of the phases to come, Lynn! In the future, when I hit one of these, I'll know it's normal.

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  20. I'm in the "maybe I'll finish something I've started someday" phase.

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  21. I'm in the Too Paralyzed with the Fear of Failure to Write the Last 5 Chapters phase. Sadly this is the second book I've been in this phase with. The first one? Still waiting for those last five chapters. . .

    -DiDi

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  22. I'm in purgatory.

    Finished book #1 (Heaven!) & I'm still in love with it. I have a list of edits to do, or at least to consider. At some point. I've sent out exactly 2 query letters (about 2 months apart), and was rejected on the first. Am wavering between entering it in a contest (i.e. paying for a critique) and just blitzing the world with queries (knowing, of course, that I will be blitzed with rejection letters in return).

    And I'm about 2k words into a second book, which will be a bit of a departure from the first. The words aren't flowing as fast, because it didn't have years to ferment in my head before I braved a keyboard. And because the irrational part of my brain keeps telling me that I should write another book like my first, because when NY comes calling they're going to want more of the same. The rest of my brain keeps telling it to shut up, and all of the yelling back and forth makes it hard to concentrate on writing..

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  23. I'm at the This-is-the-best-story-ever-that-I've-written-so-far-and-will-really-get-my-career-moving.

    Yes, I'm starting a new story, and it gives me the shivers (good) thinking about it. And will continue until probably about the sagging middle, where I'll come to the conclusion that it's drivel and have to still plow through and see it to the end, and then have to think about revising garbage.

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  24. Katie S10:52 AM

    I'm firmly in the editing hell known as "What Was I Thinking?".

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  25. You know, you can go through these phases really fast. Just sayin'. I'm probably in the Addicted to Chocolate phase. My dark chocolate habit speaks for itself. I'd love to experience the What Can I do With These Millions phase.

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  26. I'm calling it the "Desperate-To-Not-Forget-How-To-Write" phase since my life is moving into more chaos, which comes right before the "How-The-Hell-Am-I-Supposed-To-Write-With-All-This-Crying" phase, and the crying might be the baby *or* me, so who knows. I just need to keep the writing alive, or it will eat ME alive.

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  27. Well, I was going to say the Heaven/Hell Rollercoaster phase (I'm pretty mine runs backwards), but the "Procrastination via Research" phase is probably more descriptive.

    I write when I have a deadline--otherwise I research (just can't beat the scientist out of me).

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  28. I'm in the It Will Never Happen For You Even Though You're Twice As Good As That Other Write phase, also know as the Consumed By Jealousy and Bitterness phase.

    The role of "That Other Writer", by the way, is played by anyone who's not me, including Jane Austen, Stephen King, and, well, every other published writer on the planet. Also...sigh...I'm probably not actually better.

    Jay

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  29. Anonymous1:49 PM

    The "too scared to write" phase. To much truth in the words :(

    gigi

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  30. I just passed a brief bout of "I suck, why am I still doing this," and I've reemerged in "What the hell, I like to do it."

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  31. Honeymoon Phase. For quite a while now. Starting all over again hehe!!

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  32. I remember my first writing cheque - £20. "Twenty pounds!" I thought. "Riches!" (This was the late 90s). "I can go out and buy some sports cars, and maybe the odd Caneletto on the way home."

    Sadly it didn't work out like that. Not to worry, the intense jubilation of those few hours were worth a lot.

    Can I invite people to my blog, especially if you're a night writer? Today's post is on just that, and I'd like to know more people than 6 have read it. Cheers all.

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  33. I'm at the "Chuggin' Along" phase, where I write and not worry about being published--a rare angst-free time for me. This is probably because I am far too sleep-deprived and busy looking after 3 kids under 4 to have much time for angsting.

    I actually like this phase.

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  34. My phase is:

    Holy Crap Self-Imposed Deadlines Are Hateful!

    Its so much easier to curse someone else for making you write when you're suffering from a block. But when its your own self you are letting down, that hurts. Bad.

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  35. How about

    "Suicidal - and the publisher kinda encourages me to go through with that"?

    Don't ask.

    That is just for one book, though. Other projects are kind of in "Waiting in publishing limbo".

    And I am the most positive in my family about my writing...

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  36. I am in the 'WHY CAN'T FRIENDS AND FAMILY UNDERSTAND WHY I WRITE' phase.

    Sometimes I don't think they understand.

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  37. I'm on the Heaven/Hell rollercoaster and I'm stuck in the 'Hell' phase. People say they like my writing, but they sure don't want to pay me for it. Aaargh!

    Being published doesn't seem like anything more than a pipe dream right now.

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  38. I'm in the finally writing and may even reach "the end" phase. it's a good one. I'll tackle the rest as they come.

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  39. Nice. I'm in the 'who the hell told you you could write decent sentences again?' phase.

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  40. I'm in the "Middle of Big Life Changes" phase, getting rid of forty years of accumulated stuff, and anticipating a recharged muse after the move.

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  41. I'm in the "I'd write something if only I wasn't so freaking tired" phase. Which is also known as the "what's the excuse this week?" phase. Sigh.

    I keep telling myself "no more excuses" and myself replies "oh yeah? what about this one?" and I find myself accepting it.

    Today's comment brought to you by the word xyycnhuz.

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  42. I'm in the "slowly moving beyond my usual excuses and ready to re-read and work on my novel again" stage.

    It's not the catchiest title, but I can dance to it.

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  43. Anna.M.7:01 PM

    I'm in the Who-Am-I-Fooling phase. Not even a Virgin on your scale yet. LOL.

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  44. After 40 something books I"m still in the reality check phase but still plugging along.

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  45. "Too scared to finish" phase, otherwise known as "I bow down to the gods of procrastination" phase. If I actually started that rewrite I've been talking about for a month, I might finish the book, and then I'd have to, you know, submit it ... and then I'd get a lot of letters back telling me what crap it is.

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