Monday, March 1

Three Years Ago In My Career...

It's the TFC Three-Year Blog Anniversary Party! Every day through March 13th we'll be posting about the last three years, giving away prizes (winners announced here March 15), and celebrating in style. I'm kicking it off with a somewhat lengthy reflection. Please now make the Wayne's World Garth Doo-Doo-Doo Wavy Hands of Time Travel...

March 2007. It was the best of times, it was...okay, it was simply the best of times. STORY OF A GIRL (my first published novel, but the fourth novel I'd written) had just come out that January. The publication of that book was the fruition of at least ten years of dreaming, working, rejection, near successes, periods of giving up, the high of finding an agent, the low of parting ways with her, writing writing writing and waiting waiting waiting. When would it be
MY TURN? Eventually it all lined up: right agent, right book, right editor, right time.

What was I thinking about and feeling in terms of my life as a writer back then, when things were just taking off? I bet getting great critical and reader response to STORY gave me all kinds of confidence as I wrote my second book for Little, Brown. I bet I exhaled a little and said to myself, See, you can write, just keep doing what you know how to do and you'll be okay. I bet I was totally sane. Um, let's go to the archives...

From email to writer friend during 07 while in the midst of revising SWEETHEARTS:


It's weird - it's TOTALLY psychological. Something very different about the process from all the other times I've written books. There was one week I cried every day, seriously, and was ready to call of my whole career.


Probably that was just a fleeting feeling, though. A bad day, you know? We all have them. Oh, wait...from email to agent several weeks later:


SWEETHEARTS is the never-ending book. It may kill me yet.


Oh, well. I'm sure I was enjoying the good buzz and reviews around STORY and feeling proud of my work, thus making the whole Second Book Psychosis thing easier to deal with. Let's see...oh, here's a nice email from my mom, asking me how I keep myself from "lifting off like a rocket" when I hear good things about myself. I probably replied with something like, "I don't know! It's awesome!" Or maybe it was...


How do I keep from lifting off like a rocket? Because I'm never satisfied with the quality of my work. I always want to do better and work harder. That isn't to say I don't enjoy the recognition, but it's all in balance. I mean, if you lift off like a rocket at the good stuff, that means you crash like one at anything negative. Good thing I had all that therapy before I got published.


Doesn't sound like being published magically cured me of anything other than the fear that I would never get a single book published.

But don't worry, it wasn't all nervous breakdowns and crying myself to sleep. There were also many incredible, joyful, humbling, moving, profound experiences for me during these past three yeas. Such as:

- Sharing the 2007 National Book Award experience with my agent, Michael Bourret, and my editor, and the other finalists: Sherman Alexie (winner!), Kathleen Duey, M. Sindy Felin, and Brian Selznick. Getting screamed for by teenagers at NBA press conference. I blogged all about it here, and yes, I do still periodically re-read the post, and I do still wear my medal on occasion.

- Movie option for STORY!

- When SWEETHEARTS ARCs first came out and I was utterly convinced the book would be a total flop and I'd be exposed for the fraud I was, and I sat down to a dinner with librarians and one of them told me she'd been up all night in her hotel bathroom reading SWEETHEARTS, and loved it, and I thought (very quietly, in my inside voice), "Maybe I will have a career after all."

- When the emails started to come in from readers telling me stories of their Camerons.

- Speaking at schools and wondering if anyone even cares or is listening, then having that one conversation afterwards with the girl or boy who comes up to me to tell me something personal about what one of my books means to them.

- Getting the "It is finished" from my editor as we wrapped up ONCE WAS LOST, a book I was sure I could not pull off and thought would be the end of me. (Hmm, I'm sensing a pattern here.)

- Having the chance to blurb books I wished I'd written. Like Jandy Nelson's THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE (coming this year).

- There are so many other things, but maybe most of all is the deeply personal, almost inexpressible satisfaction I get knowing what I went through and overcame and have been blessed with in this writing life.

So, in case this post isn't already long enough, here is what I've learned by trial and error in the three years since becoming a published author:

- It's not about you. How you feel about your book or certain aspects of it or what was arduous vs. what flowed usually has little bearing on reader response. There can be things about your book you wish you'd done better, or different, but if a reader loves it you don't grimace and say "Thanks, but...", you
honor that. Once it's out, in a way it's not yours any more, it's theirs.

- In another way, it's totally about you. I believe you have to write for yourself. Not critics, not a faceless demographic, not your mother, not the market. All of those things are fickle, ever-shifting (okay maybe not your mother). You will go insane if you let them dictate what you write. You have to find the thing that inspires, scares, ignites, excites something in YOU and write from that.

- Treasure your comrades. No one but another writer knows what it means to be one. When I started out, I got into all the name-dropping and the gossip, but quickly realized that this was my community, and the only people on earth who fully understand what it is to be a writer of YA fiction. I have found my trusted circle, and I would go to the mat for these people. Keep your complaints off the grid, don't spread gossip, and save the snark.

- Know who your readers are. (Hint: they are not critics.) Positive critical response is great, don't get me wrong. Having starred reviews to blog about feels good to our friend The Ego and can be handy when selling the next book. But when it comes down to it, would you rather connect with an awards committee or with the fifteen-year-old in her bedroom who feels alone until she picks up your book (multiplied by thousands)?

- The job of the writer is to write. Seems like a no-brainer, but it's one of those totally obvious things I have to consciously remember. Every day there are choices: publishing-related Twitter debates to get into, self-Googling to do, blogs to update, Facebook friends to appease, inboxes to tame, colleagues to envy, publishing deals to lust for, sales to fret over, reviews to be annoyed with/buoyed by, industry news to worry about...IT NEVER STOPS. Many of these things are an important part of career management, but you will have no career worth having if you don't eventually turn it all off and show up to the page to do the best work you are capable of.

- Don't take it too seriously.
Sometimes when I'm moping around feeling like a failure, or consumed with anxiety, or wringing my hands over industry news, I remind myself, "Sara, did you work this hard and come all this way to have this career you've always wanted only to constantly feel anxious about it?" The first half of this post may make you think, Yes, apparently, but the correct answer is No! Granted, there are plenty of things to feel anxious about, but I'm learning little by little to celebrate all the little and big good things, to let go of what hurts but isn't useful, to find humor in what humbles (and possibly humiliates), and to generally lighten up and enjoy the whole process. If I wanted to be miserable in my job, I'd go back to being an administrative assistant.

I'm so looking forward to this month of celebrating three years of TFC, and hearing more perspectives here on the blog and in the comments!

40 comments:

sharigreen said...

Thanks so much for sharing your journey, Sara! This is a post I'll want to re-read as I (hopefully) progress in my career as a writer. ;)

And happy blog anniversary, TFC!

Wendy Toliver said...

Wow, Sara. So nicely done! Thanks for sharing!

Lisa Schroeder said...

Sara, Again and again, you tell me just the things I need to hear. You are the voice of reason when it comes to this business! Thank you for your honesty, your wisdom, and of course, your wonderful books.

Happy blogaversary TFC!!

Sara Hantz said...

Thanks Sara, your story is so touching.

Cuppa Jolie said...

Great post, Sara. Thank you!

Kim Harrington said...

Great post!

Cheryl Renee Herbsman said...

Thank you for this beautiful and honest post. It is much appreciated! <3

Kay Cassidy said...

What a lovely post, Sara!

Kirsten Hubbard said...

beautiful and heartening post, sara.
bring on the next three years!

Sara Z. said...

Thanks, everyone. I found this reflection really useful to DO - maybe we should all make a habit of pausing now and then to do this...

(Sorry for the funky formatting, and some of my quotes got moved around but I think I have fixed them now!)

Elie said...

VERY nice post. First I want to say one of the things I love of blogging is that it is like a diary of your life and experiences, one that you can relive by simply linking it up.

I hope the next three years holds many more wonderful events. Ya sure there will be trials and tribulations, but hey, that helps keep it interesting.

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Happy anniversary, TFC! Waving to you all.

Thanks for sharing the highs and lows, plus your great advice, Sara. I can relate to so many of your experiences, especially the endless waiting!

Alyson Noel said...

Sara- Awesome post! Thanks for such an honest account of the writing life!
:)

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Fabulous post, Sara!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for sharing this, Sara! I really needed to hear all of it. I cannot tell you how much I look up to you and admire your writing and then to read that you had very similar thoughts and writing related freakouts as I've had, well it's comforting. And your advice is amazing. I'm bookmarking this post and will certainly be coming back to it when I need a pick me up!

Tess said...

Very inspiring - thanks for sharing. so glad I'm not the only one who is certain every book is going to be the death of me ;)

Maureen McGowan said...

Happy 3rd Blogiversary to all the Teen Fiction Cafe authors!

**wonders what's the appropriate gift... paper? toner?**

Katie said...

This was such a fun post to come across because you were one of my first real loves in YA - and the first book I read was SWEETHEARTS :-) So, it's funny, yet inspirational (as I write my second YA), to hear that you also had doubts along the way!

And I loved yo be reminded that if I continue to sit down and keep writing, the story will eventually come.

*You, my dear, are one of my all time faves*

Thank you so much for sharing your stories with us!

Amanda Ashby said...

Sara, you are so wise and clever and seriously you manage to say everything just the way it should be said! Thank you and what a great way to kick off the TFC party!!!!!!!!

Maree Anderson said...

WOW! Sara, thanks for give me a much needed kick up the butt. Really appreciate you sharing this little piece of you with us all. I feel humbled -- such a privilege to read this.

Sara Z. said...

Wow, you guuyyyyys! Thank you thank you thank you for the affirming words.
And many thanks to TFC for inviting me to join up last year. I love this community.

Alexa said...

Wonderful post! And great advice. Thanks for sharing your journey and the things you've learned.

jeanreagan said...

Wonderful post--so full of humor and heart. Thanks!

I printed it out to re-read when I need a boost.

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

You started this off with a bang, Sara! Thank you for this honest and awesome post!

Happy Anniversary, Ladies!!

mariska said...

Happy anniversary, TFC ! \^_^/

Thanks for sharing such a great post Sara!

Bee said...

That was great to read, Sara. Thanks for sharing!
Maybe 5 years on, I'll be able to do a 'Three Years Ago in my Carrer' post to :))
In the meanwhile I'll be coming back to your post again and again for inspiration.
XD

gg said...
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Melissa Walker said...

Sarah, I read this post on Monday, and again today, just before I start to write. The writing's the thing, I must remember. You inspire, SZ!!

Thanks. M

YA Vampire Books said...

Great post! It seems like 2007 was a great year that really kicked off your career as a writer!

Gerb said...

Thanks so much for this post, Sara. It is especially good timing for me to read. You inspire me.

Llehn said...

Awesome post! Thanks for sharing, sara.

Laurena said...

Oh my gosh, this was such an inspiring post. I really liked it, and you really gave me a lot to think about. I loved your list of what you’ve learned as an author. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future :)

Laurena said...
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Shauna said...

This is a great sort of thing to read for a writer who's hoping to get published someday. It's always interesting to hear about how your favorite writers (or actors or artists or whoever) was feeling back when they were just starting up. Thanks so much for the insight :)

Lexie said...

Thank you for sharing your journey and all that you've accomplished! And thank you for the advice :)

Sara Z. said...

THANK you, all. It's a pleasure to share through blogging - you know I love it!

Wrighty said...

Terrific post Sara! Happy anniversary to TFC and best wishes for many more years to come!

Wrighty said...

Terrific post Sara! Happy anniversary to TFC and best wishes for many more years to come!

Lori T said...

Happy Anniversary!
What a great post.

hannah r0x yoUR soX! said...

Wow, thanks for this. Only this morning I felt that my Science test ruined my life. That seems childish compared to the frustration felt while writing your first novel. I wouldn't know it since I have yet to finish one... (And I will!) During hardships and every-time I'm struggling, I'll think of this post and think, "I'm not the only one feeling this way!" and hopefully calm down and move on.
Love, Hannah