I’ve wanted to write this for a long time, but I’ve always felt my time is better spent actually writing than talking about writing.
My goal here is to explain just what I’ve been up to, where I am in the process, a little bit of what writing actually looks like, and how this all works.
So to start, here’s a brief history of my writing experience:
I graduated with a degree in English in 2008. The university I attended did not have a creative writing program at the time, so I had to settle for a general English degree. Honestly, there wasn’t much actual writing education involved in the degree. If I could go back I would probably do things differently, but I was young, and hindsight is twenty/twenty.
I started writing my first novel in late 2008, a scifi/fantasy epic. It took me five years to finish. I completed the first draft in early 2013. A lot of life happened in those five years. Navigating the post-college experience, finding a job, a place to live on my own, trying to maintain something resembling a social life, dating and getting engaged, etc.
In 2014, my wife and I moved to a new location, and I was afforded the opportunity to write mostly full-time (I’ve done other work in the intervening years).
I spent 2014 writing my second stand-alone novel, a high-fantasy story of how magic left the world. It’s a story I’m really in love with. But I have little hope it will ever be published. There are many things working against it in the current publishing marketplace. It’s much too long for a debut, its themes would be difficult to market, it doesn’t fit neatly into predetermined fantasy subgenres, etc. Maybe once I’m established it could stand a chance, but for now it’s in my desk drawer. This in no way speaks to its quality. It’s just the way things are.
While writing my second novel, I was querying my first novel. And in case you don’t know what querying is or how it works, let me explain.
Say you write a book and you want to publish it. You have basically two options. The first option is to self-publish. The second option is to seek an agent and eventually hope for a traditional publishing contract.
In self-publishing, you can pay someone to create your cover or create it yourself, put the PDF together, and submit to online platforms, and voila! You’re self-published. For some, this is a great option. They are perfectly content with this.
I am not one of those people.
In 2013 I self-published my novella “The Masque”, mostly as an experiment to engage with self-publishing with a smaller work and see if I wanted to pursue that path. If anything, that experience taught me self-publishing was not for me.
There are many reasons. First, anyone can have their cat walk across their keyboards and throw it online, and call themselves published. There is a veritable mountain of garbage in the world of self-publishing.
Occasionally you can find some quality writing in self-publishing, but then the issue becomes readership. I have yet to see convincing evidence that a self-published author will find a readership that competes with a traditional publishing contract.
The choice between self-publishing and traditional publishing is a very complex issue, and the choice is ultimately a subjective one. All I can say is self-publishing is not for me.
I’ve never dreamed of being a self-published author. I’ve dreamed of being a published author, of being able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelf, knowing that I did not personally convince the bookstore to put it there.
Bottom line: Self-publishing would not be dream come true for me. Being published would. And no one gets to define the terms of my success but me.
Which brings me to the second option: Traditional publishing. This means querying, which is the process of writing a query letter briefly explaining who you are and what your story is about, and packaging that with a certain number of pages and perhaps a full synopsis of your book. Then you send that package to an agent, someone who will believe in your story and champion your book to publishers. In order to do this, you have to research each individual agent, the genres they represent, the kind of stories they are looking for, and what they require in their submission guidelines. Every agent is different, so you have to tailor your query to each one.
If this sounds like a tedious process, that’s because it is. I have many thoughts on this process, but this isn’t the time or the place. Suffice it to say, in order to get published, this is a necessary step in the process.
When you send out queries, most of the time you’ll never hear anything back. A lack of response is considered a pass. Some agents take the time to send a form rejection, which basically amounts to “Dear writer, your story isn’t right for me, thanks anyway.”
So while I was writing my second book, I was querying my first book. It was rejected every time.
Let’s talk about that word: Rejection. It’s part of the process, and one that I’ve come to believe in. Rejection, when handled correctly, will forge you into a better writer. It’s a crucible, designed to make you produce the very best version of your story.
But rejection hurts. I’m a human being. I pour my soul into every story I write. When they are dismissed, it can be a crushing feeling. There are days when I want to quit, to give up, to go get a regular job and never write another word. There have been nights when I’ve cried in frustration and disappointment.
But then I put on my big boy pants and get back to work. I take all that disappointment and frustration and use it as kindling for the creative fire. I allow rejection to become the fuel I burn to keep moving forward. That’s what you have to do.
When it comes to writing, you can’t control your success. But you can control your failures. And the only way to fail is to give up.
And I will not fail.
Back to the history. I completed my second novel in early 2015. Then I did another extensive draft of my first novel, and sent it out again. It got rejected.
Sometime in late 2015/early 2016, I started work on my third novel, a coming-of-age tale with elements of magical realism/urban fantasy (set in our world with fantasy elements). It’s probably the most personal of my novels. The main character is very much me as a kid. I really believe in that story (as I do all of my stories) and I plan on doing another draft of that soon, then querying it. I think it stands a chance.
When that was done, I did yet another draft of my first novel. I sent it out. It got rejected.
Then in late 2016, early 2017, life hit me like a truck. Many different things happened in 2017 to make it the worst year of my life, the details of which I won’t recount here. Suffice it to say I was knocked to the dirt, and I didn’t get much writing done.
But I still wanted to do something constructive with my time, because that’s just how I’m wired. So I decided to pour my energy into learning and studying the craft of writing, which I kind of missed out on while pursuing my actual degree.
That’s been almost a two-year process. I’ve read a lot of books on the craft. Recently I asked for some help on social media, and many of you who might be reading this answered, and gave to further my writing education. I am so very grateful.
On my wall is a picture my wife colored for me (yes, we still color, adult coloring books are a thing, it’s fun, shutup). It’s a picture of my writing office, which is a building separate from our house that used to be a workshop. I converted it into my creative space when we moved here. In the picture are the words “Where our dreams are coming true. Write what you love, love what you write.”
It’s one of my most cherished possessions.
My wife has made my dream her own. And it’s only because of her I’ve been able to do as much as I’ve done. I will never be able to repay her for this gift.
As of 2019, I have started my fourth novel, a story about the ocean. And I am also currently at work on another draft of my first novel, which is still the story I’m most passionate about, the one I believe in the most, and the one that I hope will introduce me to the literary world.
It keeps getting better with every draft. It becomes more itself.
I’ve written many things over the past five years in this place. Several short stories (a recent one I’m very proud of, entitled “Caldwell” - which also got rejected, by the way), many articles, movie reviews, social media posts, etc. I’ve also produced many pieces of art, and there’s a music project I’m dying to finish. I’ve recently gathered the tools I need to finish these projects. And I am beside myself with excitement to share them with you. I’ve told myself this is the year. And I mean that.
There. I’ve committed.
But my novels are my heart. I don’t know if I’ll be published before we leave this place. But I hope I will. I hope I can make that picture come true. But even if I don’t, that’s ok.
Because as I told my wife, even if my dream of being published doesn’t happen while we’re here, as the years pass I know I will always think of this place as the place where I really became a writer.
That’s 10+ years of history. So that’s where I am. That’s what I’ve been doing.
From the outside, writing looks pretty strange. It’s a very isolated experience, and a good portion of writing does not look like you sitting down and typing words on a screen. If I’m quiet on social media, it’s not because I’m doing nothing, though that’s what it looks like. It’s because I’m working. I have my head down and I’m doing the work.
I have many thoughts and many plans for this stuff, but I will always be seeking to be creative, to get my stories published, to find an audience, and to do what I feel I was put on this earth to do.
“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul.”