Unorthodox Writing Tips 3: By Your Bootstraps
I remember when I first started writing. It was the late 80s. I was going to finally write my first novel. I wrote three or four chapters by hand as I didn’t have a computer or typewriter and paper was cheap. After the first four chapters I re-read what I’d written and thought it was terrible. I threw it away.
I tried again and this time got up to six chapters before I threw it all away, again.
This became a cycle for me. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t keep going with what I had written. What I had put down was just awful and I knew no one would ever want to read it. I almost talked myself out of writing all together. But I really wanted to write.
I tried again. This time I made it to what I felt was about the half way mark of the book and decided that this was just far too much work for something so awful. And I threw out all that work, again.
Fast forward a few years. I still had those characters running around inside my head. I had found an artist and he had agreed that it would make a cool comic. I started writing it as a comic book. It was fun and fast to write. I finished the first hand written draft after a month of writing. Sadly, for me, the artist got an apprenticeship with Jim Lee and the comic idea was dead.
This, of course, took the wind out of my sail, but I had a completed storyline. I decided to keep writing it as a comic and look for another artist. I didn’t just write the second story in comic format, I wrote the third as well.
Fast forward a few years. I had trunked my work and wasn’t about to let anyone, except my girlfriend (now my wife), see those words. It was rough, had terrible grammar, but I still liked the story and the characters. I decided to start typing out the handwritten pages and I would clean it up as I went. All in all it came out to roughly 40,000 words. Far too short to be a novel, but it lacked a lot of description and inner monologue.
I went back and added description, but didn’t fully understand internal monologue. After far too long (nearly ten years) editing the first book it weighed in at ~65,000 words. I decided that it was as done as it was going to get and moved on to book two.
This time I took the original pages as an outline for the story and instead began writing from scratch. It was incredible. All I had struggled to learn in the first book flowed with the second book. It took me a week (six days to be exact) to write ~60,000 words. A feat I have never been able to duplicate.
I spent the next month working on book three of that series and it came in at ~70,000 words. Book four in that series also took about a month.
I finally had some confidence in what I was doing, just not enough that I felt like I could share the work with just anyone. I had a very small, select group of people that all gave me advice. For the most part they liked the story, but it was missing something and none of them could really explain what it was missing.
I stopped writing for three years because I had suddenly lost my confidence. I felt like I had just wasted all so many years and my work just wasn’t good enough.
After that hiatus, I spent a year writing short stories. I still wanted to write, but I didn’t want to move on to a bigger work. I wrote one hundred short stories and started submitting like a mad man. I racked up a couple hundred rejections, but I also got a few sales. I sold ten short stories that year. I had to keep going back to those stories to see what I had done that was different than the ones that didn’t sell.
I got back to work on novels after that. I’d do a rough outline to give me a general direction. Some simple research, and BAM! I’d be off and running.
Life happens. Troubles will come into your life. People will die. There are many things that can take the wind out of your sails. All of these affected me and my writing. But through it all I’ve written ten novels. I feel I’ve gotten better at telling a story. I have more fun when I sit down and write. I don’t have as much trouble getting to ‘the end’ as I used to.
What does all this have to do with bootstraps?
Pick yourself up. Realize that not everyone will like what you write. You may not be writing the next best selling novel, but you’re writing. A majority of the people in the world that want to write will never start. You’re already way ahead of the curve by putting words on a page. Even if you’re having a tough time with it, just get the words out. Don’t let life prevent you from getting to ‘the end’.
It’s been said that you can’t polish a turd, but you can shape it into something that looks better than a turd and once you learn how to do that, you can learn how to make something that is worth polishing. If you’ve got nothing then you’ll end with nothing.
Trust yourself. Surround yourself with people whose opinions you trust. Don’t take criticism as an attack on you as a person, but take it to heart and see what you can do to improve what you are doing.
Yes, it took me fifteen years before I saw my first sale, but that’s because I second guessed myself every step of the way and didn’t allow anyone to see my work for a very long time. I didn’t take any advice and instead tried to plow forward on my own. I took the hard way. Many people have taken the hard way to publication. You will be better served if you look and see what others have done before you and follow one of their paths.
If you are excited about your work, let your excitement be infectious. If you’re nervous about your work, try not to let others know how you feel. You need to believe in yourself before others will want to believe in you. So pick yourself up. Get yourself out there. Don’t be afraid of success that can be yours. Take the criticism of your work as ways to improve your craft, not as an attack against you personally. For the most part, people want to help you and help you succeed.
Get out there!
Until Next week.