Alaskan writer Sara King will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is the bestselling author of The Legend of ZERO, Outer Bounds, Guardians of the First Realm, and her latest urban fantasy series, Sunny Day, Paranormal Badass, among others. She’s an alumna of the 2008 Odyssey Writing Workshop and has spent the last six years forging a successful career in independent publishing in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. To her chagrin, she is owned by four 120-plus-pound Tibetan Mastiffs, cautiously maintains a flock of ninja chickens, and has so many literary irons in the fire that she’s losing count. Thankfully, whenever she needs writing inspiration, she can step out her front door to go wandering in the Alaskan wilderness until she gets cold or almost dies—usually one or the other, but sometimes both—and then stumble home with fresh stories to tell and a new respect for falling, drowning, hypothermia, disorientation, and aggressive 1,500-pound wildlife.
Part 2 of this interview, posted last Sunday, is available here.
In a blog post from 2015, you mention burnout in writing. How can writers recognize burnout, and what do you think they can do about it so that they can continue writing or resume it in the future?
Uhm, well, this is a big ongoing problem for me. I think the biggest way to avoid burnout is to keep consuming good creative input. (Keyword “good.”) Unfortunately, that’s easy to say and less easy to do when your job requires you to be at your computer for vast portions of every day, so I’m guessing the easiest way to avoid burnout is to maintain a set schedule of consumption vs. production where you never output more than you input. But, because I’m a non-linear creative type who finds that impossible, I’ve just come to understand that burnout is inevitable and so maybe binge Game of Thrones, Sherlock, or Firefly to get back on track.
What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?
Honestly, after the health issues I had off and on the last few years and the difficulty in writing that I had because of it, my biggest weakness in writing is now my own self-confidence. After being forced to take a long writing breather (unwillingly), I’m now constantly second-guessing myself as to whether or not I’m ever going to be able to write as well as I did in the past. And honestly, coping with that isn’t easy. I can have 99 people read something I wrote and say, “It’s awesome! Best thing you’ve ever written!” and give me vigorous back slaps and kudos, but then I can turn to that 100th person and have them say, “This isn’t as good as your usual stuff,” and BOOM, my whole world crumbles, because I can see it, and I know it’s true, and I suddenly lose all interest in writing ever again and have a very strong urge to drown my computer in the bathtub. It’s artiste stuff, and it’s really hard to manage.
To avoid this crap before it starts, probably the best advice I can give is DO NOT SHOW YOUR EARLY WORK to anyone except someone whose opinion you respect and who you know will like it and who understands just how devastating a few negative words in the initial writing process might be. I didn’t believe this, years ago, when other professional authors told me the same. I thought they were chickens***s or pansies or bleeding hearts or cowards or elitist nobody-understands-mes. But after years of blow after blow, project after project getting dismantled and left in ruins because of a stray comment by one person that might or might not have been entirely negative but that triggered that deep-set insecurity, I’ve learned that it really IS important not to show anyone your work until it’s done, especially if you have to have that full-throttle enthusiasm in order to finish it (which I do). Because I can tell you, for me, losing that initial burst of enthusiasm and then trying to write the same story afterwards is like trying to chip away at the Rockies with a chisel made of wood. I’m only going to frustrate myself to the point of tears, then give up because it’s never going to happen within my lifetime. The magic is real, and when it’s gone, it’s gone, and no amount of stubborn tenacity to finish it anyway will do anything except drive me totally bats*** insane. (Again, probably not the answer you wanted, but that’s how it applies to me.)
So, in summary, if you find yourself ditching projects because of stray comments, stop letting people read them before you’re done, regardless of how often or enthusiastically they ask, because that’s dumb. Statistically, someone will say something to trigger that loss of enthusiasm, and the chances only go up with each new person who reads an unfinished draft. Instead, start keeping your first draft close to home until it’s complete. Ideally, don’t show it to anyone and let your Muse have his day. If you have to show it to someone for ideas or brainstorming or cheerleading, do it very carefully, only to your Ideal Readers, and explain to them the devastating, enthusiasm-destroying consequences of negative reviews on unfinished projects. Tell them to save the constructive criticism for later, in an editing pass. First-draft readers are cheerleaders and idea-generators, not editors, and make sure they know it. But then, when it is time to get constructive criticism, get lots of it, take it seriously, and be prepared to make changes.
Don’t use my above advice as a license to forego a criticism pass altogether because nobody understands you and you’re an artiste and you’d rather just publish your s*** without feedback because you’re an undiscovered genius who the masses will never “get,” so you’re best served drinking your lattes and lamenting in chat groups about how uneducated and unrefined the rest of world is because they couldn’t see your true talents when laid bare before them. That’s dumb, too. Please don’t do this. I will laugh, then use you as an example in my next diatribe so that a new generation of writers can avoid your fate and folly.
What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?
Well, I’ve got so many projects in the fire at this point that it’s a little overwhelming. Am I going to tell you about them? Hell no. (Read my previous answers.) I’ve come to appreciate working on these projects under the radar, for obvious reasons, then publishing each new book when it comes out, rather than suffering the inevitable cascade of comments (either good or bad) as to why or why not my next choice of project is a good or bad idea.
In general, though, my Muse (and that 7.1 earthquake) has shifted me towards Alaska of late. To that end, I’ve got three different Alaska-based projects that I’m working on concurrently with Outer Bounds and ZERO projects. Any more info than that, however, is asking for a s***storm of reader opinions that may or may not trigger my enthusiasm-shutdown, so I’m going to try to take my own advice and keep them under wraps. 🙂