I did something this year that I set out to do way back in Nashville in 2008 during the worst year of my life. When I set out to do the thing, I was in the middle of a whole other thing. So Thing 2 got set aside for a few years, and that’s okay. I came back to it in 2013 or so, and it began in earnest.
Thing 1 was a trilogy I got 2.5 books into and realised that the writing quality for books one through half of book two was not great. The story was derivative, the characters were legion and lacked distinguishing complexities, and basically anyone who’d read LJ Smith and David Eddings both would have probably put their head in their hands and sighed. In this scenario, I imagine their breath hitting me with a gust of Doritos scent. Probably Cool Ranch.
So I stopped in the middle of the third and final book of the trilogy, set over a quarter of a million words in a trunk after bemoaning that the second half of those quarter million words were pretty okay but bound sort of irrevocably to the other half, which were not pretty okay or pretty anything. Somewhere in those 250,000 trunked words, I found something of my Voice, that mystical write-y quality that provides the je ne sais quoi to decent craft and makes a story more than words on paper. Saying that — or typing it — sounds unforgivably egotistical, but since finding your Voice is one of those integral steps writers MUST DO, I’ll forgive myself.
I set those aside and wrote SHRIKE: THE MASKED SONGBIRD. It was in the rush of hopefulness and creativity and ambition surrounding the Scottish referendum for independence. I was invited to write for National Collective, I engaged with what was going on, I got cranky that they were in the middle of rebooting Spider-Man, and SHRIKE just happened. I started querying a couple months later and, to assuage my “here we go” jitters and soothe the deafening silence of my inbox, I went back to that little project I’d started in 2008, my worst year.
That project was STORM IN A TEACUP, and I banged it out mostly in NaNoWriMo 2012. I got an offer for representation for SHRIKE in January 2013, and we were off to the races.
I’d always envisioned the Ayala Storme books as a four book series. I had the basic arc in mind from the start. When we got an offer on STORM IN A TEACUP in 2014 that subsequently fell apart, I didn’t think anyone would ever get to see that book. Because my deal for the only-just published SHRIKE and two other books also dissolved within three weeks in the middle of the worst financial crisis of my adult life to date, my separation from my ex husband, and my job falling to pieces, well…suffice it to say that I had a dark night of the soul.
It looked something like sending Felicia Day a tearful and embarrassing email just before Christmas, because naturally that’s when my debut novel got pulled from the shelves of my publisher, watching Once More With Feeling, and eating my weight in Dominos pizza while crying into my cheesy bread.
Yep. That happened.
Less than two weeks later, my agent left the business. I had an epic fantasy half written and three (3) full novels that had been acquired for publication only to be orphaned. I had no agent. I had a temp job with a hefty commute, and had survived the holidays only by the generosity of 80-some people who swooped in and bailed me out.
I spent January finishing that epic fantasy. I got a preemptive offer of rep from an agent friend who knew I needed to still query widely. I sent 34 query letters on about February the fourth of 2015. I got 20 full requests, and over the next three weeks, seven offers of rep.
Somewhere in all that, I decided to self publish STORM IN A TEACUP and the SHRIKE books after my rights reverted. My former agent helped with the covers. I did everything else. The same week I sent out the queries for my epic fantasy, STORM IN A TEACUP went out in the world.
And it sold.
It sold well, even. I wrote ANY PORT IN A STORM, and when it came out in June, I made the equivalent of three month’s income in one. It allowed me to do something I’d dreamt of doing for years: write full time without also working full time. I’d been working 100+ hour weeks for six years.
Then we sold the audio rights for the first three Storm books to Audible. I sat down and wrote TAKEN BY STORM in nine days, which on paper sounds like some spectacular feat, but in reality, it was horrifying. My neuroatypical brain gets hyperfocused and obsessive. I wrote 20,000+ a day on a couple of those days, writing from the top of the hour until I hit 1200, then spending fifteen minutes or so “resting.” I finished that and plowed right into EYE OF THE STORM, hammering out the first 30,000 words…
…and then I hit a wall.
The thing about creating art is that it requires emotional expenditure. And I done ran myself dry.
I didn’t take care of myself. I was in a stressful position of writing being my only income for the first time ever, my personal life precarious, my health teetering…and I flopped.
EYE OF THE STORM felt broken. I couldn’t make myself work on it. I worked on short stories instead, just to be able to finish something. I felt like a failure and like I had somehow ruined something.
The need to create it was still there, but spending so much time in the limited first person present POV with a single character somehow left me alone in my own brain and struggling to make sense of anything I was doing. My epic was getting rejections from publishers, and I got very depressed.
I couldn’t even think of writing. If there’s anything I’m super good at, it’s beating the crap out of myself for perceived weakness, lack of productivity, and laziness. But after working 100+ hours a week for six years and burning through the tiny remainder of my fuel in the space of my first month living on my own as a full time author, I couldn’t make myself do anything.
I’d picked a bottom floor apartment so I could work out at home. Instead I sat on Facebook all day. In spite of having written almost four books in the space of twelve months, I felt like I had somehow failed or disappointed everyone. I knew something was wrong with EYE OF THE STORM, but I couldn’t even make myself look at it to figure out what it was.
I finally gave myself permission to rest in January. I worked on anything I felt drawn to. Short story ideas, new novel, editing the epic for another round of subs. I played a shit ton of video games. I started reading again.
Somewhere along the line, I forgot how to recharge my tank. But I fumblingly found my way again, starting with reading aloud to my partner (who moved in with me on Boxing Day) before we went to bed each night.
One day, I picked up EYE OF THE STORM, opened a bunch of new Scrivener chapters at the beginning, and started over.
A month later, I’d finished the book. And I was proud of it. Proud.
Finishing a series was something I meant to do years ago with that first trilogy. Most of the time when I finish a novel, my brain is on The Next Thing (like I said, obsessive). But with EYE OF THE STORM, for the very first time, I felt like I’d actually completed something gargantuan. It’s not the Wheel of Time or Harry Potter. It’s four books, each averaging about 90,000 words.
But hell if that mountain wasn’t a bitch and a half to climb.
The point of this is just to say this: you can tackle Everest, but if you don’t look out for what you need on the way, your oxygen and shelter and the things that make your body not die when you’re scaling a behemoth of a peak, you won’t make it very far.
Creative types often share things like depression and anxiety, those lying fuckers. We also share a tendency to to keep throwing ourselves at our mountains and never stopping to look around.
So I want to take a second to enjoy the view, and I hope you’ll pause whatever you’re working on and enjoy yours too.
You don’t have to have finished a book or a series to do this. You’ve finished something, accomplished something. Take a moment and look around.
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