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Guest Post by Kristen Ciccarelli: Protecting the Page

If your family and friends are anything like mine, they know zilch about writing and publishing. You love them dearly, but you can’t have a conversation with them about the terror (and excitement) of a blank page, of hearing back from an agent, of going on submission. You can’t possibly explain to them what it’s like to push on through rejection after rejection. Or what it’s like to find out that your manuscript is terrible and you need to start over from scratch.

And that’s okay.

The problem comes when the people who know the least about what it’s like to be a writer or author have the power to affect the way you feel about being one. For example, maybe your mom has never read anything but that poem you wrote in fifth grade. Or maybe your colleague asks you every single time she sees you if you’ve heard back from that agent or editor yet. Maybe your aunt suggested the other day that you should consider self-publishing (not that there’s anything wrong with self-publishing, just that it’s not the path you’ve chosen for yourself). Or maybe (and this might be the hardest of all) your partner has never shown any interest in your writing.

The truth is, the people who are most important to you have the power to make you feel like you’ll never amount to anything, or that your dreams are silly and unrealistic, or worse - that they don’t matter. (This is true for life in general.) If they didn’t have that power, they wouldn’t be so important.

You can’t control what the people around you say or don’t say, do or don’t do. What you can control is how you deal. Which is why this post isn’t about them. It’s about the page: that blank one that’s simultaneously terrifying and liberating; the one filled with words you’ve reworked so many times you can’t bear to look at it again (and yet, you must); or the one filled with a story so fresh you adore it, want to squish it, feel like your heart will burst out of love for it.

This place – the space between you and the page – belongs to you and you alone. It is precious and fragile. It’s where you learn about yourself, or you escape yourself, or you escape the hard things that happened today or this year or this lifetime. This space is the thing that saves you again and again and again. If it didn’t, then you wouldn’t keep coming back to it. And that’s why it needs to be protected.

So how do you protect it? I think everyone has different ways. Here are some ways I’ve come to fall back on:

Remind yourself why you are, in fact, a writer.
No one can take those reasons away from you. Maybe you’ve been writing since the day you first learned how to string words together. Or maybe for you, writing has become as necessary as breathing: you need it like you need air in your lungs. For me, it’s remembering a time in my life when I was crying at my desk everyday. Something was clearly wrong. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing. And while everyone around me - people I loved and respected - were telling me that to quit now was a decision I would regret forever, there was something inside me that was saying differently. Turned out, that something was a story about a girl who, in order to not disappoint anyone continually says okay to things that aren’t okay - until the day something snaps and she says no and begins to do what she needs to do. That story gave me the courage to change the course of my life, and that’s what makes me a writer.

Write. Make time for it. Writing is what saves you.
I’m not someone who believes in hard and fast writing rules. But I do believe that writing is what makes us writers. So if we’re not writing, we need to ask ourselves why. For me, I need to make time to write because it’s the writing that helps me be brave. It helps me face the things that hurt, or the things that make me doubt myself. The very act of writing gives me my power back, it helps me put things in their proper place. Which is why I must do it. As often as possible.

Learn how to respond to your non-writing friends and loved ones.
Every once in a while, the people you love will say things that hurt. Or worse, they’ll say nothing at all, take no interest in what’s most important to you. You can’t stop this from happening, but you can decide how you will respond. Sometimes, it’s as easy as having stock phrases ready: “No one’s publishing journey is the same,” or “I’ll tell you when I have news.” Other times, it means coming to terms with the fact that your mother will never read anything you write while at the same time realizing that she loves and supports you and is proud of you in her own ways - and that’s enough.

These people are important. You’d fight to the death for many of them. But the truth is, they have no place between you and the page. That space is untouchable. It’s yours.

Before she was a bookseller, Kristen Ciccarelli made her living as an artisanal baker, a barista, a not-for-profiteer, and a ceramic artist. When she’s not reading and selling books, she’s writing about girls under forgetting spells, girls who catch souls in jars, and girls who accidently fall in love with their enemies. She’s represented by Emily Gref of Lowenstein Associates Inc.

You can find her on her blog and Twitter

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  1. Excellent advice. I have so been there; people don't understand, and it's no fault of theirs. (People are currently coming up to me and saying, "Omgosh, you wrote a book!" Because I self-published it and now they know it exists. But the truth is that there were 5 books before this one...ughhhhh). Thanks for the reminder that writing is between me and the page, not between me and people who, though they mean well, don't eat, sleep, and breathe writing like we do. :)

  2. I have all the hearts for this post! <3 <3 <3

  3. I love the line about being so in love with something you just wrote that you want to squish it. I know that feeling! Beautiful post.

  4. I connected with everything you said about non-writers not understanding how writers feel and how their remarks affect us.

    I have also found most people believe a book is written and published with the time frame of a year. And "Real" writers don't have to start over from scratch because the first draft is perfect, and publisher are knocking on writer's doors through Twitter, Blogger, Tumblr searching for stories. I want to scream, "Get a clue!"

    I wish everyone knew how hard and frustrating it is when they give advice or worse, say, "Perhaps its time to go back to work and get a real job like the rest of us." AHHHHH!!! I am writer gosh darn it. I had a career and although I liked it and it provided a steady paycheck, it didn't complete me. Writing completes me.

    Thank you for writing this post:)


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