Recently I’ve been watching old shows on Netflix with my son. The Magician’s Secrets (or something of the kind) is one we’ve been enjoying. My son has been learning how magicians use choreography, hidden pockets, rubber cement, mirrors, and pretty girls to distract, confuse, and misdirect attention to create illusionsRead More
We’ve all been told, “You can do anything, if you try.”
The hard part is trying. It is easy to say, “I have an idea for a book.” It’s just as easy to say, “I have an idea for a movie,” or, “I want to open a restaurant,” or, “I’m going to fly to the moon.”
Given those frames of reference, the writer comes in as the easiest of these. Writing a novel requires less formatting than a movie script, and if we’re going full movie, a whole lot less work entirely. Opening a restaurant requires training, not just in fine cuisine but in business management. Flying to the moon is becoming more and more in our reach every day.
So, being a writer must be easy, right?
Many people try. They sit, in a room, with their computer, burning candles and chanting, waiting for inspiration to hit. Or, they pace frantically in that same room, trying to dredge up the Ultimate First Sentence that will hook their reader in three seconds. They curse and wail and pull their hair. They turn on music, trying to pick out the ‘soundtrack’ for their unwritten novel.
Then they quit, without ever touching the keyboard.
What’s impressive to me is that they got that far. Everyone has a novel, or a play, or a movie, somewhere in their head, some half-remembered dream embellished with pithy moments, that they trot out at parties when the subject comes up. Everyone has a story.
Stories are demanding creatures. They demand time, and energy, and money, and if they can, they’ll take your every waking minute. You’d have to be insane to write a novel.
Writers are insane. They’ll be the first ones to admit it.
Neil Gaiman wrote an excellent, wry, witty response to what was probably his millionth fan asking for the billionth time, how do you become a writer. I’ll link it here: http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/107713982316/i-have-been-trying-to-write-for-a-while-now-i
The fact that Mr. Gaiman wrote this tells me how many times he’s tried to answer this question in its myriad guises. It appears that even he has his limits. Finally, he resigned and elegantly flung his hands towards the sky and flailed them in the grand tradition of Kermit the Frog.
There is no formula for becoming a writer, because we all become writers differently. A monarch caterpillar doesn’t sit down on a leaf next to his monarch caterpillar buddy for a munch and a discussion about the best strategy for molting into a cocoon or what the most desirable time of day is to start. You can learn English, you can take courses in English literature to find out why other books succeeded, but you can’t escape a story once it has its hooks in you.
You apply ass to chair and put one word in front of the other until it’s done.
Then the real work begins.
I’m always excited when I hear someone say they want to become a writer. I’m always supportive, because writers are amazing creatures who can sit for hours in front of a computer and generate beauty, thoughtfulness, horror, irony, whimsy, and wisdom. I also never criticize someone who doesn’t follow through with that novel. It’s possible that it’s the inspiration for a song, or a poem, or a painting, or a short film, or a beautiful costume, or maybe it just makes them happier knowing that they have a story.
Creativity is a demanding beast, and writers spend a lot of time with that beast. Just like every other artistic output, the final piece makes it all look so easy, but it’s a trick. And just like the best magicians, a good writer won’t reveal all their secrets. It’s up to you to develop your own.
Up until yesterday I don’t think that I was qualified to write a personal statement. Despite feeling that I knew that I should be a writer as early as my kindergarten years, I somehow spent my entire life wrestling with this bear of an idea. You see, growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in a small town in Wyoming, my lofty ideal of becoming a writer was met with a lot of helpful reasons why I shouldn’t pursue my dream. These people were well meaning, and loved me dearly, but the idea of me making enough money to survive just by writing books staggered their minds. They were trying to protect me from disappointment and hardship.
Unfortunately, enough voices in the chorus can be convincing. Who was I, that I thought I could write well enough to attract readers? Who would possibly interested in what I had to say?
I learned my lesson. Don’t write. It’s a waste of time. To be fair, this is probably not the message that anyone intended me to come away with, but I did. Until 2009, when everything changed.
For those of you who don’t remember, 2009 was the year that the economy bubble popped and burst everyone’s comfort levels. Layoffs hit me, then my husband back to back. We had a two year old son to care for. The economy was at the worst ebb it had seen. People talked about the Great Depression like it was a fond memory. Everyone was terrified.
Try though I might to find a replacement job, I ended up having a lot of free time on my hands. My son was happy to have Mommy time, but he was also content to play by himself, and other times I would sit down at night and let my mind wander and type.
I wrote two novels in 2009. Eventually I got another day job and quit writing, quit thinking about writing all over again. My novels were in my hard drive, and that was all that I cared about. It wasn’t until 2012, when a friend of mine had the brilliant idea to start up a publishing imprint and asked me if I had anything ready to go.
That was the start of something beautiful. Publishing had its setbacks, and the imprint didn’t exist for a full year before it closed down. My science fiction novel was the only one that got published. Differences of opinion, exclusion and losing the vision that started the little imprint caused its untimely demise.
What looked like the end was only the beginning. My friend Allie had no intention of letting it stop there. She saw the errors made by the previous imprint, and having learned from those mistakes she talked me into starting up a business. I went along with it because it sounded like a good idea. Deep down, I wasn’t sure that I could handle it. It seemed like so much work to put to put out a book. How could I publish another?
And yet, even after I got my next job, I started writing again. Little stuff, short stories, and then one short story caught my husband’s eye, and he demanded more. I fought him, I didn’t want to do it. The truth was I didn’t know how to handle this much support. Even working with Allie, I wasn’t certain I was in it for the long haul.
During this phase of fence-sitting, I sent my second novel to an editor friend of mine, and she told me that what I’d written was barely salvageable. I was infuriated! I was angry! I thought, “I’ll show her!”
It turns out she was right, but I had written and re-written the second novel more than thirteen times between 2009 and 2012. I tried and tried to craft it into something amazing. It didn’t work. What I learned while doing this exercise was a ton about writing, and when I started in on my science fiction identity theft story, I had improved my craft and figured out about beta readers and developmental editors and the important things that make a book good.
Through writer’s groups and industry articles and networking and the hours of grinding out stories, both Allie and I have learned a staggering amount about how this industry works. There’s always more to learn, but when I’m learning, it feels like something I already knew, and am confirming. It’s easy for me in ways that other things aren’t. Despite juggling my time with my now seven-year-old son, despite managing the panic of a loss of income, despite everything, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel as though this is what I was meant to do, and now is the time to be doing it.
Maybe that’s the paradigm shift. Maybe we’ve come to a point in our technology that we can start spending time doing what we love, rather than what we have to. Maybe money isn’t the greatest judge of value anymore. Maybe the imagination is where we’ll have to go to figure out a new way for human culture to develop.
Or maybe I’m just a science-fiction writer who believes in a better world, now more than ever.