Published in the Rains County Leader on September 1, 2022:
Last week I wrote about the connections I make through my writing – but this week I’m going to share some of my least favorite aspects of being an author. As strange as it may seem, authors tend to be shy and introverted. Who else would spend hours alone, scribbling or typing words that they are afraid no one will read or that someone will read and not like! And we live in fear of several other things as well.
Writer’s block is a dark cloud that hovers in the mind of anyone who ever sits down in front of a blank sheet of paper or a white screen with the intent of filling it with words. At some point we all think something like this. I don’t have any idea what to write! What if my ideas don’t make sense? What if each writer is only allowed a certain number of words in their lifetime, and I’ve already used mine. The thoughts don’t always make sense, but there are plenty of companies and individuals who are willing to offer techniques and cures for fighting or ending these blocks – all for a price, of course. My bouts of writer’s block are usually short-lived, but there are times when my screen is still blank as a deadline looms, and those questions pop into my head.
Once you get past the writer’s block, complete a project, and hit the Send button, you face another dark cloud – REJECTION! Whether you’re submitting a proposal for a doctoral thesis, a short story for inclusion in an anthology, or the manuscript of the great American novel to an agent or a publisher, the process is the same. You beat yourself up because you didn’t edit it one more time – even though you’ve been through it fourteen times already. You check the submission guidelines again to be sure it really said the average response time is six weeks, but you check your inbox every five minutes anyway. After thirty minutes, you sink into a depression, wondering why you ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, vowing never to do so again. As the days and weeks drag on, you begin to work on your next project, and you only check your inbox a dozen times a day instead of fifty. When the email finally comes, it says Thank you for your submission, but…, and you add it to your collection, telling yourself you’re one step closer to success.
When an acceptance email finally comes, or you get tired of waiting and self publish, the marketing begins. In a market where ebooks account for a growing percentage of sales, reviews are very important. Amazon carries over 33 million titles, so it’s very difficult for an unknown author to be discovered. The books that pop up on the side bars and the bottom of the page when you are shopping are chosen by an algorithm that is based in part on the number of reviews. Negative reviews are bad because authors have fragile egos, but even a one-star review adds to the numbers. To an author the only thing worse than a bad review is no review at all.
All of these things are bad, but so far in my writing career, nothing is worse than what happened to me last Thursday. I have been working diligently on the third novel in my Tatia series, and I was close enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But as the quipsters like to say, it turned out to be a freight train.
Thursday was a busy day, and I didn’t have time to write until after dinner. I usually leave my files open at the end of the day and put my computer to sleep instead of shutting it down. That may not be the best procedure, but I’m a bit lazy, and it makes for a quicker start the next day. However, on Wednesday, my computer was giving me a little bit of trouble, so at the end of the day I carefully saved all my work, including copying the entire folder to my flash drive, and I restarted. When I began to work on Thursday evening, I opened my manuscript file and waited for the Word document to populate. When it finished, I glanced down at the stats in the lower left-hand, and my heart stopped.
The page count that had been around 270 the night before was now under 250, and the word count that had been over 69,000 was now around 63,000. I searched my folder frantically, thinking I must have opened an older file but found nothing newer. I enlisted David’s help, and we searched for a recovery file, recently opened files, and every other suggestion Google search turned up with the same result. Apparently my old Word program does not always save properly, and the files I had saved on both my hard disk and on my flash drive were corrupted. After I finished throwing a bit of a tantrum, I realized that the damage wasn’t fatal. Yes, I lost about eight chapters, but the same brain that created them in the first place will be able to recreate them after I quit feeling sorry for myself.
By now you may be asking yourself why I continue to write. In last week’s column I referred to some questions I answered for a fifth grade class about being a writer. In response to why I continue to write, I’ll share the second question in that list and my answer:
2. What is it like to be a writer? It is hard, frustrating, awful, wonderful, and/or exhilarating, depending on the day. What I tell aspiring writers is “if you can do anything else, do it. But if you have words and stories and characters that won’t leave you alone until you get them out and onto paper or a computer screen, you might already be a writer.