Kate Flora: We’re in a new January, in a new year, and for many, those New Year’s resolutions may involve resolving to finally do that writing you’ve always dreamed of. This post is not intended to be discouraging. Those of us who are writing are always happy to welcome and support new members of the club. It’s just that often we talk about the joy and excitement we get from writing and far less often about the dark days, the blood, sweat, and tears that are also a large part of the writer’s life.
As a survivor of ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner, and more than a quarter of a century dealing with the fickle and too often unsupportive nature of the publishing industry, I know quite a lot about the writer’s life and some of the things a writer faces, whether successful or unsuccessful, published or prepublished. Remember, most of us echo this Queen song but it takes work, and patience, to get there:
The writer’s life, to a great extent, is a solitary one, spent alone at desk, bent over a keyboard, living for months or years with your closest friends being those imaginary beings in your head. Some writers deal by doing their writing at a café or coffee shop or at the local library, but even there, surrounded by people, the act of writing is between the writer and the page and requires hours to shape the story, the language, the momentum, and the characters, hours that need to be spent alone.
Some help for that solitude, the need for feedback as the work progresses, and for comfort when the rejections kick you in the gut can come from writer’s groups and from writing organizations. At a conference in Chicago a few years back, where Sisters in Crime was looking ahead to our second quarter century, I coined the motto: You write alone but you’re not alone. It’s okay to seek help and support from others, but you’ve still got to sit down and write.
Maybe you can put up a sign like the one here.
Or channel Green Day?
In my panoply of words that describe the writer’s life, the first, by far, is imagination but very close on its heels is the word discipline. Serious writers take the work seriously. We go to work on the days when the writing is gravel. We put words on the page even when it feels like we are writing on our arms, slicing off strips of our skin, and laying them on the page. We set quotas of hours or word counts to keep us at our desks even when we’d rather be doing anything else.
I’ve spoken with many writers over the years who say they write only when the inspiration comes. That may well work for the lucky few, but just as doctors don’t wait for inspiration to treat their patients, serious writers don’t wait for the fluttery little Muse to come and land on their shoulders and whisper scintillating words in their ears. They work on the good days, the bad days, and the in-between days, and they are at the desk and the keyboard when the Muse does arrive and the process becomes exhiliarating and magical.
Sure, it can be a pain, but a disciplined process of fixed hours or word quotas can, over the course of a year, result in the draft of a book. Then comes rewrite. Revision. Beta readers. More rewrite and more revision. Because while it is fine to cherish the myth of the brilliant editor who will see the worth of your work amidst the unedited words, the marketplace is always getting tougher, and you need to go into it with the best possible product you can produce.
Even when you are published, there can long periods without any fixed deadlines or demands, and it remains your job to create your own deadlines and meet them. It really does help to get the book written, even a book on spec, if you can tell yourself (and others) that you have a book due on X date. Then stick to it, even if you have to fasten yourself to the spot.
Continuing to write in the face of reject can be terribly difficult. When the no thank yous and not right for our lists and, worse but common, the complete silence from an agent or editor to asked to read your work happens, it hurts. It hurts big time. It can make you walk away from your dream. It can make you want to crawl under your desk and cry. It can make you question whether you really are a writer. This is when it helps to have a writer’s group or organization to turn to. This is also when your own bedrock stubbornness can come into play. When you slap some bandages on your wounds, treat yourself to a lovely, indulgent bottle of excellent bourbon, and get up the next day (or whenever your headache subsides) and declare that you, and only you, get to decide that you’re a writer.
Angry playlists help!