Wednesday, May 16, 2012

5 WOW Wednesday: Katherine Longshore on Not Writing Alone

Today's Wow guest is Katherine Longshore, who in the course of her life, has worked as a dishwasher, lingerie seller, coffee barista, cake decorator, ship's steward, video rental clerk, freelance journalist, travel agent, waitress, contracts manager, bookseller and Montessori preschool teacher. But in writing for teens, she has finally found her calling. Through writing, she is able to encompass all her loves. Becoming a character made of words, exploring new worlds,and living history. Her debut novel, GILT, is a fascinating young adult novel set in the court of Henry VIII.

Not Writing Alone

By Katherine Longshore

Thank you so much, Martina and Marissa for having me on the blog. You offer so much to aspiring, soon-to-be-published and already-published authors in the world of children’s literature. It’s an honor to be here.

Writing is a lonely business. We writers spend a lot of time sitting at our desks staring at a computer screen. At least I do. It hurts the most when the screen is completely blank. When I have that dreadful feeling that the words will not come. This is the first draft feeling. It can happen in revision, too, only the page is already full of words. They’re just not the right ones. That’s when I feel truly lonely.

Like I’m the only writer who has ever felt this. The only writer whose characters are suddenly wooden and mouth clich├ęd platitudes or worse, sit around like a bunch of talking heads doing nothing. Being nowhere.

Like I’m the only writer in the world. And all those other books out there have sprung fully-formed from the minds of geniuses and my sprawling, flailing attempts will never be destined for anything but “delete”.

That’s when I go on Twitter. Now, this isn’t some kind of infomercial for the joys of social networking, how important it is to a writer’s career and marketing potential or how I found my agent in 140 characters or less. My agent isn’t even on Twitter.

No, this is an infomercial for shared experience. And Twitter is simply the conduit through which these experiences can sometimes flow. Because on Twitter I find other writers – writers that I admire, with brilliant ideas and delectable turns of phrase. Writers who are published, who are soon-to-be published, who are pre-published. And I discover we are all in the same boat here.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that I’m trapped in the Police song “Message in a Bottle” and we are the hundred million castaways sending out our little missives, hoping someone will find us. Sometimes.
But the rest of the time, I look and I see another author struggling to get through a particularly difficult scene. Or I see a writer who has just written the perfect kiss. Or I see a writer who just had to post that she loves what she does and can’t imagine a better way of life.

I don’t always respond. When I’m having a difficult writing day, I often don’t post anything on Twitter at all. It just makes me feel better to know I’m not alone.

The circuitous path through the process of writing a novel is difficult enough. Some days, I love first drafts. Some days I hate them. Some days I thank any powers that be for revision so I can make this book better and more evocative and just plain right. Sometimes I think revision is really Dante’s eighth circle of hell and I’m down there in the gilded lead cloak of a hypocrite.

But I’m not alone.

I mention Twitter specifically because it’s easily accessible, immediate, and I can lurk without being seen if I so wish. When I have have writer’s block, I don’t really want someone to notice my presence (so obvious on Facebook). I just want to feel like I’m not alone.

There are many devices out there that can serve a similar purpose with varying degrees of visibility. Facebook is one. There are discussion boards – Verla Kay’s blueboard is probably the most popular and is full of conversations about everything related to children’s literature. Blogs are wonderful. Many, many writers blog about their hopes, dreams, hurts, downfalls, lives, processes. I am part of two writer collectives, the Apocalypsies and the Class of 2k12 – both limited to debut authors for the year of 2012, but who’s to say you can’t form your own? We share each other’s dark moments and celebrate each small victory. It’s like a big extended family.

And that, I think, is the most important lesson I’ve learned since I got up the courage to take my writing seriously and found others (my agent, my editor) who did so, too. This is what has made the greatest difference in my life after the sale of my book. I now have colleagues, co-conspirators, friends I’ve never met and may never get a chance to in person. But that doesn’t make them less important to me. I have people who understand what I’m going through. They understand what it takes to sit down day after day and stare at the blank page. They understand how it feels to get stuck on a single word, or a single comment from a critique. They know the joy of typing the words, “The End”. Even if, like me, they never actually type them. We all think them.

The greatest thing about this is that it could have happened at any time. I didn’t need a book deal to meet other writers. I didn’t need a contract to get onto Twitter and see that someone else pulls his hair out over a character who suddenly begins to do something unplanned. I didn’t need an agent to point me toward the blog of another writer who also hears the “I Suck Playlist” looping continuously through her mind.

You can do it, too. Other writers are out there, putting that hopeful little message in a bottle.

You are not alone.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post, Katherine. I agree that Twitter has gone a long way toward filling that void I often feel as I sit, alone, in front of my computer. It's like our own office cooler where we can swap stories, advice, and all of our triumphs and heartaches like co-workers. Best of luck with your debut! SO exciting!

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  2. I think you are speaking to the introvert in all of us!

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  3. I love this post. I could have written it--not as well, but you get the idea.

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  4. It's so funny to feel that you are the only one having a particular thought or experience only to discover that many others have thought the same exact thought or experienced the same situation!

    And if every writer let their fear of failure take over, there'd be nothing to read!

    Great post!

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  5. So true. This does happen to all of us.

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