I started writing during my teenage years. Toys and games back then were certainly not what they are today, and those old enough might remember electric football. I spent hours with my brother and friends, lining up the molded plastic figures and clicking the button, listening to the annoying buzz while the figures danced, bobbed, and weaved aimlessly on the vibrating surface, rarely “doing what we’d asked of them.” Afterwards, I often sat at the typewriter – yes, I said “typewriter,” and wrote a summary of the game, much like a sports journalist. I never showed my “articles” to anyone, and at no time did I consider a future in writing.
The passion to write burned like a fire inside me and evolved to composing scenes, snippets, and short stories for friends and eventually co-workers to read. It was first draft stuff, for fun only, yet more than one person urged me to pursue my passion to write . . . to take it to another level.
In 1990 I did just that. My first step was subscribing to Writer’s Digest magazine to learn all I could to become a published author.
Talk about a rude awakening!
I spent countless hours reading books, articles and Internet posts, joined writer’s forum groups, listened to other published authors, aspiring writers, and experts (some self-proclaimed), suggest what a writer should and should not do to increase their odds of reaching that dream. I often struggled with the frustration of conflicting opinions and how to decide which source was correct.
I took writing courses and bought more than twenty books on plot, character, setting, and outlining, some with practice exercises to help improve writing.
I experimented with several writing software packages, searching for an organized approach to transform an idea into a book-length manuscript.
I read articles from journalists and authors that blatantly advised against striving for this “unattainable dream.” Years later I wondered whether they were trying to dissuade for fear of potential competition.
When I reviewed my writing, I fought valiantly against my inner critic, who continually urged me, “listen to the advice of the experts and give up already!”
All of the above led me to the same disheartening conclusion: “If you have the desire to become a published author, it would be wise to look for another dream to pursue.”
This is the time when many aspiring writers throw in the towel. Fortunately, I was too stubborn and naive to follow the advice.
Every writer approaches writing a book differently. Some outline the entire book; some outline and write a few chapters at a time. Others write from scratch and see what develops. Some revise as they go, others revise after each draft.
For years I tried several different approaches before concluding I work best with a road map. I must know where my characters are going, why they go there, and what they do when they get there.
So, for me, writing is outlining, character profiling, plot determination, and where in blue blazes should my story take place?
Now it’s time for the next challenge . . . writing the first draft . . . an intimidating task with inherent risk . . . after all, I might discover I can’t write!
Now I get to deal with false starts, plots that go nowhere, disconnected scenes, boring characters, and sagging middles that threaten to bring the story to a screeching halt.
I had the courage (some might call it stupidity or foolishness) to press on, looking forward to endless hours of revision after revision, many times resulting in a total rewrite. You got it . . . back to square one.
When I finally decided enough was enough, the book was as good as it could get, I determined it was ready to “see the light of day.”
Now I prepare for what is for me the most frustrating and discouraging stage of writing – submitting my work to agents and publishers with the hope someone will like the story enough to want to see more, although “seeing more” does not guarantee a publishing contract.
Suddenly, my work is naked and exposed to criticism and potential ridicule. I imagine the comments. “How can this person have the audacity to expect someone to publish their writing? Why don’t they just give up?”
The submission process defies explanation. Every agent and publisher wants something a little different . . . query letters, synopses of varying lengths, small differences in the document’s format. Each submission must be tailored to the requirements. One spelling error, one grammar error, or an improperly formatted document will likely send the submission to the trash pile without a further look.
After submitting my work to literally scores of agents and publishers, I wait for the inevitable . . . The Rejection Slip.
Sometimes it came the same day. Sometimes it came in a week, a month, or even a year later, and more often than I believed it should, it never came, leading me to assume, right or wrong, my work wasn’t even worthy of a response.
Occasionally an agent or publisher provided a critique. These can be helpful but can also be frustrating. I’ve had feedback from one publisher telling me my plot was solid but my characters were bland, lifeless, and had no personality. Another publisher indicated they could identify with my characters, but my plot fell apart before it got started. Who do I believe? Which one is right? Do I work on my character? Do I work on my plot? Or do I try to improve both, hoping the next opinion is favorable? Perhaps both are wrong and I should trust in my writing and leave “as is.” What to do . . . what to do.
Between the three books I’ve written, I have amassed more than 200 rejections in the form of letters, postcards, post-it size notes, emails, and “no response,” all doing their best to convince me I should have listened to the advice to find another activity to occupy my spare time.
Rejection is an ugly and malicious monster that tried to convince me the work I labored over for so many hours was a failure . . . enough rejection plants seeds of doubt in my ability. Hope in the dream fades and I reprimand myself for wasting so much time on a long shot. Guilt gnaws at my insides as I wonder what I might have accomplished with that time, now forever lost, yet I continually resisted the logic and common sense to admit defeat.
Fortunately, my stubbornness and naiveté was strong enough to ignore the odds and keep going. Speaking of odds, an agent once told me for every 140 query letters they receive, only one is asked to send in samples of their writing. All that meant was the writer had a better chance with that agent than 139 other writers.
I need challenges, especially when life becomes too routine and mundane. That is why when I became dissatisfied with working in accounting I returned to school to study Information Technology.
Writing offers me that challenge because if I’ve learned one thing about writing, it’s that I’ll never stop learning. What is good can become great. Four star reviews can become five star reviews. Sixty percent of the readers love your book, but wouldn’t seventy or eighty percent be better?