distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Courtney Summers (+Giveaway)

This post is part of the Turning Points series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories.

If you’ve read this week’s posts, you’ve seen how a certain book—Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers—served as the turning point for two separate writers: Daisy Whitney and Brandy Colbert. Now we get to hear from that influential book’s author, Courtney Summers, on her own turning point as a writer…

I have one very vivid memory of the time I was trying to get published and it’s this: I am sitting in a car, in the passenger’s side, and I’m trying not to cry. Sufjan Stevens’s “The Mistress Witch from McClure” is playing and all I can think is, this is not going to happen for me. This is never, ever going to happen for me. My dream is bigger than my reality. I will never be published and I am a total failure. Whenever I hear that song, I think about that moment. At the time, I felt this complete and utter helplessness in knowing that just because I worked really hard and wanted something really badly didn’t mean I should have it. This is a lesson people learn a lot in their lives, but I think the first time you realize it is something else, especially if there are a lot of emotional stakes involved. Because then you have to decide what you’re going to do with that information. Are you going to let it defeat you or are you going to move forward in the face of it?

I’d been playing the optimist from book to book, thinking each one would be The One. I’d just shelved my third, a high-concept YA novel that brought me the closest I’d ever gotten; an agent talked revisions with me, said she’d send the paperwork along to make representation official, and then dropped off the face of the earth only to reappear to tell me she was leaving for another part of the business. I think close calls can be the hardest. When it doesn’t happen but it almost does, you feel like you’re farther back from where you started. That’s certainly how it felt to me and I didn’t know if I could continue this journey because my time was running out…

[cue dramatic music]

To understand what I mean by that, I have to tell you this: I dropped out of high school when I was fourteen because I hated it (let us pause and contemplate the fact I now write about people in high school). My family wholeheartedly supported that decision, but there were some vocal naysayers who insisted I was screwing up my life and making things harder for myself and because of that, I would never achieve what I set out to achieve. I was told that to drop out is to set yourself up for a life of mediocrity. So what I did was I promised myself the year I would’ve spent in high school, had I not dropped out, would be devoted to figuring out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Tall order for a fourteen-year-old, but get this, it actually happened—I realized I wanted to be a writer. That was my graduation, in a way.

And now it was time for the next phase. College. Except I wasn’t going there either, so I decided I had to be a published author by the time all of my friends graduated college or leaving school was for nothing and I’d be a failure. Wait. I need to emphasize that better. I’d be a FAILURE.

It was a very inflexible goal. It wasn’t I have to be a published author by the time my friends graduate college, if not, I’ll keep trucking it had to be BY THEN or I failed at life. And that’s ridiculous, but I was so worried about having something to show for a decision as dramatic as leaving high school, that was how I viewed it. And the pressure I put on myself was intense. I worked and worked and worked against my own self-imposed timeline, learning about the industry, writing novels and short stories, submitting novels and short stories, shelving them and starting new ones—I never took a break. I know there are A LOT of people out there who put more time in and get loads more rejections than I have, but when I reached the point where my third book had to be shelved, my “time” was, like I said, running out and I didn’t know what I was going to do. It felt like my journey had to stop there because I hadn’t achieved what I’d set out to do. I’d FAILED! I really felt like this lack of being where I wanted to be at that particular point in my life was unforgivable on my part. And that made me very sad.

I usually don’t tell people this part of my road to publication! But eventually, my sadness got so great, a member of my family suggested I stop for a while. Stop the whole thing. It was a fair suggestion. Nothing about what I was doing was making me happy. And yet while all this was happening, I should tell you I somehow managed to find the time to be annoyed about the rejections of my third book. Most readers found the protagonist really unlikeable and I liked her and—whether or not this was ultimately true—I decided they didn’t like her because she was an unlikeable GIRL and girls are always expected to be nice. In the back of my head, an idea about a girl nobody liked was brewing, but I was scared to start it because what was the point when the whole process made me feel this bad? But the idea was an insistent thing, it kept poking at my brain until finally, I thought, okay, one more book and then I’ll stop for a while.

But there was no way I could start my new book without taking a good, hard look at my ideas of success and failure and redefining them. My love for this idea (and indignation about girls not being allowed to be unlikeable!) was so loud I had to make a choice. I still wanted to be published, more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life. What happened here, my turning point, was I decided to define my success in terms of TRYING and accepting I had no control of the outcome. (And then I proceeded to write about a girl who was obsessed with perfection and outcomes.) As soon as I did this, the joy came back into my life. I got lost in this mean girl’s story and I looked forward to working on it and I loved working on it. I loved writing. It was what I was meant to do, and I was pretty sure I’d always do it regardless of whether or not I saw myself traditionally published.

I’d truly forgotten.

So that was a nice, eye-opening moment. It was a bit scary too—but it was a relief.

Cracked Up to Be

The book I wrote did end up being published. Cracked Up to Be. Everyone who writes and tries to get published knows how hard it is, how high the highs are and how low the lows. It would be very disingenuous to say letting go of the idea of being published helped me TO get published. I don’t believe that’s what happened. Really it was work and luck and timing. I was fortunate enough to get the manuscript into the hands of people who liked the story as much as I did. But letting go of my arbitrary self-imposed deadline to be published and letting go of the belief that being published determined my success or failure as a person reminded me why I tried for it in the first place: I love to write.

And on the harder days in this business, I miggght put on that Sufjan song to remind myself that all of my stories start and end with that.

—Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers lives and writes in Canada. She is the author of Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are, Fall for Anything, and This is Not a Test (June 2012).

Visit Courtney at courtneysummers.ca.

Follow @courtney_s on Twitter.


Thank you to everyone who entered the two giveaways via the entry forms—and thank you to the author for donating the prizes—and to Damon for donating the audio editions as an extra added surprise! I’m happy to announce the winners:

Andrea Benvenuto won the grand prize of three of Courtney Summers’s books: a signed copy of Some Girls Are, a signed copy of Fall for Anything, and a pre-order of This Is Not a Test. And melannie lara luna won two audio editions of Courtney Summer’s books: Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are (both donated by Damon Ford). Congrats! I’ll email the winners for their mailing addresses. Thank you again to everyone who entered!

Want more in this blog series?

The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.

Here are the posts in the series so far:

You can keep up with all the open giveaways on the giveaways page!

Series images by Robert Roxby.

89 responses to “Turning Points: Guest Post by Courtney Summers (+Giveaway)”

  1. We all put the pressure on ourselves as writers/artists/humans. But too much is too much. I’m so glad you found your way through. I’m still in the “optimist writer” category, writing, hoping that one of my books will sell. It’s not a bad place to be, but I don’t want to be here forever. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, it means a lot.

  2. Thanks for sharing this story! I didn’t have a set deadline to get published, but I remember putting that kind of pressure on myself and feeling my self-worth getting tangled up in things I had no control over.

  3. That was such a great story. And the fact that you added in Sufjan Stevens just upped your awesome level.

  4. Ahhh Courtney, I loved reading this and finding out more about you! I am a huge fan of your books and look forward to your newest, so I am entering the contest (even though I own the others)! I too have imposed (unrealistic) deadlines on myself and it can trample your soul! (((hugs))) and thank you!

  5. God, even your blog posts about failure are fantastic reads! Well, for whatever it took to get you to be a published author, I’m so glad you persevered and I got to read all your books! I read something like 50 YA books last year and CRACKED UP TO BE was undoubtedly my favorite of them all. Always love seeing how much it’s touched other people too, including its writer!

  6. If I’m bawling right now, does that mean you struck a chord with me? Uh, yeah. Really hoping one day I’ll look back and call this time “the darkness before the dawn”. Thanks, Courtney.

  7. I love your Turning Points series – these posts always let readers get to know authors in a really personal way, and this one’s no exception! Courtney’s journey is inspirational to read about!

    Thanks for this great giveaway!

  8. this was beautiful. especially “I really felt like this lack of being where I wanted to be at that particular point in my life was unforgivable on my part.”

  9. Courtney Summers is one of those authors where I will buy ANYTHING they write on the first day it releases, and it all stems from picking up a copy of Cracked Up to Be without knowing anything about it (just thinking the cover looked nice).

  10. I’m going craaazy waiting to read “This Is Not A Test”! I love Courtney’s books; having more of them in print or on audio would be fabulous.

  11. God, I love Courtney. And I love her indignation about girls not being allowed to be unlikeable and the way she defied that societal expectation and made us care about her unlikeable characters in Some Girls Are and Cracked Up to Be.

  12. I absolutely love this entry. Because I know about self-imposed deadlines and feeling like a failure in the face of them. This is beautifully written and definitely something I think a lot of writers can relate to. Thank you very much for sharing this.

  13. Great post, and yes! That happened for me, too. For me it was 25. I had to sell a book by 25 or I was a FAILURE and I would NEVER make it. … um. right. (I was 25 when I sold. The OCD in me is still relieved, even if I had already tossed the goal in terms of determining my self-worth.)

  14. The posting of this was really fortuitous as I just finished Courtney’s This is Not a Test this morning and can’t get it out of my head. I think the books she writes are so important. Hearing about her personal journey makes me appreciate all she has to offer even more.

  15. Thanks so much for this post – I’m writing my third YA now, having had a fabulous agent and two almosts. I think what’s hard when you’ve been writing for a while and not getting published is knowing you’re not a beginner, but you’ve not got a book out and your trying so hard but you’re in this kind of limbo state – or purgatory! Hoping wishing daydreaming working! And like you found out you have to just enjoy the ride. Keep writing and keep loving what your doing.

  16. This entire series has been so enlightening! Thanks to Courtney and the others for the great giveaways, but a bigger gift has been their Turning Points stories.

  17. I just adore Cortney Summers. Thanks for having her on your blog! Her book Some Girls Are is a must read for Tweens and Teens and thier parents the truth in the book is Astounding. I also have her other books on my shelf at home to read as well.
    I tweeted, tumbled, facebooked about this giveaway.
    and I am ‘friends’ with Courtney on facebook under Nicole Roberston. (sorry I dont know my facebook link)
    Thank you for this. I love YA books so much, even though i am way past being a YA!

  18. This is one amazing post. The story you shared and the practical advice that came out of it are truly awe-inspiring… It’s been a process for me learning to let go of the things that I can’t control, but reading your story has somehow given me encouragement.

  19. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share all this, Courtney. It feels so true… yet strangely encouraging, too. And makes me love CUTB even MORE.

  20. Wow, what an unconventional and inspiring tale. We’ve heard great things about the book, but more than anything, your conviction and bravery has convinced us to take a look. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  21. I read CRACKED UP TO BE last spring and adored it. So thankful published authors are willing to tell their stories to encourage others! FAB series 😀

  22. This post is one I needed to read; writing is hard for me right now, and this post is one I needed. Thank you, Courtney and Nova, for the amazing turning point series!

  23. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s really an inspiration. The truth is that life is so HARD sometimes, and it’s easy to want to give up on your goals. So nice to read about people who persevere though that to the point where they love what they do.

  24. As always, this is an inspiring Turning Point post. I can only imagine that Courtney’s story will help other writers push past the rejections and make it to their publication story.

  25. Wow! That opening paragraph is what I’m going through right now, word for word. Well, ok, except for maybe the car bit and the song. Still hanging on to my sanity, hoping someday, against the odds, I will make something of myself.

  26. I’m a HUGE Courtney Summers fan and her writing really did inspire me (she sparked off a lot of inspiration, didn’t she?) but I, obviously, had no clue to this side of her story, that she came so close to giving up. I gave myself similar timelines, too, because I guess I felt I had to prove something, and I could relate entirely – I just never imagined Courtney Summers went through it, too.

    Thank you for doing this series, Nova. It’s so motivating.

  27. I’m so glad you stuck with it so we could all read your genius stories! ❤ Can't wait for THIS IS NOT A TEST. Zombies! Courtney Summers! All that's missing is a burrito, and that's easy to fix!

  28. I, I, I *Hyperventilates* I cannot process this… I need a minute.

    I can’t believe you almost give up, Courtney! to think you would have left us without your amazing books makes me depressed, because I love LOVE LOVE your books, and they were a turning point in my reading life. All I can say right now is PHEW I’m a so very glad you didn’t give up. And even though you don’t need to prove anything to anybody, you sure proved wrong all those people who told you you were screwing up your life. Your my inspiration!

    And unlikeable girls don’t need to be liked, they need to be understood. And accepted. Just like boys.

  29. Great giveaway, and even better post. I love hearing stories, anecdotes, and words of wisdom from the authors themselves. 🙂

  30. Thank you for this post that really shows why no one should stop hoping!

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  31. Another really inspiring post! I’ve had to accept the fact that I have no control over whether or not I get published. You can only control what you write and how hard you work. 🙂

  32. Courtney Summers is one of my favourite authors around. Her stories connect with me on an incredibly intimate level, and I find myself rereading her works every time I can borrow copies from friends/the library (I’ve been saving up to have copies of my own). Cracked Up to Be is so, so personal to me because I can just see myself inside that story, apart of Parker herself and her world. I’m so happy to hear that this wonderful author is getting her 5th book published!

    https://twitter.com/#!/shyluck13/status/167016366640082944 (+1 Twitter)

  33. I’m incredibly glad you kept writing, Courtney, because your work is phenomenal and inspiring. I remember reading Cracked Up to Be for the first time and being in awe. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to get excited about reading like that, ya know?

  34. As expected, this post is absolutely fantastic. Thank you for writing even when it seemed like you couldn’t. The world of YA wouldn’t be the same without you.

  35. I love that you created a heroine that was “unlikable”! Recently I read FRACTURE by Megan Miranda, and I saw in some reviews that people didn’t like the heroine because she wasn’t as easy to get along with as some of her boring counterparts. Being one myself, I love girls with slightly prickly personalities 🙂 Better to be “unlikable” than nice and boring! I have to check out this book, it sounds like the perfect one for me 🙂

  36. Courtney Summers you are my favorite writer! I have never been able to finish a book until i picked up your novel!

  37. I just want to thank everyone who left such encouraging and kind comments in response to this post (and for their interest in the giveaway!). I was overwhelmed by them! I so appreciate all the kind words and those who shared where they are with their own writing (sending good writing vibes to them). It means a lot. THANK YOU! And Nova, thank YOU for inviting me to participate in this series. This was awesome. 🙂 Congrats to the winners!

  38. Thank you for writing this. I’m currently querying agents with a YA novel myself and it’s so nice to read a story as inspiring as yours. You, ma’am, have also made me feel like something of a wimp about the whole thing 🙂

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