• Kacen Callender

WIP: The First of Many

Hey, all! I was writing a pep talk as a guest for a newsletter, when I realized that the pep talk was making some assumptions about the writers who would be reading the post (basically, about where they are in their writing careers)… So I decided to go with a different direction, but to post the original pep talk here instead, in case it might be helpful for anyone. :)

I’ve always put an immense amount of pressure on myself, to the point where it has (and still can) get in the way of my writing—a mental block, rather than a writer’s block. Over the course of ten-plus years up until 2016, I attempted dozens and dozens of manuscripts, but typed “the end” on three. It was mostly because I told myself that I wasn’t good enough, wouldn’t be able to write an amazing novel, and so gave up before I even really began.

Only one thing helped me get over the hurdle and begin to write more manuscripts from beginning to end: I realized that my writing journey isn’t just about the first book—it’s about the career. It’s about the many books I (and we all) will write. When I realized that, it suddenly became a lot easier to write. Writing one book wasn’t much in comparison to the dozens I began to plan to write. Letting go of attempting the first draft of a manuscript, knowing that it wasn’t working and was hindering me from growing and learning as a writer, was a lot easier knowing there would be dozens, maybe even hundreds, more to come. Suddenly, one single book, one single manuscript, didn't have nearly as much pressure on it to succeed, and I was able to move past my mental blocks.

Back when I was writing Hurricane Child, I realized that even if this book, right here and now, isn’t the book that will jumpstart my career, there will be a book that will be the first; I realized in the next drafts of books I began that the books I write now will never go to waste on this journey as I learn how to write, learn how to tell stories, better than before. If I put my manuscript in a metaphorical drawer and come back to it, I’ll be able to come back with better knowledge of how to make it work, how to make it better. This thought process isn't always perfect. I still feel mental blocks from time to time (as I wrote about in Failed WIPs). But this change in thinking, remembering to look at the overall career instead of only the next book in line, definitely helps.

I felt desperate to be published for those first ten years, agonizing over whether my dream would ever come true. The moment I stopped agonizing in desperation, the moment I released and let go and surrendered to the fact that, yes, I would definitely be published eventually, whether it was with the manuscript I was drafting or not, was the moment everything began to click into place. It was my own agonizing that got in my way. Stopping, letting go, and seeing another path open is what led me on the path I’m on now. There were many misses along the way, even then: I moved onto a contemporary that got me my first agent, but never sold; I worked on a second novel with that agent, but editorial differences made me realize it wasn’t working, and we agreed to part ways (which, for me, was incredibly painful after so many years of hoping to find an agent). I met another agent with yet another manuscript that never sold, before I wrote Hurricane Child. But even all of these misses helped me in the long run: I’d started to practice writing many books pretty quickly, something I might not have learned had I continued to stick to one manuscript for years and years, trying to force it to work.

I guess the advice here comes down to this: if you're feeling stuck, know that your writing path is not just the one book you're writing now, in order to unblock the path you're meant to be on.

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