Turning Point (or the Tunnel at the End of the Darkness) Guest Post by Susan Adrian

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Susan Adrian revealing hers…

Guest post by Susan Adrian

Last year, I quit writing.

I was going through a tough time. I’d just had a Significant Birthday, and nothing seemed to be working for me. I’d been writing for more than 10 years. I’d been agented for more than 3. I’d written books that I was proud of. But still, all the friends in my writing group had gotten multi-book deals in the years we’d been together (this is not an exaggeration), and I had nothing. Not even a book to sell.

I’d almost gotten an agent with the first book I wrote, a historical, but decided to change gears and write YA, which is my true love. I signed with an agent for my second book, about a girl who shivers into an alternate world she believes is real—until she’s diagnosed with epilepsy, and both her worlds come apart. We got very close, but even after rewrites for editors it didn’t quite sell.

So I wrote another book, about a teen ghost-hunter who has to go into the afterlife (including a Ghost Disneyland!) to retrieve her mom. My agent didn’t like it—at all.

I started another book, but that one never made it past 10k and pitching the idea.

I wrote another. This one I pounded on for 2 years. It had some adventure and chases, but mostly it dealt with tough issues, a girl growing up among extreme environmentalists, that were tricky to get right, and I couldn’t quite manage it.

Worse, I’d come to hate the book. I hated writing it. I’d drag myself to the page because I knew I should, but I never found joy in the writing. It was a sludge I had to get through, had to force myself to do.

Until one day it occurred to me that I didn’t have to. I was the one making myself do this, hitting my head against a brick wall every day. I could just let myself STOP.

I felt a profound sense of relief, and I knew that’s what I needed to do. Stop everything. I’d tried my best, and it didn’t work. That was okay. I was still a mom, a wife, an editor, an interesting person, even if I wasn’t a real writer.

I put the book away. I emailed my agent, and we agreed a break was needed at the very least. I didn’t write at all.

I took the opportunity to apply for a new job across the country, a job where I knew I wouldn’t be able to or have the time to write. But that was okay. I wasn’t a writer anymore. I read books whenever I wanted to. I focused on my family. I watched TV and movies. I found shows I adored, including one about a goofy spy called Chuck, with nerds and adventures and humor and strong relationships. I wanted books like that, I thought. Where were books like that?

I still felt good, not writing. But it was kind of lonely, and I was having trouble sleeping. I started telling myself a story at night when I couldn’t sleep. It was a serial story, vaguely Chuck-ish at the start, about a boy who had a power the government wanted. It was fun, and adventurous, and suspenseful.

It was also totally just for me, in my head only, so I did whatever the heck I wanted. From night to night I’d go along, adding family, adding twists. It got so I looked forward to going to bed just so I could keep moving forward with my story.

But I didn’t write it down. It was foolish, a fantasy, something I was playing with. And I’d applied for this job, and was waiting for that. I wasn’t a writer anymore.

Then one night the story hit me with a fabulous twist, one I hadn’t seen coming but fit so perfectly with everything that had come before, and I stayed awake until 2 or 3 am following it in my head, bubbling with it.

In the bleary morning, I realized two things. One, the job wasn’t going to come through—and it probably wasn’t right for me anyway. Two, this could be a real book. With that twist I’d convinced myself. Maybe it wasn’t as foolish as I thought. But still, I was cautious. I opened a journal, and wrote these words:

This is a story just for myself.
I don’t have to tell anybody I’m writing it.
I don’t have to tell anybody I’m writing at all.
Playing. Everything I like. For FUN.

Then I started writing my story.

I wrote the whole draft in 8 weeks. Every day I rushed to the page, ideas flooding out. It wasn’t the same story that had been in my head—it changed under my hands as I was writing it—but I loved that book. I loved the characters. I just wanted to spend time with them. I code-named it Happy Sauce, because the sheer act of working on it made me happy. I even liked revising it.

I’d rediscovered my joy. In writing, in telling a story, in creating characters that live and breathe and make their own decisions and mistakes, but find their way. I was a writer. I’d tried to stop, but I couldn’t. It’s who I am.

Late last year I left my agent. I respect her very much, but I needed a clean start. I queried with this book, THE TUNNEL, my book for myself that had turned into so much more.

In April I signed with Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary, who loves Jake and his story like I do. (I knew it was a great fit when she squeed as we were talking about where the plot could go!). THE TUNNEL is out with editors now. And I’m writing another book, and the love is still there, every day.

I know everyone says to write a book for yourself, to write the book of your heart. I could’ve told you that before all this started. But it took an absolute break to make me do that for real, to make me go back to the very basics of storytelling: to tell the story I most wanted to read.

I hope someday you’ll get to read it too. But even if you don’t, I’ll still be here. Writing.

Susan Adrian is an author of young adult books. In the past she worked in the fields of exotic pet-sitting, clothes-schlepping, and bookstore management, and has settled in, mostly, as a scientific editor. She currently lives in the wilds of Montana with her family, and keeps busy by learning Russian, eating chocolate, and writing more books. You can visit her website at susanadrian.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @susan_adrian. Susan is represented by Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary.

There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

41 responses to “Turning Point (or the Tunnel at the End of the Darkness) Guest Post by Susan Adrian”

  1. What a great turning point story! I love reading these, love seeing myself in many of these authors’ journeys. What they all have in common is a love of writing and an acceptance of themselves, in the end, as writers, whether or not their books get published. And once you’ve accepted that–really internalized it–somehow THAT’S when it happens. Very strange and magical almost, and it’s how it happened for me too–right when I was ready to quit and made the decision that I’d just play around and write for ME, I got the book deal.


    • Thanks, Jody! There are lots of things about writing I find half-magical. But you’re right, this time I REALLY internalized it. I wasn’t just playing with a break–I thought I was done. My brain had other ideas. 🙂


  2. I love this blog post series. Each one is so inspiring! I also had to rediscover my love for writing…. It was sorta stamped out during my MFA program… It took years of me just taking a break, working in education & retail, until I was in a place to fall back in love with the process again.


  3. Wow – just told Susan via Twitter what a great blogpost this is. So excited for you, Susan, and what a great story! Crossing all digits all goes well for you and hurrah for not giving up. You are a hero.


  4. I know you understand how much I share your pain, Susan, since we’ve been hearing about one another’s writing ever since we both worked on historical fiction for adult readers. I’ve totally been there myself, and I even came close to giving up on my writing career last September (right around the time I hit that same big birthday and had just experienced a crushing writing blow). A month later I got that contract. It happened seventeen years after I started writing that first historical manuscript I attempted selling. You’ll get there, and when you do it will be all the sweeter because of the time and obstacles you endured getting there.

    Thanks so much for sharing this story, Susan! I’m so happy you wrote that book just for you at first. That’s when a book becomes gripping and meaningful.


    • I DO know you understand, Cat. We’ve been in this one together for a long time, eh? And I do think the just-for-you makes a difference. Like somehow the readers can TELL.


  5. Super-inspirational post. Really well done. You really have a great message here for us, and also a powerful life-lesson. Not only that, but the post is also very well-written (ha! story’s great, but kudos on the prose of it too!).

    snarkyscience.com (just launched)


  6. This is a lovely story. Thanks for sharing, and for giving hope, and for reminding what the point of it all is.


  7. I’m so proud you had the courage to take a break when you needed it. But MORE proud of the fact that you had the courage to come back to writing when you were ready.

    Look how far you’ve come in your journey — I can’t wait to see what’s next!


  8. I was Susan’s agent. I LOVED her writing (and her) very much. It broke my heart to not sell that book. I was so sad when she hung up her “tap shoes” but I respected her clear headed thinking.
    And when we parted ways, I was sad. But again, I know Susan made the right choice. It was a hard choice. It certainly wasn’t something either of us wanted in specific, but she needed to do that to get to the place we both wanted her to be: published.

    She is a terrific writer with a distinctive delightful voice and I am so so happy that lots more people will now know that.

    I’m not her agent but I will always be her fan.


  9. I’m beginning to believe we all quit or feel like quitting at one point or another. Progress comes so slowly in this business that it’s often hard to recognize it.

    I was on my fourth manuscript and fifth year of querying when I signed with Kate, and honestly, I thought my third manuscript was going to be the One. When it wasn’t, I found myself in this weird in-between place. Thankfully, my fourth project was almost finished; if it hadn’t been, I might have just kept putting it off and putting it off.

    We always tell each other to never give up, never surrender, but when the dream of publication is no longer making you happy, when it’s just sucking the life out of you, I think letting go is a perfectly legitimate–and in many ways, more courageous–course of action.

    But I’m glad you made it back:)


    • Thanks, Krista. I do believe that there is a time when it’s really okay. It’s not giving up, or failing, it’s moving on.

      But if you get sucked back in, well, all to the better. I don’t think I could stop again now.


  10. Lordy, I loved Chuck, and now my kids have discovered it. Our summer vacation project is watching the whole set.

    I love the disparate places our inspiration comes from and how we can put all the pieces together.

    I love it when we have enough self-awareness to know when it’s hard and we need more work vs. it’s hard and we need a break (or a new thing entirely).

    Best wishes for The Tunnel!


    • Chuck FTW! (Though of course it did diverge from that point significantly, there are a few Chuck Easter Eggs in the book at the moment…)

      Thank you!


  11. Thank you for sharing this! I’m glad you came back to writing, because THE TUNNEL sounds magnificent. I really want to read it right now! I loved the show Chuck, and if you enjoyed writing THE TUNNEL that much, I know I and other readers will enjoy it too. Here’s hoping an editor snatches it up right quick. Best of luck on submission.


  12. That sounds so much like me it’s crazy! The way you think a story out in your head each night before you go to sleep. That is what I do too! I have done it since I was a child b/c I was never tired when my parents made me go to bed, so I’d lie there and think out a story, night after night. I have a book that I still write just for fun, and I call it the Practice Book, b/c I practice writing with it but don’t ever intend to try to publish it. I have thought that story out in my head so many times now (along with others), and it’s so precious to me. Those characters are so close to me. It feels like I’m home when I’m in that story. I had a similar experience with writing, too, where I put so much pressure on myself to write something that I could sell that I stopped enjoying the writing. I made myself stop and start working on the Practice Book instead, and it changed everything. I had fun again, and instead of obsessing about agents and publishers at night, I went back to playing out stories while I fell asleep. It felt so good.

    It was so great to hear your story! Good luck with everything. 🙂


    • I’ve done stories in my head for years too, though never as long or detailed as ths one. Maybe you should write down your practice book. You never know!

      And thank you! Good luck to you too!


  13. I love this post so much. Reading it felt like looking through a portal into my own brain. Here’s wishing you all the best with your Heart books. Keep writing! 😀


    • Thank you so much! I appreciate and suck in all good luck vibes. But I’ll send you some too!


    • You’re welcome! It was hard to think of sharing it at first…that I actually “gave up”…but I’m so glad I did.


  14. Thank you so much for such an inspirational post. It is exactly the thing I needed to read right now. Wow. Maybe it is time for me to quit. It sounds like I am exactly where you were.


    • Heh! Well, I don’t know that I’d advise quitting. But do what you need to do to find the joy. Whatever that is.


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