By Marilyn Brant
So, it's transition of the average variety -- like a jar of Medium salsa at the grocery store. More noticable in spice than the Mild. Not nearly as tongue-burning as the Hot. But change can be cumulative. And, as with salsa, even medium levels can get to you after a while.
For me, I'm in a similar kind of transitory state with my writing. I'm aware that the changes are not so obvious to others but, yet, I can feel them. Sense them starting to heat everything up.
With this writing game, I've already gone through some years of massive change. Getting that first traditional NY contract and all of the crazy hours of work that went into preparing for a debut release...that was a year of greater stress than I ever would have imagined. Notable, too, in that I had no idea until then that I could be so scared about something that didn't involve the health of a loved one. I spent most of 2009 in an emotional state somewhere between frenzied and panicked. I'll admit, I'm not anxious to repeat a year packed with as much change as that!
And last year, I took my first dip into the digital/self-publishing waters and was, again, floored by a whole new set of skills that needed to be developed and topics that inspired a new realm of personal fears. (If I've learned nothing else about the publishing journey, it's that I have an apparently unlimited capacity to find new things to worry about...) 2011 was a big, exciting leap, nonetheless.
Over the next few months, there will be some additions to my author bookshelf. I'm excited about these stories and delighted to share them with my readers, but their genres and their publishing formats traipse over territory I've covered before. It's like being an 8th grader. There'll be some surprises and a few challenges, I have no doubt, but I've walked down those hallways already. I can recognize my peers and wave to them. And I'm as comfortable as I can be with my circumstances, given that adolescence (whether in writing or in life) is never actually easy for anyone.
But I'm aware that much larger changes are on the horizon for me and, with them, a transition that I'll have to seriously prepare for emotionally as well as professionally. That this year is a bit of a reprieve from the intensity to come, but I know better than to think the relative calm will last.
Here's why: Because what I'm writing about, as evident by my last completed manuscript and my current work-in-progress, is changing. And it's changing because I -- the writer -- am also changing.
I've been noticing that the stories that now compel me enough to be worth fighting for (you know the kind I mean -- the ideas that keep us awake at night, make us battle our darkest demons, inspire us to edit the same words over and over again until they're blurry before our eyes but, hopefully, clearer to our audience) don't entirely resemble the stories I was driven to write twelve years ago when I began my first manuscript. They're even different in some significant aspects from the novels I was writing just three or four years ago.
And I hadn't expected that. I hadn't anticipated -- in a very real and persistent way -- to need to change. Getting to a level of comfort with any part of the publishing process takes so damn long... So, I thought, once I'd mastered a certain set of skills, once I'd understood a particular market, once I'd found a collection of topics fascinating to write about, etc., that I could just be happy staying in that niche and carrying on indefinitely, going along my merry little way without stopping cold at any time or needing a whole new set of directions.
Turns out, no.
Not every single thing is different now, of course, but there's enough that I need to rethink most of what I've been doing, and I'll have to decide which writing habits and story elements to keep and which to let go. And, while I'll confess to being envious of writers who can remain committed to one genre, a handful of themes and certain sets of characters for decades, I've discovered I'm not one of them. As novelists, we're drawn to fiction for different personal reasons, and I can't pretend to be content with someone else's method of facing the writing life when it's not my own.
So, I guess, for me -- or for anyone else who may be experiencing something similar -- the first step toward handling such a transition is recognizing that we can't wish it away, even if it would be easier or less frightening to ignore it. The second step is to figure out what, exactly, must change...and why. And the third would be to get ready as best as we can, knowing that the only certainty is that this won't be the last change in our writing lives, just the next one.
What about you? Have you ever switched genres or narrative styles? Do you write in two or more totally different genres at once? I'd love to know ;).
Marilyn's latest novel, A Summer in Europe (Kensington, Dec. 2011) was chosen as a Literary Guild, BOMC2 and Rhapsody Book Club pick, and it deals with life change and learning to open oneself up to experience. About the novel, Publishers Weekly wrote that it "distinguishes itself with a charismatic leading man and very funny supporting cast, especially the wonderful elderly characters with their resonant message about living life to the fullest."