Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Advice

So, in my previous post I mentioned that I might stop answering emails asking for personalized advice.  And, as always happens when I post something like that, I immediately got an apology email from a very sweet and awesome reader who had recently written me for advice.

That was NOT the point.  It isn't about the people writing me--it is, as most things are, ENTIRELY ABOUT ME.  ME, ME, ME.  Ahem.  Sorry.  Okay, fine, one more: ME.

When I get an email that says, "How do I do this?  How do I write a book?  How do I take the stories in my head and commit to them and get them all out on paper?  And how do I overcome the terror that seems to accompany every aspect?" I don't think, "Gosh, that's so annoying, quit writing me."

No, I think, "I DON'T KNOW BUT IF YOU FIGURE IT OUT PLEASE FOR THE LOVE LET ME KNOW."

Because while I have all of the visible checkmarks of success--got an agent! sold my book as a trilogy! hit the NYT bestseller list! lots of blog readers! shiny hair!--when I sit down to write a story, you know what I still think?

"Oh my gosh.  This.  Is.  Impossible."

Every single time.  It always feels impossible to me, and hugely intimidating, and overwhelming.  How do you take an idea and make a book out of it?  How do you take a voice and fill it with 72,000 words?  How to you create characters and lives and stories out of NOTHING?

And, once you have all of those things in a Word document, how do you fix the horrible mess you've made out of them?

See, I've written enough books now that I have no more delusions.  I know that I'm not going to whip out an amazing first draft.  I know that it's going to take time, and be hard, and even when I "finish" I'm never going to be FINISHED.  (Until Paranormalcy is done being translated into Finnish, but that's a different story.)  And I know that my particular method (chapter by chapter by chapter, linearly, with minimal outlining, fueled by sugar and obsessive daydreams) is not your method, nor should it be.

And even when you have a book and you have success--wild success--more success than your very realistic dreams allowed for--it is still scary.  You still worry about the next book.  You worry that you've forgotten how to write, or that you've lost your voice, or that you don't have enough ideas.  You worry that whatever you write next that isn't in that world will lose the magic you tapped into.  You worry that your next book will flop and you'll forever be seen as a flash in the pan, some sort of one hit book wonder.  You worry.

And worry.

A lot.

And even when things go right, I don't know how they've gone right.  It's not really a quantifiable thing--so many different successes have to line up just so, and 90% of them are utterly and completely out of the author's control.  So when people write and ask, "How do you write a breakout first novel/bestseller/book everyone will love?" I think, "Heck if I know!"  I wrote a story I loved, for fun.  Everything else just sort of happened.   When they write, "How do you have a blog and a twitter feed that people will want to follow?" I think, "I have NO IDEA why ANYONE reads MINE, other than that MAYBE they REALLY LIKE random CAPITALIZATIONS that SHOW UP when I have had TOO MUCH DR PEPPER."

(Honestly: I have no idea why people read this nonsense.  But I'm glad you do.  I like you.  My only explanation for twitter and this blog is that I love doing it and have fun with it, and I think that communicates itself well.  Also, everything I write is littered with subliminal messages that I have studied a lifetime to be able to use.  So when, this August or September, Supernaturally not only breaks all sales records but I am also elected Supreme Dictator of the World, don't be surprised.  But I'm not telling you how I do it, because that would defeat the purpose of controlling your minds.)

To sum up, the real reason I cringe when people ask me for advice is because of the unspoken assumption that I have anything figured out.  Friends, dear friends, believe me when I tell you: I have nothing figured out.  I'm just muddling along as best I can, enjoying the occasional flashes of brilliance and trudging through the work--because that's what writing is, it's WORK, lots and lots of work, wonderful work, but WORK--and if it looks like I know what I'm doing, well, that's because I lie for a living.

And I am a very good liar.

36 comments:

Whirlochre said...

Ok, so what about my email requesting shiny hair advice?

I haven't washed it in 6 weeks now just in case I mess up on your method and dogs have begun following me in large numbers — dogs ridden by RATS...

Dana Elmendorf said...

Glad to know now that once you are published nothing changes. :)

tone almhjell said...

Actually, it's really comforting to know that writing is hard for other people, too, even best-selling authors with shiny hair and subliminal messages on their blogs (nifty!). Not that I want you to struggle or anything. It's just nice to not be alone in the mud :)

I often scratch my head and wonder what the heck I'm doing.

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Okay, the Finnish/Finished bit cracked me up! Thanks for making me laugh!

SM Schmidt said...

Hair question seconded. How DOES one get super shiny hair that blinds the eyes of all who come before you?

Is it bathing said hair in the tears saved from every novel's frustrations? Because I could do that.

Leigh said...

So as I sit here trying to write my sequel, it isn't a case that I've forgotten how to write? Really? Because thats exactly what's been running though my head. Yay! Kiersten said I can still write woohoo. But hang on a sec, didn't she just say she's a really good liar too... hummm. I'm sensing a vicious circle here. LOL.
Keep these posts coming.
Leigh.

Nate Wilson said...

Actually, I read your blog for the lower-case words that fall between the random capitalizations, though I suspect I'm probably in the minority. I also suspect Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe, but Sherlock says I'm wrong about the room.

Marisa Hopkins said...

If I could hug this post, I totally would. I'm *trying* to write a book - well, re-write a 90k disaster - and I feel like everyone knows what they are doing but me... which obviously isn't the case and it's NICE being able to see that even girls with shiny hair and agents and 3-book deals struggle.

You might be a great liar for a living, but your honesty is even better :)

J. L. Jackson said...

I've not written for advice, but I love this post. It allows me to be a bit relieved I am not the only author struggling for perfection.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I don't know about any one else, but I read your blog because you are honest about what you go through, both personally and professionally. You never make it out to be anything but what it is, hard or not. And I appreciate that. You give the best advice without ever meaning to. And now, I'll step down off my "Kiersten is awesome" box and step back onto my "How does Kayeleen become awesome" box.

Tracey Neithercott said...

Whew. So you don't know what you're doing either? That makes me feel much better about mildly freaking (I say mild because there was only one candy bar involved) when I read my first draft.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Okay, I was going to comment and then I read Whirlocre's comment and I am ROFL!

I'll be okay, though. Eventually.

p.s. you are awesome and I totally read your blog for the RANDOM capitalizations.

L. T. Host said...

I won't say know your secret methods. But I will say this:

If you extract the capitalized words from this post, you get:


NOT ENTIRELY ABOUT ME ME ME ME I DON'T KNOW BUT IF YOU FIGURE IT OUT PLEASE FOR THE LOVE LET ME KNOW NOTHING FINISHED NO IDEA ANYONE MINE MAYBE REALLY LIKE CAPITALIZATIONS SHOW UP TOO MUCH DR PEPPER WORK WORK

Which then, without the spaces and punctuation, turns into:

NOTENTIRELYABOUTMEMEMEMEIDONTKNOWBUTIFYOUFIGUREITOUTPLEASEFORTHELOVELETMEKNOWNOTHINGFINISHEDNOIDEAANYONEMINEMAYBEREALLYLIKECAPITALIZATIONSSHOWUPTOOMUCHDRPEPPERWORKWORK

From there we have the following:

NLYBOUTMEMEMEONTNOWBTIFYOUFIGUEITOUTLEAEHLOVELETMEKNOWNOTHINGFINIHEDNOIDEAANYONEMINEMAYBEREALLYLIKEAPITALIZATIONSSHOWUPTOOMUCHDRPEPPERWOKWORK

The letters removed spell out:

KIERSTEN FOR SUPREME DICTATOR

And we can take it even further:

OUTMMMONTNOWBTIFYOUFIGUEIOUTLEAEHLOVELETMEKNOWNOTHINGFINIHEDNOIDEANYONEMINEMAYBEAYLIKEAPITIZAIONHOWTOOMCHDPEPPEWOKWOK

reveals:

SUPERNATURALLY BESTSELLER

What other hidden messages have we missed?

(Yes, it took me FAR too long to write this comment. It was worth it. NOW I KNOW).

Kiersten White said...

The first paragraph actually made me laugh! And...you may be onto something. Maybe.

keriflur said...

"I know that my particular method (chapter by chapter by chapter, linearly, with minimal outlining, fueled by sugar and obsessive daydreams) is not your method, nor should it be."

Actually, that IS my writing method, exactly. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in the insanity. :)

L. T. Host said...

I will accept maybe.

Huh, weird. There are strange people dressed in black swarming around outside my hou--


DISREGARD THAT EVERYTHING IS FINE.

Danyelle said...

So very true. And the process is different, not only for everyone, but for every book, which makes it even harder to try to quantify. :)

Anita Saxena said...

You are so humble and that's what's so endearing about you.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for your honesty. I appreciate when writers who have achieved some measure of success (big or small) can admit that it's not magically easy and they don't have all the answers.

Nicole Mc said...

At least you're honest about being a liar. :)

Cameron said...

Awesome. I am excited to know that it never becomes easier. Or am I excited?

I think that regardless of where you think YOU are, you still have lots of valuable experience and advice for those who are where THEY are. Unless you don't want to give the advice anymore, at which point who cares how valuable it is, you have the right to refuse service for any reason :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Honest lairs - the best kind, lol

Michelle Wolfson said...

Hilarious comment, LT Host. Nicely done.

Oh, also nice blog post, Kiersten. :)

Guinevere said...

Fantastic blog post, and oddly comforting. I keep wondering if I really *want* to be published any time soon... I mean, don't I need more time to figure out what I'm doing? OH, nice to know no one ever does.

So being a NYT best selling author is still just like being a grown-up - it seems like you'll have it all figured out when you get there, but no. Glad to hear it. :)

So what's the secret to the shiny hair?

Natalie Aguirre said...

Glad to know I wouldn't be the only one worrying, worrying, and worrying if I ever sold a first book.

beth said...

But the hair! How do I get the shiny hair?!

Kiersten White said...

The hair: Be born with it.

HA HA HA HA HA HA. Ahem. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Jordanne said...

It's just, when people have an author who's been published and love their book(s), you tend to look up to them. And since I discovered that some of my most favoritist authors have blogs, it just makes me look up to them all the more. Because I think, "WOW! How do they find the time? I can barely get my homework finished, let alone get stories down on paper and blogs written in a seriously witty/hilarious fashion!" Which leads me to think that, despite saying you have nothing figured out...you have at least SOMETHING figured out, if not everything. (PS, your flashing the word 'Supernaturally' in there gave me chills. seriously. STOP TAUNTING. I can't stand it!!!)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

A local writers' group just asked me to teach a class and though I said yes, my reaction was the same as yours. Why do they think I know anything?

Dominique said...

You are also totally awesome. Capitalizations FTW.

Tamie Galbraith said...

hey, just wondering, will SUPERNATURALLY be realeased in Australia at the same time it does there? Its kinda been really suckie that we have to wait here on average an additional 3 months for it to be sold here, or we have to buy on line (costs a fortune for amazon to post) or through ebay but then you guys dont recive the profit in which the person on ebay made. So thats why i ask, + cant wait to read it! And I got my mother in law hooked. Shes dieing for then next book too. thanks mate :)

Brown Eyed said...

I think if you don't feel like answering everyone with personalised advice, it is totally OK. And I'm sure the fans will understand ;)

If you ask me, you are doing a good job by being honest rather than keeping the askers expectant :)

Super luck with SUPERNATURALLY.

-BrownEyed

patdwhite said...

to much DR PEPPER??? Dad is off the caffiene by the way....

Patti Larsen said...

Advice requests are so hard. Especially when you are in a position where so many people want to connect with you, to get to know you. The wannabes want to be just like you.

No pressure, right? There comes a point where it's too much--where helping others is taking up more time than your own creative expression. And as much as you want to help because you know you were them not too long ago, you can't. We all have our journey.

Writing great blogposts and sharing your experience is the best thing you can do for all your readers--and the healthiest for you. Your fans love you, Kiersten. And your writing. It's human nature to want what we love in our own personal experience.

Rock on, sister--your talent has you living the happy dream that keeps the rest of us writing. I find that the most inspiring part of all.

Caryn Caldwell said...

So many authors say that things don't get easier when you get published, but I've never seen it described so well. I can't imagine all the pressure!

By the way, you could always have a writing-related FAQ that you could direct all those inquisitive emailers to.

Mary Gray said...

Aw, you have such a sweet humility. :)

I just reviwed your book. LOVED it. :) Thanks so much for sharing such a wonderful story with the world!