General, Musings, Writing craft

Mid-career crisis, as reader or writer


Getting the blahs is tough.

Story ideas are easy. It’s writing them, and doing it well, that is difficult. Readers can have a tough time as well. There are many wonderful authors but finding new ones can be like digging through a dunghill to find emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds.

Writers and readers change over time, expecting more from themselves, and the authors they love to read. It’s like a mid-career crisis where you know what you want but you can’t do it, or find it.

Writers, if they are serious about their craft, constantly strive to improve their work, wanting their readers to have an ever better experience. They want their books to be jewels, well-loved and read with joy, again and again.

At first they may be bursting with story ideas, rattling their keyboards before and after work, and when moments can be stolen from other tasks. It is a wondrous time, like a baby bravely raising its head, gumming a drooling grin in sheer wonder of a new and amazing world.

The next stage—discovering your characters’ backgrounds, their goals, motivations and conflicts, their fears, both acknowledged and hidden—is like a toddler exploring their world. They get bumps and bruises but it’s all an adventure, full of possibilities and potential.

Beginning to write a story is like pre-school. It’s more structured than home, but is creative and fun. There’s crayons and paint, new people to meet, and you can do all sorts of things you aren’t allowed to do at home. You can write about your fantasies, telling yourself you’re writing what readers want. After all, you are a reader as well. You love reading and there’s so much to chose from!

Hannah Howell library 2007 001And then school starts for real. You’ve joined a writer’s group or read books to learn the craft of writing and now it’s time to do it.

Each day starts out with a bright morning of splashing through puddles in bright yellow boots. By the end you are tired, but it’s a good tired. You fall into bed with a smile and sleep deeply after writing pages that sparkle in your newbie eyes.

And then there’s the dreaded adolescence, full of angst and self-doubt. You’re a failure. Your feet drag every morning, and you toss and turn each night.

Your story doesn’t fit what’s popular. It’s not good enough. The critical editor in you says there’s no spark in the dialogue. The motivations and actions of your characters are silly, not quirky. Their conflicts are trite. Your heroine has acne and braces and has just been told she needs glasses. Ugly ones.

This is what, in a story, is called the sagging middle. It happens in careers as well as stories when your need for visible improvement crushes your creativity. You think your work isn’t good enough, and become stalled.

Like the common cold, knowing it is normal does not make it easier to deal with. Your brain is fogged, you sniffle, and you crave chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol.

Frustrated that you can’t write as well as you want, you hope to get inspired by re-reading books by some of your favorite authors. It’s obvious how their writing sings while yours is off-key.

Surely those mega-stars never felt this doubt!

Original by Tim Flatch for Whiskas Cat Food

Original by Tim Flatch for Whiskas Cat Food

Yes, they likely have. Even Nora Roberts got rejection letters for a couple of years before her first book was published in 1981. (And not one since, with well over 200 published.)

Give yourself compassion for all your hard work writing, all those tears and laughs while reading. There’s more in you than you may sometimes believe.

Take a moment and look back. You’ve changed, the world has changed, yet romance continues.

If you are struggling to write, take heart that you will do well if you keep improving, learning, and trusting yourself to write what readers wish to read.

If you are a reader swamped by gadzillions of badly written e-books, keep digging as you will find a few gems in that slush pile.

Romance is about hope, and the joys of life. I wish you the best in finding it.

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