Posted by : Sherri Cornelius Monday, July 20, 2009

Had a couple of breakthroughs over the weekend.

One is measurable: I've jumped the last hurdle with the 15 page synopsis I've been working on for five weeks. Does that sound like a long time to be working on 15 pages? Well, it's not as straightforward as that. I'd already written a short synopsis for my agent Sara to send around with the sample pages. The ending had been sketched out for the regular 3-page synopsis, and I planned to fill in the blanks as I worked on the book. I knew the basic structure would stay the same, so it was a safe gamble.

Suddenly I had to fill in those blanks-- blanks that I had not only neglected, but avoided like the plague. And to tell you the truth, I needed those blanks to be filled in to continue working on the book. Thank God for this exercise which forced me to finally make those decisions. I feel free.

The other breakthrough is immeasurable: I learned something about how I work as a writer. I want to be an utterly confident and steady producer, the kind of person who works best during Nanowrimo, but apparently that's not how I work. My usual MO is to write until I come to a problem I can't immediately figure out. I'll keep figuring until I'm in a corner, there's no answer. I'm done, I can't do anymore, I suck. Finally, I'm so upset I throw it down and stop thinking about it. When I get back to it, I'm more relaxed and the answer just...comes to me.

This has been happening my whole writing career, but I never thought to work with it. Pretty dumb, huh? I guess I just work better in fits and starts. So this last problem I had, I allowed myself a lot of breathing room, and it worked. I knew what I wanted to happen in the ending, but I had never figured out the motivation. Yesterday this huge question of motivation was solved, with a tool I'd already written into the story.

Here's an interesting post by Rachelle Gardner ( in which she says,

I work with a lot of first-time authors, because that's part of what I love to do. But something I'm learning is that we may be doing you a disservice if we contract you when you've only written one book. Yes, writing that book was a huge accomplishment. And if your very first book garnered positive attention from editors and/or agents, that's even more of an accomplishment. It's terrific!

But it's not enough. The hard truth is that it takes a lot more than one book to really know "how to be a writer." So if you get contracted after that one book, over which you slaved for years, and then you're under the gun to produce another book on a deadline, what's going to happen? You are going to have a very, very difficult time.

When I read this several days ago, I tweeted the link immediately because it hit me so hard. I think that's what's been going on with me. I've been writing for a long time, but always on my own time. I didn't know a person had to figure out "how to be a writer." Although I don't have a deadline, per se, people are ready to leap into action when this book is finished. The self-imposed pressure was surprisingly crippling. I've had people get very upset with me because of this. "You have an agent, you ingrate. If I had an agent, I'd be set." Well, sorry to burst the pre-agent bubble, but having an agent isn't rainbows and roses. It's a business. It's work. It doesn't solve all your problems and, as in my case, can magnify some.

My expectations are about 50 times higher for myself than they are for you. I build boxes around myself and then stay there, so for me the key is to relax and allow other possibilities into my consciousness. There's so much advice we hear all the time: to write every single day, no matter what; to write our way through rough patches in our stories; to set goals and stick with them. For someone like me, with a corncob up her butt already, this advice is to be avoided at all cost. I wish there were more advice to relax. Please pass this advice along.

So, yeah, I'm pretty excited now that I finally figured out how to be a writer in my own way. Have you figured it out yet? How has it opened up your writing?

{ 12 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I havent figured it out yet, but I do know, that nano isnt for me. I need the fits and starts and percolation time. But I havent figured out how to finish what I've started. Ive got something like five or six WIPs that I cant seem to finish. Right now, im frustrated with my lack of progress and am avoiding work, but I dont want to quit yet either.

  2. I'm gonna ditto Rachel on this. I haven't "figured" it out yet -- there are times when I think I never will -- and I'm not seeming to make much progress toward getting it figured out either.

    I'm glad you got something going; this may not help you be more productive but it will certainly help you be less frustrated. That's just as important.

    Good news, good advice! Relax, let it flow. Taking pressure off makes sense to me.

  3. And that, dear Knyt, is why I always recommend it to you. Too bad you won't try it. ;)

  4. Do you have an idea why you can't finish? Is it something you can identify but can't work around, or is it a complete mystery?

  5. Im not sure of anything, though I have a few ideas why, though those ideas may just be me grasping at straws, perhaps to avoid the struggle (of working).

    Im too easily distracted--by tv, internet, other people. But I LET these things distract me. Perhaps its because i dont exercize, and my body steals mental energy in order to perform physical activity. (I often get up and bustle about 5 minutes into my "writing time" perhaps its more than just avoidancy? Or maybe its just that?)

    Perhaps I just dont know my characters enough.

    Perhaps I am too critical of my writing.

    I really dont know.
    But it basically boils down to me losing focus, motivation, and interest.

  6. Boy, does that sound familiar. I figured out in my case all the distractions during writing time were because of fear, of success, of failure, of whatever. Maybe you don't finish anything because then you'd have to move on to the next step, and you're pretty comfortable where you are. Just an idea.

  7. I've tried, but I ain't makin' it!

  8. I think I might have figured out how to be a writer today, the way I am at this point and time, but that doesn't mean it will work later on as I change and my life changes and all that. I was just talking today about this very piece you quote here. It annoyed me really. It sounds judgmental to me. I've finished 3 novels. I've got 3 others halfway to most way done. And in other writing books I read how no agent wants to hear that you've written x number of books. Sell the one you're selling, sort of thing.

    THis doesn't take into account the type of book or the situation under which it was written. What if a writer was dead? I mean what if you were an agent, came across a brilliant book, but hey, the poor sap is dead and won't write anymore so forget it?

    I think I'm just suffering from frustration. Working, working, spinning, spinning, and I keep feeling like I don't work hard enough. I'm supposed to work harder. And harder.

    But what is great is that you're figuring out something for yourself, how it all works for you, what you've learned, and that you're still writing. That feeling is wonderful.

    (BTW, I haven't forgotten your book. Just getting the bits together have taken much longer than anticipated. But I got the last thing I needed yesterday! Hurray!)

  9. You know, a couple years ago when Darc signed up for something, he got some free books and one of them was something called (I think!) Glimmer Train. I read it, he didn't. It was a bunch of articles compiled, talking with different pubbed writers and what their writing advice was on a series of different topics. It wasn't about grammar or Strunk & White's - nothing like that, just writerly advice for other writers. I came away with one thing - there is no one way to do it. Everyone has their own style, their own way of working that works best for them. You've seemed to have a hard time meshing the ideal Sherri's way with the reality Sherri's way, and I think it ties in with some other things you've blogged about.

    So I want to say this here - it's okay to be you. Sherri is cool, Sherri is funny and warm and friendly, and loved. Whatever way that works best for you is best for you. It doesn't matter if you write in fits and spurts or 2K words a day every day. What matters is that you write, and that you're true to yourself. The words will come easier when you go with your flow, instead of trying to fit some pre-conceived mold. :)

  10. Sherri, Every time I visit here you have discovered something new and are integrating it into your life. It's really incredible and you're so nice to keep sharing it with us! I can't wait to read your book.

  11. You can tell this post struck a nerve because I'm still thinking about it. Okay. I would ask Gardner--who does have a valid understandable point--if publishers had known that Sylvia Plath would write only one novelThe Bell Jar and that Harper Lee would write only To Kill a Mockingbird, should they not have published them?

    I'm taking this way too seriously. I'm going to let it go now!

  12. LOL Darcknyt and I had that same conversation yesterday. I guess I know what my post will be about today. :)


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