The Drought Busting Writer

Here in hot, hot Texas, there's been a lot of talk lately about the critical drought that's devastating the area. We sit here stewing over dying yards and crops, horrendous power and water bills, and the unhappy knowledge that there's not a damned thing that we can do about it.

It's horrible feeling so helpless, as any writer who's ever faced a publishing drought can tell you. Watching your carefully-tended career wither as you listen to what sometimes feels like an endless stream of accomplishments from others (as people tend to celebrate their successes and bury their disappointments) can lead to envy and depression, not to mention a serious bout of career re-examination as savings dwindle down to debt.

Yet over and over again, I've seen writers (present company definitely not excluded!) revive their seemingly-desiccated careers after months or years, even a decade or more--long after the point at which most "rational" human beings (a.k.a. those not incurably addicted to this roller coaster thrill ride) have moved on to more reasonable career paths.) Amazingly, many of these once-shunned writers suddenly find themselves the proverbial belles of the ball, their long dammed up creativity bursting from the floodgates.

What, pray tell, are their secrets? Here are a few commonalities I've seen:

1. Refusing to give in to the soul-crushing temptation to equate their value with their luck.
Not that (I assure you) periods of bleak hopelessness won't happen, but the successful drought buster will find solace in her writing, rather than turning her back on a process she once loved.

2. Reaching out for the support of fellow writers. It's only natural to want to hole up when you're feeling wounded, but the successful drought buster forces herself to keep right on networking, often investing some of her down time in volunteering to help others in the form of mentoring, judging contest, leading workshops, and taking on leadership roles in writing groups. Letting other writers know you're hungry (notice I didn't say desperate) for new opportunities can lead to some amazing connections. I've made a pair of sales in recent years thanks to helpful and generous recommendations by my own fellow writers. These boons aren't acts of pity; they still must be earned through hard work and good writing, but when someone turns you on to a possibility, don't be too proud to act on it...and remember them later when you have the chance to do another deserving writer a good turn.

3. Keeping a sharp eye on the marketplace and one's nose in a book.
When things are feeling lean, I study recent deals and bestseller trends most carefully. I read what's hot and hopping, in a variety of genres. Trends tend to cross genre lines, and every now and then you'll be surprised to find one that jump starts your imagination and gets you thinking in directions you otherwise would not have dreamed of.

4. Giving yourself permission to take risks. Sometimes, feeling as though you have absolutely nothing to lose frees you to take intelligent risks with your writing that you never would have if you'd felt pressured to "stay the course" and keep your previous fan base/publisher happy. By intelligent, I mean those that capitalize on your strengths or allow you to develop surprising new muscles. You might try your hand at non-fiction or experiment with a new form (poetry? playwriting? screenwriting? How freeing new possibilities can be!) or genre. You might choose to take your work directly to the audience via self or independent online publication.

You might remember how to play again, and find your work, your passion in the process. You might even open up the spillways and rain down resurrection on a career less persistent souls would have given up for dead.

Photo: Resurrection fern from Florida Forest Plants.


Lark Howard said…
Great post!! It also applies to those LONG, LONG periods of uncertainty when we're waiting for responses to queries and submissions. A couple of "passes" and months of no news can make you doubt yourself and forget your small victories along the way.

The business of writing is so full of disappointments and rejections, it's wonderful to hear that one of our own has a new contract after a long dry spell!
Seriously, Lark. I can totally relate to that one! And yes, I was very, very inspired by our mutual friend's recent drought-busting sale. I love hearing those stories! I find them little inoculations of hope when things look hopeless.
Amanda Stevens said…
I sold my first book back in 1985 and, OMG, I can't tell you all the ups and downs I've been through in that 26-year span. The one thing I learned early on that saved my sanity and kept me going is this--don't take it personally. Any of it. Celebrate the highs and commiserate over the lows, but bottom line, writing is a business.
Joni Rodgers said…
You are wise, Craft Queen.
Great advice, Amanda, and thank you, Joni, for the kind words.
Cheryl Bolen said…
This was a great post, Colleen. You've always inpired me because when you've had bad breaks with publishers, you keep landing on your feet.
Thanks so much, Cheryl! I try to dance my way around the land mines, though my foot occasionally slips!
Kay Hudson said…
All good thoughts, Colleen. Sometimes the temptation to walk away is very strong, but I'm still here, jumping into another round of contests with my WIP and (must be out of my mind) still volunteering. I could have worse addictions.
"Don't equate your value with your luck." Wisely said. Also, I would add, although I think you covered this, "don't equate your success or lack thereof with your self worth." I think it's really important than in this career, above all others, that we stay focused on what means the most to us as writers and not what's happening (or not happening) with the movement of the work.

That said, I'm ready for this drought to be over! (And I mean that both literally and figuratively)

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