I’ve been having a ton of conversations lately with other aspiring authors. I’ve always enjoyed talking with artists in general about their process, as, well, the creative process has always intrigued me.
Anyways, lately I’ve found myself saying approximately the same thing to several different people and finally realized that it’s probably a suitable thing to talk about here. Hence. . . this post.
You see, authors (well, artists in general, but I’m going to limit this discussion to writing) have a very interesting life cycle. In all my research of authors through the different stages in their life, I’ve found a giant ball of similarities between them. The unfortunate bit about it all is that most authors don’t make it past the first few steps of this progression.
I’ll explain this progression by telling you how it has developed for me.
I’ve been writing for ages. I wrote a few short stories in grade school, some poems in high school (stupid teen angst) as well as a couple of humorous bits for this and that, and two films, a tv series, as well as a handful of other random items post-high school. I hated all of them. Seriously. I came out of each of those situations finding them lacking for one reason or another. I generally learned something new out of each attempt, and also assumed I learned that I just wasn’t a writer. However, even with that possible learning experience, I continually found myself coming back to the artform.
A little over 3 years ago I officially began work on writing a novel that had been knocking around in my brain for over a decade. This novel is what has now become THE LEGEND OF BUDDY HERO. I finished the first draft of that book in a matter of months and went through what I considered the editing process several times quickly before I “knew” it was ready to be the next big thing. I was excited. I sent that puppy out to every single literary agent I could find an e-mail address for and sat back awaiting the flood of phone calls offering representation to fly my way. . .
One hundred or so rejection letters later and I found myself learning two things. . . Buddy wasn’t ready and I wasn’t a writer.
I went into a depression cycle, not knowing what to do with my life because I was certain writing was what I wanted to do and that I should have been an incredible success by this point and all sorts of other completely unreasonable thoughts. I was stupid. I researched other authors, looking to see how long things took for other people. Information was rather limited, but I kept seeing the same message crop up time and time again. “Write what you love because you love writing it.” That seemed like a no-brainer to me, so it didn’t really mean anything. If I knew then what I know now. . .
Anyways, after a period of being in this “woe-is-me” state, something came up that I really wanted to invest in, an opportunity to change our lives. I just knew that if I could get even a paltry advance from a publisher that I would be able to make this other change and lives would begin heading in the appropriate direction once again. I glanced over Buddy a few more times, giving it small amounts of polish, there was even a short-lived attempt at making it a young adult novel in there, but nothing really changing at all except for some grammatical/spelling issues. I sent it out. . . received another hundred or so rejections.
Lesson learned: No one wants superhero novels and I’m not a writer.
However, I actually got pissed off at this point. If agents weren’t interested in superhero novels, then I would put the damned thing out myself. I spent quite some time cleaning up superfluous items and formatting and designing a crappy cover so I could self-publish. Got the thing out in late August, heard someone reading it aloud in November, was off the market the following day.
Lesson learned: Buddy sucks and I’m not a writer.
That sent me into yet another cycle of depression, this one lasting longer than the previous, but not as long as many of the others, until I finally became aware of the solution. I needed something much more trendy, something that fit in lines with what everyone was reading at that point. . . and it just so happened that I was hit with a hard smack of inspiration that fit that mold nicely. I was so excited about how big of a deal this was that I wrote the whole damned thing in less than 30 days. I’m actually still pretty proud of what came from that, but, it’s rough, really rough. I was blinded to that fact at that point, however, and after some minor touchups sent out another giant round of query letters to literary agents certain that they would love it. Another hundred or so rejections later. . .
Lesson learned: Give books a proper edit before sending along and I’m not a writer.
Another depression cycle kicked in. I was devastated. I was certain this one had been my key to stardom. It had everything the world loved at that point, was rather unique at the same time, and, well, it was much better plotted out than Buddy.
I still haven’t read it through again.
Fast forward a few months. I actually had the shortest ever time before hopping back on the horse. Something had been eating at me ever since I heard the atrocious words written in THE LEGEND OF BUDDY HERO being spoken aloud. I knew I needed to read it through and see if it was really that bad. I decided I needed to read through it like a book, put the thing on my newly acquired Kindle and read through it with a notepad in hand to make notes about any larger glaring issues at hand. In all honesty, I found myself actually being mostly happy with what was within the book, but I immediately started seeing several things that should have been way better from the start, many things that I never did that I totally intended to do, and, well, just many pieces that I hated.
I followed up that read thru by editing the hell out of the book. I tore that sucker apart, deleting over 10,000 words straight out, adding another 15,000 back in, completely re-developing characters, redesigning plot points, and, well, writing a helluva lot stronger book. I followed that up by then reading through the book again without being able to make edits. Did some more clean up, killing another 5,000 words and adding another 7,000 in.
I redeveloped the book while keeping the basic structure the same, I strengthened relationships, built new ones, and overall changed the entire storytelling mechanism I had been using. And I found myself in a completely new place regarding this book. I was (and am) proud of it. I have no real delusions about this book being the next big thing. I honestly don’t care. I love what it is and am excited to move forward with the rest of the series. And I finally got to the point where I understand what the statement I heard over and over again at the start actually meant.
Write what you love because you love writing it. It’s not a statement about how to write, but about why to write. In my interactions with other authors, I’ve seen many go through the same cycles I’ve been through, and I know I’m not done going through them yet. But then I keep hearing something from them regarding the editing process that depresses me. They state how they are beginning to hate their book. Now, I totally understand that editing sucks and can be tiresome and painful, but if you fell as though you’re making your book worse, you’re in the wrong mindset, the same mindset I was in not so long ago. I would rush through edits just so I could get it back out in the world, hoping that everyone would care about it, but feeling less and less happy with what was there. I had fallen out of love with what I had written, as well as with writing it.
That made it that much harder for me to convince anyone else to read it as well.
Now, I write for me. I’ll put the things out for purchase, just because I’d love to see some sort of return on the investment, but writing has always truly been a selfish endeavor for me. And I think it has to be. Writing, as well as any artform, is a personal experience made into something tangible. It has to be selfish in order to be of any worth, in my opinion.
Do I hope that I will someday achieve some sort of success as a writer? Of course I do. But, I’m writing for me. It’s what I love and once I start writing for someone else, I don’t love it anymore.
*stepping down from soapbox*