I may have mentioned this before, but when I began writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth (which ended up being my first published book) I was convinced it wouldn’t sell. But I was okay with that because I loved the story and I became obsessed with writing it. So, for much of the initial drafting the story existed only in my own head (and whatever I’d read aloud to my husband) and that was it. Beyond that, I had few expectations and for that reason all I could really focus on was writing the story.
That all changed once I hit 30,000 words. I’d recently become friends with a published author who I admired greatly and we’d both begun new fantasy projects that were outside of what we’d traditionally written. We decided to trade stories and so I sent her what I’d written. I’m pretty sure that the moment I hit send on that email I wanted to simultaneously vomit and weep. Sending those first chapters out made me feel incredibly vulnerable because I felt like I was taking a lot of risks with my writing: it was a new voice, a new POV, a new tense, a new genre — everything was different and I had absolutely *no* idea whether what I’d written was any good.
Her response was fantastic — positive to the point that she said when I was done she wanted to send it to her agent. I was utterly floored (and I probably floated around the ceilings of our house for days afterward).
And that’s when the writing became infinitely more difficult. Before that point I was just writing this crazy story that I loved but believed would go nowhere. Suddenly, I was writing this book that might have a chance. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me, but I suddenly couldn’t stop thinking about things like how I would draft a query letter, how I would pitch my book, what the market was like for such a project, what would happen if it did/didn’t sell.
Namely, I became really really focused on everything *except* the writing. And when I was actually writing I examined every word wondering if it would get me closer to this dream or push me farther away.
Finally, my husband (who is a huge supporter of mine and a fantastic first reader) said, “Enough.” I wasn’t allowed to talk about anything relating to the book that didn’t deal with the story and the writing. No more discussing agents or pitches or the market (at least in relation to what I was writing). No more obsessing over the future — I needed to get back to the basics and focus on what I could actually control: writing the best book I could and enjoying the process of it.
He was right and to this day I *still* think he’s right. Just recently I was talking with a friend who was at about the 30k word mark on a new (fantastic!) project but had hit a wall. As often happens, our conversation veered toward things other than writing — we talked about marketing, print runs, future projects, blogging, the market and I suddenly realized what the wall in the middle of their project was: that author was letting outside worries impact how they felt about the book. It was no longer about the writing. And my advice was the same my husband gave me: “Enough. Stop letting those outside factors keep you from writing this amazing book.”
Of course, I’d be a hypocrite if I advised anyone to fully ignore those outside worries and just focus on the writing. Writing can be a business and as such there are concerns beyond the words on the page that have to be addressed. But sometimes we let those concerns turn into what my friend, Ally Carter, calls The Crazies. She has a *brilliant* post on the subject here (seriously go read it and then bookmark it for future reference).
Can we always ignore the noise that sometimes exists around writing? No. But at the very least we can recognize it for being the distraction it is. There are times to focus on things like querying and pitching (like, for example, when you’ve written a book rather than only the first 30k like I had). And there are also times to focus on the writing. The challenge is in finding the balance between the two.
As for me, after spending the last two days working on my to-do list rather than working on projects with looming deadlines, I know what I need to focus on tomorrow: the writing.