At last month’s Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference, Han Nolan spoke about taking risks. She was nervous (self-proclaimed), funny, charming and honest. She led us through the emotional bumps and bruises that she’d encountered in the first weeks after the release of her debut novel. We gasped as she read excerpts from snarky reviews, and cringed as she took us through her raw moments of self-doubt.
But writers must take risks, Han said.
Han knows talented writers who have never finished a manuscript—they keep polishing those same five chapters over and over again. It’s safer that way, because if a manuscript isn’t finished, then that’s the reason why it’s not published yet. Right?
I mentally patted my risk-taking self on the back. After all, I’ve proven that I can finish an entire manuscript.
Han went on to say that even if a writer manages to finish a manuscript, showing it to other people is risky. Other people may not like your story.
I nodded sagely. My critique group has seen my writing highs and lows (the really low lows) and I can’t imagine finishing a project without their input. Woe is the writer who writes in isolation.
Han also said that revising is risky, telling us about how she had to go back and dig deeper with a main character in one of her novels.
When my manuscript didn’t sell, I rewrote the. Entire. Novel. Talk about a risky revision. I’m right there with you, Han! You and I—risk takers. That’s right, sister!
Then Han talked about people who sell first novels, and never finish another one.
She said that it can be hard once you sell that first novel, because now there are Expectations.
She said that SOME people are afraid—AFRAID!—to work on the next book once the first one has sold.
She said that writer’s block is “too much ambition at the wrong time.”
Good grief. Han Nolen, whom I had never met before, was speaking directly to me.
I’ve had my next novel in my mental queue since before my debut novel sold, but I’ve never found the time to actually work on it. I had excuses galore—the day job, family, the list goes on.
But the real reason? I was afraid. I am afraid.
What if I can’t write another publishable novel? I was doing exactly what Han said those “other writers” do—by not even starting, I wouldn’t finish. And by not finishing, I wouldn’t have to say that my next novel didn’t sell.
The night before the conference, I told friend and fellow author, Anne Marie Pace, that I’d been having a hard time finding the time to write. She said to write just 15 minutes per day. If I can write longer than that, great. If not, then 15 minutes will suffice.
So I’ve dusted off my Super Risk-Taker Cape and am signing off to get my 15 minutes in before bedtime. Anyone else want to join?