Well, it’s 2016 my [writer] friends. Can’t believe it, but it is. Twenty-fifteen was a hell of a [writing] year. I pumped out many new stories, got a few published, polished my psychological suspense novel, got that brutally but necessarily critiqued by an established author (17 page single-spaced evaluation letter that broke my heart and warmed my soul simultaneously), and revised and edited by YA punk rock novel (think twenty-first century Huck Finn meets Catcher in the Rye mixed with LA punk rock) that I am now, at last, once again submitting to agents.
And that’s all in addition to my editing projects, which are numerous and extensive. I may even conjure up my first ever ghostwriting project here at some point in 2016 (three potential candidates at this point, all exciting).
Writing is a lot of work. Let me revise that statement: Writing is a HELL of a lot of work. I can say that from my years of experience. I started working on this YA ‘punk rock’ novel in 2008. By late 2010, I’d finished a first draft, landing at a firm 100,000 words, way too long for a standard debut YA novel, though at the time I knew nothing about genre or what that meant.
Over the years I edited and revised the YA manuscript and finally, after receiving some particularly harsh criticism after the reading by an agent of the first few chapters, I decided to shelve it. For, like, two and a half years. Because my girlfriend wanted to read it, I finally broke and allowed to her do so. She loved it, as my writer uncle and writer mother (her novel was just published) and a select group of friends, traditionally have. So, I brought the bastard out of the dust and started reading it for the first time in years. And I loved it.
It’s got great VOICE. It’s got character. It’s got depth. It’s got plot but the skeleton of the novel doesn’t hang solely from the plot (we all know those novels). In other words: I think I’m onto something.
But the point of this post isn’t to brag about my project (which I still haven’t landed an agent for): It’s to talk briefly about how HARD writing is, and how much of a process happens over time, like human evolution (though in a much shorter span, of course).
I hear authors all the time say, “If you’re a writer, stop whining. You have it so easy. Writing is not HARD; get a real job, THAT’S hard. This is easy.”
Writing is hard for obvious reasons. Not so much the actual task of writing. We assume if you’re doing it you have a modicum of talent and it comes out naturally. No, what’s hard is the culture, the industry of writing. Publication. Connections. Conferences. Money. Writers aren’t respected in twenty-first century American culture. I know; big statement. But it’s true. Unless, of course, you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but even then these authors are criticized from within the establishment and called ‘hacks.’ So, in some ways, as a writer you can never win when it comes to society and what they think you ‘should’ be in the world.
But who cares about society, right? If you were born to write, then write you must. Forget the naysayers. Be yourself.
What makes writing hard is the core desire to get published traditionally. (Self publishing is a whole other story.) This is what drives the majority of us to succeed. We want the recognition both from the inside and from ‘them’ on the outside. We want money. We want fame. We want commercial success. But mostly, more than anything else perhaps, we want acceptance. We want to be viewed as a ‘good writer’ by the right people. And we want, honestly, to write something with some depth and meaning.
Well, for most of us that may not ever happen. Sad, but true. But for some of us, it can and likely will. I’m not saying necessarily that I think it’ll happen to me. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But I know this: If I keep trying, keep writing, keep submitting, keep establishing connections, keep book editing, keep revising and reworking my prose, making it better, I know for sure that I will continue to learn and grow and become a better writer.
Jenny Milchman—author of ‘As Night Falls’ (Random House, 2015)—spent 13 years, three agents and eight books before finally landing her ‘debut’ novel and getting published. All three of her previous agents failed to sell her novel to any of the major New York publishing houses. It was a freak of luck, through a Facebook connection, that got her an ‘in’ with a major house editor, sans agent. It’s about luck, timing, skill/talent, patience, resilience, connections.
John Lescroart (NYT bestseller) told me that it took him seven books to finally ‘truly learn how to write a novel.’ (Sounds contradictory but I think you get the gist.) I hear this story from established authors all the time. And for me, having been working on and off on my YA punk rock novel for almost 8 years now, I know that all I need to do is keep writing, keep meeting people, keep going to conferences, keep editing/revising, learning, etc. Because at some point, something’s going to happen. It’s almost the law of physics, of nature. Something HAS to happen.
My point? Don’t give up. Aspiring or newer writers out there: Make 2016 the year for renewed vision related to your writing. Resolve to work harder at your craft and to try to stay positive. Throw caution to the wind and take writerly risks. Establish that morning writing routine (or nightly, or middle of the day; whatever works) you’ve been saying for years you were going to establish. Submit that story you’ve been afraid to submit (I recommend signing up for Duotrope.com, for short story submitting, costs $50/year). Have that novel edited professionally by an editor you trust (by me, if you care to have to me perform a free test edit). In other words: Take your craft, your prose, your career, to the next literary level. I mean…why the hell not?
Writing is a lonely experience. At times it can be easy to lose site of the light at the end of the tunnel. But all you have to do is get on Facebook and connect with another author, read a favored blog about the art of writing, write a new story or novel, have it edited, etc, or any number of methods for reintroducing yourself into the fray.
Just, whatever you do, remember: If you’re serious about it, be patient: It is a long, slow road. But it’s infinitely worth it. Andy Weir—author of ‘The Martian’—said in his NPR interview that he tried for years to get an agent. Rejections, rejections, rejections. It was because he allowed his work to be downloaded for free online that first created a buzz. An agent felt the buzz, read it, loved it, and sold it to a major, who then negotiated a contract with a major film company for a movie deal.
You never know how things will go. Just keep writing.