Love and Perfection

“We love the things we love for what they are.”

That’s from Robert Frost’s “Hyla Brook.”

Variations on the line had been bouncing around in my head for a while before my husband and fellow writer, Larry Hammer, reminded me where it came from.

I’d been thinking about Frost (without knowing it was Frost I was thinking about) because I’d been thinking about how once we reach a certain basic level of craft, writing is no longer about avoiding mistakes or carefully not doing anything wrong.

It’s about the things we do right.

No one ever loved a book, after all, simply for not making any mistakes, for all that there are (varied, individual) things that can throw each of us out of a story. But we don’t love a story just because we aren’t thrown out of it, either.

We love books for what they do, not for what they manage not to do. We love them for the thing or things that hit each of our particular story buttons, that reach out to bridge the gap between story and reader, that pull on us and make us want to or need to read on. A flawed book that does the things it does very right is far more powerful than an unflawed book that doesn’t.

None of my favorite books—the books I imprinted on as a child and teen, the books that have remained touchstones for me throughout my life—is perfect. I can see that clearly enough when I look at those books as a writer focused on craft—and that has never once stopped me from returning to those books, from treasuring them. 

We don’t love books for the things they aren’t, but for the things they are.

My bookshelves—filled with imperfect books that I adore.

But there’s more to it than that. A while back, in a stray moment when I thought I was thinking about a manuscript-in-progress, I found myself thinking instead: And the same thing is true for people.

On one level, I’d always known this. On another I hadn’t, or had forgotten, or needed to relearn it on that particular day in that particular way. People no more need to be perfect than stories do.

As writers who spend much of our time looking inward that we can become as critical of ourselves as of our stories, this is worth remembering, too. I doubt many people hold their friends and loved ones dear simply because they never make mistakes. Lack of mistakes is not the place love comes from.

We love one another for the same reason we love stories: not for what we aren’t, but for what we are.

As I dig deep to put words on the page, I find that a comforting thought.


Love and Perfection first appeared as a guest post on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations. I find I return to it every year or two as a reminder to myself.

Happy writerversary to me

Oh, right. It’s 2020.

Okay, you don’t need me to tell you that. What with the election and the pandemic and the wildfires and a thousand thousand other things, 2020 has seen to it that it won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

But February 2020 was also, as this ten-year-old post just reminded me, my writingversary. As I explained then:

Back in February 1990, just a few months out of school, I spent the last of my student loan money on a computer with two 5 1/4″ floppy drives, promised myself I would write at least something every single day when I got home from my new day job, and decided to see if I could make a go of this writing thing. I knew enough to know it would take time, so I gave myself ten years before I would step back, evaluate, and decide whether to keep going.

In February 2000, I’d sold the three middle grade Phantom Rider books and a couple dozen short stories, though the Phantom Rider books were by then out of print and I was feeling more than a little anxious about not having sold any more novels. But I stepped back, looked around, and decided I was in for a second ten years.

I completely missed February 2010, because I was frantically finishing a draft of a sequel the YA fantasy I’d started on that first student-loan funded computer but not finished and sold until late 2006. That was the third YA fantasy I’d sold in the second half of that decade; along the way I’d also sold another middle grade novel. Being too busy to step back and decide whether to keep writing is, of course, an answer of its own. Still, it’s good to actually state these things, so: I’m in for a third decade. I’m in, as I pretty much knew before the end of that first decade, for the long haul.

[Author at keyboard]
One of a great many devices I’ve written on through the years.

I completely missed February 2020 because, well, it was part of 2020. Writing has brought its challenges over the past decade, as it does; parenting has brought its own challenges to the second half of that decade, as it also does. But I’m still here and I’m still writing and it feels good to say it aloud:

I’m in for a fourth decade. I’m in for another ten years.

Doing What You Love: Practical inspiration for writers

doingwhatyoulovecover-medium Doing What You Love: Practical Strategies for Living a Creative Life is now out in paperback! This chapbook draws on my quarter-century of writing experience to share insights and inspiration previously only available by attending one of my talks or, more recently, downloading an ebook.

It makes a great gift for any writer in your life who could use a bit of a pep talk. (Including you!)

['Taking risks, rather than being an impractical and foolhardy act, might be  one of the most practical and business-savvy things we can do.']

Available wherever books are sold:
Amazon (bundle with the ebook for 99 cents more)
IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Or visit your favorite local bookstore and ask them to order you a copy!

Doing What You Love: An Ebook

I’m thrilled to announce the release of the second book in my Writing Life series, Doing What You Love. Based on one of my most popular talks, this inspiring ebook takes a look at the things I’ve learned through the years about living a creative life. While the focus is writing, it also applies to other creative fields. Here are the details!


Write More and Worry Less

Write more and worry less! Move your writing and your passion from the edges to the center of your life as you discover:

• Why writing isn’t all about “talent”

• The value of taking creative risks

• How to embrace imperfection

• Ways to manage doubts and put setbacks in perspective

• Reasons to let your fear—and your joy—take the lead

• The myth of that one big break

• How to choose which advice to listen to—and which to discard

• The power of writing without apologies

• Why following your creative passion may be the most practical thing you can do

Acclaimed author Janni Lee Simner has spent the past quarter century writing books, short stories, interactive fiction, and nonfiction for teens, children, and adults. In Doing What You Love she shares down-to-earth strategies for how to get started—and how to keep going—living a creative life.

Doing What You Love is available wherever ebooks are sold! Order your copy now from:

Kobo and their independent bookstore partners
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Apple
Smashwords


New to the Writing Life Series? Order Doing What You Love and Finding Your Sense of Place together and I’ll send you a free e-copy of my creepy short story “Drawing the Moon!” Just forward a screenshot or copy of your receipt to janni@simner.com before the end of July.

A Creative Conversation about Career Cycles

I had an amazing Creative Conversation with Janet Lee Carey about Career Cycles this week, where we talked about many of the things we often hesitate to discuss as writers:

At some point, it also hit me that there were no guarantees as a writer and that success wasn’t as simple as just being intense enough or doing any other one right thing. Anything I wrote could ultimately sell or not sell, find its audience or not find it. I had less control than I’d thought—and that was oddly freeing. If there were no guarantees anyway, I realized I might as well just write what I loved.

And:

Support, just knowing we’re not alone with the ups and downs, that we’re not the only ones to invent and reinvent ourselves, is huge. We’re so afraid of admitting to struggles, of being seen as less than perfect. Again, it’s like if others detect weakness, they’ll realize we don’t belong, and somehow magically kick us out of this writing world. But no one can make us stop writing, and no one person controls the whole writing-verse anyway. It doesn’t work that way.

There’s a lot more–check out the conversation here! (And, along the way, enter to win a copy of the Bones of Faerie trilogy.)


Want to talk about writing in person? I’ll be at the Pima County Public Library’s Megamania event Saturday, July 9.

Kidlit for Kidlits panel
With Aprilynne Pike, Adam Rex, and Janni Lee Simner

When: Saturday, July 9, 3:45-4:45 p.m.
Where: Pima Community College Downtown Campus,
1255 North Stone Avenue
Tucson, Arizona

Megamania is essentially a mini-comicon run by the library. The full event runs from 1-6 p.m. and is completely free

Catch me at the Tucson Eastside Barnes and Noble Saturday, plus Library and Huntsman game news

Hope you’re all having a good summer!

I finished my residency at the Pima County Public Library at the end of May. Before leaving entirely, I blogged about my time there: Libraries remain a place of refuge.

Some writers came to me nervous about sharing their work and writing hopes. Others brimmed over with enthusiasm and the desire to discuss their projects. But every writer who came to me felt they had something precious inside them that they wanted to share …

If you missed me at the library, this Saturday (June 11) I’ll be at the B-Fest Teen Book Festival at Tucson’s eastside Barnes and Noble. Catch me there for a signing at 4:30 and a panel discussion on getting your book published at 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, the final two chapters of The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse are out, and the game has been getting good reviews. Here’s an article about the game in the Arizona Daily Star: ‘Huntsman’ tie-in a hit for Tucson game studio.

“I enjoyed how we were all working at the same time. I’d be there writing the story as the art is being created and the game design is being worked on and the programing is happening, and all those pieces would influence each other,” she [Simner] said.

Until next time, stay cool, keep writing, keep reading, and keep dreaming!

You don’t have to

You don’t have to write fast
You don’t have to write slow
You don’t have to go in with a plan
You don’t have to outline
You don’t have to wait
     for the story to say where it wants to go

You don’t have to write what they tell you to write
You don’t have to learn all the rules
You don’t have to be commercial
You don’t have to be literary
You don’t have to get five star reviews

You don’t need a platform
You don’t need a brand
You don’t need a social media presence
You don’t need to be silent
     or keep your opinions to yourself

You don’t have to be like everyone else
You don’t have to be like that bestselling, award-winning author you admire
You don’t have to write short
You don’t have to write long
You don’t have to write blog posts
     that claim to claim to have all the answers

You don’t have to be perfect
You don’t have to do all the things
You don’t have to do any one thing

You just have to tell your stories
     your stories
     your stories
The ones no else can
The way no one else can
That’s all
That’s all
That’s all

Intensity, burnout, and regrouping

Jaye Wells and Tiffany Trent both have posts up this week about writers and burnout. (I totally agree with Jaye Wells on the importance of writers having hobbies, once writing ceases to be one. Writing professionally is one of the things that led me to become a serial hobbyist.)

This got me to thinking about one of the cycles I’ve noticed in writing careers, one that we don’t talk much about–the cycle of intensity and burnout.

I’ve come to believe, watching countless writers go through this–and having gone through it myself–that writers often spend the first three or four years of their careers talking about how important it is to be intense and productive, sharing strategies for getting more done and being more efficient, talking about how a professional writer has no choice but to write two, three, four books a year.

Somewhere in the middle of the first decade, though, many writers go quiet–until somewhere around years six to nine writers often admit they’ve been coping with burnout, possibly alongside other career challenges, and they share those struggles. I think it’s hugely useful to do so. It’s all that sharing through the years that’s made me realize how common this is.

The first few years of the first decade of a writing career are often about intensity. The last few years of that decade are often about dealing with burnout in various ways. In between, writers often struggle with either despair or denial, as they realize this writing career thing is a less simple (even less simple) than it first seemed.

Sometime after the first decade, a sort of settling in and settling down happens. An acceptance of both the ongoing cycles and the shifting ground of a writing career. A developing of personal coping strategies for doing this for the long haul.

Well, either that, or the writer stops writing. I don’t mean that lightly–moving on to do something else is a reasonable response to burnout, too.

But one way or another, by roughly the end of the first decade, something often has to give, and something often has to change. That early intensity often can’t be maintained forever, not without, at the very least, allowing for downtime, as well as allowing for the unpredictability of a writing career.

I’ve used the word often a lot, above. Careers vary so much that none of this is going to be true for everyone.

But if this isn’t the only possible cycle for a writing career to follow, it is a common one. And I think that’s worth talking about, so that those who do go through this cycle know they’re not alone with it.

Intensity, burnout, regrouping. Sometimes the cycle repeats after that. Sometimes the strategies developed keep it from repeating. That varies too.

Intensity, burnout, regrouping. If you’re somewhere in the middle of this cycle, you’re not alone. You’re just navigating a perfectly normal writing career.

Writer’s block: short answers and long ones

“What do you do about writers block?” It’s a question writers get asked often.

It’s also a subject on which writers are tempted to go the hard truths route on when they answer.

When I was asked this question, I used to say something like, “Well, I don’t really get writer’s block. I just keep writing.” Maybe I’d throw in some helpful words about how it’s okay to write a crappy rough draft, as if all that stood between a–any writer–and writing was the fear of producing some bad words that they’d need to figure out how to revise later. The truth was, in my earliest writing days, I didn’t believe in writers block, and I did believe in simple truths. Writers write, right?

As time went on, I began to allow as how I did at least know what burnout was–both as a writer and in other fields–and that maybe that was what writers really meant, when they talked about writers block.

I still think I was right that the phrase, “writer’s block,” might be problematic, if only because it carries a lot of almost-mystical weight among writers, and that naming the specific reasons for not writing–of which burnout is only one of many–can sometimes give being stuck a little less power. But beyond that, when asked what I do about writer’s block now, I no longer have a quick, simple answer. There are so many reasons writers stop writing, as many reasons as there are writers.

But if asked to break it down, and given the time for a long answer rather than a short one, now I’d say there are three main things I do when I get writer’s block–or whatever we want to call it–things that, like all writing advice, are right for me, but may or may not be right for anyone else.

1) Sometimes I need to push through.

Sometimes what feels like writer’s block really is just a case of the I-Don’t-Want-Tos or the I’m-Scared-Tos. And sometimes even something more complicated than a case of the I-Don’t-Want-Tos or I’m-Scared-Tos can be fought and pushed through. Sometimes, the advice my younger self gave still holds, and I just need to keep writing, keep my butt in my chair, and get those words on the page by brute force.

2) Sometimes I need to step back.

Sometimes when writing just isn’t happening, something in the story isn’t working, or I need to figure something out before I can move forward. When that’s true, going for a walk, going to a movie, even just taking a shower or grabbing lunch and giving myself some thinking time may be the break I need to figure out what that something is. Once I figure it out, often the words will start flowing again, no brute force required.

Sometimes taking a break just re-energizes me, too, even if it doesn’t lead to any profound story realizations, and that can help my words to flow more freely, too. Writers like to talk about how we can’t afford to take breaks, but sometimes, I think we can’t afford not to.

3) Sometimes I need to step away.

Sometimes there are real, legitimate stresses, positive and negative, that take away our focus or our writing time or our writing brain and leave us in a place where we can’t push through, for a short time or a long one, and a shower or a walk or all the writing pep talks in the world just aren’t going to change that. That’s when we need to forgive ourselves for not writing for a time, allow ourselves some grace, and stop beating ourselves up and making ourselves feel worse about something that just isn’t going to happen right now.

The truth is that I remain, really, really bad at this. And to be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever been wrong to try responses 1 and 2 first–more often than not, they do work. But not always, and that’s okay.

Or maybe it’s not okay. It’s terribly hard, actually, especially when one is also trying to make a living, especially when writing is part of one’s identity and one’s way of being and expressing and existing in the world. I don’t have easy answers to what to do about any of that. (Or even, as Terri Windling says, any difficult ones.) But it’s going to happen to many of us, maybe most of us, at one point or another, if we keep at this writing thing long enough.

Most of us will also, at one point or another, find our way back, though we may stop believing that and it may take longer than we expect. I now believe that if we can learn to treat ourselves with compassion during these times, rather than with anger and self-hate, if we can find a way to be gentle with ourselves, this can actually help us through and provide comfort–something that’s especially important at times when writing isn’t there to do these things for us.