Friday, September 21, 2007

What Was I Thinking? - Jennifer Ashley

I asked myself this question recently when I sat down to start a book I had contracted a year ago and hadn’t had the chance to mull over for a while. I’d written I think three other books in the meantime (I write under several different names for different publishers), so it had been a while since I visited that particular world.

It usually takes me a little bit of time to come off one book and get fully into another, but unfortunately I didn’t have time this time for a comfortable transition.

So there I was, facing Chapter 1, Page 1, and everything was gone.


My story and characters had done a bunk, and the deadline was looming. Oh, I had the original synopsis I’d sold the book on, but. . . what was I thinking??

I banged my head against the keyboard, wailed to my friends, drove my husband crazy, ate chocolate and played computer games as the deadline drew closer. And then finally, finally, it clicked. (I have no idea how or why.) I suddenly found myself re-immersed in the world and chatting with the characters. The excitement bubbled up again, and I was off and running.

This isn’t the first time this has happened in my career, and it made me stop and wonder why, oh why, I wanted to be an author.

Authors work all the time (days, nights, weekends), we give up holidays for deadlines, and sometimes don’t have much of a life to speak of. We struggle to put into words the stories in our hearts which takes weeks, months, years. Then we send our beloved books out into the world to be publicly bashed by people who just weren’t grabbed by them.

Why, why, why do we do it?

For the money?

Not really. Though some writers make a nice living, and household name authors can make gobs, money in the writing world is by no means steady and reliable. A publishing house can close. The books can go out of print. A segment of the market can suddenly tank, and there you are adrift without a life raft. It’s much safer to go out and look for a traditional job in a solid company (with health benefits!).

For the fame?

Not really. I suppose many authors are at first bitten by the bug to see their name in print, but fame is relative. I’ve been to booksignings where everyone has read my books, loves them, and wants to buy everything I’ve ever written. I’ve also been to booksignings when even the bookseller has never heard of me, despite the fact that my books are on her shelves. The spotlight shifts as readers glom one author or subgenre and then move onto something new. Fame comes and fame goes. It’s even more nebulous than the income.

So what does that leave?


At the end of the day, I truly write for the love of it. Despite the frustrations and the moving spotlight and the financial uncertainty, I write because I love to tell stories. I also write because I love the readers who love stories.

I’ve had readers tell me my books have helped them get through a particularly difficult situation. I’ve had them tell me they love my characters and think of them as real people (as I do). An amazing number have told me they were so caught up in the books that they forgot to buy groceries, do laundry, or pick up their husbands!

I know when readers share these anecdotes with me that I’ve connected with them and their lives. I’ve done the job I set out to do as a writer—reach out to others.

When characters and stories come to me, dance around in my head, and then pour out my fingers, it is the greatest feeling in the world. It doesn’t matter if this particular book doesn’t bring in tons of cash, or make me famous, or win dozens of awards.

As long as what was within me goes out and connects with at least one other reader, I know I’ve done my job.

I guess that’s what I was thinking!



Laura Drewry said...

Congrats on finding your story again, Jennifer! It's funny how that happens, isn't it? You try everything to get the story to come, you beg, you plead, you eat, you exercise, but. . .nothing.

Then for no reason whatsoever, completely out of the blue - BAM! It's baaaaaaaaack!! That's part of the all-encompassing infuriatingly fabulous parts about writing. LOL

Lois said...

Well, it's probably like trying to have a baby. . . after ages of trying, just about the moment couples start looking into adoption, they get pregnant. LOL

Okay, well, I guess not, but I thought of it after reading Laura's comment. :)


Lily said...

I am glad you have written yet another book... I really like your novels :)

Nathalie said...

It is good to know thta you write because you love it... it is always nice to love waht we do.

deseng said...

Hurray Jennifer! It is such a fun feeling isn't it to have those words flow easily after trying so hard to get the words to formulate into a story.

I am sending my wishes to you that the words will come quickly, the ideas will flow smoothly, and that you have a sensational week ahead!


tam said...

Thank God for writers like you! I love reading & I couldn't write if I wanted to. Congratulations & keep up the good work.

Jennifer Ashley said...

Thanks, ya'll, for the comments. After I posted, I was swept away again by other committments, so apologies for not responding right away.

I was a guest speaker at a freshman English class on Monday, and it struck me anew that writing has to be for the love. The students were all much more interested in the creative side of writing--the story and the feeling of writing it--than what I had to tell them about contracts, money, covers, blah blah blah. It was a great experience!

Thanks for the feedback, and thanks Lily for the compliment on my novels. It means a lot to me!

bookbunny68 said...

It was interesting to see that you spoke at an English class and that the students actually reminded you of why you write. I can't imagine the pressure you get from your editors and, yes I admit, us your readers. But! We only do it because we love the stories and waiting for the next seems to take forever - lol - we just get overly excited from anticipation. Keep up the great work!