In the beginning

on March 6, 2008

Sorry I’m late this morning. If you check out my blog yesterday at the Fog City Divas, you’ll realize that everything is happening at once this week, so I’m a little unfocused!

But there’s something I want to talk about that’s very important to writers. While you may think this is primarily an unpublished writer problem, it can affect published authors as well.

This morning on one of my many email loops, one unpublished writer lamented that she would start writing but she couldn’t get past the first chapter or two because she kept thinking of better ways to say things, or to set it up differently, and eventually she looked at it and thought it was awful.

She’s in a revision cycle. Going back over and over and over again on the same scenes without making any forward progress.

In the beginning, I never finished anything. For years I began dozens–over one hundred–stories, but never typed THE END. This is why I don’t tell people I sold my first book after twenty-five years of writing (starting when I was six, of course.) Because I wasn’t serious. I hadn’t committed myself to my writing, I hadn’t accepted failure–or success–as an option. I was simply writing because it was fun. When it seemed hard, I started another project.

But when I got serious, the stakes changed. No longer was I writing without purpose: I had a firm goal. To finish a book. I wouldn’t be able to sell without finishing a manuscript.

No one cares if you finish your book, BTW. No one. Your spouse and kids and parents and friends MAY be supportive, but do they CARE if you finish? No. They care because YOU care. If you didn’t drive the train, they wouldn’t be on board. There are also those writers who have unsupportive family and friends, be them passive-aggressive or downright cruel. All their criticism and digs feed your self-doubt.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Because no one cares BUT US. If you can’t write for yourself, withstanding your own internal self-doubt, the vagaries of the market, unsupportive friends and family, then you can’t write for others. The pressure once you’re published is as bad–or worse–than when you’re in a revision cycle, or self-doubting, or moving from project to project because you’re bored.

Write for YOU first and foremost. Write what you love. Write what you want to read. In the beginning, ignore the market. By that I mean when you’re done with your book, edit with an eye to make it more marketable, but at the same time don’t lose your unique voice and story. But if you write something you don’t like just to sell, you either won’t sell, or there will be no passion in your work and it’ll get a lukewarm reception by readers.

Do you fear success or do you fear failure? Or a little of both? Steven Pressfield in his book THE WAR OF ART, which I’ve talked about in the past, believes that all “Resistance” is because we have a fear of success. Why? Because success brings change, and we don’t like change. Change is UNKNOWN. It’s scary.

At the same time, I believe artists have a huge pit in their soul where self-doubt lurks. This is the fear of failure. That we don’t think we’re good enough, and when we get rejected that adds to the pit of self-doubt. See? We failed.

But if you want to be a writer, as Stephen King says: Write. Writers write. Repeat that until you’re sitting at your computer writing. Writers write. Writers write.

Writers write FIRST, then we edit. You can’t edit if you don’t write the damn story.

It’s easy to get stuck in a revision cycle. You want to make that chapter as good as it possibly can be. Hey, it’s what Dean Koontz does. He perfects each chapter before going onto the next. But Dean Koontz also writes 2, 3, 4 books a year . . . he’s finishing them, and quite quickly.

Stephen King writes the entire story first, then goes back and edits.

You can do it anyway you want. I’m not going to tell you there is a right way to write. Okay, I will tell you. There is ONLY one way to write.

Sit down. Open work-in-progress. Write.

Repeat as needed to get to THE END.

If you are making forward progress, however you’re doing it, then you are writing. You’re doing what you’re supposed to do.

If you are in a self-destructive cycle of constant revising with no forward movement, then you’re not writing. You’re playing. You don’t care enough to take the leap of faith that YOU CAN DO IT.

In the beginning, every published author started with a blank page. Every published author finished a book. And every published author feared both rejection and the changes that come with success.

You are not alone. Just don’t lie to yourself.

Writer’s write. What are you doing today?