Last nights #kidlitchat on Twitter had a two-sided topic. One question was what to do when you are blocked with a current writing project. That one generated, as expected, a lot of great tips for jump-starting the writing machine.
But I want to talk about the other side of the question that didn’t get much (if any) discussion – what, if anything, can we do to jumpstart or revive a stalled career?
I guess the first question is, what’s a stalled career? So much of this business is out of our hands. We can control one thing, the manufacturing of a product to sell, a book, a poem, an article. A speech to give, a class to teach. We can control to the quality of that product and we can control the completion of that product but the actual sale of that product, the sale which builds our career, well, we have no control over that.
So is a stalled career one in which you used to sell and now you don’t? Is a stalled career one where you made it to one level of income and you’re trying to jump to the next level? Is it that you want to be more known that you are now? What is a stalled career?
And the bigger, more important question is, what can you do about the state of being stalled? Because if you can’t do anything you might as well just hunker down and get back to work on what you can control – the writing.
I’m interested in your thoughts.
A career should be about progress; constant progress. Whether with writing itself, or publishing goals, or income goals… something needs to be in the works.
If you ask yourself “What’s next?” but can’t answer, then you’re stalled.
Interesting. And I guess we each define progress for ourselves as we each define success. For some progress is more words on the page, day after day. For others it is a bigger paycheck than the one before. And for others it might be making a stronger connection with the reader.
I know a lot of writers who switched to using a different byline to jumpstart their careers again, either in the same or different genres.
Since commercial publishing is often all about the line, and most chains tores order based on the sellthrough of the author’s last title, if one’s salesfigures aren’t great, a lot of places can’t take you on under your own name, no matter how good the writing is, because of your past history of “failure”.
I’ve heard that too, about switching names. And I’ve even wondered if I were to write some adult novels if I would want to switch names for it. But then I have a lot of ego attached to my writing (ha!) so that might be hard.
I felt pretty darn stalled when I had 8 years of no sales – after publishing 3 books with major NYC publishers.
It was discouraging, frustrating, hair-pulling and confidence eroding big-time. But I kept writing and writing and during that time wrote 5 new novels. I also seriously considered changing my name. But after an agent switch (which took nearly 3 years to find a new one) I was ready and three of those novels sold all at once.
I’ve heard so many stories of other authors this has happened to, but nobody talks about it because it’s so awful and, well, frankly, embarrassing.
But every author I’m thinking about, some I know personally, kept at it and we’re all published again. (None of us ended up changing our names, either. :-))
It was a TOUGH road though and a time period I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
I had to love the writing and my stories most of all. And I had to stay plugged into the publishing world to stay on top of news and changes and needs and wants.
That staying plugged in when you’re stalled is hard though, isn’t it? For me, at least, when I’m in a down cycle I find it really tough to stay plugged in. I don’t want to read about how people who hadn’t even sold their first book when my last one came out have had a couple more published in the interim. It’s hard. I know we’re supposed to build a tough skin but mine never seems to be quite tough enough.
And you’re right, we don’t talk about it and I wish we would because I know we’re not alone with having been there.
I was going to add that, Susan, but didn’t want to write a volume! Lol! Staying plugged in and reading about everyone’s fabulous news all the time was REALLY, REALLY HARD. So difficult to keep the jealousy imps at bay which reared their ugly heads on pretty much a daily basis. The self-doubt was excruciating. I’d wonder if I was already a has-been, so much older than all the young, hip writers, and if I was literally banging my head against a brick wall. But it took me 15 years to get published in the first place and I figured if I just didn’t give up and kept writing and improving I could do it again. The fight in me was strong as well as HOPE.
It’s funny that, in light of this discussion I had forgotten a quote that I often pass out when I am teaching beginning writers and that’s that it is not always the most talented writers that get published. (not to say that we are not both fabulously talented) but that many talented writers get rejected or hit a stall and they just give up. But the ones that get published are the ones that keep on writing, keep on submitting and keep on keeping on.
Hope is the key. And for me, a few kind words. I can go a long time with a few kind words and I think that’s the hardest for me when I feel stalled. I don’t have the right support system built (no matter how I try) to give me that when everything else is slow-going.
Both your points are so very true, Susan. I’ve seen a lot of really good writers give up – and give up after just a few rejections.
And all those personal rejection letters gave me a lot of hope and helped keep me going. It’s hard to stay optimistic when those nice, personal letters from agents or editors go on and on for years, but at the same time I knew I was *thisclose* and that it was only a matter of finding the right person who had to be out there. 🙂
Thank you for these honest, thought-provoking comments. I understand (all too well) the pressure on writers to not open up about the harder aspects of the biz in public, but it can really help to hear these things.
So true, Dorothy. When I learned this about other writers, it made me not feel so alone, or like I must be the worst writer out there. 😉 I’m actually starting to think that it happens more often than we realize. And it really does help to hear about it.
I definitely felt stalled last summer when I chose to leave my agent, but I’ve kept writing. And most importantly, I’ve continued to enjoy the writing. So I consider myself un-stalled. 🙂
I’m glad you’re feeling unstalled. Keeping up with the writing is, I’m quite sure, a big key but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.
I’m still a newbie, still learning. But one lesson has solidified. When all else fails, write. That you can control. Just write. Then write some more. If you can’t get an angle on your story, write a blog post or a letter or an email. But Write!
We’re all still learning it’s just that some of us are more willing to admit it than others. 🙂 But yes, writers write. And that’s all we can control. The words are the blood that we need to keep pumping.
I suspect there is only one thing a writer can do about a stalled career, and it’s the same thing writers do to launch a career in the first place:
Keep exploring the market.
Keep growing creatively.
Don’t give up.
So much of publishing is beyond our control. People hail e-self-pubbing as if it will be the answer to all authorly problems and restore the ultimate in control. But the fact is–even with that road, you can’t control who buys your book or ignores it, who likes it or doesn’t, who reviews it positively or negatively.
The part we can control is the writing, and our own personal growth.
Yep, that’s where my mind is at with this as well…we control the writing and that’s all so that’s where the energy should be.
But, sometimes it’s really hard to find the energy when you feel like you’re throwing yourself against the wall again and again and no one notices.
So that’s where, I think, the personal growth comes in. It has to. Because there’s no way that we are all going to publish what and when we want. There has to be more to this writing life than that.
Actually, right now we can publish whatever we want, since self-publishing has become easier to do from a technical perspective. But even publishing what & when we want doesn’t necessarily lead us where we want to be–it doesn’t guarantee a readership. Once we put something out in the world, we lose much of the control over how it’s received. So, as you’ve said, we can’t hang on those reactions; “There has to be more to this writing life than that!”
While a career is about progress, about challenging yourself, about growing and stretching, anyone can stall, even pre-published writers. We get stuck in a rut and don’t know how to get out. When that happens, the best thing to do is to try something new, whether it’s a new genre or an outside activity–dancing, singing, improv, barbecue–to get the mental juices excited and flowing again.
True, we get stalled at all stages. I like the idea of changing activities to try and unstick ourselves.
Sometimes getting our mental gears unstuck will let the career stuff take care of itself.
Because if you can’t do anything you might as well just hunker down and get back to work on what you can control – the writing.
Yep, that just about covers it. 🙂
Yep. Been thinking about you a lot. Hope we can manage a phone call some time soon.
I’d like that very much! I’m leaving for the east coast sometime next week, so let’s try to settle on a date sometime soon. xo
Any chance that you’re going to be around and free to chat Saturday afternoon?
No, the weekend’s out. Sorry. How about Friday afternoon?
I am out for a lunch and then an appt so I’m not sure when I’ll be home. It’s iffy. I can send you an email when I get home to see if you’re available then. How’s that sound?
Sounds good! If Friday doesn’t work out, let’s schedule something early next week. I’m looking forward to catching up with you!! xo
When do you leave? Monday morning I might be able to and then I have goals group here from 12:30 – 2:30 so it could be after that too.
Not sure. Everything’s in a state of flux right now. I’m ready to go anytime after my doctor’s visit on Monday morning… So yeah, email me after you’re home on Friday. I should know more about my flight plans then.
Thanks for this post, Susan! A great conversation. I asked during the chat if anyone had more thoughts to offer about career blocks as opposed to creative ones, but maybe it’s not a topic that fits well in 140 characters.
Kristy, it helps. Truly it helps. Thank you.