I’m nowhere near where I want to be, as far as my writing career goes. I have no publications, no agent, no queries floating out in the trenches. I can’t live off my writing alone (or, at all, frankly). Yet I’m also so much farther along than I ever imagined I could be, back when I started this journey when I was a wee 7th grader. And I’ve learned some pretty amazing lessons throughout, but I think the most important one is the title of this post:
For the longest time, I worked on my first novel, PATH OF THE PHOENIX. For years, I slaved over that thing. I wanted to perfect it. It was the story that was going to break the doors down for me. It had to be. I spent so many years outlining for it, I had rewritten it so many times, I cared about the characters so much, that it had to be the story. It just had to be.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Four books later and I’m working on a completely new series, with PATH OF THE PHOENIX still awaiting yet another (and probably another) rewrite and editing round. At first, after two rounds to rejections on my first book, I was hesitant to write anything else. I won’t lie: it was partly out of fear that I couldn’t write anything worth reading. If I could pour my heart and soul and everything I had into PATH and nothing happened, how could I devote the same amount of effort into another story, with that dark whispering in the back of my head telling me that it doesn’t matter, you won’t make it anyway? Yet another part of me didn’t want to move on, because that’s exactly what I’d be doing: moving on and abandoning this story that I loved so much. And I didn’t want to do that. Despite not being ready yet, I knew that it could be ready someday. And it deserved more than for me to move on.
But that’s the catch. The story does deserve it. It deserved to be worked on and improved. It deserved to be told. But I couldn’t do that by sticking with it and it alone.
So I did.
Starting and completing that second book was almost more paramount than finishing that first one, for me personally. Granted, it was still within that same world, with the same characters, so I didn’t truly break away until book four, when I wrote a completely new work not part of that trilogy. Yet that second book was everything. Because it fueled the crazy desire that I have to keep writing and keep telling stories, regardless of what happens with those stories. After taking six months to write book two, I didn’t write book three until almost a year had passed, still unsure of what the hell I was doing writing stories that weren’t being read. Yet the itch was still there. I had to keep writing. I wrote book three in a little over three months, during my first ever NaNoWriMo.
And since last November, I haven’t been able to quit.
I wrote a standalone sci-fi novel that I adapted from a screenplay I wrote in college this past spring. I’m currently halfway done with the first book of a nine-book planned series, with the potential for a spin-off collection of works that I honestly have no idea how many books it would take to complete. I plan to have this book done by the end of September. For NaNoWriMo, I want to write a new novel, probably standalone, that is centered completely and unashamedly around a woman and her period in a fantasy setting, where the entire culture and way of life of her people revolves around women bleeding out of their vaginas. (I seriously cannot wait to start writing this. I think it can be a really enlightening read and I would love for it to be published just to see how our culture, who is terrified and ashamed and shuns and covers up such a natural body function that so many members deal with on a monthly basis, responds to such a topic being so focused on). And then I have another book series that I know hardly anything about, but it’s rattling around in the back of my head, waiting for me to give it attention. So many ideas. So many books.
Do you see the switch? I went from spending years attempting to perfect one book to writing (potentially) four books in one year (if you count last November to this November as a one-year time frame).
Guys, that’s incredible.
I’m not trying to gloat. I’m seriously in awe that I’m actually producing this much writing. I’m blown away at my own discipline, at my own ability to shut out those voices of doubt (which are constant) and what can happen when I truly put writing first in my life. And recently, I’ve had a few authors and editors tell me the same thing, once they learn how much I’ve written, despite being unpublished: “That’s awesome. You gotta keep writing. That’s the most important thing. Just keep writing.”
In the midst of realizing that I can write this many novels and am creatively capable of pushing on despite rejection, I’ve come across some important truths that I hadn’t accepted for so long:
- The first book you write doesn’t have to be the first book you publish.
- Writing something new after not publishing that first completed work is not “giving up” or “abandoning” that work.
- Even if you choose to “abandon” a story–even an entire completed book that you’ve slaved over–that’s okay.
- The more you write, the more you improve.
I know those points probably seem obvious, but for the longest time, I either didn’t realize them or rejected them. I didn’t want to write something new after my first book because I wanted so badly for that first book to make it. Looking back, I’m so glad it didn’t. The book I queried was not ready. The agents that rejected it were so right to do so. Hell, it still isn’t ready. But the only way I was able to realize that was to keep writing. By writing more, my craft improved. By writing more, my confidence grew. By writing more, I became a better storyteller, a better writer, a more creative and imaginative (and more dark and cruel; sorry darlings) mind.
It is so freeing to write knowing that it doesn’t matter which book “makes it” in the publishing world. It is so freeing to still fight for that dream of being published yet slowly learn to become okay with the idea that you may never be published, yet you still write and dedicate your life to these stories anyway.
It is so freeing to just write.
The best part? I can apply everything that I learned to any and all of the stories I have already written. So PATH didn’t have the chops five years ago, when I was just starting out. Cool, that great! I know so much more now, I am better connected to the writing community and the great minds and resources within that community, that I can improve that story a-hundredfold. Perhaps it doesn’t get published, even after all of this. Maybe my fifth book is the one that opens the door. Maybe my 12th. Or my 100th. Or maybe none of them do. And that’s okay.
I have a slew of reasons why I want to be published; why I want to be read. But in the end, I want something even more: to write. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep living inside my own head, continue learning and loving these characters that grace me with their stories and I’m going to keep recording them. And I’m going to keep fighting to improve my ability to tell those stories and I’m going to keep dreaming that I’ll get to share them with you, one day, and perhaps you’ll even like them. Because I’m a writer. And damn if that isn’t what we do.