Why I Write

I’m bad at taking vitamins, keeping track of my glasses, and returning library books on time. My cats probably wish I would change the litter box more often. If it weren’t for my husband waking up thirty minutes early each morning and doing all the hard work—making the kids’ lunches, being my alarm clock, turning on the coffee maker—I’d be a deadbeat mom. A morning person I am not, especially since chronic headaches invaded my life three years ago.

But I’m pretty good at writing. Sometimes. I try to do it every day, although I’ve reached the stage where I now think everything I wrote two years ago is crap. I believe this is progress.

What I’m really not good at? Putting myself out there.

Whether it’s posting regular blog entries (Me? have anything to say that people would want to read?), or submitting my short stories (Is it good enough? Is it worth sending if they’ll just reject it anyway?), I fall short of the last essential stage required to BE A WRITER:

Letting my work be read.

I mean, I’m really not writing just for me. I say that, to justify the hundred thousand words I’ve written in the past year. I say that to my disability company, because truthfully, I’m not fit for gainful employment (and certainly not capable of performing the duties of a pediatric anesthesiologist sixty hours a week—yikes). Staring at a screen for more than a couple hours quite predictably gives me a headache, which I wake up with every day to begin with. So why do I write?

Writing is its own kind of therapy. It keeps me from going crazy. It is a substitute for the intense mental hoops I used to jump through, juggling the anesthetic management of up to fourteen children a day, supervising residents, conducting trials, taking classes, and writing research papers. I never wanted to leave my career at the age of 38. I dearly miss my job. Writing gives me something to do each day. So would yoga.

Don’t get me wrong—I like yoga. But even in the middle of the one class I’ve found that’s mellow enough for me to get through, I’ll find myself zoning out, revising my latest story in my head. (Especially during the ten minutes of sitting and breathing. I know it’s meditative. It’s probably great for my headaches. But it’s boring.)

But secretly, I love an audience. Even as an anesthesiologist, once I had that patient in my clutches, helpless, vulnerable, strapped to the bed, I used those precious minutes before the drugs kicked in to tell jokes. Yes, yes, it established rapport, alleviated anxiety, and put my patient in a beneficial state—beneficial for me. People tend to wake up in the same mood in which they fall asleep. It also was my only chance to perform, since I had neither the time, nerve, nor repertoire for stand-up comedy. In my heart, I want to make people laugh and cry and scream out loud. Maybe even in the same story—I aim high.

Without that outlet, I write. Today, I want to be a better writer than I was yesterday. Tomorrow, I admit it, I want that story to be read.

The only way to do that is to write as if no one is watching, knowing the whole time you’re performing on stage. I did it at the beginning of every case, in front of impatient surgeons, skeptical scrub nurses, and parents who didn’t appreciate my sense of humor. (A sample: “What do you call cheese that’s not yours? Nacho cheese!” It’s all in the delivery.) But if I could make that kid smile as the anesthetic took hold, it was all worth it–even if I had thirty seconds to get the airway in as soon as the little tyke stopped breathing. If I could tell jokes under that kind of pressure, you and I can submit our work. When that story gets out there, it won’t matter how many rejections it gathered along the way. In fact, the more you have, the more you can brag.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t think about what your mother or your English teacher would think. They probably won’t read it, unless you send them a copy. And God forbid, do not even consider the fact that your children have Internet access and know how to perform a Google search.

Advertisements

Some things are worth waiting for–my experience with a professional editor

Image

Timber Howligan is a silver and gray Maine Coon…just like this one. He’s formidable, not fluffy!

There are so many good things about being a writer—author Katey Howes captures most of them in this post: http://kateywrites.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/an-almost-objective-look-at-choosing-a-writing-career-illustrated/.  I happen to agree with all of these, especially the part about showing up to work in pajamas, and loving it so much you sometimes forget to pick your kids up from school (although, strictly speaking, that is not a good thing if it happens too often).

Over a year ago, I decided to “be” a writer. I wish I could say I’ve forged ahead, guns blazing, conquering all obstacles in my way like my secret agent cat hero, Timber Howligan. Russian spies? Vicious guard dogs? Wily rabbits? No problem for Timber Howligan.

Oh. You haven’t heard of Timber Howligan yet? Er, that’s because the book isn’t published yet. It’s not, um, actually done.

My path has been more like the novel that gets rewritten seven times.

Not for lack of trying, mind you. More for taking a hard look at the first 65,000 words I ever wrote, and realizing…

Wow. That needs work.

Back in November, I thought the book was done. Almost signed, too—with a local independent publisher, but a publisher nonetheless. Obviously there would be one more round of edits, but according to the publisher, they’d be quick—she promised to have the book out within six months of signing the contract.

Except she didn’t want to sign the contract right away. Okaaaaay….I told myself I wasn’t the one in a hurry. She told me when she would call.

In the meantime, I started having second thoughts. As an independent publisher, she offered little in the way of marketing and not much more in the way of services beyond self-publishing, except she took most of the royalties. I did my homework—I talked to some of the authors who had published with her. I read some of the books she’d published.

I decided that when she called, I had a lot more questions to ask.

However, she never called.

So my “publishing” deal fell through, but to be fair, I kind of let it. I wanted my story not just to be published, but to be good.

In December, I hired a professional editor—Mary Kole, of kidlit.com.

This was by far the best thing I have ever done for my writing.

That book I thought was almost done? Major plot surgery. Serious character work. Right now, it’s on life support. I’ll do my best to stitch it back together—hopefully retaining some of the voice and style and humor that I loved about it to begin with.

They say you have to kill some darlings along the way. This edit may have murdered my baby. But not every first novel is going to see the light of the bookstore shelf.

Then why did I write it? I created a character—Timber Howligan, secret agent cat—who will live forever in the hearts and memories of those who have already read my book. Including my eight-year old son, who stayed up late to finish it and laughed at all the right places. My kids dressed up as Timber Howligan and Lester McMuffin (Timber’s best friend) for Halloween. I WROTE A NOVEL. I know how to do it—and because of the patience and professional help of Mary Kole, I know how to do it better next time.

I’m not giving up on this book—Timber deserves everything I can give him. I love this story. It still makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes I cackle while I’m typing. By the time I’m done with it, it will be a lot better than it would have been before…

And worth waiting for.

Wow, Kris Kathryn Rusch. Tell us how you really feel.

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.

Why You Should Self-Publish

Why You Should Self-Publish.

Great article by Hugh Howey in the Huffington Post, courtesy of The Passive Voice, and possibly the best quote ever about the subject:

Remember that it’s okay to write and publish just to make yourself happy, to make yourself fulfilled. There will be authors out there, readers, publishing experts, and booksellers who say that this outpouring of unprofessional drek is ruining the industry, which makes me wonder if these same people drive through neighborhoods yelling and screaming at people gardening in their back yards, shouting at them that, “You’ll never be a farmer!”

“The will to finish and a good contract”

A Message From Writer Beware Co-Founder and Chair, Ann Crispin
(Thanks to The Passive Voice for the article)

This is the second time this year I am learning about an acclaimed author through their blog posts, just as they near the end of their life. The first was Scottish science fiction author Iain M. Banks, who died in June from gall bladder cancer. Too late, I discovered his masterful writing, sharp wit, and “Culture” novels. I’m sad that he has left us. I’m partially consoled by millions of his words I have ahead of me to read.

Now, another prolific science fiction writer is leaving us, and yet again, I’m sad. Sad for her friends, family, and loved ones who will mourn her personally. Sad for the community of readers and writers who came to love her through her words.

Ann Crispin leaves another legacy, as co-founder of website “Writer Beware“–an invaluable resource for writers lucky enough to navigate the rocky waters of publishing, agents, and contracts.

“I wish all aspiring writers the will to finish and a good contract.”

As I search for a publishing home for my book (news may be forthcoming…stay tuned), the advice on Writer Beware becomes even more timely. I refuse to count embryonic chickens, but an inch-pebble (not quite a milestone, yet) has been achieved.

One almost-within-reach goal becomes a bittersweet reminder of life’s frailties and perils. Publishing a book is just that–a book. It doesn’t necessarily make you rich or famous. It doesn’t make you immune to bad contracts, pain, or death. (Words may be immortal. People rarely are.)

It doesn’t even make you a writer. Only writing does that. Yesterday, I finished the first draft of my second book. That’s something to be proud of.

A yard-boulder, at least.