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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Heating up after a burn out (Stephanie Kuehnert)

This year, I've been experiencing a lot of writerly burn out. I worked my way out of one slump  in February only to fall in to another one last month. This time the cause was something Julie Chibbaro so perfectly summed up in her YAOTL post earlier this month, "Anxiety Burns."

Earlier this year I wrote a little over 100 pages on a project that I was so excited about. My agent was crazy excited about it too and decided that even though the market has gotten tougher, we should try to submit it on partial. As Julie described in her post, there has been a lot of waiting and a lot of rejection. I know this is how it goes. It took over a year to sell my first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. But this time the anxiety was getting to me really really badly. Maybe it's because I also have an adult book on sub and it's been so long since I've had a book on the shelves (2009) that I'm starting to have massive career doubts. Maybe it's because I've never done this before, put something out on submission and continued to work on it. I've submitted on partial before, but then went on to work on something else while I waited to hear on it. Actually, it was another version of this book that got submitted and didn't sell, but I really really love the concept and the characters and I reworked some of my ideas into a new version that I really believe in. I also plotted, plotted, plotted way more than I usually do, and with that as a guide, I felt like this time I should be able to keep writing while it went on sub.

I was wrong. The nerves were too much. After a lot of stopping and starting and venting to my critique partners and worrying to my agent, everyone began to encourage me to just work on something else. It's been hard because as burnt out as I felt, I was still so in love with the project. Like all projects, it had completely infiltrated every corner of my life. The decorations in my office remind me of it. I've recently bought clothing and jewelry that reminds me of it. I have over 100 songs that remind me of it. I don't want to let go! But I knew I needed to, for the sake of my sanity (and probably my husband, agent and CPs sanity, too). Since I feel this project so intensely, I know I'll be able to step back into it again easily when it either A. sells or B. doesn't sell and I need to decide if I want to tackle it another way again.

In the meantime, it's time to work on something new. Well, it's not entirely new. It's been my affair project for the past year or so when things were rough with my other projects, but now it is about to become my main squeeze.

It's a contemporary YA in the same vein as my first two published books. In fact, one of my BALLADS OF SUBURBIA characters even makes a cameo as a grown-up in this story. In many ways, it's me in my comfort zone doing what I feel like I do best--emotional, character-driven YA drama. After a couple of forays into new territory that I still have to patiently, anxiously wait to see if they work/pay off, this feels good. But while Jenny O'Connell is going from heat to a simmer, I need to get going from tepid water to a simmer to a boil.

I started by unwinding. I went to the Renaissance Faire and Chicago Comic Con, just to geek out and enjoy myself and then I started thinking and talking about my writing again, with my agent, my CPs, and my husband, who actually helped me immensely in visualizing a key scene. While I haven't come up with a playlist for this new book yet, I've stumbled on a few key songs and key bands before it. Here's a little sampling of it that I put together on YouTube for you:


I urge you especially to listen to the last song, which is my friends' band, The Wheels, who I find particularly inspiring right now, both because their music just fits with what I'm writing and because they are real people that I know doing the art that they love. Right now, my actual iTunes playlist for the book is made up of those two Hole songs, "Doll Parts" and "Northern Star," and then the entirety of The Wheels EP 1, of Farewell Continental's Hey, Hey Pioneers album, and of like three Dinosaur Jr albums. I've been listening to it super quietly as I write, which is new to me from my last project, usually I can't do that.

This week, I've been getting in a couple hours a day that range from 200 to 1000 words of writing, checking in daily through private messages on Twitter with one of my writer pals, and listening to that music, which is always how it begins for me. I'm not plotting, not setting any big goals or deadlines, just writing. Just warming up again.

I feel mostly content--I really do love these characters and this story already--but I'm still a little nervous and gunshy. So share with me, how do you get simmering on a new story? I could certainly use new inspiration and ideas!

10 comments:

  1. My best drafting trick is to set insane word count goals (4-5,000 words a day), and to count EVERYTHING. Notes in margins. Post-it scribbles. It allows me the luxury of silencing my internal editor, and I get through the draft ASAP, so I can move into revision mode.

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    1. I definitely want to get through my first draft ASAP too because I like revision mode better. For some reason high word counts and fast writing are hard on me though. I am going to start counting all of those scribbles though!

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    2. It totally helps! Words are words--when I lost the notion of counting only "quality" words, especially during drafting, the word count exploded!

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  2. I feel for you, Stephanie. I think part of the anxiety that makes writing come to a halt is expectation. So, you've been published, people have read your work, maybe some part of our subconscious wonders what else can we do with writing, words, story? Self-expectations, others' expectations. Comparing ourselves, trying to be better than our last book. I'm finding it helpful to seek ways of deeply chilling out (the whirlpool at my gym helps).
    I know you'll figure it out.
    Julie

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    1. Thanks for the commiseration, Julie. You hit the nail right on the head. Deeply chilling out does sound like what I need. I should make more use of my bathtub which has jets!

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  3. Anxiety and burnout - you've touched on subjects (unfortunately) close to my heart! Career doubts too, as my most recent book also came out in 2009. It is difficult to calm the inner critic as she screams "why can't you just WRITE something GOOD??" That said, I know that I make things so much worse for myself by letting that voice bother me. Ren Faires and Comic-cons are great ways to distract, I agree! I would also add art museums to the list. And petting zoos. Hang in there.

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    1. There was a petting zoo at the Ren Faire! It was wonderful. I'm glad I'm not alone with that inner critic voice. I really have a hard time silencing it, but you are right. It makes it worse to let it be bothersome. You hang in there too. We will do this!

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  4. Anxiety, burnout, career choice doubt, all things that I have unfortunately experienced. But I feel for you, especially because I can imagine how much more stressful it can be if you've been published and now you're working against another set of expectations. I know that you'll find a way to manage all of this while continuing to do the good work that you are so capable of.

    The first thing I do when I get new story ideas is to start scribbling notes about everything that comes to mind. Then I look for other sources of inspiration, usually music and visual imagery. Making playlists is a HUGE part of it!

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    1. Thank you! And I do need to start looking for visual imagery for this one!

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  5. I relate to this so much...the way characters can float like a shadow behind you (in everything you do). So even when I'm not writing...it feels like the story is hovering there in the background of a song. It's okay to let it simmer for a while. That's when it starts to whisper.

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