As I said in my last post in the Own Your Writing Career series, each writer has their own path. We all have different lives and commitments and goals … there is no single path to writing prosperity. Especially in this brightest of times for writers. There is no one path. Don’t waste too much time seeking THE WAY. Focus instead on absorbing what others are doing, thinking deep about your writing and your readers (They’re out there! Don’t ask me how to find them! lol), and beginning to understand YOUR WAY.
Let me confess, I’ve never written two books in exactly the same way. I basically explore and outline until I am *ON FIRE* and then I set to typing. But how long it takes me to reach *ON FIRE* has varied, a lot. I don’t plan to force myself into a single “method” because that sounds boring and far too rigid to work for me. But if you have a method, and it works for you book after book, I will in no way disparage that. We’re different. That’s okay. Finding what works is what we’re here to talk about.
So … my path.
As a preteen, I had several hidden stashes of notebooks, filled with story plans. Actually, they were mostly filled with setting and character descriptions, that never went any farther. And they were MINE, just for me. I was always scared to share my writing as a young person. I was fine with writing papers, but I kept all of my fiction to myself. I was also a voracious reader. Like, a book every other day sort of a reader. I read all sorts of books. Historical fiction, Christian fiction, creepy teen fiction the likes of R.L. Stine, romance books I hid from my mother … but most of all, I gravitated toward fantasy. Those were the books I was compelled to read again. They were the ones that left me thinking and dreaming.
Through my entire childhood and young adulthood, I believed that my secret dream to write books was not practical enough to build a life on. It was a dream, but seemed so far out of reach and so unstable, that I set about establishing myself in other ways. College, then graduate school. A Masters in Public Policy.
I was silly enough to absort multiple jabs early on from other people about the ridiculous notion that I could be a writer…and for years I let that hold me back from my passion. I only tell you that because I know someone has said to you, “What could you have to write about?” Don’t listen to them.
Across those years I had days where after some class had lit a spark in me I’d spend hours on story. A new world to work through something so totally wrong with this one. I would feel *ON FIRE*. As though if the words and ideas didn’t pour forth from me I would be consumed by the heat. But it would burn out, and the next day I’d be a little less excited about what I’d been working on, as my attention moved back to my “normal” pursuits.
I took one creative writing class in college. It happened to also be the term at the end of my two years of Spanish (which I struggled with), and while I was running for President of our student body. I wrote a TERRIBLE story. It was my first actual attempt at starting a story from the beginning, and I had no idea what I was doing. Plus there was a due date. When I met with my instructor, I was daring enough to confess my secret dream — the first person I’d ever told where my heart wanted to go — and she told me to keep working at it. Keep working and working and working. To write all kinds of things, and know that it would be long years before I wrote anything good.
I’ll repeat that for you, because this instructor gave good advice. Admit and know that as you learn your craft you will write badly. You will write terrible stories, and you’ll write them terribly. It is all part of learning, and if you’re not brave enough to see that much of your bad work on the page, move on to something easier. Entertaining with words isn’t easy. It’s a learned craft, and you’re in for years of training.
Four years later, I picked up the pen for real and for good. Yes, I spent some of the intermittent time smarting from that terrible story and my complete lack of writing aptitude in that creative writing class … wounded by embarrassment, and my own silly pride. But I also earned two degrees, so I was busy. 🙂 At the end of graduate school, while I was finishing my research project and part-time employed as an economic researcher on campus, a character took hold of me and PULLED.
…That was it. I was done pretending I could be something other than a writer. Or at least, done pretending I could somehow outgrow the dream to be a writer. Somehow mold myself into a more normal and steady existence. I tried. (Really, dear husband, I tried.) But there are things waiting to be said, things that have to get out of me. I am a writer. I began to OWN IT.
That novel is long, and a mess. I wrote it over the course of three years, while also establishing myself in my day job as a government economist. I carved out places in my week to write, and I worked and worked at that book. I loved that book intensely. It is something. I still love it. It is in no way publishable.
By the end of that three-year stretch, other stories had begun to call for my attention. Some had beginnings years back, with a jotted note or page in one of my still secret notebooks.
Right about then, at the end of 2007, I suffered a loss of my first pregnancy, a miscarriage. In those wounded days and weeks, I found I needed something fresh, something fun to get lost in. And in the months that followed I wrote Tribute, and began what would become the Children of the Sidhe fantasy romance series I’ve finally finished in 2014. It was a freedom project. No cares about whether anyone would like it. It was for me. And what spilled onto the page was full of beauty. It was fun, and sparkling, and lovely. I knew this was the work I’m meant to do.
Sometimes it takes a big change, or something to threaten your worldview before you’re ready to take the risks you must to have the life that is right for you. Kind of a downer to mention here, but this was part of the formation of me the writer. Life got brighter shortly thereafter. Within a year we were celebrating the arrival of our first daughter, with the second to follow less than two years after that. Wonderful husband, growing family, and a bright career (day job).
Tribute wasn’t ready for publication on first draft. I was still new, new, new. (This has changed more recently, and much of my work is only two drafts at present, then into editing.) I wrote it in 2008, before self-publishing felt like a viable option. Yet I’d written a novella. A self-contained romance that hinted at a broader fantasy plot. Sending such a nontraditional book to publishers felt like a longer shot than I’d imagined.
I kept moving along. I was drawn to new projects now, to the bright and shiny. I *won* NaNo in 2009, but the book I wrote should be far longer than 50k, and is a COMPLETE MESS. That pace is not for me (probably when I write full-time and the kids are older, but not in these hectic years).
In early 2011, a friend from college told my husband and I about Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing sensation. The track of my research on the publishing industry changed. I started reading about Hocking, about this guy J.A. Konrath with advice for newbies like me, about how much publishing had changed and how I could take ownership of my career and move forward without having to receive permission from ANYONE.
I dove in. I started a blog, and began connecting with other writers. I read everything I could find on the new routes and methods to publish your own books. I went back to Tribute, and with new eyes I could see its weaknesses. I revised it, and wrote the sequel, Vessel, in May 2011. (From these events forward, you can read all about it in my old blog posts.)
I was lucky enough to meet some wonderful indie authors with more experience who were enthusiastically supportive and became beta readers, in a swap we continue to this day. Stacey Wallace Benefiel, and Lauralynn Elliott, I’m calling you out. 🙂
In August 2011 I published Tribute. Vessel followed that November. I was an independent author.
For a full list of Own Your Writing Career posts in the order they were written, visit my Writers page. I’ll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!
“Own Your Writing Career: My Writer Path” copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson