I liken being a writer to being on a see-saw. One moment you’re at the top of the world and the next you’re crawling in the dirt. What do I mean by this? If an agent requests a partial read of my novel, I’m ecstatic. If I get a rejection letter, I’m crushed. If I get a great review, I’m over the moon. If I get a bad review, I’m back in the dirt, devastated.
Being a writer is a life of ups and downs. The trick with most people seems to be trying to find a way to manage the frustrations that come along with it. For me, when I get a rejection letter from an agent, I try to answer it with TWO new queries. If I get a bad review, well, I usually email all my tight writing friends and whine and they make me feel better. I’ve also found a boatload of sushi and some dark chocolate seems to help when things are very bleak.
But frustration doesn’t always come from reviews and query replies. It can also come from within ourselves. For me it’s the moment where I’m staring at the screen, 250+ pages into a book, at the climatic ending and I’m like a deer in the headlights. “OMG, WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN NEXT?” or “OMG, WHAT I WROTE IS SO BORING!” It’s those moments where you wonder, “what in the world am I going to do?” I usually close the novel at that point, feeling like I’m the worst writer in the world (man, we are so hard on ourselves, aren’t we?) But then, that’s when my “aha” moments happen. I tend to dwell on the book for awhile (maybe a day, a week). I think about it when I’m commuting, when I’m in the shower, when I’m about to fall asleep… and then WHAM! You get that moment when you suddenly see your story go on a tangent you never thought possible and you give yourself permission to go there.
So I asked some other writers what they do to deal with frustration. Then I asked them about their own “aha” moments. First I spoke with author Gwen Choate who has been writing for 70 years (yes, I said 70) — she is my idol, 90 years “young” and just published her YA Novel, The Sack (although she’s been writing successfully since her 20s — I should have used her for my persistence blog last week). I also asked author Frank Tuttle, whose YA book All the Paths of Shadow consumed my 11 year-old Aspie son who was so compelled by the ideas in this book enough to make drawings for the novel and begged me to send them to Frank (who by the way, graciously put them on his book’s FB page).
Question #1) Do you ever get frustrated?
Gwen Choate: All the time. For most of us, the writer’s life is a mix of joys and disappointments. The thing that is most helpful for me is my morning “quiet time,” when I journal and meditate.
Frank Tuttle: Frustrated is my default ground state. Why am I not rich? Why am I not famous? Why am I not appearing on late night talk shows? As to how I handle this frustration, see also grain alcohol, consumption of. (Very funny, Frank.)
Question #2) Have you ever had an “aha” moment?
Gwen: Yes, often. For example, if I’m blocked by a problem, I like to say before I go to sleep at night, “Please tell me what to do about this.” It’s amazing how often my subconscious comes through and I get an “Aha” the next morning.
Frank: Yes. They usually involve the Mississippi Highway Patrol and radar-assisted speed traps. But you wanted writing related discussion, so I’ll say this: All good narratives can be boiled down to a simple formula. A character, in a setting, facing a problem. It’s really that simple. It’s not easy but it is simple.
Well said, Frank. I believe our own frustrations can also be boiled down to a simple formula. “Our book”, “other’s perceptions of our books”, and “our reactions.” Well, maybe it’s not that simple. But I believe as writers we need to realize there will be ups and downs, difficulties, good times and bad, but at the end of the day we do this because we love it. We must always remember that. Frustration is just a state of mind — one that we have control over, though at times we may not realize it.
Thank you to Gwen Choate and Frank Tuttle for their time. To learn more about them, please check them out online.
Frank Tuttle writes fantasy to escape his real life exploits as a jet-setting international superspy. Visit Frank’s webpage where you will find links to Frank’s blog, his books, and first-aid tips for exotic pet owners. You can also follow Frank on Twitter @frank_tuttle.
Gwen Choate’s YA novel, The Sack, was nominated by Texas Librarians for the Star of Texas Award as a best Middle School book. It is available on Amazon. She can also be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gwenchoate
This post originally appeared on Elyse Salpeter’s blog.
Elyse Salpeter is a mom of twins, a wife, an author, a salesperson, a cook, an attempted gardener, a bootcamp fan and even a First-Dan Black Belt (though please don’t ask her if she can beat someone up – she hopes never to have to find out).
Her first book, Flying to the Light, was published by CWP but unfortunately that company they went out of business at the the release of book 2 in that series. Those books are now represented by a literary agent. Salpeter also self-published a dark fantasy novel, The World of Karov, about identical twins, one good and one very, very bad.