A good fiction writer never stops asking himself or herself the question, "How will I ever accomplish this?"
That is for sure.
No matter how experienced a fiction writer may be, doubt will always haunt every writer when it comes to art, craft, and business of writing. I am no exception to this. In earlier stages of my development as a writer, I too wondered whether I would ever finish a novel at all, or whether my words would be on a bookshelf with my byline.
For me, this question started at the age of 12, when I already knew I wanted to write short stories using my parent's Olivetti typewriter. I am not going to add glamor to this tale, because there are a few million writers who have already made that anecdote into a cliche (one of the starry-eyed dreamer who had a vision). These writers reminisce about the smell of paper, the reams of bond that they used when they wrote their first manuscript, and about the ever-so askew letters on those typewriters when they hammered out their opus. They recall that typewriter fondly, as if she had a personality all her own, and they tell this tale over and over, awaiting the praise of other writers for finding their calling.
Well, I call bullshit.
Writing is hard work, and even when you aren't sure it's going to be published, it's just fucking hard work. It's not romantic at all. In fact, romantic notions don't ever really come into my mind at all when I'm writing. Those can only take place when one is sitting around doing something other than writing. And even after a person has finished a book, the memories of sitting around, waiting for the muse to arrive -- are pretty much bullshit and all too reductive.
I believe writing is actually a challenge that a writer has to meet each day, instead of the author waiting for it to arrive on angel wings. Writing is hard, writing is painful, and writing, doesn't always seem to have an immediate result that one can consider positive.
And yet, we do it. We want to do it. Some of us even consider it a vocation. Yes, I said vocation and not a calling. If this is dismantling your castle of fairy tales and Prince Charmings, then you better go grab a fucking wheelbarrow, because the biggest fucking pieces are about to fall.
My vocation is not mystical, and instead, it is more practical. Writing is sometimes grueling, but I found that it has made me a better listener, a better friend, and even a better human being (though not always). To become a better writer, I have had to train to be a better writer. Training involves hard work, it can sometimes be painful, and just like I said above, it doesn't always have an immediate result that one can consider positive.
Then why do it at all? Well, that will always depend on the writer, but I do it because I must do it. I must investigate the universe through narrative, and in order to investigate well, I have to write well. What's more, I have to get better at writing over time, because it's not a static process. That means that I expect to make gains in strength and skill as I work at training my writing over a lifetime.
This series of posts is called Strength & Skill, because I believe you need both in order to succeed. You don't need MFAs, writing workshops or certificates to develop this type of strength and skill. Over the next few weeks I will talk about how you can build habits for yourself that increase these two virtues in order to help you write full drafts, re-write your books and stories, and even push you into published life. I am not going to teach you craft. I don't believe craft can be taught. However, I will show you examples of what worked for me to build better habits, motivate myself, stay organized, and strive for balance between artistic vision and publishing concerns. These examples are very individual to my own life and experiences, and that means that they may or may not work for you.
This is what most writing classes and teachers don't ever have the balls to tell you: "This may not work for you."
But I am not going to hesitate to say it.
That's why I think approaching writing and publishing from a training point of view will get you better results. When you train hard, and when you train every day, sometimes you fail, and sometimes you look foolish as fuck, and sometimes, you have to change your gameplan. That right there is the way to succeed as a writer. And don't let charming snake oil salesmen, marketing gurus or even well-known novelists (with nefarious motives) sway you from your goals. Thinking critically about the artistic process and business side of writing is up to you, and the more critical thinking you can apply to it, the more successful you will be at completing your work and sending it out for publication. In some cases you will even publish it yourself. But none of this can happen unless you are willing to challenge many of the romantic notions about writing and the business of publishing books.
In this series, I will also get personal, and share with you personal anecdotes from my history as a writer. You will learn about the people that encouraged me to keep going, you will learn about those that have tried to stand in my way, and you will also learn why I am more successful and well-adjusted today as a self-published author, and why I chose not to go the conventional route for my books. You will even learn in this series about how I conceived of a pen name for a separate series of books, and what that did for me as a form or training.
Yes, it's all training. If you train your writing with strength, and skill, you will be simultaneously finding a balance between personal power and cleverness.
Merriam Webster defines strength as: the quality or state of being physically strong; the ability to resist being moved or broken by a force. Apply that early on to your writing life and you'll see how greatly your tap into your potential.
Merriam Webster defines skill as: the ability to do something that comes from training, experience, or practice.
Remember those two definitions, because we will be coming back to them very often. Get ready to train, and train hard.