Friday, March 12, 2010

This is Day One…Again…

This is Day One…Again…

first day 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-in-progress: 2
Novels abandoned: 1
Novels with completed first drafts: 1 (for
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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.


  1. I'm sorry you haven't had a ton of success this first year, but it will get better. I think most writers starting out with a novel don't understand how absolutely slow the industry is. Sadly, it is like molasses for most.

    Good luck! We're all in this together.

  2. It's amazing how far you can come with writing, and there always seems to be more to learn. I either cringe, or giggle, when looking back and thinking how naive I was a year or two ago. At least now I know that I have a lot to work on still, and that immediately puts me in a better position than thinking that I'm great ;-)
    The lessons you've learned in the last year have been invaluable - good luck for the next year!

  3. Writing is a lonely profession. There is no group effort to speak of. No amount of support from family/friends who believe in you will ever be an assisting force behind the publishing of your work. This is what non-writers seem to fail to understand. It takes more than talent, like you said - a whole set of other factors have to be taken into account as well. For the nonwriter, talent seems to be the only thing that gets you there and it should be ever so easy; but it's not, is it? I, like many other writers, can relate to your post. Although you seem to be a little more involved and dedicated to it than I am at the moment. There are times when I go full steam ahead and I am on a creative high and then there are other times when I hit an insurmountable wall that I wish would disappear because simply I've no desire to get thru it. It's madness, it's love, it's hate, it's frustration, it's joy. Everything and nothing. Yes, writing is a lonely profession whereby the creator many times is filled with anguish and many times filled with manic highs.

    Good luck on your endeavors. You seem to be on the right track. Don't give up.

  4. You're learning alot and that's awesome. Hang in there. Things move at a snails pace.

  5. My biggest lesson this year? It is a little scary, though (okay, a lot scary) for the family of a writer. There's a whole lot of "unknowns" both big and small.
    That being said, it's also really exciting to watch someone you love as they grow and evolve and create and do something that they truly enjoy doing.
    I guess you can call me terrified but terribly proud. :)

  6. Thanks for sharing your track record. You are not alone!

  7. 117 now. No, Andrew, you are not alone. We're all in this together. And someday, we'll all be sitting around by a fire, drinking wine and remembering our "struggle" with a laugh. The good old days, when we were poor and stupid, still learning our craft, still trying to hear our 'voice'. All good things come to those who wait. Never give up the dream, never give up the passion.

  8. Thanks folks! Looking forward to another year of writing!

  9. Good luck with everything and best wishes in the upcoming year!


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