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.