As I was preparing my 2011 Year in Review thoughts on this post kept pinching me, so what the hell. Maybe it will help somebody.
This is my opinion, but gleaned from experience. Most of my life I’ve been a drunk or a laborer, or a drunken laborer, but I’ve always been a searcher and knew there were no easy answers, though the simplest and most honest route is the best for me. Over the last two years I’ve gained some traction and serious momentum. And I hope this post will help some writers who could use a little of both.
#1: Know exactly what you want…
Part of this comes from paying attention to yourself and your own drives, where you’ve already found some success, etc. Here is a list of what I wanted two years ago, exactly what I wanted.
For short stories I bought a bunch of mags and found the ones I wanted to have stories in because I respected what they were publishing. And I sold to some of them and still need to sell to others, but I won’t write just any idea that pops in my head or I’d never finish a book, so I am not a very productive short story writer.
I prefer writing novellas and novels and I should have known that a long time ago because I will pick a novel or novella to read over a short story any day of the week. If I only crank out six shorts a year I’m at peace with that because I’ll sell them to markets I believe in and support, and all the while be honing my chops on the next book. This was one of those things that took me a little time to come to terms with because I want to be good at everything. Zombie Jesus told me this as he was munching on my hopes of being good at everything: “Yeah, good luck with that, Lee.”
I wanted a book publisher who believed in me. And boy, oh boy, did I get one. Shane Ryan Staley at Delirium/Darkfuse has had unshakeable faith in me and it is priceless. He has more faith in me than I do. To have a person who has seen a lot of the genres best fiction believe in you and help you grow is like an uplifting drug to counter the hard times when self-doubt kicks in, when you worry that you’re wasting everybody’s time including your own.
I wanted to write MY stories for me first, and I still do that, because if they never sold I’d have the satisfaction of knowing I was honest with each tale and could take pride in them.
I wanted to make a living from writing, and the more I write the more I realize that making a living from it isn’t as important as it once was because that takes care of itself as we learn and grow and people gather in our corner and spread the word for us.
I wanted die-hard fans (like I am a fan of Tom Piccirilli, John Connolly, Peter Straub) and I have been lucky enough from a very early point in my career to have steadfast and enthusiastic people in my corner. *Waves at all the beautiful people!*
I wanted to make a name for myself based on the quality of my work alone, which is one reason I haven’t joined any groups like the HWA or anything else. Until I’ve proven to myself that the stories, not my people skills, are the impetus for my success, I’d rather remain invisible. This is a very big deal to me. I’m stubborn.
I wanted to grow as a person by putting a lot of my life into my work so that I could get a clearer view of my own actions and reactions and try to make some sense of it all.
I wanted to leave behind something worthwhile, to know that even if it wasn’t anything groundbreaking, it was at least real and it was honest.
I wanted to let people know that they matter because I’ve had a lot of people open up to me for some reason and I don’t think many people feel that they do matter.
I wanted to be less stubborn, but so far that hasn’t happened. *Smiley face*
#2: Get good enough to get what you want…
Seen plenty of people want to skip this step, seen ‘em playing online and always talking about the book they’ve yet to finish. Hell, I’ve sat by and watched and waited for them to get excited about a book in general! Come on, how can somebody claim to be a writer but never get excited about a book? Jesus Christ. There are some posers out there. Some shams who won’t ever get good enough to publish outside their little circle jerk parties because to them it’s not about the stories or giving something special that only they can create to the world.
Being on the stage as lead actor isn’t the goal.
The goal is producing and directing and connecting with your audience.
I knew a hundred musicians who treated their music the same way (as an ego booster) and ten years later they were still hanging out trying to draw the most attention in the sandbox and bitching about other people’s success. What’s your motivation? Really? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be popular or respected, but if that’s your prime motive for writing, you’re already taking steps in the wrong direction. If you want to climb you have to look at where you’re standing and start by carrying yourself up the mountain. If people like the way you climb and they want to be there when you reach the summit they’ll join you.
There are a million things involved in getting “good enough” but you have to really know yourself and tear down the delusions you’ve constructed of why you want to write in the first place.
#3: Pay attention to (and nurture) the details that matter…
A.) Your craft: It’s all up to you if you improve, and if you’re anything like me (human) there are probably a million areas in your craft you can work on. Take baby steps. Challenge yourself. If you’re a Young Writer listen to more readers instead of your peer writers. Listen to yourself as a reader. And if you’re a writer, I’ll say it again, You’d better be a goddamn reader. Handcopy some of your favorite books to learn the mechanics if you suck like I do. Don’t run with every idea; develop the worthwhile ones. Ask other people where you can improve even if you’re afraid of what they’ll say.
B.) Your honesty: If you can be honest with yourself you can be honest with your readers. And if you’re not, they’ll pick up on it and they’re not going to trust that you can give them their money’s worth, even if you’re only writing for entertainment. Don’t rely on kissing ass or networking to make you a better writer. Have some motherfucking integrity. The more you’re honest with yourself, and other people are with you too, the quicker you can grow as a person and gain traction as a writer.
C.) Your supporters: Besides being brave enough to write only the stories you can write, this is one of a writing life’s greatest gifts. These people don’t have to believe in you. Really. They don’t. Realize that right now. And when you get people who chose to believe in you, appreciate them, okay? They’re precious. They’re helping you pay your bills, they’re encouraging you to write more of your stories, they’re telling people who have no idea who you are that you’re worth investing in. They’re invested in you and showing it by example and that is a big deal!
D.) Your non-writing life: This, as hard as it is to swallow, is more important than your writing time. This is where all the real work goes on, all the stories start and end, all the textures manifest and all the colors in your palette gather to enrich the work. You live and you ponder and you ask questions and you find answers and you daydream. You pick at scabs and learn a new hobby and contribute something to someone else. You work your job and interact and see how other people view the world, you, and themselves.
You can lock yourself in a room and twiddle your thumbs, or you can go live and report back what joys you’ve discovered, what battles you’ve seen, what victories you’ve tasted, what loves you’ve felt, what secrets you’ve heard, what sorrows you’ve endured and learned from, and how all of these things have helped you grow as a person.
And you draw and observe and collect the same things from all your real life relationships because you’re invested in other people’s lives if you’re really living.
Take time to get fresh air. Smile as it fills your lungs.
Let sunshine warm your face.
Let lives, and real life, invigorate you.