26 April, 2013

How to Keep Writing, by Lorrie Porter


I was lucky enough to stumble upon Lorrie about a month ago. She's an awesome writer with an awesome blog in a similar vein to this one, and I know you'll all enjoy her post as much as I did. Check out her blog for more great advice. Here's a post about how you should never give up. 

Even when...


Lorrie stood up and did this:



Being a fiction writer isn’t easy. It isn’t like other jobs. When you clock in to work at a factory, or a desk job, as an airline pilot or a bar tender, you know what you’re expected to do, you have a pretty good idea how to do it, and a confidence that you can.

Writing is different. I am yet to meet a writer who hasn’t doubted about their ability to write. We are plagued with questions: Am I any good? Can I do this? Am I wasting my time?

You may think the way to defeat these doubts is to improve your writing style, to immerse yourself in writing craft, to learn what makes a good story, and you’d be right. All of these things are important. But there is one essential quality every writer needs if they’re going to succeed and that is … their stubborn refusal to give up.  Ever.

Starting out as a writer, your refusal to fail keeps you going through each and every painful rejection. But surely, once you achieve the dream, once you get that signed publishing deal, you can let yourself breathe. Your book is going to be on the shelf at Waterstones. It’s all easy sailing from here, isn’t it?

In December 2011 I signed a contract with a small but reputable publishing house for two YA novels. The first book was due out in February 2013 and I had twelve months to work on the second manuscript. I did what any sane person would do. I quit my job and started writing full-time.

You’d think writing the second book would be easy, knowing the first had proved worthy and would soon be available in bookshops, but all the publisher had seen of the second book was a sketchy synopsis. What if they hated it? What if I couldn't repeat the magic? But when you have a signed contract, dwindling funds in the bank and a deadline looming, you have to knuckle down and get on with it. That stubborn refusal to give in can come in very handy.

So I faced the blank screen every day, and filled it with words. I didn’t know if they made sense, but it was only a first draft, and with first drafts you have to give yourself a break. I read books on writing craft, analysed texts by published authors, gleaned every grain I could to make my second book as good as my first. I had to have faith. I had done this once. I had to believe I could do it again. After all, I was an author now.

And then I got an email from my publisher. They’d been taken over by an American company who no longer wanted to develop their Young Adult list. My contract was cancelled, all rights returned.

I wasn’t an author any more. I had no job, no soon to be published book, no nothing. All I had was a completed novel no one seemed to want, and a ropey first draft of my second book. And I have to admit, for a split second, the thought went through my mind: Why am I doing this? Why don’t I go back to a job I know I can do, with a salary and financial security? But it was only a split second.

Because I have that essential quality found in every writer; I am stubborn. And I will not give up. I don’t know if I will succeed in my dream to become a published writer. But I do know this. You haven’t failed until you’re dead and even then you haven’t failed because you kept true. You wrote.

Whatever you believe in, it’s by act of faith you believe in it. And it’s that faith which keeps you strong, gives you purpose and helps you through the dark times.

Fight the fear. Keep the faith.


About Lorrie

In a fit of youthful enthusiasm Lorrie Porter graduated from University College London with a degree in Ancient World Studies then went on to qualify as a teacher in Classics. She loitered for many years in a solicitor’s office where she spent a lot of time staring out of the window. However, her fascination for dead languages and civilizations continues to thrive. She has recently graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with an MA in Creative Writing.

Lorrie writes fiction which embraces a dark and emotional aesthetic and is currently working on Cradlesnatch, a story about a monster who steals children. Her first novel, Fury, has wolves, bandits and other miscreants among its pages.

Her love of writing craft inspires her blog at This Craft Called Writing, and she can be found most Saturdays delivering writing workshops in and around Manchester and Cheshire.

Lorrie lives on a narrow boat with her talented husband and impervious cat.

6 comments:

Guy Saville said...

Lorrie

What a brilliant and inspiring post! It has always struck me that the biggest part of writing is struggling with doubts and challenges that have very little to do with putting words on paper. As you rightly say, with so many jobs you can just turn up and be; with writing there's no place to hide.

I like to think that as the years go on, and you become more successful, it gets easier... though I suspect not. Then again, how common is it to enjoy a writer's early work but feel short changed by their later books? I've always wondered in these cases whether they got complacent, that they stopped doubting. I don't know - but if it is true, then our doubts may be the most important things we have.

Keep being stubborn!

Guy

mrscarlielee said...

Lorrie,

You're so brave! How utterly gutting that take-over must've been, to have been so finger-tippingly close.

I admire you hugely, and hope you get where you want to be.

Very best wishes,

Carlie

lorrieporter said...

Hi Guy

This is far too philosophical a question for this time of the morning. Maybe faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin.

lorrieporter said...

Hi Carlie
The way I see it, life is an experience. It's all about how you deal with what it throws your way. Thanks for the kind support.
L.

Wm. Luke Everest said...

I think that's absolutely right, Lorrie. The first thing I had to understand as a writer was Karen Blixen's advice, "Write every day without hope and without despair." I've written about it extensively on this blog so I won't repeat myself too much, but suffice to say that they feed off each other, and distract you from your mission, which is simply to make good art.

As for young versus old writers, I think there are two ways of looking at that. Hope and despair (or faith and doubt) fuel desperation, and that's a very self-defeating thing as a craftsman. When you start thinking in terms of "What will finish my book?" instead of "What will make it awesome?" you're writing with hope and despair. When you start thinking "I can do this. Please let me do this!" you're distracting yourself in the same way. It's widely considered a truism among critics that older writers tend to write more complex material because they're capable of taking on bigger challenges in the craft. I think maybe what you're referring to, Guy, is the idea that younger writers have more passion about their work. That I agree with. I think we see it among musicians, painters, just about every form of artist. Young people are angry at the world, struggling to find a voice and wanting to make a difference. Already successful people too often just write stories without that same vitality. (That isn't universal, obviously, but I think we've seen it in many artists' works.) But vitality is not the same thing as faith or doubt, and is a very different emotion to tap into. Vitality makes you think, "What can make my story rattle bones?" instead of "I need this to work."

C. Lee McKenzie said...

Hi Lorrie,

I guess you know you're not alone experiencing this kind of setback. I have a friend who just emailed last week with the same news.

I have two traditionally published books, but I also can share one of those "Oh no! What now?" things that happened. Just after the publication of my second book, the publisher closed shop and held onto the rights of all their authors, essentially keeping us in limbo. Finally, after some negotiation we managed to have our rights reverted, but without a huge campaign effort on each of our parts, the books were buried in obscurity.

I now have a third book out, and this time I'm in control. I published it myself. I'm the only one who can decide if and when to stop selling it.

Your post is so right. Keep going. Don't give up.