distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

The Discovery Phase, and Writing About Writing

The Discovery Phase

I’m working on something new. I wish it could come out of me lightning-fast. I want to show my agent a nice little tease of a beginning—just a few pages—and a synopsis and then see what he thinks, if this could be my next book, but I’m finding that with each new day I work on it, the story veers this way and that. The characters reveal new secrets. The world turns a corner I didn’t expect. New layers reveal themselves. New meanings emerge.

And so I’m not yet ready to communicate what this book could be because I don’t yet know myself. I’ve decided to give myself the time needed for discovery—to wade through this “discovery phase” of novel-writing and splash around for as long as I need to. Then, once the idea is more sharply pointed and defined, I can show my agent.

Until then, it’s kind of just a pile of deformed clay that I’m saying will one day turn into an elephant. For now, I am the only one who can see the elephant.

This is all well and good—because, oh, the discovery phase of trying on a new novel is fun and exciting and full of promise and possible lifelong love—but at the same time I do wish it could just be done already. I may or may not have been complaining about this the other night when E reminded me that I’d just finished a novel. The final draft of 17 & Gone was finished on July 16, and there were copyedits and edits on galleys through August, so really, in the scheme of things, I did just finish a whole book. Can’t it be okay that it takes a while to find my way into a new one? Can’t it be okay that I don’t know yet what my next book should be? That I’m questioning? That I’m working it through?

It has to be.

Writing About Writing

On another note, I saw at some point this week—it’s a blur—Michelle Witte, a wise publishing person who knows what she’s talking about, say on Twitter that she wished authors wouldn’t talk so much about writing on blogs and Twitter. Surely because it gets boring for the non-writers and doesn’t draw in our audience: the readers who just liked our books. I am paraphrasing from hazy memory, so apologies if I explain it wrong, Michelle. It’s just something I happened to notice and then I was admonishing myself for.

Michelle has some great points. But as soon as I read what she was saying, I got concerned.

Because, as readers of this blog know, I talk about writing a lot here. I talk about my own writing, I have other writers come on and talk about their writing, and in fact, in the paragraphs above, I just told you how the writing of my new project is going, didn’t I?

The thing for me is this: This is what I am—a writer. I don’t have much to talk about otherwise. My personal life is personal and kept that way for a reason. E prefers I don’t talk about him on this blog, and I absolutely respect that, even though sometimes I slip in a reference to how wonderful and helpful he is with my writing. And, often, I like to keep the subject matter of my books-in-progress close, so I won’t be blogging about any specifics about this new novel I’m exploring if and until it gets bought by my editor and becomes “real.” And outside of all that, my avid interest in television-viewing would make this blog more boring than anyone could ever dream.

I also enjoy blogging about my writing process—it gives me pleasure. That’s the beauty of it: There are times when writing about writing helps me find my way into the heart of what I mean to say. Sometimes writing about writing inspires me to write some more. I started this blog about six seven (wow) years ago to do just that. I wasn’t published then, so this blog wasn’t a sales tool. It was a personal journal about my writing. And I guess it still is.

I guess I could blog more about events I do and other things like that? But I think it’s disingenuous to read an author’s blog about only the good things. I mean, sure, there are probably some authors with awesome, sparkly book lives—I see them tweeting incessantly about it—so much excitement about new book deals and sales, and events where fans asked for autographs on their bare stomachs, and sandwiches being named after them at the corner deli… (If you are an author who has had a sandwich named after you, do tell me!) But those are faraway and fluffy realities for me. I guess I just like to know the behind-the-scenes writing part of all that. The struggles that went into the book that inspired the sandwich named after you, you know?

Then again, I’m a writer. That’s what I’m interested in. It’s not what most of the world is interested in.

Do you really want to know what I think of the new season of America’s Next Top Model or how many prison and drug documentaries I have watched in the last month? Do you want to know what I yelled out in the dark of my apartment while Netflixing last season’s True Blood (it was not kind)?

Or… would you like to know what I’ve been reading? I’m working on a new YA proposal, so I am having trouble reading YA right now. Instead I’ve been reading adult novels. Read recently and still thinking about these books: The Secret History by Donna Tartt; Savages by Don Winslow; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; The Last Life by Claire Messud (for the fifth time at least); Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. In midst of: Dora: A Head Case by Lidia Yuknavitch. May read next, though I admit I have an aversion to cheerleaders: Dare Me by Megan Abbott. And looking forward to: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub.

Yes, I may write YA right now, but I read other things, too. I don’t believe in reviewing books as an author, so that’s why you don’t see me talking about my reading choices here.

What else should I blog about if not writing? I truly don’t know.

So I wonder of you: Does it bother you when authors blog only about writing? Do you want more from me? 

25 responses to “The Discovery Phase, and Writing About Writing”

  1. I like that you write a lot about the writing process and your own experiences as a writer. As someone who hopes to get published at some point, it inspires me to keep writing when I see I’m not the only one who doesn’t have that sparkly writing experience you talk about. To me blogging is about being yourself and like you said you are a writer. It’s natural for you to write about writing so just keep doing it. As long as you are being real and true to yourself you have nothing to worry about.

  2. I’ll have to click through and read that post, but for right now I don’t see why blogging about writing could be a bad thing. Personally, my writing posts generate way more interest than anything else I blog about (travel, crafting, recipes, etc.), and while I know some readers prefer to experience our work in book form only, those are obviously the people who won’t be reading our blogs anyway. So I say carry on, because your fellow writers and hardcore fans are always interested in what you have to say about your process and everything else.

  3. p.s. There is no sparkly, remember? It just looks that way to everyone else. Case in point: the Obama sisters reading Imaginary Girls. It’s another tick in your awesome column, but there are plenty of things in your ‘challenging’ column as well. Even that writer with the sandwich named after her (if she does indeed exist) has student loans to pay off. 😉

  4. “Until then, it’s kind of just a pile of deformed clay that I’m saying will one day turn into an elephant. For now, I am the only one who can see the elephant.”

    Yep. I just tweeted this morning about the struggle to get the elephant to look like the elephant you JUST KNOW IT CAN BE. Eventually. ::headdesk::

  5. How exciting about your new book! Just wanted to say I love your blog, so please don’t change a thing 🙂 Though I love book recommendations, even if they aren’t reviews.

  6. This is actually one of my favorite writing-centric blogs, and one of the few I still read. Because that’s the thing: you write about writing in a very personal way, that makes it feel interesting and real. And (oh no, is this terrible?) even when you’ve posted about frustrations or rejections, I’ve found that inspiring. (I hope it’s not terrible!) Because it gives me a sense of what Actual Real Writers deal with and that when I feel down or frustrated, that’s okay and normal, too — and that I can get through it, because look at the amazing books *you’ve* written despite all of that. 🙂 A lot of your entries have meant a lot to me (especially the one about being a woman and a writer in this culture) and even this one feels…I don’t know, familiar-ish? to me. The idea of identifying as a writer and not knowing what else to talk about, I mean.

    I used to read a lot of publishing-related blogs — lots of writers’, agents’, and editors’ blogs. There was a ton of advice and I’ve genuinely appreciated that, but this is one of the only ones I still check regularly because it *isn’t* just general writing advice (which tends to get repeated over and over again in the blogosphere — I’m not *that* nervous about writing a query letter anymore… *g*). I like that it’s about how you think about writing, and about how writing is a huge part of your life and your personality. So I’d be bummed if you stopped writing about those things, though I’m sure I’d also enjoy reading your thoughts on ANTM, too.

  7. I really love that you blog about writing – it’s why I come here so often, and why I like to read other writer’s blogs. Though, I have to say yours is probably the best writer’s blog for writers that I know of. The turning points & What Inspires You blog series were very inspirational throughout the year, and I would love to see more of those. You are in a unique position as a writer who knows so many other writers who blog that you can reach out to, to not only offer your own tips/inspiration as you go, you can offer theirs as well. I really hope you continue on as you have been since I started reading your blog a few years ago.

  8. I *want* to read about the writing. About the good and the bad and everything in between. It lets me know that I am not insane for wanting to do this, and that other writers go through the same trials and emotions during their writing process. Personally, I don’t want to read a blog that is only about book promotion. If the publisher wants something like that, there can be a designated book page. But I read blogs to take authors off the pedestal (no offense) because if *you* can do it, *I* can do it. Besides, it’s the equivalent of water cooler chatter for a profession that doesn’t have a central office. I like the blogs about other topics (like your computer snafu, or other life things), but what draws me to your blog is the discussions about writing.

  9. I love your blog. I come here for exactly what you offer–details about your personal writing life, clues of how you got over a certain writing hurtle, a glimpse at the glamor of being a published author (so I can dream about that day in my own future, for myself) and the blog series about how other authors do the same. Writing blogs that give INSTRUCTIONS of how to write are boring and I agree with Michelle’s wish there were less of them (especially because those bloggers are beginning writers themselves and don’t have the credentials, in my opinion, to be listened to, but are trying to build credentials by giving the impression that they know everything). I learned enough about plot arcs and pacing and adjectives in college workshops and I certainly don’t want to spend my time reading blogs that reiterate wisdom of how important the “hook sentence” is; to me, blogs are about community; reading about experiences, and relating to those experiences.

    Even though writing about writing might “narrow” your blog audience, which probably drives publishers, marketing departments, and publicity departments crazy, there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a personal decision. Besides, lots of young readers read ferociously because they dream about being an author someday. They’ll follow author’s blogs for the inside look at a writing life and simply because they love the author and the books they write. A blog audience might be smaller, but it will certainly be loyal.

  10. I absolutely love your blog and how honest you are about what writing is like for you. Thanks for sharing and please keep doing so.

  11. Just keep writing and doing what you do. I love your blog and read it all the time. It’s inspiring…and it makes me realize that even though you are this awesome published author, you are human, too…and struggle, too. It gives me hopes and helps me write. And that is why I keep reading.
    And no, I don’t want to know about America’s Top Model, but I am interested in WHAT you are reading.
    Keep it coming! And my theory…if you don’t like my blog, don’t read it. But I love it and it’s mine. And in my case, there are a ton of “mom” blogs out there, but I don’t care. It’s for me and if it helps other mom’s, good. If not, oh well. I just keep doing what I do because it makes me happy. And you should, too. Plus it makes ALOT of us happy!

  12. I enjoy reading and writing about the “writing experience” but not the “how-to.” It gives me a sense of community when I read about the experiences of other writers, especially those that I admire. A font of inspiration that pushes me to believe that I will someday achieve me own personal writing goals.

    As a blog writer, I limit my blog posts about writing to my own personal experience, like how it feels, and what inspires me, and the joys, and yes, the lows of the process. I do not claim to be an expert on the process of writing on my blog, because I am not. I only hope to provide inspiration to others too.

  13. There is a difference in writing about writing the way you do (in an honest, compelling way that draws us in) vs. writing about writing in a self-serving, dry, boring way.

    There are plenty of ways to write about writing poorly. You, however, are succeeding. We wouldn’t be reading your blog otherwise.

    So carry on, please!

  14. I’m a writer, so I love reading about writing! And I always enjoy articles about other writers’ process, which is why I clicked on the link to your blog today (you had me at “discovery phase”…it’s exactly the phase I’m in right now, too). So, carry on! 🙂

  15. I’d echo what a few others have said here – keep doing what you do. I know we’re all deluged under tons of attention-diverting information daily. But frankly, it someone working in the area of publishing or writing gets irritated by reading tweets or blog posts about writing, then maybe they’re a little burned out or in the wrong field. And, after all, you can always unfollow!

  16. I love reading about authors’s trials and tribulations because it gives me hope as an unpublished author. I also like reading all the advice I can get on writing. My blog is also about writing, but like you I feel like it’s more of a journal so I can keep track of everything I’ve done in regards to my writing. If my blog has a chance to give others hope on their writing someday the way yours has with me then I am going to keep writing about writing.

  17. I’m glad the tweets sparked some thoughts about your own blogging. That’s more what I hoped writers would get from the tweets than anything, to evaluate _why_ they’re blogging about writing. I’ve known writers who feel like they have to blog on writing or giving writing advice to fit in with the online writing community. One person in particular talked to me about how she has nothing to say about writing, and it felt like drudgery to do so. Then she mentioned that she’d much rather discuss one of her passions, which directly relates to her writing. My response was a definite YES! Write about what fills you with passion, what catches your interest. Don’t feel like you have to follow the herd.

    Another point, which a few of the commenters mentioned, was the sheer number of new, inexperienced writers who offer writing advice or “rules” when they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    Basically, I’m hoping that writers will contemplate _why_ they blog about writing, and decide if another topic might be of more value to them and their readers. Since I’ve tweeted about it, I’ve heard from some writers who are excited to shift the focus of their blogging to something they’re passionate about that relates to their writing, including cool scientific research and facts, tattoos, and the great outdoors. I’d say it’s so much better for them to discuss their passions—especially those that show up in their writing—to a) give them more confidence in and comfort with their blogging, and b) to relate more to their readers, and even help their audience grow because it’s not just another blog with writing advice.

    In the end, it’s not that writers _can’t_ or _shouldn’t_ blog about writing, but that they should really think about what they’re blogging and why, then take stock of what would be most beneficial for them and/or their readers.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts on this.

  18. I’m with Daisy, don’t change a thing! Love your posts about writing because they are reflections about writing, and writing life, not “this is what I’m writing” type posts. Which I bore of quickly.

  19. Please don’t change your blog! Writers are lonely people sitting in rooms making up stories. We need other writers to talk about writing, and not just the good stuff. Process is everything to us. I read your daily waiting for insights and shared feelings. You are wonderful.

  20. I like your blog and I don’t think there’s anything wrong about authors blogging about writing. I think it’s inspiring and I learn a lot. If someone’s not interested in what a blogger mainly writes about, then there are plenty of blogs on other topics they can find to read.

  21. I love that you write about writing! My favorite blogs are the ones about writing. I mean, okay, I found your blog because I was looking for a writing blog and hope to become a published author one day, so everyone might not like it, but I think it’s great. I love seeing how different writers do things, and blogs like yours inspire me so much!

  22. I like reading about writing. It helps me process my own method. You blog is one of my favorites on the subject. I particularly liked the Turning Points series.

    I agree. You have to be yourself. Keep private what you choose and share what you choose.


  23. I’m also a blogger who blogs about writing. When I started blogging, I asked myself: What do I know and care about enough that I can blog about it indefinitely? Writing was at the top of the list. (I care about politics, too, but I won’t blog about politics for many reasons that I won’t go into here.)

    The other thing I asked myself was: If anyone who reads my books actually bothers to look me up online, why might they do so? Why do *I*, as a reader, look up writers online? And the answer is usually that I want to find out more about their books: when the next one’s coming out, and maybe some “backstage” or behind-the-scenes information about the writer or the books. So I include that kind of information too.

    I have always felt, and continue to feel, that people should blog about what they want to, and their audience will find them. If a blogger is passionate about her topic–be it lighthouses or free-range chickens or punctuation–people who also care about that topic will flock to that blog. I think it’s very difficult for people to sustain a blog if they write about what they think “should” write about.

    So I don’t think writers should blog about writing if they don’t want to; nor do I think they must stop blogging about writing if that’s what they really want to blog about.

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