Near the end of 2011, I sat down and sketched out my first rough idea for an urban fantasy novel. And as I enthusiastically brainstormed and developed ideas, a bitter voice in my head told me to stop, to give up, to throw the towel in and relinquish the dream of being a writer. “Better to give up than be known as a bad writer,” it told me.
That small voice has been present from that day until the day I wrote the final word in my first novel. Three days ago, at 11 pm, I closed my google document and sat back in my office chair in complete disbelief. I’d done it. I’d finally finished my very first complete novel. And I told that small voice to suck it.
In another post, I will describe the six-year-long path I walked to reach the last page. But in this post, I want to focus on the present.
I began and abandoned dozens of stories over the fifteen years since I began writing. These stories range in genre from historical fiction, to urban fantasy, to romance, and even to fan fiction. After handfuls of chapters, or even just paragraphs, I’d hit a wall and quit, or lose interest and begin another story. I gave up on project after project. And for a very long time, I felt like a failure. I still do, on bad days. The question that runs through my head after every failed short story or work is perhaps a question every writer has after an uncompleted project:
“How can I call myself a writer if I can’t even finish anything?”
Success can take on many different meanings to a writer. This is especially true if you’re a writer of fiction. For many, the ultimate goal in its simplest form is to finish the project, and then publish it. And if you don’t finish a project, it’s very tempting to call yourself a failure. And even if you do finish something, even if it’s as short as a haiku or as long as an epic fantasy, the inability to publish it can haunt you and create a hell of a lot of self-doubt.
Success for me meant never giving up. Even when depression or circumstances told me that I would never finish, that my novel was too broken, too cliche, too boring, or whatever lies the voice in my head decided to tell me any given day. Success meant that I sat down to write when I didn’t feel like it, and that was a lot of the time.
Success looked like marathon sprints over the course of a few hours, and it looked like one sentence in a month. It also looked like no words at all for months at a time.
I think the true success doesn’t look like the end result, or the achievement of publishing. Through this process of writing and sticking with this novel, through all the structure changes and plot refurbishment, all the character development, all the technology failures and loss of whole chapters, all the rewrites and editing, I learned that the true success is just showing up to the process again and again.
Let the creativity carry you. Let the frustration buoy you instead of lie to you. Sit down again and again and again. Type a word, delete it, come back another day. Just don’t quit.
You don’t have to write every day. You just have to write. That’s real. That’s truth. That’s success.
Now that my Second Draft is more or less in working order, my next step is to go through a rough edit of the entire thing. I’ve never really figured out my large editing process, so this will be a fun period to get to know that part of myself. I enjoy editing, on a chapter-by-chapter scale, so editing the whole monster should be just that, but bigger, right? Right?!
Once I’ve gone through and made sure everything follows my plot structure the way I want it to, and I’ve managed not to obsess too much over little details, I’ll be searching for an agent. I’d like to see if I can find a professional editor, but that particular detail is kind of scary. And kind of expensive. So I’ll see if I can find an agent, and if by some miracle I do find one, we’ll see if they point me to an editor. This is going to be a long process, and I will share every step with you. I hope you’ll all come with me!