Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What Keeps YOU Going?

Congratulations to all the winners of this year's American Library Association (ALA) Media Awards in children's and young adult literature. If you haven't seen the list yet, visit the ALA press release. And see below for more Blogosphere Buzz.

We've kicked off the new year with a series of posts answering the two-part question: "What keeps you going? And how do you overcome disappointment, distraction, rejection, etc.?” The question was inspired, in part, by an encouraging guest blog post by award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson on the Debutante Ball blog. Anderon's post, called "Triaging Rejection Pain," contains helpful, specific advice on handling rejection.

My problem lately hasn't been rejection. Instead, I'm struggling to finish revisions on a historical young adult novel I started in January 2009. That's right--2009! Just writing that date makes me cringe. This is the same novel I blogged about in November, the one that I worked on for my pseudo-NaNoWriMo project. For this novel, my answer to the question "What keeps you going?" is a Deadline.  Writing "on spec," as Jeanne Marie called it, is difficult for me, especially when the project requires as much research as this one does. (Did I mention that the novel is based on the life of an 18th-century Italian composer, and I don't read Italian very well?)

When I was pursuing my MFA in writing at Vermont College, the monthly deadlines kept me on task. I was more productive in those two years than I have ever been, either before or since. I miss those deadlines. I also miss having someone I'm accountable to.

I used the artificial deadline of "write a book in a month" to motivate me to create the first draft of the novel back in January 2009. After meeting that deadline, though, I kept procrastinating on revising the draft. So I created another deadline via my recent pseudo-NaNoWriMo project. During those 7 weeks, I made significant progress. While I fell short of my 70,000-word goal, I did get to 60,885 words. That was on December 14. I haven't added one word since.

Sure, I can blame the holidays. But it's now the middle of the second work week of the new year and I haven't so much as looked at the manuscript. Instead, I took on the huge project of cleaning and reorganizing my office. Now don't get me wrong--my office was sorely in need of reorganization, and I'm pleased with the progress I've made. (Believe it or not, I'm still not done.) But the cleaning could have waited. Or I could have cleaned just enough to have a usable writing surface again and saved the major overhaul for later. Why didn't I? I was procrastinating. In other words, I was blocked. There, I've said it. I was blocked.

How could I be blocked now, when I'm so close to the end? After thinking about it, I realized there were two underlying reasons. First, I felt guilt (and shame) for falling short of my goal of reaching 70,000 by December 15--a goal I'd announced not only here, but also on my Facebook page. I felt like a failure. Unlike Esther, our resident PMA cheerleader, I chose to ignore how far I have come. Instead of beating myself up, I could have celebrated the fact that in seven weeks I'd added 28,303 words, almost doubling my word count.
The second reason for my block was fear (as it so often is). I'm terrified that after investing so much time and effort into this novel, no one will want to publish it. If only I could follow Mary Ann's example and lock my worries in a closet. :-)

The good news is that admitting all this to myself has helped dissolve my block. So, my answer to the question "What keeps you going?" is more than simply having deadlines. It includes taking a step back to figure out the reason(s) why I get stuck when I do.

Another thing that helps me: knowing I'm not the only one in my situation. I recently read an interview in The Writer with A. Manette Ansay, author of the adult novel, Good Things I Wish You, a historical novel based on the life of the 19th-century composer and pianist Clara Schumann. I was encouraged to read that it took Ansay 8 years to find a structure that worked for her novel. While I certainly hope my novel doesn't take me that long, I'm relieved to read about another writer's success following a similar struggle.

Now I'm excited again about returning to the manuscript and making my way to the end of my story. I'm looking forward to tasting that joy JoAnn talked about in her post. Until I'm done, the rest of my office reorganization will have to wait. :-)
So what keeps YOU going? Please post a comment sharing how you deal with disappointment, distraction, rejection, etc.    
Blogosphere Buzz
  • Looking for more ideas on how to stay motivated by focusing on the positive? Read Carol Grannick's column in the current SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Wind. Or better still, work through Carol's "self-directed resilience workshop" on her blog, The Irrepressible Writer.
  • If you'd like to have more joy and happiness in your life, or you need help following through on your New Year's resolutions, check out The Happiness Project's 2011 Happiness Challenge.  You don't have to actually register--just click on the link that says "Videos for the Year of Happiness Challenge."
  • It's not too late to participate in the annual Blog Comment Challenge. This is a great way to discover new Kidlit blogs and also to help others notice your blog. For details, see the MotherReader blog.
  • Shy about writing blog comments? Read Nathan Bransford's advice on how to write a good comment.
Happy writing!


JoAnn Early Macken said...

Congratulations on breaking through that block, Marti! Keep going, keep going, keep going!

Angie said...

Good luck. I bet your novel will turn out great! I think a deadline (or a goal) helps me going to, but you're right that failing to meet the goal can be a hindrance. It is so important to recognize how much you have accomplished instead of how much you didn't. Thanks for a great post!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, JA and Angie. I need all the encouragement I can get. :-)

Callie Feyen said...

Thanks for sharing your struggles with us. I love to read other writers' processes, struggles, accomplishments, etc. It helps me think through my own processes and struggles.
I think what keeps me going is that despite being rejected all the time from writing groups, and getting drafts sent back from magazines, I still continue to write because I love to figure things out through writing. Sure, it gets discouraging and I wonder sometimes if I'm "good" at it, but I try and keep it as a habit because writing for me is a stranger whose company I've come to enjoy.

Carmela Martino said...

>>I love to figure things out through writing<<
Me, too, Callie. I'm glad you're sticking with it despite the rejections. Thanks for stopping by.

BethMooreSchool said...

I love this post! I'm nearly done my dissertation on reading comprehension-- ABD is what they call it -- All But Dissertation--. Deadlines are so important, and I think peer pressure too- for lack of a better word. I really get things done when I know my colleagues are expecting something fantastic.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks TinyReader. And good luck with that dissertation!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for sharing so honestly, Marti!
I began teaching my U. of Chicago NOvel Workshop. I always ask my writers to share their expectations, their wants/needs/wishes so I can shape the workshop's plotline.
Thanks to a student's quiet comment, I asked the writers to share their fears about writing a novel, to give name to That Awful Thing that otherwise could hold them back.
It proved most beneficial - for ALL of us!
I now will do the same with each class I teach.
And of course link to your post in my class mailing tomorrow night. :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, congratulations on breaking through. I am, or was, or maybe still am in the same place. I finished a draft of my novel in a record-breaking pace in November. Then came the revisions. I was blocked.

One thing that temporarily unblocked me was my critique group. Their support and ideas pushed me through a full reading. But again I couldn't move forward.

I soon realized, as you did, that I was afraid everything I had done would be worthless in the end, that it would all fall apart once I began working it over.

Finally, I put it aside and started something new. For me, I think I needed to have some breathing room and let that fear weaken and the excitement of working with the story again strengthen.

Good luck!

BJ Schneider said...

Please sit down. I began a YA historical novel 10 (ten) years ago, sent it out numerous times, and finally heard the editor whom I knew was The One at an SCBWI conference. I must say I've never had such mentoring. She returned it with comments on every page plus a 2-page letter with advice, plus 2 books she'd edited to give me an idea of what she wanted. I spent 1 1/2 years rewriting/revising until I just couldn't do any more. A writer friend who had been reading it as I worked said it needed another set of eyes, but I sent it out anyway. BIG MISTAKE! Rejection, especially of what I had added! However, the editor had read and commented on every page again and told me how far it had gotten up the line. When I apologized for disappointing her, she told me to stop kicking myself. She's an editor we all disserve.

That was a year ago. I'm just getting back to working on it.Ironically,I feel like I'm back where I started. I'm afraid to touch it because I might make it worse.

On my desk are words from my friend: procrastination, indecision, self-doubt. They'll sink you every time.

But if I got that close, maybe next time. I have to prove it to myself. That's what keeps me going.

Carmela Martino said...

Wordsnottaken: thanks for sharing your experience. There definitely are times when we need to put a novel aside and BREATHE. :-)
BJ, all I can say is WOW! What a gift that editor has given you. And I agree with the editor: Stop kicking yourself! I hope you'll go back and read Esther's post again at and focus on how far you have come. And I commend you for sticking with your project.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Carmela, do NOT beat yourself up about how long it takes to revise your novel. I too am just finishing the third revison of my 2009 Nano.
I took Sonia Levitin's class on revising at UCLA and I asked her ho long it tokk her to finish a book. She said one book took her seven years. (I have another one that's taken longer)
Everytime I finish a revision, I think "This is the one." Then I had the chapter to my critique group and they something I need to make better. Drat them I slump and then I do what they say and it gets better. I find I average three to four revisons per chapter. Write on!

Unknown said...

Writing "on spec" is indeed a challenge. So many of my projects that I spent large segments of my life on just sit idling in a file cabinet. Some of them, miraculously, do see the light of day even years after I've written them. That gives me hope. But it's definitely a challenge.

The deadlines I put on myself are good, and usually work. Having a deadline by meeting with a critique group is also good. Jane Yolen's "butt in chair" (BIC) is a good guideline to follow too.

But you understand the struggle from experience, and it's difficult. Keep at it!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Julie, and Pen and Ink. I'm hoping this novel doesn't take me seven years!