Tuesday, July 5, 2011

LIke I Really Know What I'm Doing, Here...

(not proof-read, because in a hurry.  Apologize for typos...)

The learning curve since getting serious about writing has been an odd, strange one.  Almost contradictory, in that I began this journey not knowing a thing, my head filled with tons of preconceived notions courtesy of other folks who knew as little as I did but thought they knew more.

A year in, after reading Stephen King's On Writing, I acknowledged a lot of the wrong-headed ideas I had about writing, realized I'd focused completely on writing that bestselling novel, instead of focusing on the most important thing: writing itself.  I trashed the novel I'd been working on for 6+, just focused on writing whatever I could: articles, reviews, blogs, experimented with short stories, even poetry.

Then, a small splash of success with the publication of a few decent short stories (I say decent, because I cringe when I think of them now.  Some desperately need to be re-written, others trashed completely).  I enrolled in my MA in Creative Writing, attended two consequential years of Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp, (invaluable!), wrote a novella that lots of people seemed to like and even garnered a bunch of Stoker Recommendations (not nominated, though - but considering the competition, it was an honor just to receive recommendations), and figured I'd ARRIVED.  

I had a plan, man.  I was going to conquer the market, be a real prolific short story writer, publish my novel through the small press market first before pitching it to Leisure (well, we know what happened there...), and climb my way up the ladder.

Then, the short story rejections started coming.

And coming.

And....still coming.  Made it to lots of final cuts...but the rejections still kept coming.

Then I read a blog by Nick Mamatas that really slapped me upside the face, about WHY one should write short stories.  He listed several of the WRONG reasons: the get exposure, to gain street cred, to practice writing the novel (which makes no sense, as Nick pointed out, being two COMPLETELY different forms, but I'd been doing that anyway), to make money (BWAHAHAHAHAHA!), and listed one write reason only: BECAUSE YOU LOVE READING SHORT STORIES AND HAVE TO WRITE SHORT STORIES BECAUSE YOU LOVE WRITING SHORT STORIES.

That's when my plan started to unravel.  I'd been buying issues of Cemetery Dance, buying collections of short stories, trying "analyze" them, pick them apart, see what made them the "professional rate" stories they were, not considering the entire time how wrong-headed I was being about the whole thing.  I was writing short stories for exactly all the wrong reasons, a listed by Nick.

That's when the stoppage began.

It continued when, after reading and reviewing lots of novels that claimed to the "best thing ever", I realized that most small press novels were - gasp! - not very good.  At ALL.

Then, I turned a corner when I turned down some short story solicitations from pretty respectable people and publishers.  They just weren't stories that I WANTED to write.  However, on the flip side - after deciding to stop writing short stories indefinitely - I blasted out two short stories that I loved, because - well, not to be redundant - these short stories embodied truths and values and heart that I WANTED to write about.  Had to write about. 

So then, I modified my stance on writing short stories, in that I would only write what I loved, write what moved me inside, emotional and dare I say spiritually.

Then, I had what I consider to be several game-changing experiences - one, a night out with Tom Montelone and Paul Wilson - the other, the continuing work I'm putting before a New York publishing house acquisition editor.   The former convinced me  - nay, convicted me - how weak a genre foundation I had.  The later convinced me that my "climb up the ladder from the bottom was wrong", that I should be aiming for the top, and moving down.

So, where does that leave me?

I have no stinking idea.

There's no one road map to publishing.  Anyone who says that is either lying, or wrong-headed like I was.  I've traveled along this learning curve, learning and UNLEARNING almost everything, and I've come to this place, where I know only these things:

1. I absolutely love to read, and have become committed to reading only the masters of the genre - the ones I already know and love, and the ones I've yet to discover, those who went before us.
2. I absolutely love to write, can't live without writing - but....DAMMIT...I have to get up at 3 AM every morning to do it.  Publishing is in complete upheaval.  The days of huge contracts writers could live on may be past.  Writing for $$ is kinda ludicrous.  If I'm getting up at 3AM to write, it'll be to write what I LOVE and BELIEVE, and that's it.

3. Did I mention that I loved to read and write, and besides being with my wife and kids, that's all I really want to do?

4. I'll wait and be patient.  I will not rush.  If I never publish at a level that meets my standards, then...I'll never publish.  Period. 

5. And, like it or not...there are things I can do, decisions I can make that will influence the outcome of this, but ultimately...my fate is out of my hands.

And....that's it.  I've no idea where this thing is going.   I've taken all my presumptuous road maps and tossed them.    All I've got is the above 4 things.

And I'm fine with that.