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.