I’ve been writing (in a dedicated sort of way) for about four years now, but my writing journey started much earlier. I wrote the first draft of my first novel over seven years ago, and the idea for that novel sprang out of my time in Texas…which takes us all the way back to about 2003. In those years between idea and completed draft, I wrote a Master’s thesis, worked full time, and had a couple of kids. You get the idea–writing wasn’t the priority–but eventually I figured out it was something I loved enough that it needed to become a priority.
Hence the inspiration for today’s post. (Okay, it might be more than coincidence that tomorrow also happens to be Valentine’s Day…) As I’ve been reflecting on my writer’s journey, I’ve come to notice a few parallels between the path to becoming a serious writer and falling in love. (Bonus: writing will never dump you!)
Just like you have to meet or see that special someone for the first time, the writer’s journey begins with a first good experience of writing. It might be a grade school assignment, a college creative writing class, or just an attempt at writing some flash fiction for fun. Whatever that first experience is, it gives the future writer the necessary nudge to take the leap into…
The Magic of Dating
Think of your favorite romance movie, or your own first love experience. Is there anything more magical than that walking-on-the-clouds feeling? You can’t get enough time with this person. Everything they say and do is cute or funny or fascinating, and you could live on that feeling alone for the rest of your life.
How about for the new writer? You’ve either just met or rekindled your former interest in writing. You have a stellar new idea – it would make a great book. Why not go for it? Your previous experiences were positive. Heck, you got an A+ on that story in high school. The sky’s the limit!
So the new writer dives in, fresh idea and maybe even a couple of characters in hand, and starts cranking out that gorgeous, future bestseller. The words flow like a river of liquid gold, and the new writer can’t wait to get the story (ahem, first draft) into everyone’s hands. Friends, agents, editors… Everyone needs to see the most enchanting, heart-wrenching, thrilling (fill in your own adjective) book EVER written.
And now the stage is set for the cold, hard reality of…
The First Fight
It happens in every romantic movie and novel (otherwise, we’d be bored). And it happens in real life, because nobody can always get along. Nor can we really live solely on the heady feeling of love. Eventually, we start to realize the other person might (gasp!) have some flaws. They might not always agree with us. Even worse, they might not like everything about us–and they might point it out. (AAAGH!)
Frankly, just like it’s annoying being around someone in the throes of first love, it can be just as painful to spend time with the (brilliant) new writer and their (immaculate) first draft. Mercifully the star-flecked eyes and rose-colored glasses do come off eventually, and this realization of one’s own ignorance is a key step in moving forward as a writer.
It can be a demoralizing, painful moment, and it often happens at the hands of another person. The new writer’s friends and family might be too generous to tell the truth, but an agent, editor, or good beta reader won’t be. Alternatively, the new writer might simply hit the wall in the middle of writing their first draft, or come to the conclusion on their own that WRITING IS HARD. (Often accompanied by the realization that what they’ve written is pretty lousy.)
We’ve all been there (okay, maybe there’s somebody out there who was born a brilliant writer). It’s overwhelming to realize how much you don’t know, and how much work it will take to get your writing up to par (and beyond). At this point, now that you can count the cost a little better, it’s time for…
The DTR (Defining the Relationship)
Sometimes, after you start to see the flaws in the other person, you realize things are not going to work out. Maybe your friends have been trying to tell you this all along, or maybe you just didn’t see it at first, but that special someone isn’t that special after all. It’s time to call it quits.
It can happen with potential writers too. After the shock of realizing your writing isn’t that great after all, and that it will take an epic amount of work to become even middle-of-the-pack publishable, some people give up. And you know what? That’s okay! We all do it–try an activity or food or class or job, decide “it’s not really my thing,” and quit. Better to decide now than after you’ve put in ten years of effort!
On the other hand, if you love writing enough (just like if you love that special someone enough), you’ll decide it is worth the work. You’ll dive back into the relationship knowing there will be both good and hard times, and that it will take serious effort. But there will be rewards too. At this point, after renewing your commitment, it’s time to call yourself a writer. Now you’re ready for…
A healthy, mature relationship takes a lot of work, but it isn’t a drudgery because you love the other person and enjoy being with them.
In the same way, once you’ve committed to writing, you’ve got a lot of learning to do. Only now, you’ll be doing it intentionally and with your eyes wide open, all for the goal of creating the best stories you can.
There are tons of resources available for writers, from blogs to books to conferences. You can join national writing organizations, like RWA (Romance Writers of America) or SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Most of these have local chapters as well. You might find local groups that meet to critique and discuss their work. You can find writing communities on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Once you get involved with any of these, it’s rather like Alice jumping down the hole after the white rabbit. You’ll be surprised at the whole world that opens up for you.
Along the way, just as in a real relationship, there are bound to be fights and misunderstandings. Maybe all the agents you query will reject your manuscript. Your critique partners or beta readers or editor might send you a whole list of things that need to be fixed. You might get stuck somewhere in your draft and have no idea how to resolve the problems with your plot. Even when you get published, your book might not become a bestseller, or it might get some bad reviews on Amazon.com.
But if you’re committed to this path, you’ll look on each of these bumps in the road as a short season that will pass. You’ll keep learning, keep working, and keep writing. And eventually you’ll reach…
You’ve seen them–the little old couple who still holds hands in the park. Or the younger couple who stayed together despite several setbacks, and now have a strong relationship.
Now I’m not talking about a literal payoff (although it could be, if you’re lucky). It comes down to your goals in writing. Way back when you made your commitment to become a writer, what motivated you to do it? What did you hope to get out of it?
At some point, despite the occasional setback, you’ll reach a place where you more or less know what you’re doing. Yes, there’s always more to learn and new things to try (ask any famous author), but you’ll reach a place where you understand the essentials of writing and can consistently create good work. Hopefully that will translate into published books and the chance to earn money doing what you love. Regardless, you’ll reach a place where the joys and benefits of writing exceed the effort you’ve had to put into it.
Right now, I’m sitting in “long-term investment.” I’ve committed to being a writer and learning the necessary skills, and I’m probably somewhere in the middle of a rather lengthy apprenticeship. There are plenty of writers with more natural talent or more time to learn the craft than me, but all I can do is keep plodding along until I begin to reach my goals. For now, I’m looking forward to the payoff!
What about you? Where are you on the journey? Wherever you are, if you love writing, I hope you keep going and don’t give up!
Image credit: Pexels.com, CC0 license.