Tuesday, August 16

A Writer's Life

First off, words so far this week: 23,240... whoo-hoo!!!
Sorry, I had to do the happy dance there for a minute.  ;-)  That word count will actually go down today, I have to do some chopping, but it feels good in the moment.  I'm projecting that the novel will go about 100,000 words, which is about 11,000  more than Heat's Home, but there's a little more story here... there's also a third book, a novella, in the works for two of the secondary characters, Roland and Thad. As I started mentally outlining, I started to kinda fall for Thad, the only other gay werewolf in the pack, and wanted him to find somebody, too, so I created Roland, just for him.

But okay, on with the real topic, and then on with my writing for the day...

Last week, at our critique group meeting, one of my fellow writers (sorry, I really cannot remember who it was... oh wait, was that you, Stewart?)  Anyway, someone asked what was the writing life?  What separates a serious writer from a hobbiest?

First off, there's nothing wrong with someone who simply writes now and then because they enjoy it--I'm stealing this line, but it's true: writing is cheaper than therapy. Many great novels have been written as a sort of self-therapy (Bridge to Terabithia springs to mind, at once.)  Sometimes a writer simply sets out to get their feelings down on paper, to get them out of his/her heart and head and it happens that it turns into a great story. Other times, it's simply an exercise in sorting oneself out. Or, like me, penning a bit of fanfiction because darn it, what was that producer/director/writer thinking!? You can't kill Catherine! You can't kill Ianto! I want happily ever after, darn it... and I'm going to have it, because I'm a writer~ 

Yup, being a casual hobbyist can be a lot of fun, even when your casual hobby eats up all of your time... but at least it's cheaper than some other hobbies a person might have...

A serious writer, is a different animal. He or she may start out as a casual writer, but soon finds that their 'hobby' takes over more and more of their life. (My friends are getting used to hearing: "Go out tonight? No, I need to get this scene written, call you tomorrow...")  It isn't just that we spend a lot of time in front of the keyboard writing--although we certainly do. It's that (and I'm stealing this one too, but I've done it), when we're cooking dinner we start to muse "what would ___[insert character name here]___ be making for dinner?"  When I was waiting tables, I would go through the menu and pick out what any given character would order from that particular restaurant. One day, I went clothing shopping, not for me, but for my character; I didn't buy anything of course, but I put myself in her shoes and toddled on off to Macy's, imagining she was going to look for new clothes as she struck out on her own, a professional woman getting her first office, first apartment, etc. You can have loads of fun with an Ikea catalogue, that way, too!

A serious writer frequently wakes up with fresh ideas in their head, either for a new story, or for some revision that they simply MUST make...but maybe coffee first (I was doing my email while waiting for the coffee to brew and couldn't spell a darned thing, so for me it's coffee, email to warm up my fingers, and then off to write...unless I'm updating my blog first.... )   Some writers pick day jobs that either allow them time to write on the clock; most of us write on our lunch break. While a co-worker is sneaking in a game of solitaire on his computer, a writer is sneaking in a few minutes to write or edit something previously written. I like a day job that gives me a chance to watch people, to let my mind wander, and to jot down any random ideas that come to me in the middle of doing my job. I *loved* waiting tables, because I had lots of people to observe, and typically short shifts (at least most of the time), so I could work for four or six hours and then write.

Writers get ideas for new material walking down the street; you see someone and start to imagine their story. You don't have to be right (I doubt the guy I saw pumping gas one day, a fellow missing part of one of his arms, was a young wizard who'd lost his arm in a farming accident) but can't help but do it. (Sitting at PenguiCon, eyeing a couple of way-too-young fan boys with my business partner, I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if the guy in the corner selling leather goods happened to be attractive to one of the little fan boys in mesh shirts....)  The brain is always going always wondering "what if...?"

But, and there's always a but, anyone can write. Everyone can write. Sure, there are some mechanics to learn, and some people have a little more raw talent than others (although I think half of that is 'drive', not talent),  but there's also the matter of FINISHING. A writer finishes what they write. Not necessarily every piece, it is certainly better to abandon a story that you know isn't working than to keep it going--and who knows, in a couple of years, you might figure out how to rescue it, and turn it into something epic. In the meantime, it's better to shelf it. But the point is that a serious writer finishes more stuff than then they shelf.

Sometimes I think that last step is the hardest of all, because before you can do that, you have to revise, revise, revise and then revise some more. Once it's perfect, you have to craft the dreaded synopsis, where you have just a few thousand words to dazzle the pants off an editor. (Less if you're writing short stories.) But before an editor will read the synopsis, you have to hook them with some a letter of inquiry, "Hi, my name is Sally Author..."  I found that writing those two things were even harder than writing a novel.

And of course, a serious writer will do that over and over and over, not only because there's more than one novel in you, but because no one ever gets accepted by the first publisher they approach. Ever.

Okay, I got super lucky, I got Heart's Home picked up by the very first publisher I submitted to--but before this, I wrote a wonderful urban fantasy (that totally sucks, I'm editing it to within an inch of its life, but ten years ago, I loved it--actually, I still do love it, it just needs work), and collected dozens of rejection letters. And I kept writing.

That's the bottom line: A writer keeps writing, keeps submitting. And yes, keeps collecting rejections letters. We write because we have to, because we have these stories in our heads and they have to come out.

"I will begin with the Muses and Apollo and Zeus.
For it is through the Muses and Apollo
that there are singers upon the earth and players upon the lyre;
but kings are from Zeus. Happy is he whom the Muses love:
sweet flows speech from his lips. Hail, children of Zeus!
Give honour to my song!
And now I will remember you and another song also."


H.B. Pattskyn said...

I'm at 22,755--but I cut about 1000 words too, so... not doing too badly.

I've spent a good chunk of my day beta reading for another writer, which is ALWAYS a good exercise.

What else... I was reading a wonderful story written by a friend (it's not done, but I'm hoping she'll finish it eventually, it's a great start.)

And I think it's time to head home, some fairly loud people have settled into the table next to mine at the coffee shop... I could put on my headphones, but the place closes in an hour...

H.B. Pattskyn said...

and I almost forgot: I got in nearly 1000 words on something new today... newish. And related to my werewolf story. :D

And yes, it is now time for bed, but I'd already been to bed once and got the idea for the next few lines of the new one and... well, it was too good to sleep on, I had to get up and type it before I lost it, which I think goes nicely with the theme of this post, because a serious writer WILL get up out of bed at 12:30 to write down an idea that's just come to them.

Night-night, all.