10 Things I’ve Learned In A Decade Of Creative Work

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This wine is for medicinal purposes after realizing how long I’ve been writing.

Writing Tuesday’s post made me do some math, and the result of that was: it has been almost ten years since I completed my first manuscript.

The actual decade mark will come sometime early next year, but it’s close enough. I remember it quite well, because in the spring of 2006 I was finishing up my master’s thesis and wondering how I would fill a year before going into PhD work.

Eight months later I burned all my PhD applications and watched the ashes flutter away in the January wind.

Since then I have not had a ‘real’ job. I’ve worked temporary part-time stuff, but nothing that you can tell people when they turn to you at a party and ask the dreaded question: “And what do you do?” I’ve been writing.

Here are some things I’ve learned in the last almost-decade:

1. There is no validation. Do not expect the easy win. In some ways, doing this is worse than a day job, because at least there someone can tell you if you’re doing it right. Artists are all pitching words or images or songs into the void and hoping something comes back. It is not for the faint of heart.

2. This is a long con. Be prepared for the long haul. This road runs into the desert, and there’s no proof it ever comes out again. Take water and sunscreen and a machete, because you’re going to be out there a while.

3. People don’t get it. Maybe art is something they don’t understand or something they wish they had done or something they feel is morally wrong, but, man, a lot of people do not fucking get it. Tell them you’re an artist and if you’re lucky you’ll get a blank stare. If you’re not…

4. It makes some people angry. On the upside, these people usually act like complete assholes, so you can safely ignore them while they flail around with their judgmental snark and passive-aggressive comments. It’s about them, not you.

5. Even work you love can be hard. There will be days when you want to punch yourself in the brain to make all the words fall out.

6. If it takes more than it gives, then you’re probably in the wrong job. All jobs take, and creative jobs are no exception. The only difference is what they take. In my case, writing has taken my time, my mental energy, my personal financial security, my independence, my other ambitions. It gives me joy, entertainment, freedom, and purpose. If you’re not getting more than you’re sacrificing, according to your own idiosyncratic math, then you’re doing the wrong thing. Actually, I guess that applies to all jobs.

7. You’ll work harder at this than any other job you’ve ever had. A couple of years back I had to put myself on a regular schedule, because I was spending almost eighty hours a week working on writing and was on the verge of burning out altogether. Even now, I work about fifty. That includes writing, outlining, editing, researching markets, sending out submissions…there’s a lot of unseen work that goes into producing art. And you usually don’t get paid for it. Be prepared for that.

8. It makes you a different person. Not a better person, note. Just different. I am not the same person I would have been if I had gone on to do my PhD. Or gone into teaching. Or done anything else. I look at the world in different ways. Sometimes they’re good ways. Sometimes I’m mining personal tragedy for story fodder.

9. You’ll want to quit. At least once. More likely thousands of times. Sometimes all in one day.

10. There is no rush like creation. When everything’s clicking over just right and all your hard work is coming together, you’ll fly. And you’ll never want to come back down.

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The Eight Stages of Editing

Lightbulb, in Glass and Chocolate

And then everything turned to chocolate. Brilliant! (Photo credit: JanneM)

1. Challenge Accepted: All right, project, it’s been a while, but it’s time to get going again. You’ve got some…quirks, but they’re fixable. I can totally do this. I’ve got my red pens, my post-its, my notebook…let’s get on this. It’ll be easy.

2. Rough Patch: What the…where the hell did that character come from? And where is this happening? I thought it was a library, but now there’s tigers? And a rodeo clown? What the hell, past self? And the writing… “His hair was decadent”? What the fuck does that even mean?

3. Back in the Saddle: Okay, okay, some parts of this are rougher than a prison physical, but I can keep going. All I have to do is look past the admittedly crappy parts to the bones of the story. Those are good. There’s something worth saving here.

4. Pit of Despair: There’s nothing worth saving here. I can’t believe I vomited up this steaming pile of word fail. I should just stop writing. I am a total fucking failure, and the second anyone sees this, they’ll know. And I’ll be cast out of the tribe of Writer, to wander the outer lands alone and howl my misery until the end of days.

5. House of Cards: Okay, this is a problem, but I’m not giving in. How can I fix it…I know, I’ll just get rid of that character. Always hated the little bastard anyway, so let’s just murder him with a tire iron wrapped in seal fur. Okay. But…wait…no, now that subplot doesn’t work…and the love triangle has just become a lame-ass love…line. And the villain’s motives no longer make sense…and…Argh.

6.The Lightbulb: Holy shit, how did I not think of that before? That’s perfect. It fixes everything. She was an alien all along! This isn’t Plot Spackle, this is fucking Plot Synergy. I can make this amazing!

7. Point of No Return: I’ve come too far now. I have to finish it, if only so I can never look at it again. And when I’m done, I will bury this Frankenstein-ed piece of derivative crap under the porch so no one will ever see it, and pray it doesn’t seed and sprout more stories.

8. The Finish Line: I can’t believe I got through that. And now…now it’s pretty good. I can work with this. I can look at submitting this thing. Let’s see, what do I need….synopsis? One page? Well, I did just do all this work on it. I know the story backwards and forwards and damn near sideways by now. Shouldn’t be too hard to condense into one page, right? Ah, hell, that’ll be easy.*

*It won’t.

Sell It, Baby: Doing An Author Interview

 

English: Spilosoma glatignyi caterpillar in su...

Caterpillar says, “Screw you. I’m fabulous.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently gave an interview over on the Third Person Press news blog. In preparation for the launch of Unearthed, they’re publishing interviews with some of the authors, and they’re interesting reads. Go check it out. I even managed to hold back the swears. The power of this blog compels you!

But doing the interview got me thinking (always a dangerous activity). Many authors know the necessity of doing promotion, but aren’t comfortable with it. Well, no worries. It’s nothing to be afraid of. Just follow these simple rules:

1. Stuff The Crippling Self-Doubt: if someone is kind enough to ask you to do an interview, do it. I don’t care if you’re nervous. I don’t care if you have the self-esteem of the half-eaten caterpillar I found in my last bag of organic salad greens. I don’t care if the thought of speaking/writing to a public audience as yourself and not a character makes you simultaneously swear, crap, and faint.* Do it. That’s how you get over it.

2. Deadlines Will Make People Kill You: Also related, if someone asks you to do an interview, especially a written one, get it back to them in a prompt manner. Yes, I know you’re busy. You know who else is busy? The person who asked you to do that interview. And they’ve got better things to do than wait for your lazy ass to complete something that is, really, of most benefit to you.

3. Be Yourself…: By which I mean, don’t be what you think people expect a writer to be.** Be who you are. Talk about writing how you feel about it. You’ve got a better chance of reaching an audience if you’re genuine than if you’re one of a million author-bots cluttering up the world. Also, you’ll be less creepy. Probably.

3 (b)….But Don’t Be A Cock: Don’t twist every question so you can talk about what you want, whether it’s your religion or the latest Justin Bieber album. Don’t compare yourself to Shakespeare unless you are Shakespeare***. Be respectful to the interviewer, the audience, and the publication. And don’t do that fake self-deprecating shit (“Oh, the story’s not really that good, I mean, it was just a little thing I scribbled off”) lest I reach across the miles between us and sterilize you with my mind.

The launch is on the 30th, and I’ll be doing a post on book launches afterwards. And I’ll probably post pictures of myself squeeing with excitement when I finally get the book in my hands. Unearthed contains the story I’m most proud of to date, and I can’t wait to see that little bastard in print. The anthology will be available in print and e-book formats for your reading pleasure, so if you’re interested, check it out. It’ll have some great stories and you’ll get a chance to both entertain yourself and support my  chocolate-covered crack habit writing life.

*I would definitely watch/read/listen to that interview.
**Though of you are a brooding, alcoholic artist crippled by ennui, then, you know, go for it. Though I’d look for a therapist.
***In which case, hail, Undead Bard. Why couldn’t you spell your own name? And why is Hamlet such a douche?