The past year was a good year for my writing, full of some exciting firsts and a big learning curve. Here are some of the highlights.
What I did:
- April. First ever short story accepted for publication in Pea River Journal.
- June. First time querying agents.
- May. Attended North of 45 Retreat for Writer’s, my first writing event in over 10 years.
- July. Attended the Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State University and did a face-to-face pitch with an agent.
- August. Had my first flash fiction piece accepted for publication at Boston Literary Magazine.
- August. Had my first nonfiction piece accepted for publication at Small Print Magazine (many thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
- October. First writing contest success, receiving third place in a dialogue-only contest at Bartleby Snopes.
- November. Participated and “won” my first National Novel Writing Month.
What I learned (too much for one post, but here’s a partial list)
– How to write a novel is something you have to learn, and the only way to learn it is to write one. And then another. And then another. And maybe then another still. At first, this is about the most demoralizing thing you can imagine, as each novel equals weeks and months (possibly years) gone from your life. Surely, you think to yourself, there is some way to salvage this 70,000-word mess? Maybe, but probably not.
If you talk to published writers, you know on an intellectual novel that you must learn to write a novel by first writing bad ones. They will tell you about the 6-7 novels they wrote before the one that got published. But somewhere in the foolhardy part of your brain that allows you to undertake idiotic tasks like writing a novel in the first place, you believe it will be different for you. You will be the exception that proves the rule, and your first novel will soar effortlessly into an agent’s hands and to the top of the bestseller list.
God bless you if you are that person, but I am not. The novel I queried this year will probably not be published, and that’s just fine. It was the first novel I ever wrote. I learned a lot in the writing of it. Most importantly, I learned that it’s okay to let go and move on. As long as you don’t get hit by a truck the next time you walk outside the door, you can write others. After all, if you did it once, you know you can do it again, right?
– Most of writing is really pre-writing. Nothing will ever happen if you never sit yourself down in front of a computer. But a whole lot of important things can happen before you ever sit down there. Pre-writing is the working through of what will happen next. And what will happen after that. It is closing your eyes and imagining your characters moving around. It is figuring out how to get them from point A to point B. It is seeing the world they live in and how they got there. For me, it is when writing is closest to play and it can happen anywhere.
Here is a partial list of where I pre-write: when I lay in bed at night; when I wake up in the morning; on long car drives; on short car drives; while I’m watching football; while I’m cooking dinner; while I’m washing dishes; in the shower (of course); pacing around our kitchen island; during the boring parts of movies; on a walk; during the boring parts of conversations (sorry); while I’m doing the laundry; and any little spare moment of my day when my brain wanders away.
– Editing is not just the most important thing. It might be the only thing. And it takes patience. So, so, much patience. Becoming a writer is one thing–hard to do, but not impossible. Becoming a good writer is all about editing, and it is a journeyman’s road you travel. It is an apprenticeship and you will get your hands dirty. Especially in a longer piece, each tiny change you make ripples out through the rest of the work. It is like realizing you’ve dropped a stitch in your knitting 20 rows down and having to painstakingly un-knit your way back. You fix the dropped stitch, and then re-knit it all again. Only you have to do it over and over and over. Like any craft, you can spend the rest of your life perfecting how to edit.
Writing is about community. If none of the things on that list up there had happened, I would still have been so much better off having come out as a writer. Once you can admit you are a writer, the next step is to find others like you and for me, this is the best part. I love what writing brings to my life individually. I love being able to take all the good and bad things in my life and transform them into something beautiful or sad or funny.
But let’s be honest–writing sometimes is a lonely, lonely thing. You sit at your computer alone. You agonize over the exact right word alone. The rejections come addressed to you alone. If you’re not out there finding other people to help you through, you’re doing it wrong. At the very least, you’re missing what for me is the best thing about becoming a writer–meeting other writers. They are often the thin line between keeping at it and giving up.
That’s a brief sampling of what I’ve learned so far. I can’t yet write the list of what I still have to learn, but it’s long, and that’s okay. Here’s to 2014!