Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Help – I Can’t Stop.

Today my guest is author Karen McCullough. One of my previous guests talked about overcoming an addiction. Karen's here to report on why she has no desire to kick hers. Welcome, Karen.

Hello, I’m Karen McCullough, and I’m a writer. I’m not always a happy writer, I’m afraid. In fact, I’d probably have to describe myself as more of a bipolar writer.

There are an awful lot of downs in this business of being a writer.

I often struggle to get a scene right or to get a character to come alive on the page. Sometimes the words themselves resist. It can feel like I’m having to pull each one out of my brain individually while they kick and scream the whole way.

A lot of times the biggest struggle is just to find the time to write. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard about how you don’t find time, you make time, but whoever said that didn’t have a business to run and a family to feed. Or if they did, they had different priorities from me. I simply can’t ignore the fact that I have a mortgage payment to make each month and that my family likes eating. Writing tops watching television, but it can’t leap ahead of keeping a roof overhead and food on the table.

Keep Reading...

So, I mostly write late at night and on weekends, between loads of laundry. I tried that ‘get up early in the morning’ deal to steal an extra hour of writing time. I’m not a morning person. I ended up sitting in front of the computer without a single functioning brain cell to help me find coherent words. Back to those late nights.

A rejection or a bad review can send me into a tailspin if I’m not careful. Mostly, though, I’ve learned to live with those. It’s part of the business.

And then there are the times that make up for all the downsides. The times when the writing flows so wonderfully my fingers can barely keep up with the sentences rushing from my mind.

A good review, where the person shows they really ‘get’ what I was trying to say, is a rush like no other. Even a note from a reader telling my how much she liked my story can make my day.

But that’s not why I continue to write. The fact is there are more lows than highs in the business side of writing. Yes, it only takes one acceptance to offset a lot of rejections, but you have to live through all those rejections and sometimes you don’t get an acceptance to compensate.

Or you can sell the book only to have the publisher fold or the line fold before it gets to print. Both have happened to me. Or you can sell several books to a publisher and then have your editor leave and find the new editor isn’t as enthusiastic about your work. Yup, been there, done that, too. Or you can finally sell the book only to see it tank because of a horrible cover or poor distribution or a decision by booksellers not to stock it. I’ve been lucky and mostly avoided those, although one of my older Avalon books has a cover I still hate passionately.

The truth is, on the business side there really are more bad things that can happen than good ones. The second truth—and I’m not whining here, just trying to be honest about the facts—I’ve had a lot of the bad ones happen to me. But I’m certainly not alone in that. Most writers who’ve been writing and submitting for more than a year or two can tell similar stories.

And, in the interests on honesty, I have had my share of good things along the way. I’ve sold a number of books and seen them released and held copies in my hand. I’ve been a finalist in a number of contests and won possibly more than my share of awards.

And yet, there have still been more lows than highs.

So why do I keep writing?

Well…I’ve tried to stop. I really have. After a particularly crushing rejection or review, I want to give up and go do something more rewarding. I ask myself constantly why I do this to myself. What kind of masochist am I that I continue pursuing a dream with an undefined goal I’ll probably never reach anyway? I’m sure I’d be happier if I quit.

I just can’t do it.

If I go too long without writing, my head starts to feel like it’s going to explode. There are characters and incidents and plot twists and bits of dialogue growing in there and they all want to get out, to have their story told. I’ve got to get to the word processor and give them life.

Karen McCullough’s most recent release is the novella “Vampire’s Christmas Carol” in the BENEATH A CHRISTMAS MOON anthology from Cerridwen Press. Visit Karen on the web at http:www.kmccullough.com


Amy said...

wow, you've got that right. There sure are a lot of lows--many more than highs--but most of us just can't stop.

I guess writers really do just write. Getting published is another story, altogether.

Terry Odell said...

I'm going to jump in here -- this morning's paper had the perfect comic strip to illustrate Karen's post. However, I'd already uploaded her blog, and I don't want to mess with it (me an technology, you know).

You can see it here (It's the June 9th strip, if I messed up the URL)

Karen McCullough said...

Terry --
I saw that comic strip in my morning paper and I almost spit coffee all over it.
Karen McCullough

Teri Thackston said...

Wonderful interview, Terry...and so nice to get to know Karen--who is so right about the addiction.

And the comic strip was great!

Lynette Hall Hampton said...

Right on Karen! I've 'quit' writing oodles of times, and it's lasted at least an hour or two. Then I fall off the wagon and I'm right back into my addiction. I'm so hooked I'll steer clear of 'Writers Anonymous' if they ever start such a thing - just like most of the writers I know will also do.

Mona Risk said...

I hear you Karen about the editor transfered to a different line, the editor leaving the publishing company and the new editors not as enthousiastic. It all happened to me. But we can't stop. C'est la vie. On the other hand when I am depressed, writing is what soothes my heart, makes me forget my troubles and puts a smile on my face. I can't stop writing.

Allison Knight said...

Loved the comic strip! Boy a lot of truth there. And the pain of writing - so right Karen. There are times when it just plain hurts - deep. Kids yelling, a husband wondering where you are, a kitchen floor you're sticking to. Been there, but still we sit and try to get the words right.
Could it be a disease?
Allison Knight

joe doaks-Author said...

I found this sentence particularly compelling, “The truth is, on the business side there really are more bad things that can happen than good ones.” Amen! The sooner new authors understand that the better off they’ll be. Not to be jaded, just truthful.

This is a most honest, heartfelt piece that resonates with me. I feel many of your same frustrations. I, too, had a publisher, swear on our author’s email list that everything was fine. Two months later, they were out of business. One of the owners wrote in to say she’d, “personally pay any royalties due.” (Paraphrase, but an accurate one.) They owed me several hundred dollars at that point...and still do.

So, I guess the message is, you’re not alone in how you feel, or what you’ve experienced. But you're still writing…does it get any better than that?

Best Regards, Galen.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I totally agree with you. I've tried to quit, too. It usually lasts a week or two before I get bored. And I can't stop taking notes or cutting articles out of newspapers. Sure, it would be nice not to suffer a writer's angst every day, but what will take its place? Worries that hover in the air, waiting to fill that empty space in our head. It's much better when we're working on a story and the plotting problems are in there instead.

Jane Toombs said...

Right on, Karen! As Phyllis Whitney once told me, "When I ask someone why she writes and she says, 'Because I can't help it,' I know I'm looking at a real writer."
Yeah, we just can't help it. Getting published is another story, but perseverence does pay off here. Jane


You can’t stop writing because it's in your blood. Its what you love to do, and it loves you right back otherwise it would continue to chase you like a crack pipe.

Don't try and understand it.. just go with it. the reward is seeing the fruits of your heart and mind.

Keep on writing,.it will never let you go.

Karen McCullough said...

Thanks, everyone! It's kind of nice to know I have company, that others share the joys and miseries of this addiction.