Friday, June 29, 2012

Aspiring Advice: Stepping Off Plateaus

Those troublesome, meddling plateaus, I tell you - always blocking our desert sunsets. We have a lot of them on this side of the planet, these tall flat lumps. Sometimes brown. Sometimes red. Sometimes gray or a mix of all three. If you feel tempted to kick one, don't. It'll hurt your toe more than it will that glob of rock.

Wait, what? Hold on. Back up.

This isn't the kind of plateau I'm talking about.

(And this isn't advice on how to step off an actual plateau, people - just so we're clear on that ...)

Change it to a verb and you get this definition:
Level out, reach a stable state of little change.

After this last Storymakers conference, some serious reflection happened in my cranium, causing a little crisis in my artistic, professional, and personal life.

To make a long story short ...

I wanted to quit ...

Now for the long story ...

How could I say such a thing? I'll be the first to admit, it's not easy. Does anyone want to argue the fact that artists are always hardest on themselves? Awesome. In this case, I felt as if my writing had, in a sense, leveled out. Plateaued. Flat-lined. Reached a point where it's the best its ever been (after 15 years of application), can't get better, but still not publication worthy, for some odd reason - a breaking point, so to speak.

The dream seemed perfectly possible before college, before marriage, before kids. The weight of adulthood now presses my time in ways I never expected. It just seemed easier to drop the most time consuming thing (writing) and focus on being a husband, a parent, a home owner, an employee, and a horse jockey.

Err, scratch "horse jockey" from the list ...

What went down before this crazy talk started:

My readers are awesome. Not just my family (love you guys!), but readers, friends and trusted sources, and some people I've yet to see in real life who like what I offer. Long before our revision of Woven, a gal from Illinois read it (a friend of my mother that I have yet to meet), and she sent me a most surprising email, saying, "My only complaint is that I can't go to Walmart to buy the next one." Wow! Best compliment ever, amiright?

I'm not saying my writing is better than others. Far from it, man. I've had wonderful opportunities in the last few months to read people's work, people who have (to my surprise) come to trust my opinion. A few have since landed book deals or representation, and I couldn't be happier for them. Still, that little imp had to show up and ask this dumb question: what are you doing wrong?

After three years of intense, insomniac work (mingled with a head injury recovery), after all this praise, we were left with 120+ rejected queries and/or partials. Something didn't compute, and I fell into a slump.

Bring out the Cone of Shame!

How awesome is it that we received a partial rejection, with the most amazing feedback that will make this story infinitely better, the morning of pitching our MS to our dream agent? It went a little something like this: "Yep! It's done, but ... we'd like to do a revision ..."


Thankfully, said agent is willing to wait, and we're currently doing our best to make the wait worth it. 

Something tells me we've gone into digression territory. And broke a rule. Where were we? Oh, right. Crisis!

See, when you stand on a plateau, you're high up (pretty obvious statement, I know). We can see a lot of ground (including ground we've walked on - again, obvious), but there's nothing higher. How do we ascend to a higher elevation when there's nothing to climb up?

This answer dawned on me:


Maybe I only thought I've gone as high as I can go? If I want to climb higher, I have to step off this plateau!

Kind of like turning left to go right ... or something.

So I then approached some people, mountains in comparison to my mole hill, so that I could know how things look from their peaks. What's their perspective? And I came back with three important questions.

First up, Lisa Mangum, an amazing editor/author.
She asked me this question, "Why do you write?"
My response after a moment's pause? "I love it."
Big smile - for her, this was the best answer.

1: Why do I write? 

Then there were these guys!

I was lucky enough to win a lunch with these two inspiring gents. We talked about writing, among other things, including juicy details about their current works that I am forbidden to speak of  (James really liked Prometheus, so you know). I shared my Woven pitch. You know when you're surprised, you back up a little? Same reaction from both, same reaction I had when my coauthor told me this idea of his. When they asked what I'm up to, I told them my plight and asked their advice.

A mind explosion ensued.

What surprised me most was something Jeff said near the end, "You're exactly where we were ten years ago." And these guys are amazing. Why am I worried?

Did you know James ran a marathon recently, with a hair fracture in his leg? He had every reason, and some very good reasons, to give up. I'm sure no one would have thought any less of him. But he kept going. He endured the pain and finished. "Now I can say I ran a marathon. Who knows if I'll ever be able to again?"

2: Have I really tried everything?

And guess what happened the very next day?

(Inside joke - mystery shirt is Hawaiian!)

I know this community of writers would hang me from the yardarm if I quit! This little gathering, our sendoff for Angela's departure to Florida, reminded me how much I enjoyed and missed being a part of their writerly worlds, and everyone there made it clearly known that the sentiment was mutual, whether they knew it or not.

3: Who am I writing for?

In the end, I had to step back and look at everything on my plate with a different perspective. I, too, have good reasons, very good reasons, to drop writing - but I love it, I haven't tried everything, and this isn't about me.

My recent hiatus was threefold: to give me time to revise this MS, to gain a new perspective, and to recalibrate my life. Those of you who volunteered to guest on my blog, now you know why, and I thank you. You've done this writer and tremendous service.

Have I come to a decision, then?

Yep, and here's the verdict ...

I believe in this story. I believe in the stories that I have or have yet to write. Whether on my own merit or with a five-author collaboration, they need to be told.

They will be told.

Let's climb!
Who knows how long it'll take. What's another 15 years at this point? If you get there before me, save me a spot. I'll need it!

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. The most important thing is to not compare yourself to others. Keep climbing. If you reach as high as you can go, step down, look for a higher place. Learn from it. Climb it. For extra credit, watch for those who need a hand. Be a Samwise.

Have you been in a slump like this? How did you overcome it? What's in your trail mix?

I'm David, and I'll meet you at the top!


  1. Wow, that's some powerful thoughts. I'm nowhere near there yet. I'm still taking baby steps towards being anything good as a writer. But when I get to the top, I hope you'll have saved a spot for me, because I'm sure you'll be there first.

  2. Been there, but not quite in the same way since it was for personal reasons, not writing, that had me thinking I should quit.

    I'm glad you're sticking with it ;)

  3. Excellent post, full of food for thought. I am climbing the biggest hill right now, and I have a feeling there will be many plateaus and hills to go back down before the end. It's funny how many blogs I read where people post about giving up and being discouraged in the agent search, and then months later they've landed an agent and a book deal. A lot can happen in a small space of time. We just have to keep doing what we need to do, whether that's advancing or knowing when to retreat.

  4. Oh, David, I've been in the rut soooo many times it's scary. But I keep going forward even when I'm done in the dumps. That's all we can do. I'm glad you've pulled through. Keep going and having faith in your words. :D

  5. Now who's ready for a trail mix of inspiration, encouragement and writerly boosting - because that's what you've got here, David.

    Being in a slump is, apparently, par for the course in our writerly endeavors. But I'm glad you had some wonderful reminders of why NOT to quit, especially since you love writing and yes, some of us would have to road trip to where you're at and chant "WTH David? Get to writing, Man!!!" :-)

  6. Great post! You're going to make it someday. Just believe in yourself, because everyone else does. :) Lately I've been feeling like I can't get to the top of the plateau fast enough. But struggling is just part of being a writer, right?

  7. I'm sure many of us have been here, David. I know I have, but if writing is in your heart you can come through.

  8. Back in 2007 I retired from writing for about five months, until I got the itch again. Sometimes you just need a little break from the game--that's why all sports leagues have offseasons.

  9. Dude, I'm all teary eyed. So glad you aren't giving up. I haven't reached my plateau yet. But when I do, I will look back to this post. And this writing journey is a hard one, but like you said there are so many people around you that would smack you over the head if you quit.

    Good luck with the revisions!!

  10. David, David, David. If you lived in Cedar we could have been sitting down and having the same conversation with each other. I'm so glad that you wrote this post, so happy that a recalibration of your life proved to you that writing was essential and so glad that you aren't quitting.

    And I so needed this post today. You are brilliant.

  11. Oh my inspirational! Thanks so much for this, David. I needed this today! And you are right, we would hang you from the yardarm if you quit! (off to google yardarm) Meet you at the top!

  12. I have definitely been in this boat, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. I think all writers have days where they want to give up. It's, as you said, all part of being an artist, and your own worst enemy.

    But, pushing through the trials is one of the keys to making it to where you want to be. You're right that your stories need to be told, and, in the end, as long as you still love them, that's all that matters. Best of luck with your book. I'll be celebrating the day that it is released!


  13. Yes! I think we all have crises like that. (though each are unique and monumental, I'm not trying to downplay anyone's) WE all have moments of doubt and wonder and depression. How do you go up when you're at the highest point? You learn to fly! Step off and soar. It's only if you stop trying that you fall. Keep it up, You'll reach your goal, though it might be hard to get there.

  14. Very inspiring post and I'm so glad of your decision. We'll get to the top, I have no doubt. Your support team is awesome!

  15. I was waiting for today's post and am not disappointed.

    Yes, yes, yes. I get to this point somewhat regularly. I do find that it happens more often when I compare myself and my writing journey to others. Sometimes I seriously have to (really) grit my teeth, and then go write something. Just the act of creating reminds me of why I write.

    I also remind myself that publication is something I really want, but when it comes down to it, it is not a have to, but a want to. But if it is something I want, I have to do what needs to be done to be published, which is write. Which then leads me to the ultimate decision that I can't stop, but I can regroup and suck it up, and, well, grit my teeth and go write. :)

    I think the fact that you have worked your way out of wanting to quit says a lot about you as a person. Perseverance is the key. I read it over and over again, from a zillion of different people. If we stop, we don't go anywhere. If we keep taking those steps, eventually we WILL get somewhere!

  16. You are awesome, DPK. Thanks for being so honest. Because I'm pretty sure this is something we all feel at one point or another. You better never, ever quit, because you're right -- we'd hang you from the yardarm. (googling along with Katie) :)

  17. Yes hang in there! I think we all have feelings like this,I know I do and my plateau is only a few feet off the ground! (; And just think how sweet the view will be when you reach the top knowing you made it through moments when the climb up was difficult and bleak.

  18. David, why didn't I tell you what I told a few of our blogger friends at Storymakers? Forgive me because it could have made a difference. I said "David has that it factor. I don't care how many rejections he gets, I know he's going places."
    And I mean it.
    I'm glad you didn't give up. You can't enjoy the view from the top of the mountain until you leave the valley. Thanks for sharing your story. I can really relate.

  19. I do appreciate your comments, everyone, and that you've allowed me to publicly spill my guts (so to speak). I had to say it, cause it's the truth. You are an ongoing inspiration for me. Let's keep this awesomeness going! :)

  20. Amen! This was such a great post I don't know were to start. So glad you found the courage to step off the plateau and keep going! And, "being a Samwise," is a phrase that should get far more use. :)

  21. Still in a slump like this.. unfortunately. Weird that right after such a great conference, we both find ourselves questioning things. Glad you've found your way out! Gives me hope.

  22. Sorry I missed this when it was new. I can relate to the fight between writerhood and adult responsibility. Here's how I comfort myself: My grandma lived to 99. The way I see it I got 45 more years to get it right.

  23. You've always been an inspiration to me. I know you're going to find someone who believes in your story as much as you do, and when you're famous don't forget to look down at the little people and remember us fondly. This gig is tough, but for those of us who really need it our lives (i.e. those of us who LOVE to write) it's not an option to give up, plateau or not. I'm going to keep rooting for you becasue I know how awesome you are and I want you to succeed!

  24. I think the problem with me is that I'm stupidly optimistic. But I haven't really been through any of this yet for my comment to have any value.

    Thanks for sharing. I hope that by reading posts like this, I'll know what to realistically expect.