Writing Excuses 5.27: Perseverance, with Sherrilyn Kenyon

We’re joined again by Sherrilyn Kenyon for a discussion of perseverence, at her request no less. Sherri tells us about how the struggles she’s had, even after having bestsellers and 98% sell-throughs. And many of us have heard stories like this from other authors.

We talk about breaking in, about how each of us have had discouraging spells, and how important it is to persevere throughout it all. Hopefully the advice we offer will help some of you through the grind as well. Never give up. Never surrender. By Grabthar’s Hammer, even.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Born of Night: A League Novel, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, narrated by Kelly Fish.

Writing Prompt: Somebody wrote a novel about an alien invasion. One year later the aliens invade exactly per the details in the novel.

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44 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 5.27: Perseverance, with Sherrilyn Kenyon”

  1. Thanks for an informative and uplifting podcast. Writing Excuses has become a major inspiration for me during the last few months of work. Trying to complete a fantasy novel while working a full-time job and balancing personal commitments sometimes feels like drowning. It’s nice to have a lifesaver tossed to me every Sunday.

  2. How appropriately timed. I’ve been working on an idea for a Trilogy (can you tell I write fantasy? ;)) and I have the idea, I have the characters, I have the overall arc, I understand how to build a story in the larger sense… but I’m struggling to make the outline work and feel right.

    The first novel is “ok” (I’m going through building a very basic outline, just above beatsheet level for all three, then going back and outlining the first one and writing it, because I’ve found the more I outline the better the work is) and I started on the second… but getting between plot points believably without dumb uninteresting scenes is driving me nuts. I experiment with external conflicts to fill the space but everything I’ve thought of so far seems silly or too disconnected.

    But, in the end, this podcast reminded me, it doesn’t matter. Keep hacking away until the right idea strikes. If writing were easy, everyone would do it.

    And to steal the quote Sherrilyn already stole, “Never give up, never surrender.” I think I should get that quote framed and hang it above my desk as a reminder.

  3. Perfectly timed podcast! Persevering is one of the areas I really (stress) need to work on. Appreciate the Grabthar’s Hammer mention, wonder if anyone can finish the next two parts without googling?

  4. I don’t hang quotes or frame rejection letters, but I hang fake covers for my books over my desk to keep my spirits high. They’re nothing elaborate, but they remind me that I can’t stop working. The real book covers will have much better art, with any luck.

    BTW, I recently registered for Worldcon, and I can’t wait to go.

  5. Thank you so much for this episode. After the last episode I commented on (writer’s obligation to readers) I took some steps to help with my writing. I joined a writer’s forum and drew up a work routine that I hope will help with my self-esteem and productivity.

    And here I thought my feelings of dejection were so unique, but it’s plain both from this podcast and the folks I’ve spoken to recently that what I’m experiencing is actually quite common. It doesn’t make it any less painful when I have those moments when I think “what on Earth am I doing?” and wonder how I could have the nerve to even imagine succeeding in this industry, but it still helps to know that even you guys have had moments of self-doubt.

    I especially liked what Dan said. Writing is what I do. I’d do it even if I never got published and never saw a single cent for my effort. I’ve been doing exactly that for the past 10 years, so I may as well keep going. I got into this because I love writing, and I want to be able to do it for a living.

    I came across this quote recently that I think fits this episode perfectly. “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” (Richard Bach)

  6. I only recently found Writing Excuses by some random clickage of internet events, and I’m so grateful. I’ve gone back and listened to many episodes, but this is the first time I felt really compelled to comment. This podcast lifted my spirits and is the reason it is 4 am here, and I just finished editing 4,000 words of manuscript…on my writing day off. Though I write because I truly love doing it, being a full-time writer would be a dream. I think you guys just convinced me it will be even sweeter because of the years of struggle and perseverance I’m putting in now. Thank you!

  7. Hey, the Writing Prompt is almost exactly the plot of Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts.

  8. Great episode.

    I shall soldier on and hope I make it into the garden of writers.

    I keep hearing about a worrying trend towards the professionalisation of writing ie. agents and publishers are less likely to consider you if you don’t have an MA in Creative Writing.

    Is this true and is it across the board or just for literary writing?

    Oh and, I have an English Lit degree and I’ve never sold fries…

  9. I will never complain again about anything.

    Howard: It seems that you continued to self-publish after the first time. Do you think that you’re able to maximize the return based on having an existing audience funneling into your online store, or is there some other reason that you’ve gone against using another publisher? Since you already had to figure that out in the first place you figure you may as well use that knowledge?

  10. @Duke: The track record of webcartoonists with conventional, commercial publishing agreements is not stellar. At least four of my fellows landed sweet deals with publishers, including one with Random House, and as of the last time I checked with them they had not earned out their advances, and were planning to go back to a self-published model. In at least one case the publisher decided to drop the series mid-run.

    If a large publisher could sell a hundred times as many books as I do then it would be worth it, no questions asked. Unfortunately, the comics market does not appear to be large enough to support this. So I shall continue to soldier on, self-published, because I’m selling into a niche which I understand better than any large publisher does.

  11. Chella:
    An agent or editor who will turn down good writing because the author doesn’t have a degree is an agent or editor who will not be working long in this industry. That’s a horrible way of doing business.

  12. Wow, powerful episode. I know you guys have mentioned this kind of thing before, but never with this emotional punch. Sherrilyn, your story of taking that stamp is amazing – I can only imagine what you were feeling when you did that, and I’m so glad you did. Wow.

    I’ve come to the same conclusion you guys have – I love writing, I’ll keep doing it even if I never sell professionally. The internet provides outlets to reach a small audience, and that can satisfy me. Yes, I hope for more, and I’m certainly going to try for more, but I’m doing this for the love of it.

    (Speaking of which, I’d love to hear you guys’ thoughts on ebooks. It’s perfectly respectable to be an amateur artist. There’s been an accepted tradition of amateur cartoonists and comic books artists publishing at the fanzine level. I’ve wondered if ebooks might be a way to develop a similar place for beginning writers to reach an audience while still working on their craft, without the stigma of being self-published. Something like the on-line writing equivalent of the fan manga markets in Japan, perhaps?)

    And Howard, I AM an artist, and your artwork impresses me. You’ve got expressions and body language down. (BTW, you seem to be particularly good at drawing a single panel with nothing more than a female character giving The Look, arms folded, one eyebrow raised. Reminds me of the Feegle “Oh, waily, waily, ’tis the foldin’ of the arms!”)

  13. Thank you so much for this podcast! Like many who have posted before me, the timing on this could not have been more perfect. I’ve set the insanely high goal of being a NYT bestseller. I want my work to be of the same caliber as Brandon Sanderson’s, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s, Patrick Rothfuss’, and all the other writers I admire. Last week it struck me exactly how high I’d set the bar for myself and I had one of those “what the bleep was I thinking” moments because of it.

    It took me a day or two to steel my resolve once more. I’m not going to give up or lower that bar. I’m going to keep writing and submitting until I achieve it and when I do, I’ll probably set another insanely high goal for myself because I’m a masochist.

    Thank you again for your encouragement. I’m going to bookmark this episode so the next time I have a panic attack I can listen to it again and remember exactly why I’m doing this so I can get back to work.

  14. @Howard

    Awesome. Now I know that looking around for your stuff in book stores was a pretty worthless activity.

    Just (like 5 minutes ago) ordered all 6 schlock books as a “thanks” for the podcast. Never really got into the web comic, but now I have an excuse to read them all.

  15. Needing a degree to be a writer doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me, unless you’re trying to publish nonfiction in a specific area.

  16. You guys are the best, really. This podcast is the only one I listen to religiously every week. I’ve been listening since the middle of season two (and went back and downloaded and listened to the season and a half of episodes I missed before it). I’ve been there with you guys through five seasons now and you’re a huge inspiration and influence on my writing. I actually get excited Sunday evening when it is time to check for a new episode online. I know you hear it all the time, but us listeners really appreciate all the hard work, time, and just awesomeness you put out here for us.

  17. This is like the sister podcast to the BIC,HOK episode… And I love it. :D It’s a like a shiny new updated version and will be my new episode to listen to all the time to try and get myself motivated.

  18. @Howard: You said in a previous podcast that when you first started, you didn’t know how to draw, and yet you didn’t have any doubt? I want your ego. Please give me some tips on how to get it. Is there a pill for that? My ego is on the other end of the spectrum.

    @Patrick Sullivan: Do you have someone to bounce off your ideas? I have a coworker who is a screen writer, and just by explaining to him my concepts and my problems, I’ve solved many problems. I noticed that by rewording the problem to make it clear and concise, I reshaped the focus and pinpointed the issue. By the time I could explain it clearly to him, the answer was already on the tip of my tongue.

    BTW, I learned that to avoid “dumb uninteresting scenes,” I have to either accept that my story is going to be shorter or that I’m going to be stingy on info with my character. If my character need x, y and z to solve his problem, then to get x, he has to go through a, b, and c. So right there, my character has 9 problems to solve. Of course, there is always a chance that b doesn’t exist or is no longer available, so my character has to find an alternative. This way I can avoid both info dump and uninteresting scenes.

  19. Best episode in a long time. Which is saying something, because your podcast always demonstrates an incredible level of quality. But this is kind of a landmark episode. Thanks to Ms. Kenyon, I will always know that there was another author who had it harder, but could still pull through and succeed.

    Most of us listening are the kind of writers that have yet to break through and are struggling with these exact kinds of self esteem issues, or lack of hope, or any kind of disappointment or trauma that can be grinding us into the dirt. An episode like this is perfect for lining us back up on where we want to go.

    Personally, I appreciate it a lot.

    Also, I’m starting to get anxious about I Don’t Want to Kill You. Only 22 more days!!!

  20. I feel like I just started writing yesterday, but turns out it has been over 2 years, 2 NaNoWrimos ago, so I’m sure a decade is not so long for some of you either. I write, however, without a plan or hope to publish. I write to improve my English.

    I am curious though. Do you have a plan to improve your writing skills? Do you know your weaknesses and have a plan to fix or improve them? I know that the number one advice is to write, just write, but can my writing really improve just by writing without knowing what exactly I’m weak at? or do I have to be consciously aware of my weaknesses and actively seeking solutions?

  21. Johnny: Reader types but not really writers, most people I know just aren’t into it, unless you count the other Denver NaNoers I talk to once in a while. And true if I have to I’ll shorten the planned length of the novel, but usually it’s part of wanting to supply important information without infodumping that makes things ‘interesting’ (ah how I love scare quotes).

    In the end if I give it enough time I usually work through it, though sometimes this means going on to work on something else and letting the idea percolate in the back of my head, which I am considering doing now by playing with the idea of a series of novellas in three parts, based on the three major factions in a ‘war’ until the three intersect more explicitly (not counting battles between the groups) over a major event.

    As to your second post, I try to focus on one thing at a time until I feel like I’ve mastered it, then go onto the next. My current focus is story structure/plotting based around the 3 act structure while explicitly taking bits of the Hero’s Journey out of it. Once I get that sorted out my next target is probably going to be tightening up dialogue.

  22. @Dan: I agree. But I keep hearing about this apparent trend – worrying.

    I suspect it may be primarily in literary circles, but still means get a slew of writers from the same mold – how dull.

  23. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed this badly today. Dan, thank you for telling us that really is as awesome as we hope I will be. I’m three unpublished novels in and hoping I don’t have to get to twelve but it gives me hope that it’s never too late for success.

  24. It’s heartening to know that even people who have done well, who I look at as examples of great work, have had moments of doubt and disillusionment, of times when things weren’t going so well. Don’t get me wrong, those times must have sucked hard. But if it can happen to you guys, then there may be hope for others.

    Inspiring! :)

    For me at the moment, perserverance is a tricky thing, a much-prized but elusive commodity. In all honesty, I haven’t written a book yet. I haven’t written a complete work, even a short story, in years. Which is not to say that I don’t have ideas I want to try and make into stories, and I am currently trying to write a novel. However, I’ve developed a bad habit of insecurity. I get a page or two in, and a voice starts whispering, “this is not it. Not good enough, not interesting, not true to the character. Not working.”

    I don’t know if the scene is boring me or I’m just paranoid. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really as committed to writing as I want to be, or if I’m just deluding myself because I don’t like working in a call centre and yet I don’t have much prospect for anything else right now.

    But then… the ideas will keep coming, the urge to write SOMETHING will still be there. The spirit is willing, just lazy and undisciplined.

    Bah. Enough kvetching.

    So. Perserverance. Must keep trying, must push my way deeper into the book.

    Thank you, Writing Excuses.

  25. @Jace — I’m something of a perfectionist. I read some advice once that you shouldn’t think of your WIP as a “novel” but just a “literary experiment.” Experiments, after all, don’t have to be good. They don’t have to have a brilliant climax and unforgettable characters. And, the nice thing is, when you finish a “literary experiment” it pretty much looks like a first draft. Self-delusion? Completely. But that’s how I finished my first book and my second. I think it’s really hard to write and expect a rough draft to look and feel as perfect and polished as the professional, well-revised, well-edited books we consume. Anyway, hope that’s helpful. I’ve felt that second-page paralysis before.

    Loved this podcast, btw. I was just talking to some writer-friends about keeping going…got to link them to this.

    Do you have any advice on evaluating your own work? I suppose that’s the thing I’m working on persevering through right now…my short stories that I think are sub-par tend to get nice critiques and personalized rejections, and the stuff I think is brilliant tends to get less-nice critiques and form rejections.

  26. @The Writing Excuses Guys

    Loved this episode. It’s always nice to be reminded that even successful authors struggl(ed) at one point. Scary in some ways too, to hear that sometimes being a best seller isn’t a guarantee of success.

    I have a suggestion. I’m getting to the point where agents are requesting partials/fulls. Now I’m looking at self promotion/publicity/marketing and I feel like I know nothing again, haha. I would love to see some episodes on the business side such as: website marketing, marketing ideas, promotions, etc. I know you did a few episodes in some past seasons, but I’d really love to hear your insights into this area. Specifically geared towards authors who are just about to or have just signed a contract.

    Thanks so much!

  27. The first thing I thought when hearing the Writing Prompt was : The Hero hasn’t read the book!

  28. I’m a bit belated in writing a response, but I have to say what an excellent podcast for the week. It was one of the best I’ve heard from you guys. And Sherrilyn, you’re an amazing woman for being able to do the things you’ve done and achieve what you have. Thank you for taking the time to do this podcast, and for the encouragement.

  29. I heard from Michael Stackpole that Epic Fantasy really doesn’t die in the marketplace. So Brandon Sanderson shouldn’t have a career crisis is Michael Stackpole is correct.

    What I did learn from reading Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley and listening to Mercedes Lackey about the Writing industry is this:

    There are three basic strategies to make it and not lose it in this industry:

    1. Write to the three general do-not-die in Fantasy/Science Fiction market.
    This is Military, Pet Fantasy, and Epic for Fantasy.
    Space Opera, Military and something I can’t remember for Science Fiction.

    2. Get good at predicting the market.
    People think it can’t be done. A few people are conceited about it thinking that books just come out in rushes without any rhyme or reason because they want to be the next trend, which defies all psychological and sociological study of it.

    There are about four tools to do this:
    a. YA. This is where the experiments happen in the market, and those will be adult readers in about 5-10 years. They will want to read what they read in their childhood.

    b. Consuming bookshelves for current trends–this tells you what is on the way OUT. It tells you what not to write. It also tells you where the gaps are, where they once were filled. If it takes you ten years to write a book, usually they come back by then–see YA for why.

    c. Pop culture and news outlets– This usually surfaces within three years. Regency was bigger with the Jane Austen trend. The Tutor in romance was big because of the documentary about the tutors If you consume what everyone else does, then you can take a pretty good stab at it. Consume more than your section of the bookstore.

    (Current prediction for me is due to the Racefail, we’re looking at more non-white characters about 10 years from that as main characters.)

    I also use my subconscious a bit to give me ideas and usually it’s right, the issue is figuring out which order I should put the idea to fit it to market. The Gods idea I had I put after the multicultural book idea… but it turns out to be the wrong order. Gods first, then multicultural. (’cause people are afraid to discuss race.)

    Right now according to the writing forums–Vamps are going out in favor of angels, gods, etc, so it’s a small switch. Tutor is on the way out, regency is coming in. Historical Fantasy and High Fantasy should be coming back fairly soon.

    Steampunk and cyberpunk don’t seem to be lasting as much… but it’s early in the trend to tell if it’ll have lasting power.

    d. Editors, agents and other writers. Pay attention to what topics are being posted in the forum–thats the book shelf in 3 years. Vampires, I knew was coming in because it was being posted a lot. I know multicultural, probably epic is coming in because of Race Fail, the non-white character on the cover in Borders, and more and more agents listing “Multicultural” in addition to the Science Fiction and Fantasy. People are sniffing a trend coming up even if they don’t know it.

    3. Diversify (from Mercedes Lackey)

    Two methods for this:
    a. Go Diana Gabaldon route. Put everything in so you’re not limited. She has historical, Fantasy, Science Fiction, mystery and romance in her first book.
    b. Write one book and then switch gears (Ala Michael Stackpole said to do this). So write book one, but write another type of book for book 2. I believe Gail Carriger said she switched books. Diana Gabaldon wrote mystery novels between the Outlander books. You’ll get some converts and some new fans–the point is to expand your fan base. Neil Gaiman also takes this approach. (Now he writes Doctor Who… and so on.)

    If you’re stuck predicting market, and you stick to one non-regular selling market, then you will have your career revolve every ten years. Fat to lean. So diversify or stick to the tried and true.

    At least that’s what I deciphered. Despite this, it doesn’t mean that one’s individual success is guaranteed. It just means you can try to play the market a little. And maybe let go of the conceit that this book you wrote will change trends forever–as I was told, stories are compelling to people because something rings true to their experience in the now. Figuring what that is has been the game of marketers everywhere.

  30. I guess I’m a big time pessimist because after listening to this podcast I’m quite depressed. :) If all of these great writers can barely make it (and get dumped by their publishers) what chance do I have?

  31. Charles? Take a look at http://madgeniusclub.com/ and some of the other blogs where writers are talking about the shakeups and changes going on in the writing scene — yes, traditional publishers probably aren’t going to save you, but… DIY publishing, aka e-publishing may very well provide a better way.

  32. hey Mike,

    Thanks for the link. Looks very interesting and I will definitely read up on things. I am still of the mindset that traditional publishing is the way to go if at all possible. There is a huge safety net in place (professional editors, agents, etc). In one of Brandon’s lectures on youtube he talked about Amanda Hocking who last year signed on to a traditional publisher. There is a reason she did that. However I do agree with you, the publishing world is changing and who knows, by the time a novel of mine is “ready” I may change my mind.

    I just found this podcast to be very depressing rather than uplifting — the good news is that I listened to a different one the next say (though I can’t recall which one it was at the moment. it was something to do with depression.) that I did find encouraging and provided a bit of balance.

    I’m actually hoping that the crew will do another podcast on not being overwhelmed. They did that in an earlier season, but it was mainly focused on those who have world builder’s disease. I was coming down with it myself, but writing excuses has cured me of that. :) My sense of feeling overwhelmed is that I’m never going to “get” the art and craft of writing fiction enough to have a chance. (I began writing in non-fiction, and have been published).

    Anyway, I will do some reading and as always continue to write.

  33. This podcast is so beautiful and inspiring. I’ve listened to it at least 10 times since I’ve discovered it and I’m not even close to tired of it yet.

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