You are entitled to feel however you feel!
(MAJOR SPOILER ALERT FOR TAKEN BY STORM FOR THE REST OF THIS POST!)
It was never my intention to leave readers hanging. As a writer, I saw the series as being about Bryn’s journey to adulthood and her ascension to being the kind of alpha who would—and has—sacrificed everything for those she loved.
There’s a line in Trial By Fire when Callum tells Bryn, “In the end, it all comes back to you. You protect them, you love them, you live for them, and someday, you die. That’s what it means, Bryn-girl, to be what we are. It’s lonely. It’s impossible. It’s all-consuming.”
And in my mind, by the time Taken By Storm ends, in Bryn’s last human moment, that’s the promise that has been fulfilled. She’s grown up. She’s sacrificed. She’s walked through the fire and come out alive. The bad guys are vanquished. Callum fulfills (or at least, is in the process of fulfilling) the promise he made Bryn at the end of book two. Devon has become what the series always hinted he would someday be.
All of which just goes to say that I did not intentionally set out to write a book that would rob readers of closure! That said, my intentions as an author and your experience as a reader are two very different things, and you have every right to feel whatever you feel about the way things ended, when you’ve invested time and emotion in these characters for three books.
It’s possible that I may return to this world and these characters someday, though not in the immediate future. Thank you (and everyone else who’s written to me) for your passion.
I hear you on the hectic schedule thing. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so much mental space to devote to various aspects of our lives. I wish I had a magic or more helpful answer to give you, but for me, it really just comes down to priorities.
I find time to write because I am willing to give up things that I might otherwise being doing with that time. Sometimes, I write instead of sleeping. Sometimes, I stay home and write, when I’d really like to go out. Sometimes, my Tivo overflows with shows I’d love to watch, but writing has to come first. Laundry… cooking… general life maintenance… sometimes they fall by the wayside.
If you don’t have time to write, and you would like to have time to write, you have to figure out where writing falls in your priorities and then just MERCILESSLY SHOVE ASIDE THINGS THAT CAN BE SHOVED ASIDE. I once heard Nora Roberts say that if you’re juggling a bunch of different aspects of your life, it’s important to know whether the balls in the air are glass balls or plastic balls. If you drop it, will it shatter, or bounce?
What those priorities are and what you’re willing and not willing to give up is a very personal thing—and there’s not a right answer here. Maybe your life is full of glass balls right now, and writing just isn’t the priority. That is fine! The vast majority of people in the world go through life with priorities other than writing.
But if you really, really want it, if it is a priority, you just have to make the time to do it.
As for how to do that (other than aforementioned MERCILESS SHOVING), I don’t know that I have any particularly helpful wisdom, but here are some habits I seem to have adopted:
*Turning off the internet when I’m working. Minutes lost here and there can really add up. (Related: I am of the opinion that before you write your first book, time spent researching publishing (which you may or may not be doing) is time you could spend writing instead. It is easy to get lost in the vortex of talking and reading ABOUT writing instead of just doing it. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on this—and in some cases, cutting it out altogether, because until you have a finished book, all the publishing info in the world is kind of moot. As always, your mileage may vary and there is no one right answer in this business, so do what works for you).
*I frequently work at night and refuse to go to sleep until I reach my goal.
*I carry notebooks and/or my alpha smart (portable word processor) with me, so that if I have time while I am out, I can make use of that time.
*I make To Do lists each day and POWER THROUGH THEM IF IT IS THE LAST THING I DO.
*One of the biggest time savers in the past few years is that I’ve learned to say “no” when people ask me to do things.
*I also find it helpful to make sure that when I’m not working, I’m actually doing something fun. Time spent randomly hopping around on the internet in a “meh” kind of way and time spent reading, watching TV, hanging out with friends, and having fun both fall under the heading “leisure time,” but only one of them really fills the tank and makes me feel like I’ve had a break from work.
*On the subject of breaks: I make myself take them. Because sometimes, taking a day off from EVERYTHING is the only thing that can recharge me to work double-pace for the following week.
And that’s about all I’ve got.
I do not believe that hard work ever amounts to nothing.
If you write a book, and you work very hard on it, and you make it the best you can possibly make it, and… it doesn’t get published…or it gets published, but doesn’t get carried in stores… or it gets carried in stores, but doesn’t sell well…or—let’s face it, there are a million and one things that could go wrong AFTER you write the book. There are more ways that this book could “not work out” than would ever occur to most people outside the publishing industry.
But say that happens. You finish the book, and you love it, but no one else does, and you get rejected, and no one ever wants to publish that book. Or maybe you finish the book, and you don’t love it, you realize it’s a hot mess, and even after you revise it, you just don’t think it works and maybe it never will (How many times has this happened to me, both before and after selling my first book? MANY). Or you sell it and you publish it, and by whatever definition, it does badly.
Has your work really amounted to nothing?
It may feel that way, but for me, writing is not just about the product—it’s also about the process. I learn so much with every book I write—even the books that never saw the light of day and will never be read by anyone but me. If you took away the time I spent on ANY of my books, I would also lose everything that book taught me—about my own process, about characters and nuance and plot and pacing and world-building and what NOT to do.
Your mileage may vary, but I do not consider any time spent practicing my craft to be a waste, any more than a professional basketball player would consider time spent practicing free throws to be wasted.
To become a better writer, you have to write. And write. And write. And write. You do the best job you can on each book, and then you write the next book. You practice. You put in the time. And you know that if, for whatever reason, this book doesn’t work, you will do what you always do—learn what you can from the experience and move on.
Having goals is great, and choosing your projects thoughtfully with an eye toward those goals is also great, but for most people I know in this industry, the goal posts are always moving, and if you define your own worth and the worth of the hours you’ve put in by the ever-moving definition of success, you could end up missing out of a lot of the joy to be had in writing.
At the end of the day, stressing about whether a given book will be a success will not make me a better writer. Writing will make me a better writer. And the hours and effort and thought I put into my books are the one thing that I can fully control, so I try my very best to concentrate on that and not let the stress bunnies devour me whole
One thing Ally Carter and I talk about a lot is the fact that we never seem to learn how to write a book. We just learn how to write this book. Every book comes with its own challenges. Some are more challenging than others.
For me personally, I think the very first (unpublished) book that I ever wrote was easier in some ways and harder in others than what followed. The hard part about the first book was finishing it. Committing myself to a single project, saying “I am going to finish this no matter what,” and not letting myself get distracted by new shiny ideas as they came. Making it through the middle of the book, which (for me) is no fun at all compared to the beginning or the end—that was the hard part of the first book.
Nowadays, finishing isn’t as hard, because I know myself as a writer. I often have deadlines that mean I have to finish, and I’ve learned that just because the middle of the book is hard to write doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I’ve learned that sometimes writing feels like work to me, and that’s okay. I’ve learned how to put my butt in the chair and power through. I’ve learned to trust my process, and that makes things easier.
The flip side to that is that the longer I’ve been published and the more books I’ve written and revised, the more I know about pacing, character development, world-building, and prose. I know what mistakes I’ve made in first drafts in the past, and I go into writing each new draft armed with new knowledge and new goals. I’m much, much tougher on myself than I used to be, and I’m much more mindful of what I put on the page and what I want each book to do.
And that means that the more books I write, the harder the actual writing is. Each book comes with its own challenges, and on top of that, it’s really important to me to improve, to try to make each book better than the last one, to incorporate everything I’ve learned—from writing and revising and reading and watching TV with a critical eye to story—since I wrote the previous book.
The bar keeps getting higher. Each book brings with it new challenges. So while I definitely think finishing books is easier now than it used to be, the actual craft aspect of it is a continual challenge—because if I’m not writing books that challenge and stretch me as a writer, I don’t feel like I’m doing my job.