Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Next Level?

by Cathy Pickens

Karin’s suggested blog topic “Taking Your Writing to the Next Level” made me smile. I’ve done just that … except some would argue that the next level was a step down or backwards or sideways.

The paperback edition of the 5th Southern Fried mystery, Can’t Never Tell, appeared this month (yaayy!). It’s the last in my latest 3-book contract with St. Martin’s. I chose, many months ago, not to seek another contract in that series. “Are you crazy?” said one writer friend.“Who walks away?”

I don’t know who else walks away, but it was the right time for me to try something new. Even though it was my decision, I was sad for many months, knowing that I might never again spend lots of time with Avery and her great aunts and the quirky folks in imaginary Dacus. It was almost like a friend was on life-support. Not dead and gone, just not … there.

But a comment I heard years ago kept coming back to me: mystery novelist Sue Grafton said, “Enjoy writing your first book. It will never be like that again.” At the time, as an unpublished writer, I thought, “Yeah, right, easy for you to say, you’re published.”

Now I know exactly what she meant. Having a contract is great. Knowing that someone will publish the results of your labors is very comforting. But with a contract comes a deadline. Someone is expecting you to deliver. That brings pressure – a sense that you must produce on someone else’s schedule.

I am now without contract. And I can now remember with crystal clarity why I wanted to be a writer. I work on my latest (nonfiction) project for long hours, wanting to be as satisfied with it as possible. I spend time on research, tracking down one more anecdote or fact, playing with the organization.

The next level may be a step back – but an artist steps back from painting to gain perspective, to see the work as a whole. I’m enjoying the view from that place right now.

Wherever you are in your work – whatever that work may be – take time to enjoy it. Remember why you set out on that path. Take a step back, if only for a moment, and remember …


Dru said...

I will miss Avery and her friends. Good luck in your next endeavor.

Anonymous said...

Man. All these great Southern series ending. Hate to see it

Nicole Seitz said...

You are absolutely right. I'm trying to remember how much I love writing right now. Working on my fifth novel, it's hard to keep steam in my engine because of the stress of promotion and deadlines, and everything else in between. It's the writing we're in it for. Thanks for the reminder. I've no doubt you did the right thing.
PS. Look forward to seeing you in Orangeburg next year.

Cathy Pickens said...

Thanks for the kind words about Avery and the series! And Nicole, you know all too well about the "stepping back" from painting -- it's just harder to do from a book, isn't it? Orangeburg will be great!

Kathy Wall said...

Cathy - How well I understand. Sometimes the 'business' of being published just crushes the joy right out of the whole process. Kudos for having the wisdom to choose your own path.

Made U Look Today said...

So true, it's so easy to just dream about the future, and all of the goals one wants to reach, instead of living the moment.