Learning How To Play: How I Made My Work Fun Again

{ 71 comments }

Late last year, I sold my book to Hyperion. I spent the end of 2011 performing a happy dance because the book was finished! And it sold! And my 14 hour days had come to an end! And apart from a few minor edits, I could finally have a break!

In February 2012, my new editor emailed me a list of editorial suggestions for the book, and my happy dance was cut short mid hip-swivel. There were a lot of suggestions. New scenes. Cut scenes. Fleshing out. Illustrations to paint. 10,000 words of new material.

I replied to her with, “No problem,” but privately, I broke down into a small (big) meltdown (crying tantrum). I fell into bed with the kind of self-pitying melodrama that should be met with an exaggerated eye roll.

(Go on, roll your eyes at me right now. Do it. DO IT!)

Don’t get me wrong—I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with a publisher at this level. What an enormous privilege to have my very own New York editor! I have to pinch myself over this fact every morning, though there’s still a small, paranoid part of me that believes I’m being Punk’d in the most elaborate and cruel way ever. I could be on some Japanese TV show that destroys people’s lives for audience laughs. Ha ha ha! Look at how Torre-san believed she had a publishing deal! Ha ha ha ha!

(Okay, stop rolling your eyes at me now.)

But regardless, the complexity of edits was confronting. Each time the story gets edited, the puzzle needs to be deconstructed and then carefully put back together again.

After already going through so many rounds of this process with my previous editor as well as a proofreader for the self-published version, I feared that if I read my book one more time, my brain would quietly detonate inside of my skull, drip out through my nose, and soil my messy workspace.

I felt like I had nothing left.

I spent most of 2011 in front of my computer building a platform and trying to sell my book with the kind of single-minded determination of a person who should be wearing a straight-jacket. Relationships suffered. Friends became distant. I didn’t eat well or exercise or take proper care of myself. The world slipped away during this obsessed time because all of my energy went into one single goal: Must sell book. 

When it finally sold, I woke up, looked around and realised that people in my life were understandably mad at me for neglecting them during my determined work delirium. Burnt out and sad, I tumbled into a pit of depression. I knew that, in order to get out, I needed to spend some time reconnecting and taking care of myself, now that the hard work was over …

But it was not over.

I’d happy danced too soon.

When the edits came in, I had a litte cry at first, and I called my agent for a chat. “You already have a really strong book,” she said. “Try the edits, see where it goes, and if doesn’t go anywhere that’s okay because it’s already strong. Just play with it.”

Play: one of my most favorite words. 

I wiped away my tears, slapped myself a few times in the cheeks, and then reminded myself to grab life by the loins, get up under it, and start humping. (My sincere apologies for that last sentence. Humping is on the mind because it’s mating season here in Thailand and all the bitches on the beach are doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel. The dogs are on heat too.)

A change of scene was in order.

My partner and I decided to get away. We sold our stuff, left our house in Melbourne, moved to Thailand, and settled into a simple $15-a-night bungalow on the beach.

I began to play with my book.

While listening to the waves on the shore, I was pulled into a zone that I couldn’t get to while writing from a terrace house in Melbourne city. With the balmy breeze on my skin, I could easily conjure up the sensory memories from the tropical adventure I was writing about.

While I wrote, my partner got his dive masters. A few weeks ago, he swam with a whale shark. After diving, he comes home at noon and we eat, or walk, or tan, or watch movies, or play.

As a special treat for my birthday, we moved into an air conditioned villa nestled in Koh Tao’s jungle:

FYI: Rates start at 2,000 Baht ($64 USD). Full details and booking page here. Also available via Agoda, Latestays and Booking.com. 

And working has become fun again.

Life is slow here in Thailand. Deliciously slow. We’ve been in this villa a month now, and from this jungle retreat, the birdsong and the sound of crickets have carried me off into a smooth creative flow. My work is my source of joy, but now I do it at a much slower pace. There’s time to play.

After the edits were completed, I illustrated maps to go in the book. I got out my paints, turned the fan on high, put my headphones on (for some BlogcastFM), and got to work.

From my island home, I’ve reworked the book and painted most of the maps.

It has been pure bliss.

In fact, it has been one of the best experiences of my life.

With the help of my editor, I feel as though I’ve created a much stronger story. It’s rounded and whole in a way that it wasn’t before. The insight from Hyperion has been incredible.

This book required a lot of hard work—a kind of obsessive dedication that took me deep into a void that I wasn’t sure I could ever come back from. But it simply wouldn’t have been possible to get to this point without that sacrifice. Other parts of my life suffered, but now I’m here in Thailand, giddy with glee, working with my editor as I add the final touches.

I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

–> Sign up here if you’d like an email when my book is released in 2013.

Leave a Comment

  • Lauren May 18, 2012, 8:57 am

    Great story about your story :) Glad you’re happy.

    Reply
  • janet May 18, 2012, 8:58 am

    that DEFINITELY looks like a lot of fun and i can only dream of those kinds of digs.. for now.

    i’m jealous of how talented you are!! but then, i pretty much have the same talents.. but i’m jealous that you’re actually *doing it* more than me? ;) love it. haven’t written my book yet but i think it’s almost time..

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 18, 2012, 9:03 am

      You should move here and write your book! :) Win-win-win.

      Reply
  • Denise May 18, 2012, 9:24 am

    wow. So I suppose I’ll have to read the ‘new’ book when it’s released. May I ask, is it going to be longer?

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 18, 2012, 9:31 am

      At the moment, it’s about 10,000 words longer. So yes, you’ll have to read it :)

      Reply
      • Denise May 18, 2012, 9:45 am

        Well, I am happy about that. I don’t know if you remember, but once I told you I wished it were longer :).

        You’re doing great, and living the dream :)

        Denise

        Reply
  • Lindsey May 18, 2012, 10:18 am

    This is such a great story. I’m in a similar boat to the one you were in before you re-found the fun :) It’s good to know you can push through it and it does get better! Thanks for sharing :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:07 am

      Hi Lindsey. Yes, it gets better! Good luck with whatever it is you’re working on. Play, play, play!

      Reply
  • Dina Santorelli May 18, 2012, 10:36 am

    Yep. Great post, Torre. I recently blogged about the same thing–just when you think you’ve given your manuscript all you have, you find that, with a little push, you’ve got more. The glories of editing. And humping on the beach. :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:14 am

      The hard work doesn’t end with books. Once you’ve published, you’ll have to click over into non-stop marketing, which is just as taxing.

      Remember that your book will gain a steady momentum over a long period of time. If you arrange to do a little bit of promo every day, this will make it sustainable over the long term. I made the mistake of going full throttle all day (and night) and it just wasn’t sustainable. I was binge-promoting and, if the book didn’t sell when it did, it was going to kill me. This full throttle approach was ultimately successful for me, but I probably could’ve done it differently and had the same result. Moderation!

      Reply
  • Katie May 18, 2012, 12:03 pm

    I love the idea of re-locating to find new inspiration (although, at the moment, my re-location would be slightly more local, ie. the kitchen table). And while the kitchen may not contain tropical surroundings and a beach on my doorstep, it does mean I’m that much closer to the source of tea & coffee.

    Congratulations on making such a breakthrough with your editing!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:18 am

      Can you work from cafés? Can be good to change it up a bit. I always fantasized about working from cafés, but I could never leave my workspace of THE KITCHEN to get out of the house.

      (And thanks for the congrats.)

      Reply
  • Patricia Sands May 18, 2012, 12:09 pm

    The “happy” is coming through loud and clear in this post, Torre. Great news! “I feel like the luckiest person in the world.” No eye rolls there!
    I’m where you were a year ago – in the depths of those 14-hour days pushing toward the finish line of my next novel and attempting to avoid any more detours that occur when characters make decisions I wasn’t anticipating.
    Can’t wait for the word your new edition is out. Let me know if you are coming to Toronto on your book tour!
    Stay happy.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:21 am

      I’ll let you know, Patricia. I’d love to meet you! Good luck with your 14 hour days and your disobedient characters.

      Reply
  • Emma May 18, 2012, 1:31 pm

    Awesome. I’m at a crossroads with my own memoir, so this is inspiring. It hasn’t sold, and I’m thinking of going the self-publishing route, but I feel like it’s a huge decision. How did you decide what to do when you were in my shoes?

    Enjoy every minute of your dreamy work-play setup!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:29 am

      Hi Emma. I’ve heard that memoirs are particularly hard to sell. I had an agent turn me down mid-year in 2011 because, he said, “I have a stack of memoirs on my desk about people with really interesting lives but they’re just not selling right now.” Four months later, my book sold to three publishers.

      I believed in my book and I knew I just needed to get people to read it. You have to listen to your gut on this and go with what feels right. Self-publishing is hard and the marketing aspect is extremely tiring, but if your manuscript is the best it can be and you’re willing to put in the work and money required, it’s a great way to go.

      Reply
  • Kim May 18, 2012, 2:20 pm

    Yay, yay, Torre, yay! First off all, you are an amazing artist! Second of all, the book was so strong when you self published, I can’t wait to read it again when it is released in 2013. You’ve worked so hard, you deserve all good things that come your way. You also deserve for it to be fun, I’m glad it is again.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:29 am

      Thank you, Kim. I can’t wait to follow you on the same journey! (I have a good feeling about you.) :)

      Reply
  • Charles McCool May 18, 2012, 2:25 pm

    Love it!

    Great photos. The change of venue and work is fun for you.

    Great lesson.

    Best wishes, Torre.

    Reply
  • Christy May 18, 2012, 3:19 pm

    So good to hear you are doing well, Torre. Those photos of you painting in a tropical atmosphere make me want to pick up the paint brush again.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:39 am

      Thanks, Christy. Get painting! Or design some new bathing suits. Did I tell you already that there’s a small shop here in Koh Tao that sells a local designer’s bathing suits and board shorts? The prices are much the same as the US: $40 or so for a pair of board shorts. Anyway … I could see you guys moving to paradise to start up a similar shop, designing and selling bathers/board shorts. :) You’d do a better job of it than these guys. They had great designs, but poor quality snaps. The steel snap (not stainless) on the board shorts we bought rusted and bled all over the pale blue shorts after 1 swim in the ocean. Not happy!

      Reply
      • Christy May 20, 2012, 10:14 pm

        We had that same problem with some board shorts that Scott got in Laos. The bikinis are on their way to being finished though. We are excited to finally be done with the first round of production so we can focus on other things – like painting and photography. :D

        Reply
  • Kieu ~ GQ trippin May 18, 2012, 3:22 pm

    I think Thailand has that effect on all of us. Haha. Your villa in Koh Tao looks amazing and incredibly serene. And your painting is so dang cute! Glad you got your groove back. :D

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:41 am

      Thanks, Kieu. Living in a warm environment with cheap food and services sure takes the edge off. I haven’t cooked, cleaned, or done my own laundry in two months. Happiness is unavoidable here.

      Reply
  • Audrey | That Backpacker May 18, 2012, 3:28 pm

    OOOooooo!!! AND you are doing the illustrations too! You are one talented lady! :D

    Reply
  • Sarah Somewhere May 18, 2012, 3:48 pm

    I love your story, your blog (hilarious), your book, and now your PAINTINGS?! Man, your final book is going to be really GOOD. And I rolled my eyes. But only ’cause you told me to.

    Reply
  • Cristina Garcia May 18, 2012, 4:08 pm

    Great story. I should relocate to the Kalahari and see if I find my inspiration with the lions.
    (love you bungalow…is that where the geckos live?)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:44 am

      Um … you’ve already done that several times, haven’t you? Move back to that hut in the middle of the wildlife reserve. (And yes, the geckos live in all the bungalows here.)

      Reply
  • Christy May 18, 2012, 6:39 pm

    I LOVED the self-pub version of your book. Absolutely loved it. (& wrote a review of it for thesweetbookshelf.com) But as an artist, and as a person also elbow-deep in edits on her own book, completely identify with the painful, utterly exhausting growth process we go through to push our work to new levels. So, while I adore the version I’ve already read, I can’t wait for the new, Hyperion-released version! I know you’ll do fantastic things with it. And I’ll gladly read 10,000 more words about your adventures any day!
    Enjoy Thailand! :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 2:48 am

      Thank you! So flattering. Good luck with you book! Tell me more about what you’re working on.

      Reply
      • Christy May 22, 2012, 5:45 pm

        Well, it’s the truth. I love your writerly voice and your perspective.
        Thank you! My book has been a fun journey. My project is a novel, a bit of a revisionist/historical, self-exploratory, epic adventure. Set in the Roman Republic in 133BC. I’m on the verge of starting queries/agent finding and have yet to sit down and write a captivating description. Ugh!

        Reply
  • wishy May 18, 2012, 11:08 pm

    hey torre, i’m super surprised they wanted you to change anything, i thought the book was great as is! i do however love the idea of your painting and illustrations in there! i’m guessing you’ve perfected the art of painting fruit! haha. i totally get the neglecting people thing coz your completely focused on a project, i need to reconnect too i think!!!

    Reply
  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures May 19, 2012, 12:31 am

    People get so caught up in the daily stresses of life that they forget to play, I love that you’ve reminded us of how important it is. Congrats on all of your hard-earned success — you deserve it, you are so talented!

    Reply
  • Erin May 19, 2012, 2:23 am

    We are also working from a villa on a Thai island (Koh Lanta) and were feeling overwhelmed by work recently. Then we read The Now Habit and it really helped. It focuses on the idea that you need play in your life to do your best work, and encourages you to create an Unschedule where you schedule in all your leisure time but not your work time.

    It has been great for us so far and it’s nice to enjoy the pool and beach without any guilt that we should be working. Glad to hear you’ve found that balance too.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 3:08 am

      I have The Now Habit in my audiobook collection, but I haven’t listened to it yet. Sounds like it’s right up my alley. The Unschedule sounds hilarious and awesome.

      I think we need to meet up somewhere along the way. :)

      Reply
  • Amanda May 19, 2012, 4:09 am

    Yay! I’m glad you found your happy place (literally!). It can only make the final product that much better!

    Reply
    • Crystal Place May 19, 2012, 5:47 am

      Torre,

      I’m so glad I found your blog, and I will most certainly be reading more of your posts! It’s kismet I found your post just put up today because I am working on a documentary right now about the importance of, (also one of my favorite words): PLAY (www.crystalaplace.com/jeu/) (Psst: sorry for plugging, but I really did want to share it with you ;)), AND am in the process of building (almost done) a website for my RTW trip to be taken just as soon as I finish my massive documentary! :] I also know what it’s like to put your whole heart and soul into something that you just *have* to complete or you will somehow cease to exist. That is how my documentary is for me! (And funny side, I ALSO met someone and made a crazy move and am now living in French Cajun country in South Louisiana (possibly one of the *only* places in the world I would never expect to live ;))… and though things don’t always turn out exactly as we plan them, am enjoying every minute of it. So, alas, sorry for over-sharing, but play, travel, books and massive projects you put all the little cells of your body into… you are a woman after my own heart. Can’t wait to read your book (I am a book *ADDICT* too). And thanks a mil for the inspiration, and o’ course keep playing girl! :]

      Crystal

      Reply
      • Crystal Place May 19, 2012, 5:58 am

        P.S. (And that’s all I’ll post, I swear. ;)) My “logline” on my website is also “Heading where my fear takes me…” If you were closer I might have to buy you a cup o’ tea Miss Torre! :] Best of luck on your book! I just tweeted it out to the Twittersphere and FB. Happy travels!

        Reply
        • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 3:28 am

          Very nice, Crystal. Looks like it’s going to be a FABULOUS doco. We definitely need to have that cup o’ tea together one day!

          Reply
  • Christina May 19, 2012, 7:48 am

    I always love your blogs–your humor always lifts my day. I find myself coming back and back to this blog just for the beautiful photos and colors in your art work!…and of course, to look at your beautiful self working so industriously in that fantastic environment. Sure beats waiting for emails while you’re somewhere out in the middle of the (scary) ocean. XX

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 3:30 am

      What a lovely comment. And, yes, it does beat the scary ocean. ;)

      Reply
  • Meg | One Love Meg May 19, 2012, 4:51 pm

    I can hardly wait for the book to come out…. and your new home looks like paradise. I guess it really is in fact… paradise. I am currently living/working for free food and accommodation in the south of spain. Not to shabby. We plan to be in Thailand this winter. Maybe we can all meet up?

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 3:31 am

      South of Spain? Not to shabby at all! Yes, would love to meet up with you, Meg. Stay in touch!

      Reply
  • Brit McGinnis May 19, 2012, 8:42 pm

    Beauty! Glad to see that you’ve found balance. :) I’m about to graduate from college, and the idea of having more time to write both scares and excites me. Any tips for telling myself that I CAN indeed do well?

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche May 20, 2012, 3:35 am

      As long as you’re enjoying yourself, you are doing well. My tip would be: don’t measure yourself off success. If you’re having fun with the play, then you’re already successful.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  • Amanda @amandaelsewhere May 20, 2012, 12:09 am

    I love those paintings, and can’t wait to read your book!

    Reply
  • Neil Fahey May 20, 2012, 5:19 am

    Hi Torre,

    Eternally jealous, enthralled and inspired by your stories. Very happy that things are going well for you again. :) Can’t wait to read the book!

    Cheers
    Neil

    Reply
  • Sonya May 20, 2012, 11:11 pm

    Hi Torre,
    Thanks for sharing your story and all the learning that comes with it. I had my second book finally published last week and signed a contract for #3 the week before. However, even though I feel like life is pretty good at the moment (with all the editing being over ;-), once the book was out there is the horror of selling it (again) – and keeping a close eye on those numbers on Amazon going up and down. The emotional roller coaster that comes with being a writer can be quite challenging at times. Glad you are in a good space now. And I *love* your paintings. I for one will buy the new edition once it’s out. :) Keep up the spirit!
    Much love from Europe,
    Sonya

    Reply
  • Ayngelina May 23, 2012, 1:36 am

    I go through highs and lows of working and sometimes you just need a fresh change of scenery to push you in the right direction.

    Reply
  • Davis May 23, 2012, 2:24 pm

    Now if the publisher could only provide you a body double to do the book promotion.

    Reply
  • Tawny- Captain and Clark May 24, 2012, 12:21 am

    I’m so glad that you were able to make work not only enjoyable, but fun! You’re jungle paradise has me pining to Thailand. I look forward to seeing (reading) the fruits of your labor!

    Reply
  • JoAnna May 24, 2012, 1:30 am

    Good for you, Torre! I’ve heard it’s an exhausting process, but I hope all the exhaustion – and the playing – are worth it. Any chance that those of us who bought the e-book when it was self published can get a discount on the one with the illustrations once it comes out? :)

    Reply
  • Lisa May 24, 2012, 4:43 am

    Torre, I am so happy for you, especially that your editing process in Thailand has been so peaceful for you. The illustrations you showed in your post look gorgeous.

    Reply
  • Bethany ~ twoOregonians May 28, 2012, 12:51 pm

    Torre, I just spent a few minutes catching up on your blog… I hadn’t been by since your posts in the middle of the move. This looks incredible! I’m so happy for you and for your joy in the new season of work/play. I have my watercolors with me on our trip, and your illustrations are a good reminder to sit still now and then. I never regret spending the time once I’ve finished a sketch or painting… So lovely. Anyway, hope this note finds you well! xx

    Reply
  • pablo May 28, 2012, 10:52 pm

    Torre, I enjoy your funny, honest, straightforward yet poetic writing style a lot. Thank you for sharing your talent and insights with the rest of us, mortals.

    Un abrazo para vos y otro para Ivan,

    El primo Pablo

    Reply
  • Katherine Jenkins June 4, 2012, 1:20 am

    Katherine from Lessons from the Monk I Married here! How are you Torre? Looks like you are having a great time! The monk and I lived in one of those bungalows inThailand for a month too, but nothing like the one you have there ^_^! I can relate to the editing part…it makes you want to cry, but once you get into it, it does become fun! Lots of love to you, Katherine

    Reply
  • Leif August 14, 2012, 1:29 am

    Hey Torre, I ‘ve been out of the loop for a while now, glad to catch up throughout this post. I really admire your discipline. Writing and then publishing a book seems no easy task. It seems quit daunting now that I realize how much work it takes. I’m really starting to make a push towards getting my rough draft completed. I’m probably going to go through a million rounds of edits. On another note, I can’t think of better place to keep reworking your book than thailand. Lately I have been thinking about heading to my favorite resort on Kohphangan called watana, cause they have awesome pork sandwiches, and just really digging in and writing. Perhaps I will meet you there one day. Anyways, good luck with it all and take it step by step, nice and easy, and accompanied by lots of changs. Though it sounds like your already doing it that way :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche August 14, 2012, 1:52 am

      Awesome pork sandwiches. Now that’s a perfect reason to settle down in one resort for a while! I think you should follow this plan, Leif. You NEED to finish that book.

      If you come and live in Koh Phangan, you’ll be right next door to us. Stop by and come for a dive! Or we’ll stop by you for a pork sandwich. :)

      Reply
  • Peter Wilson August 16, 2012, 5:34 am

    Congratulations! I felt different emotions while reading your post. Sacrifice, play, play and play!

    Reply
  • Carolyn September 23, 2012, 8:30 pm

    hey…I can relate…wish I had the tenacity to continue working on my 2nd book that I started a few years ago…:( Glad to know someone else has been there. You give us motivation. Keep up the great work. Lyn http://www.amazon.com/Carolyn-Correia/e/B007M2MZLG

    Reply
  • Brendon @ Nerd Travels June 13, 2013, 7:26 am

    I love your dedication and discipline. I think making it fun is the most important.
    I love your writing style, so funny, honest and genuine. I haven’t read many books in my time. (I’m pretty lazy when it comes to reading and too easily distracted by shiny things)
    But I will be definitely grabbing a kindle copy once I buy a kindle in the next few weeks :)

    Reply