9.2.14 - On Living Out Loud, With Thanks

Writing used to be a solitary endeavor. I’ve only been in the game for ten years, and when I started, it was a solitary endeavor. I wrote in a vacuum, not knowing any other authors, unaware of writers' organizations, agents, editors, sales channels and marketing plans. I wrote for me, and when I finished my first book, my husband read it, and thought it was pretty good. A friend who knew I was writing a novel offered to read it. He too liked it. The next thing I knew, I was at the library checking out a copy of the Writer’s Guide to Literary Agents, and had an editor reading my pages for continuity and grammar.

Things took off quickly after that. A year later, I had a agent, and a year after that, a three-book deal. I’d joined a critique group, started blogging, first for my own blog, then on Murderati. I put up a Facebook page, began the race to accumulate “friends.” Shortly thereafter, Twitter joined the mix.

I was no longer alone.

Fast forward ten years. I’ve just turned in my 15th novel. Pinterest, Instagram and Goodreads have all become a daily ritual like Facebook and Twitter. I send monthly newsletters to a lot of people. I do chats, and blog, and create clever contests.

I am living out loud.

I’ve always been uncomfortable with sharing myself online. From the very beginning, I was incredibly careful what I put out there. I’m an introvert, and I like my privacy. I like sharing JT the author with people, but I also wanted to keep me separate from all of that. It was a learning curve. Whenever I let a piece of me into the mix, I felt raw and vulnerable, oddly exposed, like I’d walked into a cocktail party without my clothes, and everyone was staring.

Keeping the two parts separate was a nice ideal. It couldn’t sustain.

Years ago there was a successful writer whose blog I followed. She was a funny, quirky blogger, full of interesting tips about the writing process and publishing in general. And she talked about when writing was hard. 

-Gasp-

She talked a lot about it. So much so that some other nameless authors tried to run her off for being overly dramatic and whiny. So much so that even I read a few posts cringing. 

How could you put yourself out there like that? People will think you’re weak. People will think you’re lazy. People will think …

I was new. Bright, shiny. Brimming with ideas and exuberance. Unstoppable. The idea of writer’s block was a joke. That it would be anything but easy to sit down and write a book? Bosh. And that you might actually admit out loud to strangers reading your blog that you were struggling? Heresy. 

I know now I was running on a sort of extended adrenaline those first few years. Life does get in the way. Sometimes, writing is hard. Really freaking hard. It cuts you open just to watch you bleed, and laughs at you as you struggle on hands and knees to cross the room to your desk. And let’s not get into the parts that are out of your control: bad laydows, terrible art decisions, marketing plans that disappear, accounts dropped, promises broken.

This is a fucking heartbreaking industry, in so many ways, yet we soldier on in silence, for the most part, because there is an old adage that reads: Never let them see you sweat. 

I’ve always tried to stick to that advice, simply because of that open, honest blog I used to read. It seemed so voyeuristic, to see inside another writer’s heart. To watch her bleed to death, slowly, in public, while others cast aspersions from their ivory towers.

I’m not sure when I crossed the first line myself. But over the years, I’ve shared more and more. The lines between me and that JT girl blurred, becoming nonexistent. The day I too was stuck and thinking about giving up, I reminded myself of the blog I’d read with such disdain as a child author, realizing that what she was doing was her therapy, and wrote about it myself. It helped. God in heaven, it helped. 

I’ve never been good with weakness, from myself or from others. My BFFs know if you come to me with a problem, you first need to tell me if you simply need to blow off steam, because if not, I will find a path for you to fix whatever issue is nagging at you. It’s a character flaw, I think, but I’ve learned to live with it.

Sometimes, though, I need to be weak. I need to vent. I need to cry. I need.

Writing WHAT LIES BEHIND was one of those times. It was by far the hardest book I’ve ever written. Storylines wouldn’t work. Characters weren’t behaving. I was stuck, blocked, for weeks, trying machination after machination to get the story to work. Five months of head banging frustrations, slipping into despair more than once, thinking about shelving the whole thing and giving up.

And I blogged about it. I talked about it on Facebook. And on Twitter. I wined and complained and lived out loud.

And you came to my rescue.

You held me up. You encouraged me. You offered ideas, paths to cross over to different switchbacks. You sent prayers and namastes and care packages.  You saw that I was weak, and needed help, and you rose to the occasion without a moment’s hesitation.

Social media gets a bad rap sometimes. Yes, it’s a distraction. Yes, it takes time away from our creative endeavors. But when you build a community of incredible people who will lift you up when you’re falling? It is worth every second.

You got me through this book. Knowing I wasn't alone kept me going, day after day. And it is with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat that I give you my most humble thanks. I couldn’t have done it without you. When I turned the book in Saturday, I breathed a sigh of relief so huge I think I started a tropical storm in the Gulf.

Walk a mile in another man’s shoes, right?   

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J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.