Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off, Start All Over Again

Chicago area crimewriter Beth Anderson is the author of seven published novels.  Her first, a romance built around a corporate mystery, caused her to move rapidly into mainstream mystery/thrillers, where she subsequently sold six more of them.

Two of her books have been nominated for the International Frankfurt Award. Two were EPPIE finalists in their e-book incarnations. Her bestselling release, Second Generation, won the AllAboutMurder Bloody Dagger Award, the Rendezvous Review Magazine Rosebud Award, and the FMAM (Futures Magazine) Fire to Fly Award.

She recently completed her seventh novel, Raven Talks Back, another mainstream thriller, this time taking place in the haunting fishing village of Valdez, Alaska, where she spent months researching her novel. This book was published by Krill Press in print, Kindle, and Nook May, 2011. There will be two more books in the Raven Morressey series.

Beth lives in a Chicago suburb. Her children, Rick, Beth Lyn, Barb and Debbie, are scattered here and there across the U.S.

During the last stages of planning a recent blog tour, I thought about asking the 11 other authors visiting me to talk about how they overcome the desire to just walk away—which  we’ve all had at one time or another—and never write another book. Actually, they could choose any  subject they wanted to talk about. Most chose another subject because we’ve all had problems in the writing world, nothing new there, and they’re depressing.

I admit that they do get depressing at times, but my take is, there’s another, brighter side to it:  The triumph of the will and the ability to overcome obstacles and keep on writing if you love to write. I think this is so important to remember if you’re a writer: You get better at it over time even if years have passed since your last book, because writing is not only the expression of what you want to say; it’s also an expression of how you’ve grown emotionally.

I’d like to show you what can happen when you run into a huge glitch in your writing career and hesitate to come back after an absence of a few years. It’s hard to do, but not impossible. I’ve done it. Authors do it all the time.  I can’t tell you how many NY published authors I’ve seen bounce back after an extended period of time, maybe not with those same publishers, but they’re  definitely better writers.

My first three books came out between fifteen and twenty years ago, and under the most painful of circumstances. I wrote the final draft of my Harlequin Superromance, Count on Me, and all of  the drafts of my next two books, Diamonds and All That Glitters, after my mother was diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. My stepfather was gone, so I became her primary caregiver while I also had a full time job and was trying to write evenings and weekends. Long story short, I wound up bringing her back to Illinois from Arizona and putting her into a nursing home just a few blocks away from my home, where I could stop by on my way from work, spend some time with her, and then go home and write for a couple of hours.

I actually found writing very therapeutic and fulfilling during that time, because when writers write, they’re in the world they’re creating and the real world disappears during those precious hours. So I was not only escaping the pain of watching my mother’s mental disintegration, but creating three good books at the same time, all of which were published by traditional publishers.

The first book I sold was the third one published. It took them, because of the long lead time, thirty-six months to publish it. (Yes, three long years.) My copies came to my house just a few days before my mother’s  death.  She was in a coma and never saw it. And then she was gone.

Anyone who has struggled with the pain and guilt you feel when a parent has this disease and you can’t do anything to help them, or anyone who has struggled with the fear that they might develop it themselves, knows what happens when that parent dies.

Mental exhaustion and guilt over the whole thing, even though it wasn’t your fault, takes over your mind and paralyzes you for a long time. You can’t move. You can’t think. And worst of all to a writer, you can’t write. Words are meaningless.

In my case, the stress of watching my mother’s disintegration over several years paralyzed me so completely that not only could I not write for five years, I couldn’t even pick up a book to read. I just had no interest whatsoever in books.

And yet…and yet…

There is something inside the writer’s soul that cannot let go and it must come back, even when you think it’s buried and gone forever. It’s never entirely buried. It will always come back until your own fingers are stilled and you can no longer move them over a keyboard.

And so the will to write again came back to me.

I wrote two more books this time, Night Sounds and Murder Online, pushing ahead, trying to make each book better than the last. I knew I was getting better, I could feel it. And then I began doodling around with a book I had started maybe ten years before and had never done anything more with it. I found it in my files and sat down to read it one day, still loving it as I had before, but perplexed because something nagged at me when I read the first three chapters and it would not go away. I must have spent eight months to a year re-working most of that book, aware the whole time that something was still wrong with the first three chapters.

Then, while reading it over for probably the five hundredth time, I had one of those light bulb moments we all have when something suddenly and finally, once and for all, clicks in and you see the solution with vivid clarity. My point of view in those chapters was completely scrambled. There were three people talking in those scenes and you couldn’t tell which one was doing or saying or seeing or thinking anything. And I only saw it at that moment.

I had grown considerably as a writer without realizing it.

Somehow after all that time, while I had understood point of view before that and had used it in all my other books, it was wrong in this book that I had started so long ago, and I couldn’t, as the cliché goes, see the forest for the trees until that day. So I re-wrote those chapters again.  That book became Second Generation, which so many readers and reviewers have loved and given good reviews and awards.

All of this is why I know that over time and in spite of roadblocks, I got better.

And so have other writers I know who have had to stop writing for a period of time and then gone back to it. I think the desire to write is so strong in some people that no force of nature can stop it for long. Publishers may reject you, agents may ignore you, editors may leave the publisher and ‘orphan’ you, but you still push on. No matter whether you land a gorgeous, lucrative deal with a huge publisher or put one e-book up for sale on the Internet, you keep on working and hoping, and working and dreaming, and working and steering yourself forward, because nobody is ever as good when they first start writing as they are when they finally have to stop.

Make it a good journey for yourself. If you hit roadblocks, do what you’ve got to do in your life, but when you feel that old familiar itch to write coming back over you after a long time off, don’t ignore it because you think you can’t do it. Just sit down and start writing again. It’ll all come back, and chances are, it’ll be better than it was before because you are better and stronger than you were before. Life may not always hand you roses, but those hardships along the way will often make you stronger and a much better writer. That’s your reward if you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again