Writerly Thoughts…Reflecting on Words from Pros

I’m a writer, not quite professional (as in, no sales, yet), but I’m focusing on craft, and project revisions to increase those chances. If they say that it takes, on average, about 10 years of slogginng and crafting, and drafting and redrafting – once the writer starts to take things really serious – I’d guess I’m somewhere in the middle of that.

A few things that Scalzi recently posted got me thinking about career aspirations, and the existential question of “why am I doing this?” also interpreted as “what do I hope to gain from this?” Then I started reading Prince of Stories (about Neil Gaiman) last night, which added a subtle funk of inadequacy. (Judging from the three original posts below, I’m guessing there’s a degree of reflection going around in the water.)

But this current bout, with me, started anew with the Scalzi posts. First up, a discussion of Seasons (which includes a baseball analogy…if you don’t get it from the context, check out the original post):

Being published (by major publishers primarily, but with some notable exceptions) is like being in The Show. It means that you’re working at the top levels of your field — just having a book out there in the world means you’ve got skills that distinguish you from the mass of people who hope to be where you are. It’s an accomplishment in itself.

But as with major league players in their idiom, not every author is going to be an instant, obvious success. Not every book is going to get into the bestseller lists. Not every book is going to get nominated for an award. Some writers have instant hits; some have to keep at it for years, slowly building an audience of readers. Some authors will never hit it big; some that do hit it big will have it happen just once. Sometimes authors will be dropped from their publishers and need to find another one. Sometimes they will have to use a different name to get published again (and sometimes they will be a hit under that different name). Sometimes the book an author thinks is their best will sink while something they think as inconsequential is a major hit.

Then, in another post, he linked to this piece by Kameron Hurley (a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s site, which interestingly enough, has a link to a similar post he wrote the day before Hurley’s).

Hurley first (edited for select bites, for brevity here, but the whole of the original is well worth a read):

“Persistence.”

It was the answer to a question posed to Kevin J. Anderson in an interview, about what he thought a writer required most in order to succeed in the profession.

So I wrote “Persistence” on a sticky note and pasted it to my chunky laptop.

I have it pasted above my computer monitor, still.

Persistence.

The question was, how long?

I’d soon realize persistence wasn’t an end game. It was the name of the road.

It’s persisting in the game after you know what it’s really all about. After the shine wears off. It’s persisting after all your hopes and aspirations bang head first into reality.

But it got me to thinking again – what’s my measure of success? Is it money? Copies sold? Or is it the act of persistence itself, the act of continuing to write when everybody tells you it’s a bad deal, and you should just suck it up and stop?

Persistence, I realized, was not the end goal. It was the actual game.

Then Wendig:

This shit takes time. It takes input. It takes other people. It takes self-evaluation. It takes knowing when a book is wrong and when to dust off your hands because it’s right. It’s about not worrying about getting to perfect because no such thing exists.

Your writing career will be long. Lots of peaks and valleys. Lots of digging in dirt, lots of learning “wax-on, wax-off,” not sure how waxing a fucking car will teach you goddamn karate. Lots of living to do, lots of reading to do. A world of of thinking, what feels like literal tons of doubt pushing down on your neck and shoulders. And, obvious to some but not obvious to all:

It’ll take a lot of writing.

I own that it’s my career to make, to write the best stories I can, as clean as I can.

I vascillate between: (mentally) kicking myself for waiting so long to focus on craft/not doing more, reading more sooner than my mid-30s versus accepting that I was not in the right head-space for anything beyond just putting words on a page to matter (aka – “craft” wasn’t a priority). The old “spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak” thing, and it took until I was staring at 30 for it to click tht if I was going to write, I needed to get on that shit.

While I had a creative writing degree (BA), I was rusty and knew it. I was 10 years removed from writing anything more than random scenes, snippets, initial explorations of ideas. Each experience over the last few years has accelerated my thinking, carved years off the trial and error of going it alone. The MA got me writing again – and an “honorable mention” for a short story. Scott Card’s Writer’s Workshop gave me new understandings on story, and how to read for technique (including how to read for critiques). Viable Paradise, similar – about logic and causality for world-building, and craft. [A 1-on-1 session with TNH laid the foundation for revision clarity – how to think about each word in a draft, and assess its necessity/focus word choice for brevity and effect.] The MFA for writing a novel…how to think in novel terms, and refining that long of a project. [Thanks to TE’s thorough notes, I’ve discovered many foibles that I put into a first draft – favored words/phrases or other tics – and how to rethink them, or limit their pervasiveness. Point of note, see my Hemingway post.]

Which, I guess, is a long winded way of saying: I get the mindset of the long game (“the long con” as Hurley and Wendig call it). I’m doing this because the nagging of ideas has always been there. To say I can’t not write isn’t quite right; I can’t not think about story seeds, and wonder, “What about…?” I’m doing this because some of the ideas nag me enough that I can’t get them to leave me alone, they keep swimming back up, poking at me like a country kid pokes a stick at road kill. Like Scalzi suggests in his piece, hell yes I want to make it to The Show, have work that can be considered what Wendig identifies as “good enough for the bouncers to let into the club.”

I’m doing this to be a role-model for my kids, that you have to work for what you want. You have to work to follow your dreams. I’m doing this so that, if nothing else happens, they’ll have something tangible as a way to connect with me. [That’s a major thing for me, and why I’m keeping a journal for JH at the moment, and plan on starting others for the twins.]

I’m okay with the long game, even though I may frustrate the hell out of myself at times in the short run.

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  1. #1 by Pete Denton on January 27, 2014 - 10:33

    When you think of the time we take to write stories, edit them and grapple with whether or not they’re good enough perseverance and persistence are words we need to emulate.

    Good luck with your writing 🙂

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