Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Fricassee

I want to talk about triggers.

You know this writerly journey is a constant up-and-down ride, yes?  Whether we are drafting or revising or querying or waiting on editor subs, we can swing from euphoria to despair and back again before lunch time.  Or sometimes the ride is slower; we'll bubble happily along for weeks, and then SOMETHING happens that tips our little canoe.  Suddenly, we're in the water.

Drowning, as it were.

Sometimes the trigger is obvious:  We've been waiting for six months to hear back from Dream Agent on the requested full--and we receive a form rejection.  Or our favorite crit partner sends us the line edits on our Fine New Baby--and she's ripped it to shreds.  Or we finally get an email from our recalcitrant agent--and it's a forwarded rejection from one of our top-pick editors.

And no matter how "together" we are, the emotions of these moments are real and we need to walk through them.

The problem comes afterward, when the SOMETHING casts a shadow on our writing in general.  Makes us question why we press on.  Makes us despair that we've been doing nothing but wasting time for the past years.

Sometimes we cry a little (especially if we're female).  Sometimes we rail.  Sometimes we withdraw.  Sometimes we can't seem to put two words together that makes sense.

Sometimes we quit.

All those reactionary things, though, are preceded by a trigger.  And aside from the most obvious of all (that would be REJECTION), what are some of your personal triggers?  What is it that can send you to the brink of despair (if you're not careful)?

Is it the offhand remark of a non-writing friend?  ("So, why aren't you published yet?")

An unsympathetic spouse?  ("I'm going golfing all weekend, so you're in charge of the kids. Is that okay?)

A broken promise?  ("Dear Client, I'm taking your manuscript with me to the conference so I can have notes to you on Monday. Love, Agent"  ...and Monday comes and goes...and the NEXT Monday comes and goes...)

Or are you fairly resilient with the small things?

(I made those up, by the way. Nobody has ever said those things to me. Not yet, anyway.)

Share your trigger points!  And share how you get through the dark times without quitting.  Because someone might be reading this today WHO REALLY NEEDS HELP COPING.

That's right.  We're never truly alone.


  1. I'm really resilient when it comes to rejection, long wait times and tough crit (although I may cry a little, it's not really a 'dark time' for me).

    What gets me, ridiculous though it may seem, is when the writing gets rough. I mean, rougher than usual. A small part of me wonders when the magic will end; everytime I get stuck for an extended period of time, I wonder: is that it? Am I broken now?

    Then of course there's my murder trigger (or at least, my unpleasant glare trigger). Can't stand it when people say things like 'if it isn't easy, you're obviously not cut out to be a writer', or other generalisations that kick mud all over my hard work.

    How do I get through? I ALWAYS ALWAYS KEEP GOING. I remind myself that it's pushing through times like this that will ultimately get me there. And I make sure I get in some good reading time, to remind myself of what I love and why I'm doing this.

  2. Such a good point. I think what you said about the slow downward slope has a lot of truth behind it. For me it's not one thing, but if the slope has already taken a downward turn, especially if I don't realize it, then it really does take that one last tiny thing to set me off.

    Things - like those you listed - that normally would just pass by (mostly) and be part of the process.

    But things that are their opposites, like that random unexpected compliment, or a short story acceptance, or sharing a new idea and getting a great reaction, or just being able to talk it out with someone who understands, those things can help so much.

  3. What does it for me is when I stumble across an article on writing clichés, or read how every story is formed by one of the five same structures (or something along those lines), and suddenly feel as if there's no point to writing, because I'll never say anything original.

    The way I pull myself out of that, which happened recently, is to remind myself that these clichés or plot twists haven't been done by ME. Everyone will have a different perspective on an idea, and I just have to remember that mine IS different, even in a small way.

  4. My trigger will always be the broken promise.

    I've lost friendships to broken promises.

    I've had my self esteem plummet because a promise not only goes unfulfilled, but unmentioned, treated as something to be ignored.

    Silence is quickly filled by my imagination, which concocts the most horrible reasons for someone to forget, to ignore, to avoid mentioning things so as not to hurt my feelings.

    I've gone through the query process. I'm used to rejection. I can handle it. But friends always think you can't, and so they talk in falsehoods, being gentle, avoiding the harsh truths.

    So I go on alone, giving them vague descriptions of my problems and struggles, knowing that they care and want me to succeed, while at the same time knowing that 'How is your writing going?' will never be accompanied by 'How can I help?'

    I go it alone, dreading each birthday cake, with candles that always wink out under the wish of, "I just want to find an agent this year."

    Us guys, we cry too. We just do it quietly, alone in our rooms, so we can deny it later.

    And then we open up that word document for the thousandth time, and type, in the hopes that our words will manage to soak up the tears.

  5. My trigger is when I hit a editing wall. I know something is wrong with a scene, and I have so many different ideas of how to fix it, (or not idea at all) but which is the RIGHT one and which will BREAK THE BOOK FOREVER?!

    I become paralyzed with uncertainty. Then I start doubting my writing and thinking everything I write is too cliché or stereotypical or just plain awful, and then the "gah, I'm the worse writer ever" thoughts creep in.

    By this point, I have to talk it out with someone, my husband or my kids, and work out the solution out loud. My head is not a safe or rational place by this time so I have to find rational minds to guide me back to sanity.

  6. What an awesome post, Ms A! I like to think that I am resilient, but I have yet to cross the roads of flat rejection.
    Being fairly new to the writing scene, I've faced 'can I really do this' hurdles. Also, like many newbie writers (at least in my mind), I have the reluctant husband. He still doesn't 'get it.'
    BUT! This only makes me try harder, to prove him wrong. Call me stubborn or pig-headed. :)
    Then there are those small victories that I hold onto with the protective possessiveness of a mama bear... The awesome CPs who brainstorm with you, the 'cheering squad' feedback from an author I adore, an honorable mention from a large publication contest, and friends and/or fellow writers who are all in the same life raft. I thrive in the abundance of support around me. Around us all!
    Whenever the seed of doubt begins to sprout within, I grab one (or all) of these things and fight back. Why? Because writing is what I do. Writing makes me happy; it frees me. My heart sings when I delve into my imaginary worlds and I'll be damned if I'll let anything squish the thing that makes me feel so free. So there. ;)

  7. The worst for me so far was being told that and entire novel I'd written--a sequel my publisher was expecting--didn't work. At all. And I just had to start over. Let me tell you, it took me a few months to write ANYTHING, even with a now closer deadline looming. It was so hard to know I'd put all that time and emotion into something that was no good.

    It shattered my confidence in my ability to ever again write a good novel. Maybe my first would be my only.

    It was hard to recover from. But I did. And the completely rewritten sequel, which my editor LOVED, comes out in ten days.

    You'll survive it. Just hang in there.

  8. Where I am in my journey today, the trigger for me is reading something brilliantly written. That clever twist, or subtle character that JUST works.

    And then I look at my own writing, and I know I'm not that good. I know I'm not in the zip code of that good.

    And it's just the tiniest baby step from there to I'll never be that good, and why keep going when the very best I could ever do is become a medicore writer who will still have to plug away at his 'day job'.

    What keeps me going is the dream that one day I'll make it, and whether I quit or succeed, I'm going to look back in 10 years and 10 years will have passed whether I don't write another word, or write 10 novels worth of words. And if I quit all the stories, and all characters and all the worlds waiting inside will stay there, and never bring a smile to someone else. I can't let that happen.

  9. Great post! I'm actually going through a bit of a bump at the moment, trying to get into the writing groove with my second MS. My most recent trigger was similar to what Ted A. said - I felt really good about the direction my story was taking, and then I started reading this beautifully written novel and BOOM - the doubt about my ability started to creep in.

    It's not the first time it's happened. On the upside, beautifully written stories give me something to push towards, and help me see when my writing is falling flat. The best thing I can do is go back to the part of the story that feels sub-par and try again. It's either that, or give up, and I don't think I could ever give up one something I love so much.

  10. My biggest trigger besides rejection- which I'm getting much better at handling- is overcommitment. It's easy when there are so many other things that need to be done to say, “I'm wasting my time on writing when no one wants to read this manuscript anyway, especially when I should be doing this, this and this for the two educational organizations that I volunteer for. ” I'm still trying to find a balance between allowing other activities to take the place of my need for tangible success in my life and getting my writing/ querying/ editing/ platform building obligations moving forward. Any suggestions Authoress? Anyone?

  11. You know when you have someone you respect and trust who has been waiting impatiently for your manuscript, but then she doesn't give you a critique. She just says that it doesn't work and doesn't offer anything else, like critiquing (and possibly even reading) it isn't worth her time. And even though you love your characters and story, because you respect this person's opinion, you begin to wonder if the manuscript is even worth your time. Yeah. For me, that's the worst.

  12. This is why I love your blog--it's like having someone wipe the blood from your brow, wrap a sentiment of inspiration around your shoulders, saying the exact thing you need to hear to you can knock your gloves together and go in for the attack when the bell signals for the next round to begin.

    Thanks for doing what you do; for weaving together the tapestry of voices that serves as balm for the writer's soul.

  13. Excellent post. Your words capture the emotions perfectly. Yes, for me there is always a trigger. A pinprick of sorts that bursts the over expanded balloon in my mind. Ker-pow! The moment feels like a bad karate movie. The villain has pierced my skin, grabbed my beating heart then shoves it my face and laughs. “HA!”

    That’s when I take a step back and appreciate the pinprick. I realize it is the catalyst that propels me forward like a good page-turner. It causes me to dig deeper, to come up with crazier ideas. I study more, read more, research more. Finally, I calm myself.

    I remember.

    I remember why I write. I remember that I don’t write because I want to impress someone. I write because I love transforming the firing neurons in my head to words. I love to tell stories, play in the minds of my characters, workout the infinite branches of interaction, tension and motivation. I seriously miss my characters when I’m done.

    When I’m done, I start again. Like the Jackson Browne song Stay: “Till those lights come up, and we hear that crowd, and we remember why we came.”

    We remember why we write. We appreciate the crowd of other writers sharing our journey. Most of all, we thank those masters of the pin, givers of the pinprick, igniters of our emotional spin. They make us better. We search for more.

    Someday, if our words touch others or we get a reluctant reader to finish their first book, we’ve completed our quest. Then we continue on to our next…

    Write on! Put your cell phones up! I can’t hear you!
    Write on!

    I feel better. Is it weird for a dude to crave chocolate? ☺

  14. You hit the nail on the head with this one. Makes me feel SO MUCH more normal to hear other writers hit the same roadblocks (psychosis, depression, elation, depression, elation)! Just kidding, but really. I've got a pretty thick skin at this point, but I am not yet published either.

    I think the waiting is what's tough. The way I deal with this is to get busy either editing a current project, or starting a new story. Keeping busy and excited about what you're working on is smooth medicine. We have to find what works for us, because giving up is not an option. I'm not letting my characters die. Ever.

    Thanks for a great post!

  15. Hm. That is a good question.

    I'm currently in a holding pattern on one of the above triggers. I have been handling it pretty well for weeks part due to a helpful post by agent, Holly Root on the Middle Grade Ninja site (
    (Look for Question Six.)
    Basically, don't be in such a hurry. Take stock of the now.

    I think it's when other bits of life add up to too much on my plate. When there are too many kid requests/complaints at home and at work (I teach). Too many small people in my face and the stress and tax on my patience just gets to be too much.
    (that's a lot of "too's" which I guess is the point)

    That is when I look to writing for help as my quiet, reflective time, but if I do receive a rejection when I don't have balance in my life a smaller trigger can swing me way out of perspective.

    It's those times when I need to take a deep breath, remember how good I have it in general, and remember that writing helps me digest it all. My go to trigger-helper for a time has been what author Jess Walter said recently in an PNWA interview (He was asked to finish the sentence, "If writing has taught me anything, it has taught me..."):

    "Writing has taught me everything. It's been the way I look at the world, the way I process grief, the way I celebrate, the way I marvel at beauty. I can't think of a thing I haven't learned from writing."

  16. You have no idea how much I needed this today.

    Thank you so much.

  17. I've really enjoyed reading through the comments, hearing how others cope with this up-and-down process of writing. And wow, Leah, I can't even imagine being told to re-write my entire novel from scratch. Well, actually I can;)

    Triggers: (1) Twitter. It can sometimes make me feel like there's a party going on to which I've not been invited. It's an incredible resource for writers, but occasionally I'll see another announcement for a new author/ new book launch/ other exciting news/inside gossip and I'll feel down. And yes, of course I'm happy good things are happening for people. But there's always that voice within wondering when it'll happen for me. (2) Bad Books. Occasionally, I read books because I've heard the hype or read the book jackets and know they must be amazing. Well, sometimes I want to throw the book across the room. I think how could this &*/@ get published and I can't even get an agent interested? This is a small minority, but still.

    What keeps me going? (1) An incredible CP (2) great blogs like this one that keep writers motivated and informed (3) the other writers out there who post comments and make me feel I'm not alone in this journey.

    Thanks! See there. Even sharing this has made me feel better.

  18. SMKrafty - sometimes you have to step back and ask why you're writing. If it's for anything other than the fact that you can't not write or that you love it, step away for a while then come back when you're ready. It's a frustrating process, and the frustration never ends (I'm getting published and the stress is still just as high, with new issues to worry about). Why we do this to ourselves means we're either gluttons for punishment or we just plain out love to write. If it's the latter, you'll pull through!

    For me, the trigger is any kind of waffling word--"sometimes," "maybe," "possibly." They are SO frequently used that they drive me batty. I like clarity and certainties, but those are hard to find. There is no comparing apples to apples - every journey is different, so in this business, "sometimes" and "maybe" are used a lot more than "for certain."

    For sure.

  19. My trigger is reading an excellent book-- and then looking at my WIP and seeing what a mess it is, and how much I need to learn about writing. Another is reading other authors blogs and interviews, and thinking about how perfect their book/writing process/life sounds. Not true, I know, but I love to try to convince myself that writing isn't hard work.

  20. I thought I was pretty resilient, but I actually hit one of those triggers this afternoon. I've been revising for months now. Today I got an editorial letter from someone who not only clearly didn't "get" my book or characters, but at times didn't seem to have carefully read it. Or read it at all actually. Things I thought were clearly explained - as in they were actually stated word for word, she asked questions about. It's just disheartening to spend all of this time, to wait for so long to hear back and then feel like my time was wasted. I don't know, I'm really down today. It's nice to remember I'm not alone. Thanks for this community - it means more than you'll ever know.

  21. I think developing a thick skin takes years as a writer. But it's essential and requires a certain amount of selfishness disguised as determination. Bc bottom line, I write for ME...and also the sport of competitive writing. ;) Fiction writing is my hobby that I'd love to make money doing someday...but making money is not part of my joy. Getting better, being challenged, disappearing into a world, THAT'S my joy and will always be, even if I never get published.
    It also works that I have more than one passion in life...balance is a good thing, esp. in a writer.

  22. Thank you for this post. This is EXACTLY where I was today.

  23. My dear, I am going on a golf trip this weekend. The kids will be working, so no need to worry.


    Mr A

  24. Thanks for this post Authoress. It does help when we realize most of us are in the same canoe.

    My worst trigger is hearing my fifteen year-old say "When are you going to sell that book, Mom?" OR "You're never going to sell that book." --ruthless children. LOL. But the day may come when he sees where perseverance pay off. ...I do hope. :)

  25. Funny that you posted this yesterday, because it was SO relevant to me yesterday. I didn't think the MS I was about to start querying had any major issues. Then yesterday, my fiction workshop classmates pointed out a plot hole. Now, in the grand scheme of things, it isn't a huge plot hole. But it required some serious re-thinking about an aspect of the plot, and that was hard. The rest of the day was horrible. I tried writing that night and my confidence was shot.

  26. my trigger is reading comments like this:

    "What does it for me is when I stumble across an article on writing clichés, or read how every story is formed by one of the five same structures (or something along those lines), and suddenly feel as if there's no point to writing, because I'll never say anything original. "

    It's like saying inciting incidents are ALL the same:

    When the letters of transit arrive a Rick's Casablanca.
    When Neo looks down the darkened road and Trinity tells him he knows where that leads.
    When Uncle Ben and Aunt Beru were killed and Luke says to Obi Wan there is nothing for me here.

    Jeez it's like people don't recognize ALL STORIES are the "SAME" in many ways.

    There is a good guy/gal = Protagonist

    There is a bad guy = Antagonist

    Darth Vader is not like Attila but he kinda is...

    Structure is the mental handle our audiences use to understand our art folks.

    The Greeks [you know like Euripides (c. 480–406 BCE)] set this up 2500 years ago... does that mean that only 5 stories have been told since then???

  27. My triggers are definitely negative feedback from contests/agents/editors. I know it's part of the process, and I expect it. Doesn't make it any easier to read :)

    I deal with it by giving myself a day or so to mope about it, then I pull out my "Feel Good File" (a document where I write down all the awesome things readers/judges/agents have said about my book). I remind myself that I don't totally suck, then I take the new feedback and figure out what I need to do to fix it, how I can use it to make my story stronger so that I will do better the next time. I always try to learn from my mistakes.

  28. I'm ok with rejections, criticism, ripping my manuscript to shreds and generalizations about writing by my non-writing friends.

    What gets me is when my own beta readers, family, and friends don't even read the manuscript I sent them.

    If even they don't read it and it takes them months to get back to me despite promises of doing otherwise, then how can I expect an agent or publisher to read it?

    My husband helps me through these times by gently reminding me that they are not my target audience, and so of course they're not going to be excited about reading it. If a reader's only motivation for reading something is because they know the person who wrote it, then they seldom read.

    Such a great comments section here. I'm going to tuck this away for the days when I'm feeling low.

  29. The only thing that gets me down is when I find my own stories boring. Then, I begin to doubt. Luckily, there's an easy fix: I go to bed early that day. When I'm well rested, the stories might be problematic, the characters lacking and the plot contrived BUT I can fix it.

  30. Yes, I think as writers we all do this. I have bemoaned the fact that I have no ideas for stories, I can't write one more scene, I can't revise AGAIN and the numerous rejections you get. At first I was like, "Oh, my writing sucks" then I was like, "Oh, they con't like it but maybe someone else will." I have said, "I QUIT" yet something still compells me to keep writing. So I do. What else could I do except write? It's my stress reliever and it's what I like to do, it's my passion and how many others can say they are pursuing their passion? Rejection is part of being a writer, I try and not let it get me down but if it does, I head for the one thing that always consoles me, potato chips. Wait, where did I put those Lays? *looks around for chip bag finds it and begins munching happily* See? All better.