Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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September 13, 2017

How to Survive a Confidence Crisis

I learn something new with every book I write. Usually, it's craft-related, or characterization, high concept--concrete things. 

But this next book taught me something deeper and more important. I'm hoping something in my pain and suffering will keep some of you from the same.

First, a bit of backstory. The past almost two years, I've taken huge hits in my career as an author. I love romance, but have wanted to break into women's fiction fo-evah. So:

  • I wrote the book of my heart. I loved it. NY loved the writing, but eventually turned me down - not a large enough audience for a Western Women's Fiction. Okay, fine, I self-pubbed it. (Days Made of Glass).
  • I started a hard-hitting, Jodi Picoult-esque women's fiction proposal. I slaved over every word. The editors loved it. Except. It was too sad. So I rewrote the proposal and synopsis. They still thought it was too sad. Ouch. I've put the book in the drawer until I can find a way to appease NY, and still write the book I want.
  • I took time out of chasing NY to write a romance novella for an anthology with some friends of mine. (Cowboy Karma).

I was lost. I had a heart-to-heart with my agent and she suggested I go back to what I know NY wants - my brand of romance. My publisher, Grand Central, wanted more books from me (thank God).

This book. It started differently. The character came to me - a funny, irreverent voice that is so not me. She came with an opening scene that just flew off my fingers. But that's all I had. I could have just smiled, and put it in a drawer. Except, I really liked it! 

So, in my normal pantser style, I dug in and started writing. I didn't know anything about this woman except her town, and surface things. And the plot wasn't developing with the writing, as it usually does. 

That's where everything fell apart.

My critters didn't like it. They usually make comments, I fix it, and move on. This time, they didn't like my character - they didn't 'get' her.

Do you have this fear? That the ideas will dry up? that you'll never figure out what comes next? That your editor will line the bottom of her bird cage with your pages?

Yeah. That's where I was. 

Thank God I have amazing writer friends who buck me up, and talk me off the ledge. I called, and they helped. But if I called a lifeline every time I was lost in The Pit of Despair with this book, they'd be dodging my calls.


Then vultures showed up

I was freaking out. Literally. Nightmares, depression, thinking about backing out of the contract. I was out of options.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. This crisis pushed me places I'd never been before. See, I'm a doer. I believe that the best way out of a mess is action. As my Alpha Dog says, 'Do something, even if it's wrong.'

What To DO?

I did what scared me the most. I sat with the fear. I sat with the looming possibility of disaster. 

I. Sat.

You know what I found? There's an eye in the middle of the storm. When I stopped fighting, expected nothing, and just sat with the story, a calm came over me. I wasn't afraid. I was almost disassociated from the mess, seeing it from the outside. 

Did I have an epiphany? No. Did I unravel the plot? No, I didn't. 

I got something better.

I remembered that I can do this. Those eight books weren't a fluke. I remembered - I'm a goddamn WRITER! I'll figure this out, type The End, turn it in, and go on to the next. 

It was like my brain sent me my own lifeline. But it didn't do it until I was willing to fail. Until I was willing to take on my worst fear in a stare-down. 

I'm now writing the second half of that book. I know the end, but not how I'll get there. But I'm no longer freaking out, because I have my confidence back.

If you're stuck in this horrible place (and I pray you never are), try it. The weirdest recommendation ever:

Just sit.

What do you think, WITS readers? Have you ever tried this? Are you willing to?

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For a limited time, Laura's RITA winner, The Sweet Spot, is on sale at all retailers!

62 comments on “How to Survive a Confidence Crisis”

  1. What a great lesson in perseverance, Laura! I'm so glad the story is coming along now, and that your have proven, once again, that you are a writer! Congratulations and many thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Laura, this is exactly where I am at this point in my writing. Thank you for speaking to my heart as I sit in the mire of "what to do next?" I will try, again. I don't share your success with mulitple books, but I will sit, listen, and write. Thank you. Virginia

  3. I love this. Thank you so much for sharing this. I tend to suffer from high anxiety. I'm a worrier. So I've gotten to this point a lot over the years and have been there recently. Low sales on my current series had gotten me down and the "doubt demon" as I call him grabbed a hold of me. I had this character I loved, wrote about a half a chapter, that, like you, just flew off the tips of my fingers. Then I came to a screeching halt. I'm a pantser too, so I knew where I wanted to go, but not a clue how to get there and sitting down to write, nothing would come. So I took the summer off and just sat with it. Turned out, it was exactly what I needed. The story isn't coming as quickly as some, but it's coming. Thanks again for sharing. 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing your story! "Just Sit" is so perfect. No demands. No pressure. Just a gentle nudge towards continuing.

  5. Ah, Laura, I'm sure there isn't a writer out there who has not experienced this crisis-in-confidence. We all hit the wall sometimes, and you're very wise to tell us to just sit and do nothing, and let the muses return when we're rested and alert rather than thrashing around to no good end. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Laura, your experience gave me such hope, you can't imagine! Thank you for being so transparent! As you can see, there's a lot of us out here with the same problem. I'm so glad you discovered the way out. And no, those eight books sure weren't a fluke.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. It helps to know I'm not alone.

    I've been on a year-long downward slide in my writing. My new series that launched last July has been a huge disappointment, saleswise. The book I talked with my publisher about last year still isn't finished. I didn't even get the proposal to my editor until mid-summer. I am trying to be optimistic that my publisher will offer a contract but won't be too surprised if they don't (not to say I won't be devastated, I like my publisher). I feel like I've been through a drought, and hopeful that I'll get some much needed rain (and income). My seventh book is coming out next week, and I've tried the things I'm supposed to do, but I'm not expecting much in the way of sales.

    The good news is that the new story is coming along. And if my publisher doesn't want it, I've put in enough work on the book that I will look at my other options. And think snow. Because I plan on writing the skier book next and will need to research on the mountain.(Or get a weekend job at the ski resort).

  8. I've been in that horrible place for 2 years... Sold 30 books under a pesud, and then crashed hard (panic attacks, etc), and can't get back to it... where I published before is no longer there, and I don't even know *what* I want to write anymore, nothing grabs me. I'm glad you found your way back. 🙂

  9. Ha, Laura! You know me. I "sit" for so long that you have to kick me to my feet. It's sad when my meditation circle has to remind me to "just sit," but sometimes, even after eleven years of practice, I forget basic tenets. Thanks for this.

  10. My version of just sitting, is just get busy. If the writing isn't coming, I walk. And walk. And walk. And sometimes even run. And then I weed and (literally) shovel shit. The mindless movement, lets my mind rest and more times than not, I find where the writing unraveled and pick it up again. Sometimes it takes a while, I think we are our own worst enemies, heaving expectations. This business is HARD. It isn't for sissies. You are smart to go back to what you know and love, but you have new eyes now and my guess is your stories will be stronger for it. Break the mold. Looking forward to it.

    1. You know Cara, it hadn't occurred to me, but my mindless movement is bicycling. And I haven't been able to do that with the broken leg.

      Thanks for making me see that.

  11. Oh wow—you have no idea how much I needed to read this today! Yesterday I got a terse letter from my publisher, cancelling the last two books in my current contract, one of which I'd already written and submitted. I was stunned. My agent was stunned. Even my editor was stunned, because a few months ago, I was the top author in that particular line. They LOVED me. The first book in my planned 12-book series soared. The next two didn't. Reviews were excellent on all of them, but without sales, its a sad farewell. My agent (bless her heart) was right there to talk me off the ledge yesterday morning—she says the romance market is an unholy mess right now with lots of editors and authors trying to figure it all out. She suggested that this wasn't failure for me (though it's very hard not to see it that way), it's opportunity—I can try something new, write one of the historical fiction books I've wanted to do but didn't have the courage as long as I had the safety net of being able to publish one more romance. So today I'm flying without a net, swimming without water wings. I'm scared to death, but I'm trying to believe that the universe is just redirecting me, not pooping on me. Wish me luck—and thank you, Laura, for your blog! Off to practice flapping before I try to fly again—and sitting, too.

    1. Lecia! OUCH! And I know it doesn't help to hear this now, but you may look back some day and thank your STARS that they didn't want that book! Go for it, girlfriend! In the meantime, since it's done, self-pub that puppy!

    2. This is heartbreaking - I'm so sorry this happened to you. I just looked you up and your books look GORGEOUS! I'm with Laura, I hope you self-pub the one they just canceled (after you turned it in. *grrrr*).

  12. Hi Laura, Thank you for sharing. You are my inspiration and appreciate that you open up to us. I, too, have been floundering and wondering what has happened to me but your words have given me the impetus to get er up and do it! All the best to you!

  13. I think a funny, irreverent voice suits you to a 'T' and I'm excited to read this book when you finish. I do understand where you coming from. This year has all been about reinvention for me as I switched genres and agents. I've been writing up a storm and have nothing to show for it until next year's scheduled releases. My last book was published January 1, 2017 and I'm afraid readers have forgotten all about me.

    Love your idea to just sit with the fear and then proceed on with business as usual. The damn book will get written and be amazing - of course it will!


    1. You just get the irreverent because it's college football season!!! I know you've been in transition - but you've got a great voice, and you're going to be fine.

      Yes, it's so hard to fill that pipeline again, after a blank spot!

  14. Thank you for sharing and giving such wonderful advice! In my last book, (#2 in a 2 book contract) I got stuck. The more I tried the worse it got. I'm going to try your Just Sit advice the next time this happens because it felt like the harder I tried the more stuck I got. Luckily my CP is great and she helped me out--mostly by calming me down. I know I can count on her, but I like to keep her in the wings for the really big meltdowns.

  15. I could give you a big hug right now, Laura. Maintaining confidence in myself and my writing has been one of my biggest struggles this year. It started when I read over beta-reader feedback on a novel I'd been working on for 4 years. Right away I could see how valuable and helpful their comments would be... but when I tried to re-imagine how the story would work with those changes, my mind blanked. I'm still not entirely sure how to fix it, but I'm letting that manuscript sit while I work on a new novel - one that's very different from the previous, but has been a refreshing change of pace and restored my faith that maybe I can still do this novel-writing thing I love so much. The foundation is still shaky at times, but I'm doing my best to believe in myself.

    Thank you for reminding us that all writers struggle, and we should never feel like we're alone.

    1. You're wiser than I! I have the same problem - trying to rethink a book - it's like that's the way it came to me, and it kills me to change it! Hang in - that knot WILL unravel!

  16. Such good advice, Laura. It can be so frightening when the answers aren't coming and we start questioning/doubting everything. I really enjoyed "Days of Glass" so I'm hoping the "Jodi Picoult-esque" novel will find a way forward!

  17. Thank yo for sharing your experience. I had a similar experience with my second novel. This time around on 3rd novel - it's coming along without those issues but the struggles are real when writing - and it somehow helps to know others go through the same thing.

  18. Well, if you can feel this way and move past it (or embrace it), Laura, then I'm going to be all right. Thanks for sharing your struggle. I'll be thinking about your words whenever I'm "lost in the pit of despair" in my writing. Looking forward to your forthcoming stories.

  19. Laura, I'm learning the hard way that if we don't face some combination of fingers on fire, then word constipation and then weary-ass screen-staring, we're not working hard enough. Thank you for keeping it real and reminding of us that we aren't story factories. We are writers. Period.

  20. Thanks for sharing this Laura. For what it's worth, I loved Days Made of Glass and would love a sequel (you know, when you've got nothing to do, just bang one out). Sometimes the panic and fear is so overwhelming, just sitting is all you can do.

  21. What a brave and inspirational posting. Sometimes we all have bumps (or mountains) in the road to get over or learn new ways to get around.
    I think we all need to get up in the morning, look in the mirror and announce, "I am a writer."
    Thanks for posting your struggles---and now success!
    Judi Brett w/a Reece

    1. Judy, not brave, just desperate. For me, the hardest is inaction. Scary place, that. So happy it worked, because I don't know what's on the other side of that, and sitting was hard enough! Write on!

  22. Thanks, Laura! I haven't tried it, but I'm about to. Because I wrote and wrote and wrote the nearly perfect book (HA!) and sent if off to beta readers, who said: (1) the stakes don't escalate; and (2) too many tension-filled false alarm scenes. I'm studying what I've done and wondering how to fix it, and I don't know yet. So. A sit-down is coming.

  23. Loved and needed this post. I also wrote the story of my heart. My 'friendly readers' liked it. My 'friendly readers' have day jobs in the same field as me. Other readers not so much. The heroine has strong similarities to me, including working in the same profession. This is intentional. I wanted to tell the story of my profession honestly, setting aside the candy-sweet view most people have of the work I do, but apparently most people want the illusion not the hard truth. I am letting it sit. I want to tell the story honestly and also tell a story that is marketable. So, I'm working on other projects while I sit with this WIP. I'm proud of the story I told, and maybe at some point I can find the edits needed to find my audience.

  24. Laura,
    You said your leg is broken? I wonder if that was a factor. I am a physically active woman, as I believe you are too. When my knee was broken and I didn't have my normal exercise levels, all sorts of negative emotional states found me. Most importantly, the majority of my best ideas come when I am moving; not being able to walk unexpectedly affected many areas of my life. Also, does NY mean New York?

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