Friday, February 15, 2013

Vacation or Bust

By Caitlin Rother 

I was going to write about the importance of taking a vacation from writing. How good it was to go to a spa in Calistoga and relax in hot spring pools of varying temperatures and let my mind go blank. I’d never done it before and, I have to admit, it was delightful to revitalize my creative juices by clearing out my brain and letting it rest after weeks of tireless editing the manuscript I just turned in to my editor. 

Taking a break was effective, because I got an idea for a new novel as I was taking a walk in the crisp air of Northern California, many miles from home. I felt that old optimism creeping back in.

But then I got a bad news email this morning about a non-fiction book project that I’d been working up for the past year and was planning to pursue for publication this year. So, instead, I’m going to write today about persistence, rebounding from rejection and the determination I have to perpetually call into play as I keep plugging away as a full-time author.

For now, it looks like the project is dead, and if I am unable to revive it, I have no other income lined up for the year. I didn’t have a contract for the book yet, so there was no guarantee anyway, but I had already spent a good deal of time and energy researching and interviewing and thinking as I was putting the book proposal together.

Yes, that is the glorious, glamorous life of a full-time author, a career that I have often likened to professional poker player, due to the high degree of risk and speculation involved.

Because I generally write about true-life tragedies – crimes and memoirs – the people I write about and work with often have experienced significant levels of trauma, and talking to me brings up all kinds of painful memories. It can make them physically and emotionally sick and cost them sleep. Most of them suck it up and share their stories, but sometimes, they just can’t face going there, or say they can, but find they can’t.

I have had many people cancel interviews, stop returning phone calls and emails, and disappear on me without explanation. Some are victims or their family members, others are police detectives or attorneys who are just overwhelmingly busy dealing with cases involving the traumatized.

I know it’s not personal so I don’t take it that way. Still, all of that is very stressful for me as well, as you might imagine, because I have deadlines to meet and bills to pay. But this is the kind of story that I’m drawn to or finds me, and it’s what I’m good at, so I have to be compassionate, understanding, flexible and, most important, I need to stay level-headed and refrain from panicking. When a source gets cold feet, I do a LOT of soothing and trying to ease fears, apprehension and pain; I have to be sincere and genuine or it doesn’t work.

Curiously, I also have to do this for myself, to perpetually put my own feelings into perspective. I have to temper the hope that people will buy the book that I’ve poured my guts into for the past however many months or years. For me, maintaining where I am is not really good enough -- I am always trying to reach new levels of achievement. I always try to set the bar as high or higher than my last book, which, if you have a New York Times bestseller, or a publicity-drawing title, both of which I’ve had in the past couple of years, is not an easy feat. It means that I place that much more pressure on myself to match my own past accomplishments. As a close friend of mine likes to say, if you’re competing against yourself, you will always lose. But I'm stubborn that way.

Sometimes I get tired and want to quit, go get a day job working for a guaranteed salary and health benefits. But that so far hasn’t worked out or the urge has dissipated as I sit in the sun at 11 a.m. and realize I've worked too hard and sacrificed too much to give up the freedom I’ve earned since I quit the newspaper business in 2006. Writing books is addictive, but to survive and thrive, I have to live my life one project at a time, one year at a time, and constantly re-evaluate.

So that’s what I do on a day like today. I look back at how long it’s taken and how hard I’ve worked to get where I am. I remind myself of how grateful I am for the successes I’ve had, despite bumps in the road like this one. And I refocus on the goals I’ve set for myself for the year. 

I’d purposely left myself an open window so I could explore some new things this year, stretch myself by trying to pursue some different types of writing, work on building my platform, and line up more speaking engagements. I just didn’t realize how big and open that window was going to be.

So I will open my mind and let the creative breezes blow on through. I’m fortunate in that several of my projects seem to have come out of nowhere, with an unexpected phone call, right through that open window. I will just keep telling myself that somehow, some way, I will find that next perfect project, the one that will help me get where I want to be.

As you might imagine, I already have a few ideas rolling around. I just got back from vacation.

New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother, a Pulitzer-nominee who worked as an investigative reporter for nearly 20 years, has written or co-authored eight books: Poisoned LoveDeadly Devotion/Where Hope BeginsMy Life, Deleted, Body Parts, Twisted TriangleNaked Addiction, and Dead Reckoning. Her latest book is Lost Girls, about the murder of innocents Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner. For more information, please check her website,


Kris said...

Hi there,
I love your blog and have nominated you for the Leibster Blog Award for new blogs with fewer than 200 followers. Please check it out here:

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Caitlin,

It was a pleasure to hear you share some of your writing tips (and experiences, too) at the SCWC this past weekend.

Sorry to hear about that one project not working out, but am sure a writer of your talents won't be held back for long :)

Caitlin Rother said...

Hi Kris,
Thanks so much for the nomination! That's great! I think we have more readers than those registered as followers, but it's hard to tell!
Cheers, Caitlin

Caitlin Rother said...

Hi Mark,
Thanks so much for your kind and encouraging words. Thankfully, as you say, I am not one to give up easily and I think I've managed to salvage the project, not as a book, but as a long narrative piece of online journalism. We shall see and I will update everyone when I know for sure.

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