This is Day One…Again…
One year ago this week, I left my job. Or I was asked to leave. Whatevs, it’s all in the past now. I decided at that time that “this was it”, that I wasn’t going to work in software any more. I was tired of it. It didn’t motivate me. It didn’t interest me. Today’s software industry is nothing like it was twenty years ago, when everything was fresh and new. I had a manuscript, and I figured after a couple months of editing, I could publish it and be on my way to having a writing career. (That was a funny thought. After six months of hacking on it, I finally gave up that project.)
On this first anniversary of that momentous decision, I think it’s appropriate to take stock of my progress so far.
Published Pieces: 0
Rejected Pieces: 0 (not including blog contests and the like)
Blog Posts: 124
Blog Followers: 116 (or 180 according to Feedburner)
Novels abandoned: 1
Novels with completed first drafts: 1 (for NaNoWriMo)
Flash Fiction pieces: 9
Other story concepts in various stages of development: ~5
Words Written: At least 200,000 (~500 day)
Money Earned: $0.00
Money Spent: $XXX,XXX.XX
So when I take stock, what are my real accomplishments? I haven’t earned a dime, I haven’t even sent anything out to publishers, and I’m no closer than I was a year ago to having a writing career.
But, I know I’m not the same person I was a year ago. When I go to critique meetings, I sometimes look at other’s submissions and think, “that was me a year ago. Look at all these issues.” I’ve learned a lot. I started out this process naïve and ignorant of what it takes to really write. I had learned a few things over the years, taken a creative writing class or two, but I figured the writing process was something like, “keep writing until it’s done.”
So here are the most important lessons I’ve learned so far.
- Writing is not a process. It’s a craft. It needs to be learned. You can not learn it by reading books (except books or blogs about writing to some extent). You learn about writing by writing. And rewriting. And throwing stuff out and starting over. And banging your head against the wall.
- Critiques are essential. Everyone has blind spots to their own work. The difference between an amateur and a profession isn’t necessarily how to spot problems (though it helps), it’s how to address the problems and revise the work.
- Writing can be approached as an engineering problem. Things need to “work” and words, phrases, metaphors, imagery, etc are the “tools” used to make writing work. There are rules, accepted practices, guidelines, and common structures that are used to build a story. These can be learned. Taking this analogy further, it took me four years of college engineering classes to acquire the skills for my first career.
- Not everything works. You can have a great idea and a shitty execution. You can have flawless prose but a lame idea. Sometimes you can fish, sometimes you have to find another river.
- There is a vibrant writer’s community not only online, but right in your own backyard. Writers love to help other writers, to be there for each other, to support you when you get down and cheer you when you succeed. Don’t be afraid to reach out, we’re all in this together. I’ve yet to meet a single writer either online or IRL who doesn’t have publishable talent under a mishmash of adverbs and tense confusion.
- Everything happens in an incredibly slow pace. I see authors release books year after year and I figure that it must be easy to crank out drafts. But revision takes forever. Also it’s hard to get enough time in the day to work on what I really need to be working on. And even if I start sending out queries today, in the best possible scenario, it would be at least two years for my book to hit the shelves.
- I have the talent. I can sense with each passing week and month that my craft is improving, that I’m progressing, that I’m building my skill up to a publishable level. I recognize that I still have much to learn, that given another year or two, I should be a master, or at least halfway decent. And this is the most important lesson of all: I must be focused on continual improvement, of working as hard as I can on my craft, because it’s not a process, it’s an education.
So it’s still Day One of my new career, even after a year. I’m still starting at the beginning, trying to find my way through the morass of the publishing industry. I know that I will query Steam Palace this year, I will finish the first draft of The Immortals, and I will also write a new NaNoWriMo novel. And if I’m sitting here next March in this same cafe without either a modicum of success or at least some spectacular failures, I’m really going to have to think about what I’m doing with my life. But for now I’m going to keep plugging away.