Losing (And Finding) My Way

S. J. Pajonas April 6, 2017
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I am totally in love with experimentation. When I was a kid, I wanted more than anything to be an astronaut and I was heavily into the sciences (chemistry was my thing). So even though I loved stories and creative writing, and I studied film and screenwriting throughout college, it was no surprise that I got an IT job out of college. Programming spoke to me on a basic level, and I loved the problem solving aspects of getting websites built.

When I quit my job and started writing full time, I began writing by pantsing, writing from the seat of my pants without an outline. It worked for me but it was slow. I was hampered by the multiple revisions I was doing, and looking back now, I realize this was because I was learning story structure. Still, I wanted to be faster.

I’ve been published since late 2013. At the time, self-publishing was just getting into swing and becoming a legit way to publish. I had an agent before this (we have since parted ways but remained friends) and I had been querying before that from late 2011 on. At the time, 2 or 3 books per year was considered WHOA. No one really wrote that fast or published like that, but as people did start to gain speed to a book per month or every other month, I thought, “Hey, maybe I can do that.”

So I went back to my science roots and experimented. I tried fast drafting, plotting, writing multiple stories at once, fat outlining, snowflake method, story beats. You name it, I tried it. And the more I tried, the more lost I got. I had written 4 books before I started experimenting and they were so much fun to write, and this? This was torture. I wasn’t learning anything new and changing my process was making me depressed.

Guys, I can’t tell you how lost I was.

Then I read a blog post by John Scalzi about his writing method. If I could find it on his website, I would. I think he was in Hawaii at the time. Anyway, he mentioned that his writing method was to edit as he went. He would write, edit, write, edit, and then at the end, he had an almost finished book, ready for some edits. I thought, “You know what? That’s what I used to do. That’s what worked for me.” It was slower, but it was a happier writing time for me.

Could I go slower in this market? The market is very demanding right now. Readers are used to getting new material from their favorite authors at blinding speed. I have author friends pumping out a book a month, sometimes more! But writing faster, no matter how hard I’ve tried, has never worked. Not with all the plotting and dictation. Not with fast drafting. Not with story beats. My writing (and my sanity) suffered every single time I tried to speed up.

No matter what the market demands, I have to go my own pace. Three or four books per year *is* something that I can do. It’s a good speed for me. A book a month? No. I can’t do it. I admire those that can, a lot. They blow me away. I had to have a come-to-Jesus moment over the fact that I can’t do it. It’s been hard to see those I came into self-publishing with rise to the top, get best seller credentials, make a lot of money, have a lot of fans, etc.

But that’s not my path. Finding my way in this business has been like soul-seeking, something I haven’t done since my twenties. It’s interesting to see how there are waves of my life where I learn new things about myself and my place in the world. I may have lost my way the past few years, between writing my books and choosing what to write, but now I’ve found the path and I intend to stick with it.

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Category: On Writing, Personal
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  • I think in the end the story and what works for you in terms of writing is more important than how fast you write it.
    I think it’s great some authors can write a new book every month (even though as a reader/ reviewer it can be so hard/ impossible to keep up at times). But everyone is different and what works for someone doesn’t work for the other. You have to write in a way that works for you. There are also authors that only write one book a year or less and that’s fine too. there’s no right or wrong way to do this writing thing.

    I am not a writer, but with my blog posts I also notice what works for me and what doesn’t. I can finish reading a book and force myself to sit down and write a review.
    But if I try it with a discussion or advice post I can’t. I feel rushed and stressed and can’t get anything written. Which is one of the reasons I haven’t done any of those posts lately. I haven’t had enough time to give myself the time to write those post when I feel like it. I might have the exact time to write them, but then I would have to force myself to write them and it just doesn’t work.

    I am glad to hear you found your path with writing again. And I think 3 or 4 books a year published is pretty great! It is nice how you keep learning new things about yourself and what works for you this way.

    • Once we have to make ourselves do something, it can be hard to follow through! I know that one well. And I’m heartened to hear that 3-4 books per year is totally fine with you because then maybe it’s fine with other readers as well. There’s only so much I can do and I don’t want to lose my core readers. 🙂

      I’m glad I’ve figured this out now. Writing is definitely a more peaceful process and something that I enjoy. <3

  • It’s a never-ending experiment, isn’t it? I’m glad you’re finding something that works for you.

    • It is but I need to step back from the experimentation for a while, at least for writing. I wouldn’t mind experimenting with things like marketing and advertising instead! 🙂

  • I think that sometimes the rush to push out books quicker and quicker can be hard on quality too. This isn’t universal—I’m sure there are some people out there who can write high quality books super fast, but it seems like often quality suffers when you work that way. I used to work with an author who wrote and wrote and wrote and it was honestly a bit of a relief when I stopped working with her because it always felt like she just wanted to be done with the current book so she could move onto the next one. She wouldn’t mind making tiny adjustments but anything bigger than that just seemed like too much work. It was frustrating for me as an editor, but I knew that was what she felt she needed to do to make her career work. And I think it’s been successful for her—none of her books have been huge hits (to my knowledge), but she makes up for that in sheer volume. So, I guess you just need to find what works for you and go with it—it might be different for each person.