Writer’s Block

It’s hard for me to accept that I have writer’s block.

It’s hard to push past the ingrained feeling that “If I can just try hard enough, I can overcome this.”

Writer’s block is frightening, because I don’t know for how long it’ll last. After high school, I had writer’s block for two years. After college, I had writer’s block for a year, and after a few months’ break, then another year.

I remember, at the beginning of 2015, feeling in despair because I thought I would never write again. Coincidentally, November of 2015 was when I began working on what became my first published novel.

But the fear that comes with writer’s block never goes away—the fear that, maybe this time, I’ve somehow lost it forever. And the older I get, the more I’m aware that I don’t have time to spend sitting around, waiting for the muse to strike.

And yet, it’s equally clear to me that the writer’s block I experience often isn’t something I can just “push through.” It’s a fundamental exhaustion, a point I reach at which I can no longer feel attached to anything I write, any character I create.

Plus, I’ve learned that I cannot write when I’m under external pressure. Right now, I’m in a limbo of being uncertain about my day job’s future, being unsuccessful at finding another job (so far), and dealing with disappointment that, no matter what I do, always seems to hang over my head (which I may talk about in a separate blog post later).

It’s hard for me not to feel afraid when I’m in the grips of writer’s block.

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Limitations

Overall, I like my brain, and I wouldn’t trade being autistic for being neurotypical.

However, one thing I dislike is having chronically low spoons.

There are so many things on my to-do list:

  • Find a new job
  • Promote my novel
  • Work on writing a new novel

And yet, I get so exhausted by having a full-time job that I can barely handle even *one* of these things at a time in my free time, let alone all of them simultaneously, even though I know time is precious.

Also, it sounds simple to list out the items that way, but really each item has many different sub-items to it. For example “find a new job” involves searching for a job, then filling out the online applications, then drafting an appropriate cover letter (which I’m incredibly slow at doing). “Promote my novel” includes networking on Twitter, which honestly sounds like a full-time job in and of itself to me, what with my social difficulties. And “work on writing a new novel” includes not just brainstorming and writing a novel—which is a Herculean effort—but also working on improving my craft.

Sometimes the stress gets so overwhelming that I end up paralyzed and not accomplishing anything at all.

Sigh.

Hybrid-genre books

The common belief is that hybrid-genre books are difficult to market and sell, which is why it’s also difficult to find agents to take them on.

I think I better understand the reasons now. When successfully marketing any book, it’s important to set up the correct reader expectations, otherwise readers can end up disliking a book not because it was bad or even because it wasn’t to their taste—but because it wasn’t what they expected.

That’s become pretty obvious to me with my debut novel. It is a hybrid science fiction/romance that starts off with a mystery/suspense plot in order to set the romance up, and I’ve run into problems with:

  • People who thought there wasn’t “enough” mystery
  • People who wanted more action instead of the main characters spending a lot of time talking to each other (which is pretty standard for setting up a romance)
  • People who thought the romance took too long (because it isn’t solely a genre romance book)

(Things weren’t particularly helped by the fact that my publisher decided to label my book “Mystery/Thriller” instead of “Science Fiction” on NetGalley. To paraphrase what a friend of mine said: A book with a substantial mystery plot is a completely different thing from a genre mystery book.)

However, even given these difficulties, I refuse to believe hybrid-genre books are a lost cause.

I hate talking about Captive Prince by CS Pacat since I believe that series needs to die in a fire, but it’s an absolutely fascinating case study for me in terms of a hybrid-genre story that would never have been picked up by an agent/traditional publisher, but ended up becoming commercially successful. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Captive Prince is a low fantasy master/slave gay romance mixed with political intrigue.

In other words, the epitome of a hybrid-genre book that seems like it shouldn’t have been successful.

Ignoring the master/slave romance part (which is difficult to explain in terms of popularity, other than either (a) white people have a lot of buying power, and/or (b) gay romance can magically make people ignore abusive relationships), it seems to me that the number one lesson for how Captive Prince become popular was: it was able to find an enthusiastic audience who continually promoted the story to other people (and zealously defended its numerous, very severe flaws).

Something like this, however, is difficult to purposely cultivate—it happens over a long period of time and through a combination of luck and proper exposure to the right audience.

And so I reflect on my novel, which seems to have gotten very little interest from review sites despite the fact that I thought it has many aspects that other people would find interesting (diverse representation, action, assassins, romance, ownvoices). Maybe I didn’t construct the synopsis correctly—but if that’s the case, being the author who is too close to the story, I don’t know how else to describe the story in a way that seems accurate to me. Maybe I would be better off having fans who could pitch the story in a way that could generate more excitement.

But that becomes a chicken-and-egg cycle in terms of how to attract readers who could become fans who could promote the book to other readers.

It seems incredibly difficult at this point in time, if not impossible, and it makes me think my sister’s comment—that my next book might do better because it’s far more straightforward genre-wise—might be true.

Sigh.

Times when you feel like giving up

I’ve been on a Twitter hiatus since the release of my book, and when I tried venturing back there, I was reminded of why my hiatus was a good thing: being on Twitter made me feel awful again.

Twitter is the most soul-draining marketing platform ever, because all you do is send your tweets into the void and have no one, including none of your followers, retweet or engage. It’s soul-crushing when it comes to a book you’ve put your heart and soul into. It feels awful.

And so I’d rather run away and at least keep my mental health intact.

While I never expected instant success or universal adoration, the fact that negative reviews outnumber positive reviews right now have caused me to start gaslighting myself. Am I that terrible a judge of my own writing? Did I really write the blurb completely wrong and give readers the wrong expectations?

Or did I write the dreaded “book by a marginalized author that non-marginalized people can’t identify with”?

I don’t know.

Failure, continued

So now that I’ve had a day to mull things over…

I posted about my bad review in my Facebook authors’ group to see if anyone wanted to offer sympathy. One thing that bothers me, though, is that I keep getting advice for how to deal with bad reviews generally.

And I don’t want to be a jerk to people who are trying to help, but I keep thinking, “That’s not my problem here. That’s irrelevant.”

(I have a particular personal quirk wherein I get very aggravated when people offer me advice on a topic on which I didn’t ask for advice.)

The problem was not that I got *a* bad review, period. I already went through many rejections before finding a publisher. I also wrote many negative reviews for books as a reader. Obviously, I know: bad. Reviews. Exist.

The problem was that the particular review a) was the first review, and b) tore down the entire heart and soul of the story, the part that I was most proud of and the part that I was convinced I did well even if other parts of the story weren’t as good.

So that leads to an existential crisis as a writer: Am I incapable of evaluating my own ability correctly? Do I totally suck???

That’s what bothers me about this negative review, not “OMG someone hated my book :'(“

How do you pick yourself up from failure?

I thought I was prepared for negative reviews of my book after having braved agent rejections.

I was wrong.

I swore not to look at reviews for my book; however, I stumbled across one accidentally while I was trying to grab the Goodreads link, and it just…took all the wind out of my sails.

The whole point of the book was the relationship between the two main characters, and the reviewer called the relationship “disjointed” and said they didn’t feel it.

A comment like that…makes me feel like I’ve failed everything I set out to do, you know?

I don’t know what to do about it. I really don’t. And it’s the fact that it’s the first review that hits hardest.

Coupled with the fact that I’ve consistently failed to get any engagement on Twitter, it really makes me want to withdraw from it all. Just hide away in a cave.

On communication and transparency

I’ve been under a bit of a rock lately, but I recently caught up on the agent scandals rocking the traditional publishing world: Agent Danielle Smith’s Former Clients Speak Out

Specifically, this paragraph at the end caught my eye:

“For a long time, I didn’t suspect that anything was amiss, because I had experienced that kind of erratic communication with agents and editors before,” she wrote in an email. “I can’t think of another industry where this level of communication would be acceptable. But when working with agents and editors, it’s commonplace. I wonder if the fact that many agents and editors overlook common business communication etiquette (i.e., reply within a few business days), and the fact that we authors and illustrators are used to this and fear being shunned if we complain—I wonder if this created the ideal breeding ground for Danielle’s underhanded practices to go on as long as they did. Here’s hoping that the whole Danielle debacle opens a larger conversation about improving communication and transparency.”

Boy, did this resonate with me.

I currently work in a client service sector (specifically, providing legal services). I was trained on our company’s customer service policies, one of which was to always respond to the client as soon as possible (or as soon as reasonably possible).

So I was kind of unpleasantly surprised when I realized that the publishing industry does not follow this level of etiquette at all.

And, at first, I chalked it up just to the fact that I was publishing with a small indie publisher. But now it seems that it might be typical, and that’s…kind of shocking, honestly.

When I say I’ve experienced communication problems with my publisher, I mean things like:

  • They do not keep me updated with regard to things such as changes in publication date; I only learn this information if I specifically ask for it.
  • When I send materials to my editor, they don’t quickly respond even just to say “I’ve received it and I’m working on it” or “Here’s what you can generally expect next.” For example, I’m down to about three weeks before the scheduled release of my book; I sent back copyedits and asked to know what to do next because time is getting tight, and after more than half a week I’ve still gotten no response.
  • Actually, because I received no response after a few days, I sent another edited version of the manuscript to my editor because I found more things that bothered me enough that I wanted to edit them. I assumed because I hadn’t heard back yet that I wasn’t messing up anything, but now I’m not sure. And it’s all because I’m in the dark as to what’s going on.
  • The book cover design process was full of miscommunication. The responses I received whenever I suggested changes made me feel like I was being unreasonable in wanting a cover that I liked.
  • I’m not told ahead of time, with much specificity, as to when I can expect to receive edits back and what timeframe I’ll have to return them. This has caused me problems this year because I’ve spent parts of this year preparing for standardized professional exams and received editing deadlines dropped on my head out of nowhere.

Like the author quoted in the article above said: This kind of practice would be considered unacceptable in any other industry. But sadly, it’s also true that authors are too afraid of being blacklisted to complain openly about these things.

I don’t know what I can do. Venting about my frustration anonymously seems to be the only option available to me.