What's a Young Writer to Do?

It kind of feels like I’m trapped under ice right now. I’m treading water, chiseling away at this thick slab above me, hoping to just see a crack form in it, just something I can squeeze my fingers into. Or just my voice.

I can see feet through the ice, though they’re just hazy silhouettes, and I know they’re people I want to see and be seen by. But when they look down, they just see white.

I’m being dramatic (just a tad), but this is what it feels like to be a young writer. You do the things you have to do (write everyday, put your work out there, build a platform) but you just keep thinking there’s got to be something you’re not doing. Like there’s this secret thing no one’s telling you, this hole in the puzzle that, once filled, unlocks everything else.

My goal’s to be a published writer. That’s not cutting a crack through the ice, that’s breaking through the whole fucking thing.

I’ve got the writing everyday thing down; I’ve had to stop myself, because I’m writing too much new stuff and not editing any of it.

I’m putting my work out there; I’ve sent out a bunch of short stories, amassed my first 10 rejections (a whopping ten!) My book’s out there, popping up in the cluttered inboxes of tired agents just looking forward to the holidays (who isn’t at this point?).

I’m trying to build my platform. I’m not as diligent with it as I should be, but I just never feel like I have anything to say. Whenever I put words to web page or face to camera, it feels like I’m just whining when I have no right to. I want to provide value, but I’ve got little of value to offer. So I just kick that can down the road, when I know I should be doing more.

I’ve Googled (motion to replace the verb “Googled” with “Skyneted”?) “how to be a published author” every single day for weeks now. I’m following the steps outlined in all the blogs, trying my hardest to hone my craft, but it all just feels like a shot in the dark.

I know that, once I get just a taste of reward, some pat on the back, I’ll be energized for years. It’s just frustrating to wait for that first pat, the first “good job, kiddo” that confirms you’re not wasting your goddamned time. Because yes, I love what I do. I have a passion for it that has no equal in any other field. I love putting words to paper more than anything else. I breathe characters and sweat stories. But fuck, sometimes I just feel like a pacified toddler with a tablet in hand. Yes, I’m not so miserable since I started writing every day, because I have this space where I can really thrive. But I’m spinning my wheels in a bubble. I’m writing all this stuff with no concept of how good it is, how publishable it is. My chisel is getting rusty, and the ice just seems to get thicker.

All that said, I know what the real problem is. I’m impatient. I’m hyper-aware of my age and my ten-year high school reunion is coming up and I feel like I have nothing to show for the last decade of life. And I know it’s all a trick my brain is playing on itself, like it enjoys wallowing in misery more than making actual progress. I wrote a novel. Start to finish, first draft to final(ish) edit. I’ve got the first draft of a second novel done too. I’ve done a lot. But it’s like spoken word in an empty hall; hearing your own voice in isolation makes you question the point of the thing.

I know that once that crack starts to form, I’ll give it everything I’ve got and I’ll bust through that ice. I know it takes time, but my chisel’s getting rusty and the cold’s made my muscles stiff.

Interesting

If you’re particularly eagle-eyed, you’ll notice there hasn’t been a podcast for several weeks.

I swear I’m not just lazy.

I’ve been feeling unmotivated to work on new podcast episodes, and there’s a pretty simple reason why. I wouldn’t listen to them. Marketers talk about providing “value”, how that’s the most important thing you can give a customer if you want your marketing to be heard. For an author (or aspiring author), having a podcast is a way to develop a platform, to gather readers. The basic premise is, if your podcast is good, you’ll already have people interested in what you’re going to write before it’s released (and if you’re a new writer with good numbers, you’re more more marketable for publishers and agents).

That was the reason for starting the podcast, and the blog. I wanted to reach people, give them value. Eventually, I wanted to leverage that into readers for my book. I’ve been working on building a platform for a year and a half now. It’s slow, and still small, but that’s not the issue. The issue is I don’t feel like I’m providing any value. Initially, I tried to give insight on what it’s like to work at something like this, a creative field where it feels like no one’s on your side and competition is intense. But everything I’ve said has felt like easy, common-sense stuff that doesn’t need to be rambled about over a 15 minute episode. I’ve also tried to document what I’m going through, rather than giving advice.

That didn’t work either. I think writing can be boring if you’re not already interested in it. There’s a magic and romance to the thing, but the actual act itself is pretty boring. I wouldn’t stream myself writing because I wouldn’t watch a stream of someone typing for three hours. Since writing is kind of boring, and that’s all I’m doing, I don’t have much to document. I’ve been doing almost nothing but writing and rewriting for the last year and a half. I haven’t started querying, because I’ve got nothing to send to agents yet, I haven’t been fielding anything from publishers either. I’ve just been sitting in the dark, writing stuff.

Nothing interesting there.

That said, I think it’s important to be grateful for what I do have. I want to thank everyone who has listened to the podcast, and the few who have told me they enjoyed it. I’m also deeply grateful to those who have shared words of support. The podcast isn’t gone for good, I’ll rework it and come back with someone fresher, more interesting. I’m just at this threshold where I kind of have to figure out why I’d do it.

The internet is already full of writers, most more successful than I am, with dozens of videos covering writing advice like “show, don’t tell,” “set the scene,” “write a great plot twist”. They all look the same, and a lot of the advice is copy-pasted from video to blog article to podcast and back to video. I don’t want to add to that pile, and I’m not qualified to teach other people how to write anyway. I’m still figuring this shit out and there’s a lot left on the pile.

So where does that leave...everything? Well, the novel’s nearly finished, and I’ll start querying soon. November’s just a week ago, and November brings NaNoWriMo. I think I’ll start on my next novel then. I plan to keep writing books and keep throwing them at agents until someone buys something. I’m thinking of keeping some kind of video diary as I go through NaNoWriMo this year. I want to do a daily thing, but we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in what I’ve written and what I’ll be writing in the future, watch this space. If anything crazy happens, it’ll be here first.

Thank you to everyone who’s followed so far. I won’t disappoint.


About Editing

Lots of things die in the fall, will the podcast? I’m not sure. I’m thinking about the current format, wondering if it needs some change. In the meantime, I made a video. I’ve been really frustrated with my editing process, all the while pushing through. It’s sort of bubbled up to the point where I wanted to get it on video. This is part documenting, part warning, I guess?

Felt good to get it out. Felt less good to wait two hours for this to upload.

Get It Out There

No podcast this morning either; I really wanted to get the second part of 181 Wensworth Drive out there. That, and I’m hard at work on the novel, trying to get the third draft to look like something worthy of representation. It’s a difficult thing to look at what you’ve created and realized you need to chop a third of it off to rework it. But I think that’s the kind of thing that differentiates an amateur from a pro (at least in mindset). I could have easily convinced myself that the book was good enough, that I could send it out as is. I’m good at delusion. So at the very least, I’m glad I pushed myself to completely rewrite the third act of the book, even if it feels like pulling teeth. It’s just going to make for a better product overall, and even if it doesn’t get published, I can remind myself that my debut novel wasn’t actually that bad.

In the meantime, you can enjoy the next part of 181 Wensworth Drive right now. Just go over to “stories” in the navigation, and you’ll find it there.

Thank you to Malcolm for the massive props on the story (his words). You don’t know how much that means to a guy like me.

Giving Up Normal

I wanted to take the time to write a post today rather than recording an episode for the podcast. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. I didn’t feel like trying to talk over my noisy muffler (which I should be getting checked out).

  2. My girlfriend is sleeping just a few feet behind me.

  3. I spent last night painting miniatures instead of recording.

I’m a terrible human, my willpower sucks, my time-management skills swallow, blah blah blah, self-loathing and self-pity.

Now that that’s over with…

I’m feeling inspired to write about what it means to be normal, and why I have to give that up. Being a writer, I’ve learned that when inspiration strikes, you launch all your harpoons at that motherfucker, drag it back in a net, and eviscerate it until you get something useful out of it. Did you know my novel is pretty violent? Can you tell I’ve been working on it all morning?

Read More

Making a Living

I didn't start writing because I wanted to make a living. I wasn't obsessed with dollar signs, camera flashes, and international recognition. I was an invisible kid walking through school halls where no one really liked him. Or maybe he just didn't feel liked. But when he went home, he used the internet to reach out to people like him, people who maybe didn't really feel liked in their environment either. They gathered around a common passion around a famous space fantasy saga. They created their own characters and weaved stories for them, taking them through trials and tribulations in a war-torn galaxy. The invisible kid did this most nights, in between MSN conversations with other people on the internet who didn't find him so invisible. Writing those stories was an outlet, they gave him something to put his energy into. It gave him people to connect with.

That's when I really started writing. I wrote almost every day, borrowing a universe to tell stories that mattered to me, channeling my grievances into space-faring heroes (and a scoundrel or two). Then adulthood happened, or a pseudo-version of the thing. I chose a major, went to school, got a job, and put my frustrations somewhere else. The weights, people, my work. It was downright ugly. I graduated, stuck in that job for a bit longer, then I left for promises of better work. That work never came. But I'd piled up a nice stack of savings, which let me survive for the next little while without having a job. I did just that. Then I went broke. But in the meantime, I got to try things, taste occupations and lifestyles that I'd never been exposed to before. I found writing again when I was looking for ways to make money (without having a dreaded job). I found a website called Fiverr, where freelancers sell their services for dirt cheap. I tried to find something I was good at, a service I could provide that people would actually pay for. I landed on writing because I couldn't really think of anything else.

Ironically, I sold my first story on Fiverr (it's still my only sale). It's a ghostwritten piece of erotica with...questionable themes. It sold for $120. To think that's my only sale, even now, is bittersweet. Because the thing is, I actually care about money now. I got back into writing fiction because I found a place looking to buy fiction. It was in this period of my life when I just tried whatever I could. I'd already sold a story, so I could do it again, right? It's been about a year since then. I've written most days in that year. I've been getting better. Haven't sold anything. I've got these grand plans for fame and fortune, not because they're valuable in themselves, but because they'll allow me to do certain things. Like paying back a mother who put me in a position to succeed, or being able to spend most of my days doing exactly what I want (which is writing, most of the time). The problem with setting these lofty goals; they blind me. I'm not making money yet, I don't have an audience yet, and that feels like a defeat. Nevermind that I'm writing nearly every day. Shouldn't that be a victory? A small one, but a victory nonetheless? I'm working at this thing that I love, this thing I can't really live without, every day of my life. That's a lofty, privileged position in itself.

The money makes things easier, makes me feel like what I'm doing is real and has value. I think I need to get the stars out of my eyes and focus on the stardust again.

In the spirit of that, expect a new free story next week.