Saturday, August 3, 2013

You Will Change as a Writer

The summer before my junior year of high school, I stopped writing.

The days leading up to the sudden collapse showed zero signs of what would eventually happen. I'd been stamping the keys from morning until night, and at my peak, I completed three chapters in one day. I'm gonna have to estimate the collective word count for that day was probably about 12,000.


Did I even take breaks to eat or, er, use the toilet? I don't remember. All I remember, with an unusual amount of poignancy, was finishing up, looking out the aged, dusty frill curtain of the single window, and realizing it was dark.

But writing marathons were normal for the summertime. I mean, this was back when we had one computer for the whole house to fight over, but I'd claim the titanium beast early in the morning and cling to it all day, and I'd been ready to pick up the next day where I left off. I wasn't writing with much of an outline, but I had a fairly clear idea what I was going to do, and I had predicted about eight chapters were left before the spectacular end. I was ready to get there. I had finished four manuscripts before this, and I was ready to mark this my fifth.

I never finished the next chapter.

I never finished the manuscript.

Originally I told myself I had burned out. Maybe I had. But I also told myself I only needed a break -- all the stresses of life as a seventeen-year-old picking up a million broken pieces of bad times had definitely impacted my ability to create. It was the whole reason why I had decided to leave public school for independent studies at home for a year, after all. Healing was in order.

But as the weeks dragged into months and the months into years, I didn't finish another manuscript. I didn't finish anything. When I received my first laptop for Christmas, the first thing I did was open up the basic word processing program ad start a new story on it. I got about five chapters in and stopped. I started project after project and finished none of them. I wrote with friends until we weren't writing anymore.

Senior year, I went back to public school and decided I couldn't be a writer because of this. I went into art instead. I graduated without honors because depression had ruined my freshman and sophomore GPAs. I got a job at my father's law office. I coasted.

With Victoria across the country, we wrote together to get ourselves through problems with home life. When she finally moved down here after her own graduation, something had changed. I picked up what was about to be the first rewrite of the Marionettes Saga and I finished the first book. It took eight long months, but I finished it.

Some financial ceilings crackled and came down on our heads. We moved to Pennsylvania, but two months later, I picked up writing the second book. I finished in five months, after we came back to California. I moved right onto the third book and finished it in less than four months.

I jumped into the brand new fourth book, but this thing was a monster, and I took a long break toward the final quarter to write more with Victoria. We wrote a ton. We finished books and moved onto new books, and we didn't keep track of the word counts. We wrote because we couldn't not write.

I also took a break because I had decided to write to be published, and this is a pivotal change for any writer. I can confidently say that 99% of my growth as a writer occurred because I had decided I was going to make myself into a writer of publishable quality, which meant actively looking for ways to improve. I had problems with writing reasonably sized stories because, one, Victoria and I never cared about word count when we wrote and, two, I didn't even know there was a "reasonable size" for stories.

I learned a lot because I had a lot to learn, and I wanted to learn.

My first manuscript failed to get agent attention because I hadn't yet learned, but then I wrote another manuscript and I kept learning.

Failure taught me a lot. I failed over and over again, and I gave up a few times because of failure, but I kept writing because I still couldn't not write. Phases of stress and depression came and went and were tough to endure, and I did little to no writing during these periods, but not only did things around me change, like circumstances and setting and people, but things inside me changed too: where I was emotionally, the things that I found inspiring, the things that I had learned and was learning, so on.

I wrote more books. I kept writing books. I finished books and moved onto other books. I kept teaching myself how to write better. I built up endurance. But I never stopped having thoughts of "Am I good enough?" or "Would people actually want to read this?" or "What if this is actually really bad?"

Those thoughts won't stop. I'll never tell you they will.

Some writers can write with utter confidence and then get up in front of thousands of people and talk intelligibly about their story and entertain the masses and smirk like a true author in the portrait on the inside dust jacket flap.

The rest of us are only human.

But wherever you are right now, it doesn't have to stay that way. Keep moving, coast if you need to take a break, and then start moving again. Any step forward is still a step, no matter how small. Even if you've made a big step, that can be daunting, because then we put the pressure on ourselves to match or even top the stride, down to the placement of the toes and heel. Big steps make our little steps look like nothing.

Your little steps are not nothing.

If you start fifty stories and never finish one, you're still writing and you're still making those creative juices work. Keep wanting to do better, keep working, keep making little steps, keep learning. If you have to coast for a while to catch your breath, do it. If you have to look over you shoulder every once in a while and check to see if you've made progress, do it. If you feel like giving up sometimes, it's okay. You're not less of a writer for thinking you'll never be one. Your feelings are perfectly legitimate. I can't tell you how many times I had decided to give up, and I can't tell you how many times I realized I just couldn't give up.

Writing is a dream, but it's also a nightmare.

Keep yourself immersed in everything that is writing and reading. Take breaks to take care of yourself. Come back knowing that you're not in the same place you were before, even if everything around you looks exactly the same.

And when you think there're a ton of writers who're better than you and write more than you do, who the fuck cares? You're not writing for them.

You're writing for yourself, and you're writing for the people who will eventually fall in love with your characters like you have.

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