When I first started writing, the blank computer screen was like a ginormous bag of dress-up clothes where I could play make-believe every day. I didn’t always write every day–I was fourteen years old and I had all the time in the world. Even when I wasn’t writing, I could daydream about characters I loved in a world I loved, and all the amazing and shocking things that would happen to them. I had my own private movie studio in my head, and the power. Was. Incredible.
Then I finished my first novel.
If you’ve never experienced this high, it’s even more awesome than the private movie studio. Suddenly, you want everyone to know what you’ve done, and you want everyone to read it, and you have mega dreams, so you have your mom read it, and your best friend read it, and your English teacher read it, and of course they are supportive and glowing and they are lying through their teeth BUT THAT’S OKAY because it’s what you need to hear at the time.
And then sooner or later you get to work on the sequel. (There’s always a sequel).
By the time I was neck-deep in my sequel, I was in college, and finding time to write proved more difficult than it was in high school. Also, I was pretty arrogant, and didn’t do much in the way of studying the actual craft of writing fiction. I’ve always had a pretty good grasp on flow and grammar, and I knew how to tell a story (out loud) really well, so I figured I pretty much knew what I was doing. This was the wrong approach.
By the time I was halfway through the sequel’s sequel (that’s the third novel, if you’re keeping track) I discovered AbsoluteWrite’s forums and my writing took an FTL jump ahead. Suddenly, I could see all the things I was doing wrong, and that there are gadzillions of resources for writers on the web. I’m also grateful that I didn’t seriously start my querying journey until I learned about Writer Beware through the AW forums. There are a LOT of predators lurking out there, seeking to scam unsuspecting writers out of their cash and dreams.
About that time, I passed my 10 year anniversary of writing, and it was like a little celebration. I felt like a grizzled veteran. I felt like I was making major progress. I started new novels in completely new worlds that I actually plotted and planned out ahead of time.
I was going somewhere.
And then I passed 12 years. And then 15 years (wow, fifteen years), and then like every other good 30 year old I know, I kind of stopped counting. “I’ve been writing for fifteen years,” I would say, very aware of the hard work it takes to get published. “Fifteen years.”
Finally, I did the math yesterday, and it hit me like a ton of soggy pancakes. I’ve been writing novels for seventeen years.
That isn’t gloating you hear in my voice. It’s panic. I don’t know if it’s the extra syllable in seventeen that makes it sound like an eternity, or the fact that I’ve been writing longer than most of my characters have been alive (ahahahahasob), but coupled with the fact that I’ve heard lots of stories recently about writers who’ve been writing two or three years getting agents and book deals, it made me feel like a failure.
And then I found this incredibly heartfelt and honest blog post about a writer experiencing those same feelings of failure–and at the time she wrote it, she had an agent and some meaty nibbles from a publishing house. Even though both of those things didn’t end up working out, she later got a new agent, and a publishing contract, and her first novel is getting published next year.
I feel better! I feel re-energized! I’m calming down now!
Anyway, I realized that maybe I’m going through a bit of a quarter-life crisis, except that it’s for my life as a writer, not my actual calendar age. I know for a fact that this is what I want, and that I am still learning and growing as a writer. Publishing doesn’t work like school, where you put in x-number of years and come out with your goal in hand. It will happen when it happens, and until then I won’t ever give up.
And if you are a beginning writer, or at a different stage of the journey, I hope this has been helpful. Don’t be like me and waste years of your writing life toiling without learning your craft. Take classes. Read widely. Follow blogs and agents and editors on Twitter. Get a writing partner or three and read the AW forums. Join a writer’s association.
As for me, while I query and pitch my novels, I’m going back to that box of dress-up clothes, where I can put on a big, floppy hat and heels four sizes too big for my feet. I have a new project to write. 🙂