Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Losing the Magic of Writing

I've been writing since I was thirteen, so going on nine years now. Not that long, but I can say I have some experience under my belt. (Why do I use that expression? Since when have I worn a belt?)


I've always written with a love of fantasy, of super-powered characters, of different worlds and cultures, of things I can only see in the movie theater of my mind. I've always written with the hopes someone else will read my writing and love it as much as I did. I've always written with the intention of publishing.

At the very, very first, it seemed writing must be easy. If it's awesome in my head, how can it not be awesome on paper? Well, I quickly learned there was more to it than that. More to characters, to plotting, to earning and keeping a reader's attention. There was more to making a book readable than correct spelling and grammar. It took me a while to see how and where my books were not readable and, in a way, that the first loss of the magic of writing--the first time I realized I wasn't writing just for myself.

The next losses came when I realized it wasn't just readers I needed to impress, but publishers. Then I learned of agents. And query letters. And suddenly, I was writing less for myself than ever.

AM writing less for myself than ever.

Sometimes it feels like my books are little models getting ready for the catwalk. They're my vision still, yes. And I don't hate editing--that's not the problem. I'm not even sure what I hate--other than query letters themselves; don't even get me started!!!

It's just... writing suddenly seems unforgiving.

My book must be THIS long to be publishable, but THIS long is unpublishable too.
My book must follow such and such rules.
My query letter has to be like this, but not like this, and not like that either.

Let me tell you--it's not magical at all. It's BUSINESS. There we go. I've found what I strongly dislike. I hate business. Really do. It's cold and brutal and uncaring and unforgiving and the more I've learned of the business side of writing and the more they've become connected, the less I've enjoyed writing.

It's a sad fact I've known but never truly understood--to be a successful author, the author must embrace the BUSINESS side of writing. The total lack of help in marketing, the book cover you might hate and have no control over, the change to the title and all that nonsense in the name of BUSINESS.

I ALWAYS knew that but no one ever told me the business side of writing bleeds into it LONG before you get anywhere near publishing. Its poison stings when I'm writing for the agent and writing for the publisher in my mind. When I judge a story's value by its ability to be published and summarized in a query letter. When a book stopped being good because it's entertaining to me and because it has life I can feel in every bloody cell of my body, and started to suck because some fragment wasn't JUST right to be published.

What's worse--like a real smack in the face--is seeing so many books out there breaking all those same rules and getting published. I kept thinking the authors must not care or know. Now I'm thinking they know AND they don't care. They see the value of their book, they love it for what it is, know others will love it too, and don't sweat the small stuff. Their writing still has magic--magic their agents and publishers must see somehow.

I don't know what to do to get the magic back in mine. Writing a new idea and plotting a new idea and thinking of ways to make it better--even in the editing process--smells a bit like magic again. But whenever I think of submitting and query letters and that garbage, I really don't feel like writing anymore.

No happy ending to this post. It's been kind of cathartic writing this, but mostly I just want to crawl into a hole with my laptop and write my stories for the next fifty years. Alone. I really don't feel like I can write for anyone but me right now and not go crazy... 


  1. When you take the phrase "experience under my belt" literally, it suggests more experience in bed. With attractive individuals. Naked. Because it's under the belt. Yeah, you get it.


    Well, writing for you is best anyway. I mean, when I started writing as a kid, I didn't write the same kind of stuff I want to write now. If I'd published that kind of stuff, editors and agents would have freaked out if I submitted my new stuff. Better to make a name for the kind of writing you'll want to do after you've grown up a bit. Not saying what you've written in the past is juvenile or that you'll even really change. But there is a bright side of just writing for yourself, just to discover what YOU have to say.

    As for me, I've actually always liked the business side of writing. I knew about agents and query letters before I finished my first rough draft when I was 12. I think for a lot of people the business side can be the attractive side--having a blog full of fans, writing query letters, revisions with real editors, seeing your book in print, bla bla bla. For others I guess the writing is the appealing side--long hours spent in front of the word processor, sipping coffee and banging your head against your desk! I was lucky to find both of these things appealing. I do resent a little bit how query letters have to work--some stories really CAN'T be summed up in a query letter. I mean, what the heck would Game of Throne's query letter look like? "There's a bunch of people and a lot of them hate each other and there's a girl who gets dragons... and a cold place to the North where one dude has to fight zombie monsters." A lot of agents might say, "Well George R. R. Martin is an exceptional writer. Most people aren't very good at writing so they can't handle a story that can't be summed up in one paragraph." And my response to that is, "No, what you REALLY mean is 'we don't want to take a chance on stories like that because they're not easy to market. Your ability has nothing to do with it.'"

    So I can get why you resent it. The business side can be vicious and unfair, and even stupid. (And full of a lot of fake comments like the one above, 'you're probably not exceptional, so follow the rules' which actually means 'it's harder for US to handle a writer who doesn't follow the rules, regardless of how good that person is at writing.')

    Anyways, take a break from the submissions and the queries if you need to. You've worked hard, you deserve it. I know what it's like to not want to stop something I hated about writing because I felt like a failure. Don't put yourself through that.


    1. I'm glad you like both sides :) That makes one of us LOL And yes, a break sounds good, or at least a mental step back.

  2. Then there is a simple solution to this. Stop writing for others. The first person who you should be writing for is yourself. If you don't make yourself happy with your writing then how can it have that magic to make another person happy.

    Also you need to silence your inner demon. The angel that is with you telling you your story is awesome, and the editor within helping you to make it clear can both stay. But the demon who tells you that your not good enough that I see creeping up time and again through this blog, needs to shut up. That's not you speaking, that's your demon speaking for you.

    Last of all writing is hard. Making your ideas clear and engaging is tough work. Pulling someone, especially yourself, so deep into a character that you can feel them breathing down your neck is challenging. Building a world that is so crystal clear that it feels real to you and others is extraordinarily challenging. But you can do it. I have faith in you because you are capable of doing hard things.

    To end this post of encouragement I wanted to share with you a podcast from Tinhouse Magazine I heard recently that I thought might help you out. It is from Luis Urrea. You likely haven't heard of him, but his words may light your prose with sunshine and remind you that writing is magic. Take care.
    (It is the fourth podcast down)

    1. My inner demon is pretty loud, that's true. I can shut it up easily when it comes to writing itself. I love my stories. It's when it comes to getting published that the demon is on steroids. Thanks for the encouragement! I really appreciate it :) I'll check that podcast out right now.

  3. I've definitely been there (and still go through lows where I AM there) but my sister gave me a compliment the other day. She said "It amazes me that with all the rejection, the frustration, the criticism, and the number of times you have had to scrap a book and start over, you continue to do it with a good attitude. You're happy about it, you've taken those things and learned from them, and you move on. That's amazing to me!"
    Honestly, I didn't feel at all like I had been amazing, or in a good attitude all the time, or dealt well with the "rules" and the "rejections", etc. But It made me realize that I have pushed on because I do love writing! And that's really all that matters to me! So yeah, I totally get where you're coming from. But I think my sister's compliment probably applies to you too. And to many other authors out there! We do it cause we love it and we push on through the drudge! And It's like Alyssa said above some stories CAN'T be summed up on a query letter, but those are the ones we love the most. Where we come to life and we write from our hearts and souls! So you just keep doing exactly what you're doing. Cause someone is going to see how awesome your writing is, even if the business end of it is hard to figure out (and trust me, I'm still trying to navigate that aspect of getting published.) You've come this far - so take a moment to wallow in the frustration, and then pick yourself back up, dust off, and write another story. Because even if they don't get published, they are our stories and nobody can take that away from us! And none of their "rules" can makes us stop creating the stories that we love to write!

    You should check out by blog too! I write about a lot of the feelings I have toward writing (The ups and the downs) and I think you might enjoy it!

    1. I'm following your blog and loving it! And you're right: I always get to these sad, sorrowful parts in the writing journey and feel the need to post about it, feel like giving up entirely, and the next day I'm back to writing, excited to spin my tales. I'll definitely keep going, and going a little stronger with your words of encouragement, so thank you! Writing is who I am.