When You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going

My first book was easy. That may or may not be the case for everyone and doubtless Henchmen could use some rework. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll go through the whole series and do some big ol’ honkin’ revisions. The bones of the books are good and some of the flesh is even tantalizing, but there are things that need work.

That said, I’ve learned a lot over the past five years or so; enough to make me realize I wasn’t the mad genius I thought I was. Five years from now, I’ll probably be saying the exact same thing along with words like “dumbass” “egotistical brat” and “no-talent ass-clown”. Such is the nature of the growth and change.

The more you work on something, the better you’re gonna get at it, especially if you pay attention to the feedback you’re getting. Yes, even the stuff that says you suck and should go back to giving handjobs for meth or the ones that say you should have your tongue cut out because you curse too much. Okay, I haven’t had anyone tell me the first one (yet), but the second definitely happened.

I tend to take valid criticism to heart. If there’s something actionable (get an editor) and enough people say it, it’s worth listening to. If there’s just that lone nut griping about something, it’s probably okay to pass it by. After all, you can’t please everyone.

Anyway, I stumbled across this image that I thought summed up the artistic pursuits nicely.

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All too often we assume we can’t do something just because someone else is already doing it better. When I first started Kenpo, the white belts stood in the back of the class and our instructor told us – first day – the only thing that separated us from him was time and practice. That’s the kind of thing that sticks with you and it’s the kind of life lesson that only sinks in after a while. What do you mean I’ve got to wait? I want it now.

Sorry. Can’t have it now.

Neil Gaiman has also said the first million words or so that come out of a writer are shit, but they’ve got to come out so you can to the good ones. It’s like a pipe stuffed full of bad ideas, anxious alliteration, and trite jokes. Push all that crap out and get to the good stuff. Hell, there’ll probably be some real gems floating around in the first million words or so, too, so polish them up and save them.

Now, I’m not saying your book sucks. I’m saying it’s not as good as it could have been if it was your fifth instead of your first. But guess what? You have to write the first through the fourth to get to the fifth.

Like anything else, writing takes time to come to grips with, time to find your voice, and time to get good at it. It can be a hellish journey, but that the end you’ll be able to experience the absolute terror of trying to explain to someone what your book is about without sounding like a babbling lunatic.

If you’re writing – keep writing.

If you’re feeling down about your writing – keep writing.

If your sales suck – keep writing.

Do it until your soul bleeds and you never want to see another word again. Then write some more.

But above all – keep writing.

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If at first you don’t succeed…

Neither of my books have sold for beans.  It’s not entirely surprising; I’m an unknown author in a sea of people.  I wrote some fairly strange stuff.  It’s been called uncategorizable by more than a couple people.  People love categories; I find them kind of restricting.

I was pondering all this the other evening and wondering if I should change my style, make it fit a singular genre.  Maybe I could write a horror story where villains stalk virgins or a science fiction story where a valiant crew faces insurmountable odds, or a crashed spaceship on a world of magic leads to a clash of high technology and powerful magic.

Actually, that last one might be pretty cool.  I’m claiming that one.  No one else can write it.  And it doesn’t fit neatly into a category anyway and, as we’ve already established, uncategorizable is my category.  So there; it’s mine.

Anyway, as I was pondering all this I realized I had far too many ideas to just throw in the towel.  Besides, I’m not writing because I’m looking for fame or fortune (actually, fortune would be nice.  It’s hard to collect exotic cars on my salary), I’m writing because it’s fun and those ideas have to go somewhere, right?

So, your first book didn’t sell for squat?  Write another one.

Second one didn’t catch on, either?  Write another one.

Bottom line, just keep writing.

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I think everyone who writes a book somehow expects it will immediately become the next best seller and they’ll be showered with praise.  It can happen, but it often doesn’t.  That’s one of the things that I keep reminding myself of.  Well, that and I’m not really writing because I want to become the next big name; I write because I enjoy it and it’s nice to know at least a few people out there have enjoyed what I’ve written.  Consider it my good deed for the day; a half-assed atonement for all the things I’ve done wrong.

So that’s it.  It’s exactly as easy and hard as Neil Gaiman says.  There’s no magical formula, there’s no advice to give that will change your fate.  There’s no hidden secret out there that will suddenly make you a great writer.  I’m thinking writing is like anything else, the more you practice at it the better you’ll get at it.  The only way to practice it is to do it.  A lot.

That said, here’s some inspiration for you.  There’s a story in each and every one of these pictures, and that story is probably longer than a thousand words.

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Ancient-Chinese-dragon-Desktop-Wallpaper

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The-Fighter

Faked-Moon-Landing-Proof

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Go forth and write a story.  Expect my next book, a collection of stories called The Clock Man sometime this summer.