Lemonade, Anyone?


Sometimes, no matter how well we plan our writing lives, things go awry.

We can’t figure out the shape of the story, the arc of the character, no matter how many times we revisit our notes.

We can’t get the words to work, to reflect the amazing ideas that are hovering there, inside our minds, just out of reach.

We can’t get an agent interested in the novel that we’ve finished, even though we think it’s our best, most ambitious work.

We can’t get an editor interested, even though our agent is wholly on board, more enthusiastic than s/he’s ever been before.

We can’t get booksellers to buy the book, even though our publisher has invested good money in an advance, cover design, basic marketing.

These are just a handful of the dozens of things that can go wrong, between Hey, Wow, That’s A Brilliant Idea and Readers Are Buying My Book By The Boatload!  Virtually all of us will get snagged somewhere along the way, for at least one of our books.  We’re all going to have to develop a strategy for surviving.  We’re all going to need a recipe for our own lemonade.

Here’s mine:

1 part emotion:  I rant.  I rave.  I keen like Mr. Rochester’s mad wife in the attic.  (I have to do all of this so that I get all the useless emotion out of my system, so that I can begin to think and act constructively once again.)

1 part brainstorming:  I force myself to define a worst-case scenario.  Then, I dream up various possible solutions, testing what sort of edifice I can build on that terrible, horrible foundation.  (For really tough cases, I bounce my solutions off others — critique partners, spouse, my agent…  The key is that the others have to understand writing and publishing, at least enough to help me rank the various ideas I brainstorm.)

1 part action:  I choose the best new building and I move forward, even though the “best” isn’t “perfect”.  At all.  In any way that I’d originally hoped for, dreamed, and planned.  (Ideally, I move forward in ways that are new to me, that are uniquely suited to the specific situation.  For example, I force myself to find the energy, time, and money to have an in-person meeting with a person or people who can change things, even when my reflex preference is to communicate by email, from under a rock.)

I’ve got to admit — I’m not a big fan of lemonade.  Whenever I buy it in a restaurant, it’s too sweet, or there’s not enough lemony taste, or the ice melts and dilutes the once-perfect beverage.  But sometimes, lemonade is the only thing on the menu.  (Come on.  Work with me here.  This is an extended metaphor.)

Over and over again, I’ve found that my basic recipe works.  For me.  What’s your core method of dealing with writerly challenges?  Can you reduce your way of dealing to a recipe of easily repeated steps?


11 comments to Lemonade, Anyone?

  • My recipe is:

    2 of life’s lemons, rinsed and sliced
    around 1/8 cup of honey (or 1/4 cup sugar) (more or less for your sweetness preference)
    1 bottle of neutral spirits
    1 large sealable container

    Place all in sealable container. Stir or shake gently every couple days. Let sit for 2-4 weeks. Enjoy until the pain of rejection goes away.

    When life gives you lemons… 😉

  • Pretty much the same, here, Mindy. I get the emotions out, too. (For me, it’s a good cry.) Then I talk it out with people. Someitmes I rant. Usually that’s enough for me to get over rejection, whatever sort, very quickly. Or at least enough to function, because my next step is, “Okay, what can I do to fix this?”

  • I curse a blue streak. Seriously. I find more ways to drop the f-bomb than any normal person can imagine.

    I call my wife and vent to her and get a small dose of sympathy.

    I mourn. Truly. If it’s bad news, I process it, internalize, allow it to bring me down for a time.

    And then I put my butt in the chair and get back to work. Sounds glib and overly simplistic, but I swear it’s what I do. And it works.

  • sagablessed

    Mr Coe! My virgin…..oh, never mind. Even my own mother doesn’t buy that any more.
    I pout. Petulantly, childish, crabby pouting. Then we have ourselves a wee bit o’ the bubbly (purely medicinal for my lumbago and nerves, you know). Then I find Monster (my dog) and get puppy-kisses. Problems solved.
    Then BIC and torture my characters. Nothing makes me feel better than twist their sorry, impotent lives into knots of despair and torment. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! (Oops, was typing out loud again?) 😀

  • ajp88

    The F bomb is the most malleable word in our language. And it really helps when trying to deal with any sort of anguish. One of my favorite TV scenes ever comes from The Wire, where two homicide detectives revisit an old cold case crime scene, then proceed to unravel the mystery behind it while only using various inflections of our favorite word. Brilliant writing (and series).

  • Historically I have reacted with withdrawal into my safe little corner of the world, accompanied by a childishly defiant “I’ll never write again, that will show them.”

    This time around I’m going for a more mature approach: wallowing in despair (with ice cream and a time limit) followed by the semi-adult defiance of “I’ll keep writing, that will show them.”

  • Daniel – I used to add the neutral spirits, but I can be a morose drunk, so I’ve learned to stay away 🙂

    Laura – It’s amazing how curative a good cry can be! I used to fight it but not anymore…

    David – I just spent a week with friends who curse like sailors want to be able to curse. I’m amazed at how my own language has … regressed to the new mean. And yes, spousal venting helps – at times, it’s actually brought me closer to my spouse.

    Sagablessed – I actually enjoy really childish pouting. Don’t engage in it often, but it feels wickedly indulgent when I do!

    ajp88 – I remember that scene from The Wire! (So much good writing there…)

    SiSi – Congrats on reaching the new defiance. (And yes, it is much more satisfying to “show them” with success 🙂 )

  • Right now my main writing challenge isn’t like most of those (you can’t have publishing challenges until after you have written, after all): it’s that there are so many other obligations, life challenges, and things that need to be done that eat away at the time I’d rather be writing, it’s hard to actively find time for writing. It’s annoying that most people write this problem off as one of “whining” and the prescription is always “just sit down and write”, when real life is never that easy or forgiving. I recently saw a nice metaphor that suggested for many of us, writing is a second, or a third, or a fourth job. Those other jobs (i.e. real day job, beinga loving and attentive spouse/significant other, being a parent, being a responsible home-owning adult, etc.; YMMV) all come first – they have to come first, by their natures – and writing gets whatever time and mental energy you have left. Sometimes that means “not much at all”. Sometimes that means “none”.

    So my recipe so far is to roll with it, keep my priorities straight and remind myself why those are my priorities, and look forward to the next opportunity to sit down and write.

  • quillet

    My recipe seems to be: Take bitter experience. Mix in some private tears. Add public joke. Shake well and serve with ice.

  • Stephen – It *is* hard to juggle all of our responsibilities. One thing that has kept me sane is to do exactly as you suggest – treat writing as a job. Even when writing needed to be my fourth job, I still “made appointments” with it — maybe only on vacation days, or during my commute to job one, or during one half of my half-hour lunch hour. Good luck!

    Quillet – I love the “public joke” element. I find that factors in to my recipe as well, at least when I’m functioning most healthily!