Friday, October 21, 2011
Keeping the Faith
I've told the story often about how I worked on my first book for 16 years. Nope, that's not a typo. I started it the summer after freshman year of high school, and finally in 2011 the story it evolved into, Insatiable, was published. I was 35 when it hit the virtual shelves. (If you're wondering about the difference in years, there were several where it sat on my hard drive, unedited, while I worked on other projects.)
Way back when, I didn't get how a person wrote a book. Putting in a cohesive beginning, middle and end, keeping things entertaining, adding in a strong conflict, ensuring there was a character arc…wha?!? I didn't get it. So I kept starting my story over again, sure I'd found a better way to write it. The book even had a different hero for about ten years.
I learned how to write with that book. After every craft book I read, every article, every time I put down a Nora Roberts book and said, "damn, I want to do that," I returned to that story. And as much as I dreamed of one day being a "real writer", deep down, I honestly didn't believe it would ever happen.
Until it sort of did.
Truthfully, I don't know if I consider myself a real writer yet. There are all sorts of internal benchmarks that qualify that status to me, and I don't think I've hit them. But I can at least say that people I don't know have paid money to read up my made up stories and whoa, nelly, that's the most awesome thing ever. I regularly pinch myself that I've even come this far. So many people I know aren't happy in their jobs and work just to make the ends meet - and while I do have a day job, writing has never felt like work to me. Yes, it's hard. Often. But it's what I love to do, what I wished for…and experiencing even a fragment of my dream has been unreal.
Reminding myself of all this also allows me to let up a bit on the pressure I put on myself. I finished my first book in 2007. Since then I've finished 11 more short stories, novellas and novels. I've started probably another 10-15 more that are in various stages of completion. I've come so much farther than I ever expected when I couldn't even figure out how to get past that saggy middle. And how did I do it? It's simple, but so difficult. I sat my butt in the chair and kept going.
The doubt crows circled, I kept writing. The rejections came in, I kept writing. Even when a new shiny plot bunny scampered up to my desk and demanded I write his story now, I kept writing. That was the only part of this process I could control. And through writing, through pushing through the sticky parts and the boring parts and the scenes that seemed to go for 100 pages without a point, I learned. I developed a voice and a style and eventually the drive that had been buried under all the self-doubts started to rear its persistent little head.
I'm not one of those people who has a million degrees and has found success in ten different careers. Writing is my THING. This is the thing I need to succeed at, the thing that keeps me up at night. And though everyone's definition of success is different, I'll know it (I hope) when I get there.
The reason I didn't have enough brain left to write two blog posts this week is because I sort of agreed to write a novella in 2 weeks. Thanks to edits on other books, that two weeks has become one. Who knows if I'll make that deadline, but that I even have a fraction of the tools needed to make that possible is very cool indeed.
I just wanted to hopefully encourage some of the newer writers out there with my story. Sometimes it seems like everyone got on the bus way before you did (happens to me all the time) but we're all still learning and growing. Writing is something you can always improve at, but I'm not sure you can master it. There are always new benchmarks to hit, new goals to strive for. And we're all striving together.
To sum up this very long-winded and possibly pointless post - in the immortal words of U2's Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me… it's all about "believing in yourself almost as much as you doubt." Struggling to tip the scales in your favor is a day to day fight, at least for me.
Do you have a THING? Doesn't have to be writing or even something you want to do for a career. Sometimes our hobbies are our things, and that's awesome too. I'd love to hear about that THING that brings you joy and passion and makes you want to do your best.