Monday, January 23, 2017

My Writing Life, or La Dolce Vita

“Now we’ve told you all about our writing journey, here are some insights into our writing life, and how we live it.”

- from Susan

Reading last week’s Minds authors makes it clear(er) to me that I’m not going to be anyone’s role model on how to construct a writing life. I have no brilliant insights, only a few basic tools I use to hack my way through the underbrush that tangles my writing life. 

Motivation is important. For me, there’s nothing quite as motivating as a contract for a book. I wrote the first Dani O’Rourke mystery on spec, no agent, no publisher. It took awhile and more rewriting, polishing, and playing around with the manuscript than a good writer wants to do. The next two in the series were under contract, moved along smartly, and only went off the rails a few times.

Another motivation for me is love – love of the idea, the characters, the vision I have. The first book in the new series was inspired by the realties a couple I know well faced when they transplanted themselves from northern California to a rural town in Burgundy to live out a romantic dream. I visited them a few times and the stories they told, the frustrations, the discoveries, and the quirkiness of their neighbors demanded storytelling. I didn’t think at first it would be a mystery, but my agent persuaded me to steer it that way. No contract, but she was confident it would sell. I just finished the draft of the second, spurred on by the two-book contract I got and my pleasure at diving again into the fictional community I created for the first book.

After motivation come work habits. Here’s where I’m sketchy. For months, I will write every day, sometimes with Annie Lamott’s “butt in chair” as my only discipline. On the luckiest days I’m in that zone of writing excitement where I can’t peel myself away to eat. Unfortunately, I can’t predict or create that spirit arbitrarily. Things happen that break the daily habit and the more days that go by without writing, the more days are likely to go by. This is bad. If you treat going to the gym the same way, you know that it begins to feel like the activity is a mountain too high. All I can do is go back to square one, to Lamott’s stern command, and peck away until the mental muscles get back in shape.

One of the two orange reasons I am easily distracted:

The third important part of my writing life after motivation and work habits is my writing community. I get so much from my work with Sisters in Crime, with my participation at the big conventions and the smaller writers’ conferences. I am revved up going to someone’s launch party, sharing coffee with an author friend, or a panel with two others. I listen to their successes, their struggles, their frequently funny descriptions of interactions with agents, editors, bookstores, and their fans. I am comforted to know they face hurdles in their writing lives, maybe not the same ones I do but equally significant ones. It makes me feel there’s hope for me yet.

If you’re newly on the path to publication, there’s hope for you too – never give up! Truthfully, for all the setbacks, it is la dolce vita.

So, this is book one in the Dani series, newly re-released along with the other two:

And, this is book one of the new series, officially out May 2:


Unknown said...

Hm - was this post delayed? I checked at 10 this morning and didn't see it up.

I agree writing community is important - a coffee-a-week with a writer friend is the tonic I need sometimes to get over my doubts or rev me up to carry on.

Now to get revved up to write my post for tomorrow. :)

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Art Taylor said...

Great post--and glad you included writing community in there as well. And looking forward to the new book, as I said before--available a few days early for Malice, yes? Hooray!

Susan C Shea said...

Sorry my post wasn't up in the morning - I apparently didn't hit the right button and wasn't near the computer until the afternoon. Thanks for checking in anyway!

Yes, Art, they've promised me it will be available for Malice!