Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards. -Robert A. Heinlein
It’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve never been more keenly aware of Robert Heinlein’s warning for writers. Yes, I have a blog. Yes, it’s about writing (occasionally). It’s been rather silent lately. But it’s not because I don’t have anything to say. I’m churning out two thousand words a day on my novel, and that’s only taking up half my work day. I spend the rest of it re-working short stories, writing new ones, or revising novels one and two. Occasionally cooking, cleaning, and picking up kids from school.
The silence is because I’ve done this long enough now to realize:
There’s much more out there worth reading than me.
Kris Rusch’s recent blog post “Reality Check” (re-posted in The Passive Voice) hit this home. In her very direct way, I’m still in the million words of crap phase. No getting around that. I’ll be there for a long time.
There was a time when beginning writers went through that phase silently. Pre-Internet. Pre-social media. Many professional writers might look on these days fondly. Not that there’s no advantage to hanging it all out there—having a sense of community as a new writer is priceless. We used to lurk in coffee shops, isolated. Stay imprisoned in our homes, banished. No more! Now we have a National Month! Right up there with National Popcorn Poppin’ Month (October), National Celery Month (March), and, of course, Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (Movember). And it brings us under the scrutiny of the professionals who know what they’re doing. Sometimes they offer friendly advice. And sometimes, not:
Yet writers believe that if they got As in school in writing (or in English, having written only one or two essays), then they’re good enough to sell as many copies of their novels as Stephen King. Or maybe their ego isn’t that big. Maybe they believe that they’re good enough to be rich, just not buy-a-small-country rich. – See more at: http://kriswrites.com/2013/11/06/the-business-rusch-reality-check/#sthash.vriOZI66.dpuf
For the record, I was a biology major. I took an English class in college, but I didn’t get an A. And I’m certainly not writing for the money.
Kris blames the confluence of NaNoWriMo and the ease of self-publishing for an explosion in disillusioned new writers:
Then NaNoWriMo came around again, and those writers finished a second book. (Magic!) They published that too, and thought maybe now lightning would strike. Maybe they sold some copies. Maybe they got beer and pizza money. But they didn’t make millions.
The tough writers, they entered NaNoWriMo in 2012, and finished a third novel. That’s hard. Honestly, most writers never make it past the first book. But a third novel does not a novelist make. It simply means that the writer had enough stamina to finish three stories. It doesn’t mean the writer learned anything about what makes good stories. It doesn’t mean that the writer learned how to write anything unique to them. It just means they had a little more practice under their belts.
Some of these writers did what they could to improve their craft. They started to write more, and they learned how to publish. They got a clue that they were in business, not in a get-rich-quick scheme.Other writers just tried to find shortcuts to sell their deathless prose.
This is my second NaNo, third if you count Camp NaNo this summer. Barring a handful of short stories, I haven’t published anything. Nor am I disillusioned…yet. I’ve certainly realized this is work. I don’t think I should sell a million copies. I’d just be happy to have my first novel published, after hundreds of queries, probably a professional edit, and lots of blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe it won’t be my first novel that makes it out there. Or even my third. But I’ll keep writing. It’s obvious that’s the only way to get better. It’s also the only thing I can do.
Kris may be direct. She may be, in her own words, snide. She certainly has a point. And it’s obvious she’s got a bone to pick with someone. But she’s not talking to every new writer, or even to most of the ones I know. I’m just one of the little guys, down here in a little pond. We’re far beneath her notice. She’s right that self-publishing allows writers to put out huge amounts of crap that shouldn’t see the light of day (my words, not hers, but I think I paraphrased accurately). You don’t have to rail against it. Just don’t buy it.
Yeah, she touched a nerve. She’s a really good writer, and despite how much it got to me, her post is worth a read. For nothing else, for the professional viewpoint of beginning writers. It makes me wonder if I ever want to be a professional writer.
Most of the writers I know are writing because they love it. Because they have stories to tell. They’re trying to get better, one story at a time, one sentence at a time. Sure, we’d love to be in the big leagues–but most of us are realistic. We’ll get there one step at a time, or not at all. That’s the way it works. To borrow her musician analogy, not everyone is practicing to be Wynton Marsalis. Some just want to play in the community orchestra. Some want to play for the joy of it. Maybe somewhere, in our million words of crap phase–which some of us may never get out of–we’ll spin out something that delights us or a few close friends.
And with professionals out there like Kris Rusch picking on us little guys, I get why Robert Heinlein recommended that it best be done in private.