For the last two weeks, I’ve been participating more actively in the #writeblr community on Tumblr–I’ve always been there, but now I’m making a renewed effort to be sociable and take part in a few of the weekly events others host.
One of those is Storyteller Saturday, when writers post and answer questions relating to themselves, their style, their process, and how writing affect their lives.
This past Saturday, one of the open community questions was, in a nutshell, “tell us about your journey as a writer.” It took me half an hour to explain everything that got me where I am now, and while it’s a bit more informal than the posts I usually make here, I thought it was worth sharing with you as well.
Buckle up, kiddos, I’m older than lots of you so I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
I wrote my first book in third grade (I think. I remember which school I was at for sure, I moved a lot as a kid. Pretty sure it was third, could have been as late as fifth. I may have erroneously told this story before as second grade.) The school had just managed to buy a spiral-binding machine, was excited about it, and decided to get good use out of it every student was going to write a book for them to bind.
Mine was about a bunch of snack food coming to life in the pantry and making friends (or not) with each other. I liked having a “real” book in my hands so much when it was done that I wrote another book before the end of the year, but it was a bunch of ghost stories I “wrote” by taking ones I’d already read and changing a few details or adding a plot twist or two. My memory of it feels like fan fiction but in reality I’m sure it was much closer to plagiarism.
I don’t remember writing much in middle school; I also don’t really remember if there was a reason why, specifically. It’s just sort of a blank space. By high school I was writing lots of short stories, ranging from proto-romances to weird, experimental pieces that blended reality and fantasy in absurd ways and really leaned in on the weirdness/alienation/isolation I felt at the time, even when I couldn’t explain why I felt so different from everyone else. It’s easy to look back more than twenty years later and say well you were bisexual but you didn’t know it yet and blame that, but most of what I remember feeling didn’t have much to do with sex or attraction or my crushes–I just didn’t understand why I was “weird” and everyone else was “normal.” Didn’t everyone think about weird things sometimes, or was that really just me?
I took two admission-by-submission writing seminars in college, one for poetry and one for short stories. Despite the fact that I haven’t written poetry since college, I think I got more out of that course than the stories one, in terms of thinking about language. I have none of the material anymore that I wrote for either one, which only saddens me in one case: I managed to write a proper sonnet on the subject of an origami crane, likening the construction of the poem itself to the artificiality of the folded paper. I remember feeling like I had never written anything better. (In terms of poetry, honestly, I probably haven’t and possibly never could manage it again.) The story course, on the other hand, was taught by a professor who may have had good intentions about pushing the students towards “better” writing, but mostly just yelled at us. I stopped taking him seriously after he said (paraphrased from memory) “Science-fiction will never be as popular or influential as real literature.”
Yeah, he was anti-genre-fiction. We didn’t get along by the end of the semester.
But all the writing I did that year (I took both classes as a sophomore) did get me writing “for fun” again, and through the rest of college I attempted to write some longer fantasy works that never got finished, and probably wouldn’t have been novels even if I had finished them, but definitely were too big for short stories.
I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2003, the year after I graduated, but too late to actually participate, so I made my own over Christmas break that year, writing 51K on a single (unfinished, long-lost) story, my longest work to date. I did it a few more times and “won” but rarely finished the story after hitting 50K.
I took another long break from writing in my late twenties and earliest thirties, and for that, I mostly blame my nearly-ten years of World of Warcraft. Playing an MMO as seriously as I did, for as long, just takes so much time. I did other things for fun, of course–I had other hobbies. But writing wasn’t one of them, not for a long time.
Then comes Reddit. I discovered r/WritingPrompts and made an account and started writing nearly every day. (Yes, I still have the stuff I wrote and posted safe on my hard drive, but no, I no longer have that account. I took it down several years ago because I had posted too much personal information in other subs to feel safe maintaining it.)
Between that writing, and some other communities I was participating in, I was really starting to polish my chops. Eventually, after reading one of my stories, a person whose opinion I respected said to me “I hope you’re taking your writing seriously.”
And I realized I wasn’t. I was doing it for fun (and there’s nothing wrong with that) but I had plenty of evidence sitting in front of me that I could do more with my skill than I was.
A few months earlier, I had killed some time on a vacation writing about 24K of a weird little post-apocalyptic romance story, partially inspired by TellTale’s The Walking Dead video game, but once I got home I set it aside.
After deciding to take my writing seriously, I told myself I would take that overgrown plot bunny and turn it into a publishable work in 2015, starting on the first and having the book out by the end of the year.
And I did it. That plot bunny became What We Need to Survive. For NaNo ‘15, I wrote the first 2/3 or so of the first draft of its sequel, which I published in 2016, then the final book of the trilogy in 2017.
I WAS A REAL AUTHOR.
But I haven’t published since. Over the next two years, I dealt with serious mental health issues, a new (better) job that required a complete schedule/life overhaul, and two deaths in my extended family. I was still writing–I have three different stories that have at least a complete first draft done, plus several more in partial drafts–but nothing seemed to be worth focusing on the same way I did the What We Need series. And, you know, grief and stress and illness.
I started 2020 by picking back up my NaNo ‘16 novel, which started life as This Novel Has No Title, Just Words and a Tune, thank you Elton John. Big, gay, double-couple rock-band romance. Ambitious. Dear to my heart.
Messy as hell.
I took a stab at rewriting it in 2018 and didn’t finish, posting about it off and on as #rockstarnovel. It seemed too hard, because rereading made it clear I had given far more narrative weight to one couple over the other, but I wasn’t ready to cut the dead weight, because rearranging to focus just on the “better” couple’s story line would gut the book and change some character motivations.
This year, I bit the bullet and did it. It’s just one story now instead of two intertwined, and it’s going to be better for it.
My goal is still to publish by the end of the year, despite (waves hands vaguely in the air) everything 2020 is throwing at us. I have a week left on Camp NaNo, which I’ve spent on the third draft of Fifty-Five Days–it has a real title now! I’m about halfway through the first pass at polishing, word-count-wise. This time is on cleaning up my excesses, cutting the unnecessary, fixing details. Once that’s done, it’s time to comb through it for filler words and proofreading problems!
Then it’s time to finally let someone else read it. No one has. No one.
But that’s where I am. I will get another book out this year, dammit.