This is a picture of me when I first started writing. See how young and naive I was? See how curly? Today I'm going to tell you "How I took my writing to the next level." I've been thinking about this a lot. First, I have to ask, "what level am I on now? What level was I on before?" I had no idea I was on a level, actually. But here goes. I hope some writers out there, whether you are unpublished, newly contracted, or multi-pubbed, might get something out of this.
This is my first official photo as an "author" on the right. Notice the hair is short and smart, the smile, sly, yet few gray hairs. When I signed my first book contract for a two-book deal a few years ago, I was on TOP of the world. I thought the road ahead was paved in gold and someone was carrying my bags. I thought the powers-that-be had every facet of my future in their capable, caring hands, and that my hard work was done. Surely, once I was published, it was all easy-peasy, right? I suppose that was Level 2, Ignorant Bliss. Level 1 came just before that-- writing and trying to get published.
Level 3 hit about the time I had to start writing book number 2 and realized it was much harder to write than the first book because I knew more about writing and the business, and my FEAR of failure kicked in. Gulp.
Level 4 is something like this. You have conquered FEAR and just completed and turned in your new manuscript. Meanwhile, your first book is releasing, so you have to start doing book events...on your own dime, and much time, for not a lot of people--maybe Mom and Dad. At this point, I was offered another 4-book deal, which is a dream, I know, but if you could see my desk, you'd understand that this just upped the ante. Up went the stress and time and out-of-pocket money. This is a photo of me and my editor before I signed my second contract. At this point the hair is a little longer, still short. I'm not gray yet, and is that confidence I see on my face?
Level 5 is when you are balancing writing your new book, editing your last book, launching the book before that and speaking to book clubs and organizations about any and all books you've written. Sometimes, and I'm not kidding, you tend to forget which book you're supposed to be talking about to whom. You wait until you get there and look to see which book they're holding in their laps. Then you know.
And next comes...level 6. You are now teetering on the edge. You are wondering if you can keep all the balls up in the air. You can't write anything remotely inspired because you spend so much time doing promotion on blogs and facebook and twitter and your website and your email blasts, and driving to out-of-town events. You miss your family. You wonder if anyone else is working this hard. And then you attend some conference or writers event and you talk to other authors and realize, hey, we're all in the same boat here. You are not alone. (This is me with authors Jamie Ford, Pat Conroy and Melissa Conroy in Jefferson, TX for the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend's Weekend a couple weeks ago. The hair is longer, but you can't see how much gray I'm covering. The smile is not confident, cocky or naive. It's something more like exhaustion and gratitude.)
There are other levels too. My daughter was reading a book tonight about Bad Cats and she started with the cover. "New York Times number one bestseller," she read.
"That's what Mommy's trying to be," I said, sheepishly. It sounded a little foolish saying it to a 6-year-old. Just what WAS that? Is that what I want? And as I envisioned the levels that must lie between here and there, I wondered if I was up for it and all that might come with it. "Maybe," I added. "Might be a while."
I have four novels out and I'm writing my fifth. My most recent book, SAVING CICADAS, was risky as I took on controversial topics. I like to do that. I like to be bold in my writing. But along with that comes the need for very thick skin, which I don't have. Yet. I think authors are extremely sensitive creatures. We may not look like it, but who do you know who puts it out there, everything they are for people to see and comment on and criticize? Okay, maybe the kids on American Idol...
These kids start out with a dream. They audition and see a little dream come true. They think they've "made it" when they get the golden ticket to Hollywood. But then the true work begins. You can't rest on your laurels, you have to get better to stay in the game. You have to take criticism and get right back up after it. You have to know who you are as an artist and not change depending on what the theme of the day is, rock or country or vampires or Amish vampires in love. And at the end, the ones still standing, the ones who persevere, who make it to that final level must be absolutely ecstatic. They must be exhausted too. They must be proud of all they've accomplished and must be okay with being voted for or voted against. They must be grateful to the ones who got them there and find comfort in the deep friendships they've made along the way. And they must always remember to inspire their wonderful, adoring audience. And do it all with a smile.
In the final hour, after all they've been through is a blur, they must take a deep breath, ask God to open the door if it's His will, and then be willing to give it everything they've got...to take it to the NEXT level. There's always a next level.
I have made amazing friends in readers and writers in this journey, I just can't tell you. As open as I've been in my books, my readers are equally as open with me. I am so thankful to have people working on my behalf, thankful to be here. But, where is HERE? If I had a map like the ones in the mall, I'd have a little star that says, "You are here." But my star is harder to pinpoint. All I know is, I'm right where I'm supposed to be. Enjoying this crazy ride. Ready to take it to the next level, whatever that may be.
Nicole Seitz is the author and cover illustrator of four novels, SAVING CICADAS (Jan 2010 Indie NEXT List Notable, Pulpwood Queens Book Club Bonus Selection Feb 2010), A HUNDRED YEARS OF HAPPINESS (2009 SIBA Award nominee), TROUBLE THE WATER (Library Journal's Best Books of 2008), and THE SPIRIT OF SWEETGRASS (Books-A-Million FaithPoint Book-of-the-Month May 2007). Visit her at http://www.nicoleseitz.com/
(Photo by Kristine Dittmer Photography, Raleigh, NC)