Shutting Out the Cooks. Or, listening to yourself.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I left my editor job, packed up my NYC apartment, then I went to Paris, and now I’m home home in Texas and this whole spiritual-existential crisis (aka my dark night of the soul) I’ve been having is still with me. Contrary to what pop culture makes you think (ya know, girl runs away to find herself), living in Paris for a month actually doesn’t solve your problems (the wine and croissants were AMAZING though).
That said, I did do A LOT of edits for my Jan. 2020 YA anthology to get it into copyedits, YAY (you can learn more about it here and here). So when I got back I was like okay yay I’m going to finish revisions on my YA fantasy novel and it’s going to be AMAZING. I’m in Texas countryside aka my happy place where a lot of my inspiration comes from. Nature is often how I recenter so I figured it would just all click into place.
But then, it didn't.
Long story short I was like a ghost wandering the halls (erm scratchy grassy fields) wailing about my book. After much convincing by friends, I emailed my agents and basically was like hii, I’m dying. We had a call and in it they said that there were too many cooks in my kitchen.
I think I’ve talked about this a bit on here but while being an editor and writers has its advantages, I’ve always felt like it helped editor-me more than writer-me (because I was better able to empathize with my authors). Though being an editor made me a better critical reader it also made me a more anxious writer. I feel like I’ve read a good portion of the fantasy books coming out this year on submission (or in team edit meetings). I know the market too well. So even though I’m not a publishing house editor anymore the first cook is the publishing professional side of me. Then my agents pointed out that I have a lot of friends who are established authors and that probably doesn’t help either and so forth and so on.
We talked about the kid lit industry and how it can become an echo chamber. Your friends want to read your work so you share it and then they give feedback and then random writer peeps online who you’re friendly with wanna exchange and so you do and they give feedback or maybe you don't even exchange with them but there are fifty twitter threads on overdone tropes in YA and suddenly you’re not writing the book YOU wanted to write, you’re writing a book for a hundred people. And then it's like OMG I need air but wait there's no air, it's stuffy in here because there are one hundred cooks in my kitchen and guess what, now I'm hangry because no food is getting made.
And as you see, I’m not just talking about your friends. I’m talking about the online and in person writer community as a whole. Part of why I left NYC to finish this book is because the NYC book community can feel like an echo chamber. But even if you’re not in a city with a strong publishing community, again, there’s social media. There’s your friends.
One of the biggest pieces of advice we’re given is to find a community, right? So it can feel weird to then be told, leave this community. But sometimes that's exactly what you need to do. I had to shut the cooks out. And that didn't mean ignoring my friends. That meant politely declining their requests to read my outlines or chapters. That meant not engaging in Twitter discussion after discussion. That meant sitting with my feelings because my feelings make up me and I make my book. Even though I had friends I visited / who visited me in Paris, I was alone. And even though I have family here, they're out most of the time at work/school so again I'm alone, which is something I wasn't most of last year. Both these experiences reminded me that part of being a writer is solitude. Again, we’re taught to find a community. We’re taught to live life and meet people so that we have inspiration-fuel for our writing. But I feel like we’re rarely reminded that it’s okay to withdraw. That sometimes you’ve got to shut the cooks out of the kitchen, no matter how many Michelin Stars they have.
I’m not going to act like by shutting the in person and social media cooks out everything suddenly got easier. Because again, one go the most belligerent and persistent cooks for me is the voice in my head. The voice that says everyone’s moving on without you, you’re alone out here, and you're never going to finish this book. That cook is a total [insert expletive of your choosing].
That has been my hardest cook to shut out. And honestly the only way I’ve kinda succeeded in doing so is by showing up. Every day or every whenever you write (cause you don't have to write every day).
I show up. I open my laptop or journal (actually, I’ve found that journaling first really helps recenter me and clear me head). And I write or edit or whatever I need to do. It’s often slow at first because I’m not a morning writer. But then it starts to click.
That mean inner voice doesn't necessary go away (at least for me). If I stop for too long, she comes racing back like oh, but you thought I was gone. But what does happen is I get better at ignoring her. Why? Because the work is in front of me. I showed up for the work, to that blank screen, to those pages needing to be revised and I trusted in a power higher than myself. And by trusting in that higher power, I begin to trust in myself. And I don't necessarily mean a higher religious entity, I fully believe what Elizabeth Gilbert says in this TED Talk that writing is of us and also not really—that my creative talent is something I tap into. Again, this is just me personally. But looking at writing as a power I tap into vs. this great creative talent only I posses has allowed me to release guilt and some of the unnecessary burden creative folks often end up carrying.
I write, I revise and the more I work the easier it is to ignore that mean inner voice. Because when she says everyone's moving on without you I say, maybe they are but it’s fine I’ve got this book and we’re working at my speed and that’s okay. When she says you’re alone out there, I say nope sorry I've got my characters and we’re having a grand old time. And when she says you’re never going to fish this book, I say, f-you because I’m finishing it right now. Word by word. Day by day. That’s how we finish a book.
And you know, maybe your most buttheaded cook isn't your inner voice, maybe it's a "well-meaning" friend who isn't that well-meaning after all. Maybe it's a parent or a relative whose validation you crave, but you're not getting (& may never get <3). I feel you. I've dealt with all of those cooks. But the fact is--the tough love is--that only you can write your story and if you listen to them, if you keep waiting for their validation, your book will never get finished and that's the greatest tragedy.
So when it feels like there are just too many voices, when you have no idea if you’re writing this story for you anymore…shut out your cooks. Make your own food. Write the book that only you can write. And I truly am saying this as someone in the trenches with you. I've been saying this to myself every day. I believe in us, we've got this <3
And if there are other strategies you use to shut out allll the voices and focus, let me know in the comments or on Twitter (cause yes, even though I said ignore the numerous YA opinion thread I'm online... haha, balance!)