Wednesday, July 20, 2011

13 WOW Wednesday: Sarah Ockler on Getting Lost on the Road to Publication

Sarah Ockler is the bestselling author of Fixing Delilah and
the critically acclaimed Twenty Boy Summer, a YALSA Teens'
Top Ten nominee and IndieNext List pick. She is a championship cupcake
eater, coffee drinker, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not
writing or reading, Sarah enjoys taking pictures, hugging trees, and
road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex. Visit her website or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Getting Lost on the Road to Publication
by Sarah Ockler

Wherever you are in the publishing journey, you've probably figured
out that writing takes serious perseverance and patience (by which I
clearly mean drugs and alcohol. Just kidding. Mostly kidding.) I mean,
books don't just write themselves! *stamps foot*

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah
OcklerBy the time I wrapped up my first novel, Twenty Boy Summer, I'd taken the word "commitment" to frightening new heights (there's a reason it's so close to "committed," because that's exactly what my husband wanted to do to me). I was obsessed, writing every spare moment -- lunch hours, late nights, weekends when everyone else was having fun. It was an intense time because I knew that if I was going to succeed, I had to make writing my number-one priority.

I don't regret it. I finished, landed an agent, and sold the book relatively quickly (something that still feels like a dream, even four years later). I always advise new writers to do the same -- make writing your top priority. But I've also realized that while I needed to push myself hard to overcome insecurities, naysayers, and a whole host of ready-made excuses, the write-every-spare-second method is not sustainable.

Art + Business = Burnout

Fixing Delilah by Sarah
OcklerWhether you're already published or still dreaming of ideas for your first book, once you decide to write for publication, the art of writing becomes impossibly tangled with the business of writing, and it changes things. Some of the pure joy of it fades; the shininess dulls. Not to say that being an author isn't rewarding and incredible, but it's challenging at every turn, fraught with rejection, self-doubt, publishing industry craziness, and straight-up writing overload.

Thing is, we're writers. We can't not write. If I go more than a week without scribbling, I get cranky and start serving myself large quantities of Ben and Jerry's and/or white cheddar popcorn and/or Bombay Sapphire gin, sometimes all in the same bowl. So I realize that not writing is not an option. But taking small breaks is an option --- a necessity, even.

Losing It

Recently, I'd noticed some serious burnout smoke coming from my head (it smells like burnt coffee and lightening, in case you were wondering) -- a sure sign it was time to get lost. So my husband and I planned a week-long trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

I left my laptop behind. I had no internet. I paused all deadlines.

Sarah Ockler, lost in
Rocky Mountain National ParkWith my bestie husband, I took long, strenuous hikes up mountains. I rode a horse. I smelled trees and photographed wildlife. I explored alpine lakes and trails. I read books at night and ate homemade pie and chatted with the college interns working at the B&B where my husband and I got married (and where I wrote much of Twenty Boy Summer). Yes, I jotted a few notes on paper when I felt creative, but I didn't work. I put plot and character development and marketing plans aside and let myself wander, physically and emotionally.

After a week in the mountains, when I found my way back and pulled my chair up to the keyboard, I was refreshed, energized, and absolutely ready to write again. Creativity lost, creativity found.

Travel a No-Go? 8 Ways to Get Lost in Your Own Backyard

Traveling is a great way to escape and recharge, but you don't have to pack your bags to break from the stress of the writing biz. There are some great ways to get lost locally, even if you're short on funds or time. The important thing is to walk away from the page, and here are 8 ways to do it:
  1. Find a new writing spot. If you write at home, venture out to the park. If you're usually typing away at the bookstore, try the library or coffee shop, or buddy up and write at a friend's place. Even a short-term migration from the desk to the kitchen table counts -- just enough to change the scenery.
  2. Play tourist. Put on your walking shoes, get on your bike, or hop in the car or bus and sightsee your town as if it's your first visit. There are tons of things to experience in every place --- historical sites, restaurants, architecture, nature, local oddities. When was the last time you visited a museum, took a home and garden tour, drove down an unfamiliar street, or shopped on the other side of town? Inspiration often strikes in new places.
  3. Read a book. All the better if it's not your usual genre. How fun to go on an adventure with a character who hasn't been plaguing your mind and waking you up every night! Reading something amazing and unexpected always makes me want to be a better writer.
  4. Immerse yourself in non-writing creativity. Every try sketching or painting? What about putting together a recipe from scratch? Taking photos? Making up a song or rap? Don't be shy about droppin' dope rhymes in the privacy of your own home. Getting in touch with the other creative parts of your soul can boost your writing mojo.
  5. Wander off the info highway. The internet is awesome, but it's also a ginormous time suck, and it rewires our brains to be less original and creative. A few days sans email, social networking, and online gossip is like a cold shower for your mind.
  6. Mix up your playlist. Like music? Experiment with something totally whacky. Country lovers, check out acid jazz or ambient. Is classical your thing? Why not rap? Swap your easy listening for classic rock or indie stuff. Get lost in some new tunes and see where the music takes you!
  7. Reboot your writing routine. Do you only write between the hours of one and three, with Mercury in retrograde, the ambient temperature at 67.9 degrees, imported lavender incense burning, a mug of earl gray tea steaming near your left hand, and a purple-haired troll doll perched upon your keyboard? OMG, me too! But... what if you woke up in the middle of the night and wrote in bed? Ditched the laptop for some on-paper cursive writing? Shake things up in your writing life to break patterns, habits, and ruts and you might see things in a new way.
  8. Veg. Nothing wrong with a little R&R on the couch, remote in hand. Taking a nap is an awesome pastime, too. So is a hot bath. A long daydream. Sometimes you just need to turn off your brain and let the muse find you.
Writing is hard, often weighted with frustration, doubt, fear, anxiety, panic, and pure hatred for the written word (wow, first car on the emocoaster, anyone? Sit next to me and hold my hand!). Wandering off, even for a little while, can actually help you find your way back. And when you do return to the page, you'll be a better writer, excited and maybe even full of new ideas. So get lost, dude! Take a deep breath, turn off the computer, close the notebook, clear your mind, and go. Your creative soul will thank you. And your readers will, too.


  1. It's so important to take those breaks and time to just veg! I know I'm definitely sometimes guilty of becoming so obsessed with my writing that I forget about the simple things I'm missing. Thanks for this great reminder!

  2. Great advice. It's so important to take a break once in awhile from blogging and writing. You're inspiring me to take a true vacation from it while we're on vacation in 2 weeks.

  3. Sarah's one of my favorite YA writes, so I was estatic to read this post.

    I know when I've forced myself to take a blogging and writing break, I come back refreshed (and with scraps of paper with ideas). :)

  4. Great post, Sarah! Such awesome advice!!! So true. : )

  5. Great tips! I'm usually good about not getting too obsessed with my writing, except during NaNo WriMo. In December I'm usually really burned-out, so I take a writing vacation for a while.

  6. Good suggestions. I find working in the garden also is a nice way to fill up the well again. That, and visiting art galleries.

  7. Sarah rocks the block to be sure. Her books are fabulous.

  8. I love your list here!! I really like "read a book" as one of the ways to switch gears. And also doing something else creative; I do artwork as well as quilt, and those work too. I'm actually doing a bit of the "break" and vacation stuff right now. I'm enjoying it, but getting a bit antsy to get back to writing. ;o)

  9. Excellent advice, Sarah. Having adventures that include a change of pace/scenery, that offer sensory stimulation, that gets one out in the real world? Definitely enriches the writing. Glad you got that week in the mountains.

  10. Oh, I love this! Yes, stepping away is HUGE for me. Just from reading this post, I have a feeling I'd love Sarah's books. Thanks for the fun inspiration.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Sarah Ockler has relieved me of my guilt with her suggestion number four: Immerse yourself in non-writing creativity.

    The My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic TV show is fantastic and has garnered a huge fan base, which includes me. Mashups and parodies using the ponies is all the rage. I woke one morning with an image in my mind of a pony parody of my work. Since I was sure no one else would create it, I spent a little time making the image. I felt guilty for taking time away from writing, but it was refreshing. Now the guilt is gone, thanks to Sarah. Making the image was the right thing to do.

    If you would like to see the results, check my blog entry:

    (Ignore previous post attempt. There was a bug.)

  13. That is so true. Writers can be very hard on themselves.

    Btw, I love the bestie hubby bit! :D


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)