Recently, I’ve taken my hobby of writing short stories or essays for fun, and decided to be an author. I mean really decided, not just, “Oh, I like writing some things and maybe one day in the future I’ll do it for real life.” No! One of the hard lessons to learn in, I think, any creative or self-employment industry is you have to do all the work before you reap any rewards. In other words, if I want to be an author, I have to write as much as I can without getting paid for it at all. And that is hard.
When I started writing creatively, I wrote short pieces when the mood would take me. This happened to me more often than to people who don’t write anything, but not nearly often enough to endow me with any great body of work. One day, I was working on an idea that became a story that had almost nothing in common with my original idea. I felt like the idea was still good though, and I wanted to make it work with that story. I tried, really hard to write a good short story that incorporated the best elements of the idea with what it had morphed into. It wasn’t working. Not at all. After wrestling with how to make it work for days, the solution suddenly hit me while I was driving down the freeway. With a few tweaks to the overall story, I could make this a novel. I got really excited at the idea. I would whip out a novel in a few months. Another two weeks for first edits. Let it sit for a couple days, then edit it again, and BAM! Instant classic!
First off, let me say, I would be really really surprised if even one of these fantasies came true. I knew that even when they first appeared, they wouldn’t come true. It was still nice to have these fantasies. I still have them, sort of. Mostly, I feel like, wouldn’t it be really cool if… I know it won’t happen, but it doesn’t make it less fun to imagine. Let me tell you about why this is a completely unrealistic approach to writing though.
Let’s start with the first assumption, ‘I would whip out a novel in a few months.’ Up until this point I was writing when I wanted to write. If I opened up a Word document and didn’t feel any inspiration, I’d put it away pretty quickly. Actually, when I first sat down to write the short story idea that would morph into this, I wrote two mediocre paragraphs and then stopped because I couldn’t do anymore. That was the right decision then. Sometimes, a story’s just not working. Big realization though: THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU STOP WORKING. If the creative juices aren’t flowing, do some other work. Do some worldbuilding, or write a journal entry, or a blog post. Seriously, don’t just stop working. You know what happens when you stop working? You don’t get any work done, and if your goal is to write full time, you’d better as hell understand you need to be writing full time. Just because someone is published, doesn’t mean they’re all of a sudden a creative machine with an on/off switch. It’s okay to take a break from writing a particular story, or writing in general for a little bit. You get back to it as soon as you can though, or you suffer for it.
Another great part of this assumption is the thought that I could just whip out a novel. One thing I knew going into this is writing a novel takes work. One thing I had no idea of was how much work it actually takes. I’m also not that far into it, but holy hell it’s hard. It doesn’t just take time and a little effort. It takes eons and a crap ton [i]of effort. I cannot stress how much damn work it is. If you are not impressed by what I’ve said already, let me see if I can explain it another way. Since beginning to write a novel of my own, I respect the hell out of Stephanie Meyer for just getting it done.[ii]
Next awesomely naïve assumption on my part, editing doesn’t take that long. Bullshit! I’ve only edited a short story, and that took longer to do than it did to write it in the first place. Plus, it’s so much more humiliating. It’s hard to send something you made out into the world for other people to see. It’s even harder to send that thing out and ask people specifically to tell you what’s wrong with it. I must say, my editing experience was a very good experience. The people I shared with were kind, but very helpful and wonderful about pointing out flaws. It was still hard to read their critiques, but it was immensely helpful. Also, like writing in the first place, it was a lot of work. Now, I don’t know what it’s like to edit a novel, but I assume it’s pretty much the same. Only about a billion times harder and longer. Plus, once I get done with my initial edits and share it with some people close to me and incorporate their suggestions, I’ll have to send it out into a world where people don’t know me or care about me. That’s the part that’s scariest of all, but it’s what I chose and hopefully it’ll be a good experience. I suppose, if it’s not, then I know that editor’s the wrong one for me. Still though, scary.
Last assumption, ‘instant classic!’ This one will probably come true. Or it could take years. Or never. I read today about a very well liked, successful author. He wrote 13 books before getting published. Not 13 texts. 13 full length novels. And while a professional author might be able to knock out a full novel with edits and everything in six months or less (I really have NO IDEA how long it takes), this was 13 novels, without getting paid for them. That means, while having another job or letting someone else support you. That is a very disheartening fact. Of course, that’s not the case for everyone, and even if it is, it’s also comforting to know the next one might make it. But what do I know. Maybe my novel will reach the ‘Top of the Charts!’ Probably not, but I can have my little fantasies if it makes the work easier, right?
What do you think? Does this apply to every industry or is it only creative industries or only writing? Is it worth it? What are some silly fantasies you’re not ready to give up (sorry if that’s too personal)?
[i] Technical note: 1 crap ton = 1 metric ton x infinity
[ii] Regarding Stephanie Meyer: I’ve never read Twilight or any of her other works. This statement is not intended as a promotion or disparagement of her writing. I just respect the fact that she wrote a bunch of damn books.