Monday, March 24, 2008

"Mid-Life" Writing Crisis

There comes a time in every writer’s life when you have to sit back and do some serious soul-searching in regards to your writing. Where are you now? Are you happy where you are? Are you happy writing what you’re writing? Or have you discovered that your writing has taken an unexpected turn somewhere along the way?

I had one of these “mid-life” writing crises early on in my career. When I first started out writing, I wrote Regency-set historicals. Historicals were all I read; it was all I knew. I spent two years writing the infamous “book of your heart”. Then my laptop got stolen, and with it my writing and all my dreams of being a writer.

So I made the decision not to write anymore. That lasted for an entire year before I realized that I could not stop writing. If you’re a writer, it’s in your blood.

So I sat down and re-evaluated my writing. Where was I? Was I happy? I was at a crossroad and I really wasn’t happy. Two years on a book that never got completed? I couldn’t sell if I continued writing that way. I was bogged down with the research and often got lost in it because I enjoyed learning so much. So I decided to try something new. I took a jab at writing a contemporary erotica novella for a contest. Finished the novella in three months.

I learned several things from this experience. First, I had fun writing something I usually didn’t write. Secondly, I discovered I was no erotica writer, though I do classify as a “sexy” writer. Third, I found out I could actually finish a story. Yay for me! And lastly (and most importantly), I finally found my voice. I had a strong historical voice which did not fit into a contemporary.

So I sat down and did some more re-evaluating. What did I really want to write? I still wanted to do historicals, but I also wanted to write contemporaries as well because I had a lot of fun doing it. I learned I was beginning to read more paranormals and fantasy romances. I loved vampires, but didn’t think the world needed another vampire writer. I also loved alternate settings. Think Lord of the Rings. So I decided I’d try my hand at that instead. With the help of my sister who was a huge science-fiction and fantasy fanatic, I created this complete alternate world that mirrored feudal Europe. I came complete with three Fates, seven kingdoms, and loads of dark magic and things that went bump in the night. I called this alternate world of mine Zenith.

The first book, THE PROPHECY, was completed in three months. It was a full 100,000 words manuscript. It was a time travel, which satisfied my craving for dabbing in contemporary while still being able to write primarily in a historical setting that didn’t require too much research since the world was completely made-up. The Prophecy came to final in several contests and landed me my first agent.

The second book, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, was completed within another three months. It continued the Zenith series and was strictly all historical fantasy. At this point, I was learning to explore the fantasy side of my creativity and truly enjoying myself. Prince of Darkness also finaled in several contests and was responsible for my American Title finalist status.

In the third book in the series, LEGACY OF THE HIGHLANDER, I went back to my time-traveling and historical roots. Something else I enjoyed immensely was reading Scottish medievals, so I gave that a shot with the third book. Finished Legacy of the Highlander in three months. That book also finaled in several contests. I enjoyed writing Scottish historical so much that I took a break from the Zenith series with my fourth book and wrote, HEART OF THE HIGHLANDER, a completed Scottish time-travel paranormal.

This was two years ago and several books later. Looking back, I can now say that was able to write three full 100,000 words books in a year because I kept it fun and continued to explore and add in new layers/elements to my writing. I was never bored with the process and made it enjoyable. And I took risks. I realized I was not happy where I was and needed a change, and I stepped outside of my comfort zone and allowed myself to explore all the different aspects of my creativity.

I’m hitting another “mid-life” crisis at the moment. I’m discovering that my writing is veering more towards the literary and women’s fiction side than actual romance. At the moment, I’m not certain where I’ll be a year from now in regards to my writing. What I do know is that I’ll explore this new channel and see what develops from it. For anyone facing their own “mid-life” writing crisis, my suggestion is to not dampen your creativity by ignoring what it’s trying to tell you. Listen to it. Know yourself, what makes you happy, and follow your intuition.

Hope this has been of help. Happy writing!


Savanna Kougar said...

Yay, Mai! Go where the Muse takes you. What a fascinating writer's journey so far. And thank you for sharing.
Recently, the word 'crossroads' has come up big for me, I believe, as a shamanistic type message, since I'm not in a personal crossroads as far as what I want to write -- but, perhaps, in the direction my life is taking, given my e-pub releases and contracts, the promo thing. A whole new world, indeed. Blessings to you.

Mel Hiers said...

Hiya, Mai!

You know, I think it's healthy that you're reevaluating. Stagnation is so much worse than change! It took me almost four years of writing really bad epic style fantasy to finally find my contemporary voice.

I'm glad you shared your story! :-)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Thank you for sharing your personal struggle. This could not have been an easy blog for you to write.

I would be devastated if I lost a story like you did. But I'm glad you kept going. And I think it's wise to stop and re-evaluate sometimes.

I did this too when I realized my German Medievals were not going to sell. I did it again when my futuristics seemed to stagnate.

I think we grow as writers just as we grow as people. Our voice changes. Our interests change. Our experiences shape us day by day.

I hope you embrace this new direction and see where it leads you. :)

Susan Macatee said...

Hi, Mai!
It's great that you're able to re-evalute and grow with your writing. I believe all writers have to decide not only where their writing fits in, but how they can change to create new niches when things aren't working out.
When I first started writing I focused on writing for children. It was years later that I decided I wasn't getting anywhere with it and decided to try writing romance. I started by exploring and reading several genres of romance that interested me, then joined Romance Writers of America.
I'm so glad I made this turn in the road. And I know if things start to stagnate, I always have other options.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

I think several folks have raised or touched on a great point: Write what you love but love what you write. If something doesn't work, don't be afraid to spread your wings and try something else.

A great writer, Jade Lee, started out writing regency romances, then switched to more sensual historical romances, but now she's delving into epic fantasy romance. She changed with the times and what Sav dubbed, "Go where the Muse takes you."

Good advice! :)

Lexie O'Neill said...

Sorry to chime in so late (for me:)! I was fascinated by your story-and hope it never happens to me (the losing your laptop part)! I think we can't help but grow, even if we stay within the same genre or sub-genre, maybe we start changing who we're writing about or something.
Good for you for doing so courageously,

Holli Bertram said...

Three 100,000 word books in a year? I'm in awe, Mai. Your muse was in full gear!
Writing as a career is an odd mix of writing from the heart and writing for the market. Figuring out the line that balances the two can result in a lot of starts and stops, not the least because the line shifts as the writer grows and as the market changes.
I like your advise about paying attention to yourself and what your intuition is telling you. Best of luck as you explore new paths in writing.

Mai Christy Thao said...

Blessings to you too, Savanna! E-Pub sounds like a lot of fun. Every e-pub author I know loves it. And hey, I think we all have sufficient training in the whole promo thing what with going through ATIV. =)

Mai Christy Thao said...

Thanks for the words of encouragement, Mel and Anitra. And you couldn't have phrased it any better, Anitra. I think change is a sign of growth, and we all need to grow to become better and stronger individuals. Hugs!!

Mai Christy Thao said...

Lexie, Susan, Holli, Savanna, and Mel -- these are all wonderful advise you guys have shared. Thanks for reading the blog and for your input!

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Mai, I so identify with your sentiments. I have a 'am I writing the right genre' crisis at the start of each new story. My trouble is I have so many ideas I never know which to move forward with. Like you historical romance is my first love, but strangely, I've never tried my hand at writing historical. If I did, I'm sure it would have a paranormal bent.