An identity crisis of the writerly kind

July 10th 2013

The other day I emailed a critique partner and whined that I was going through some kind of author identity crisis. The poor girl had to talk me off a ledge — via email.

I had been sending her scenes from my WIP to get early feedback. Was the Key West setting descriptive enough? Did she like my protagonist? Was the pacing strong? Typically, I don’t let anyone read my work until I’m satisfied with the writing, but in this case I wanted someone to reassure me that this novel had potential. But at some point, I stopped and reflected on whether I wanted to finish it by September, as I had hoped, or finish it at all.

No one is holding a gun to me head to write this story. This book isn’t under contract and I’m really only 10k words into the story — 1/7 finished, technically. Why would I stop when I invested so much time in characterization, plot and scene lists?

I stopped because I want to write a historical mystery. History is my first love (I have a BA in history) and historical fiction is my favorite genre to read. I recently finished The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni (a fellow PA writer) and was inspired to work on my own historical mystery. Her prose, build-up of suspense and 19th century setting created such an incredible story that I felt driven to write one of my own. I have a penchant for early to mid-20th century history and so I had a vision of a mystery set in a boarding house in the 1950s with the female protagonist hiding her Jewish identity.

All of a sudden, I felt energized by this new narrative but also saddened to quickly give up on my WIP. I mean, who was I? A spec fic writer? Or a historical mystery writer? And why did I have to choose?

As my crit partner told me, the nice thing about writing YA is you can write in any genre and still be a YA author. Maureen Johnson writes contemporary and speculative fiction and no one questions that (because she’s Maureen Johnson and no one should ever question her anyway). And yet, I still had to wonder what kind of author I wanted to be — what would brand my work a KGG book?

And so I emailed my crit partner and bounced some ideas of my YA-expert-on-retainer and decided to write just the opening scene of my new novel. Just one scene. And while it’s not a perfect scene, it’s the start of a new project with a lot of potential. And that’s enough because the only kind of author I need to be is a good one.

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2 comments on “An identity crisis of the writerly kind

  1. Leandra

    Good for you for going w/what your heart was telling you! Enjoy your new book high, they’re the best. Not that I have any other high to compare it to… =)

  2. Jill

    “the only kind of author I need to be is a good one”

    Hear, hear!

    Re why putting something aside is so hard once you’ve started it: there’s research out there (which I’m somewhat embarrassed, as a scholar myself, to admit that I’ve only read about in pop-psychology type books) about how people do exactly that: are reluctant to give up on something that’s not working, in large part because they’ve already put a lot of time/energy/resources into it and don’t want to lose that investment…

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