The not so secret secret to writing a book.
About two and a half years ago, I saw an Oprah special on the Secret. Wait! Don’t go away. I know it’s bullshit, but bear with me a second here. I promise I’m not going to go all hormonal on you.
So, I watched the episode. I was home with a baby, and contemplating Existence and Everything. I had yet to finish my MA, just a thesis away, and wasn’t sure if I should go on with a PhD in English, didn’t know if I should go into freelancing, had no idea what the future held. I knew one thing: I wanted to be a writer. But, on the whole, I’d done a pretty piss poor job of it.
It’s not that I hadn’t finished writing a novel. I’d done that. It’s that I didn’t know where I fit. I felt embarrassed about being a fantasy/science-fiction writer, likely because very few people I knew actually cared about that sort of thing. In spite of trying to write some Big Serious Fiction, it never happened. I always wanted to go back to something with aliens or wizards or whatever.
And yet… yet, I still held out this hope that, somehow, it would work out. Writing was tedious. Painful. I never stuck to a schedule, I never got things done right; instead of editing I rewrote every damn thing.
What occurred to me about The Secret crap is not that you have to think yourself into existence for your “true destiny” to come true, but that if you actually treat yourself like the thing you want to be you have a much higher chance of actually, well, becoming that thing.
I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t act like a writer. I wiled away time doing stuff that wasn’t writing, and yet acted perplexed when writing didn’t get done. I didn’t hang around other writers, didn’t talk much to people about the creative process, had no network… hell, I don’t even think I knew what getting a book published entailed. I knew, vaguely, that it had something to do with the Writers Guide and agents, but, well, I figured I’d get to that part when it happened. Or, conversely, that a Magic Publishing Fairy would douse me with ink and pulp flakes and make me An Author.
I hung a slip of paper up on my bulletin board that simply said: “I am a writer.”
Well, eventually I just got sick of myself. I got sick of my wannabe status. I knew, from perusing the local bookglomerates that you didn’t have to be brilliant to get a book published, necessarily. I mean, well…. I worked for years at a bookstore, and knew well that quality wasn’t necessarily a requirement for publication. So what was holding me back?
Professionalism. Accountability. Networks.
First, I started treating writing like a professional would. Even though, at the beginning, I was working a full-time job, I would write at designated times. I would take lunch-breaks and make sure I wrote something; at that time I didn’t care what it was, as long as it was something . Eventually, that something turned into The Aldersgate. I began to look at the book writing process not as something that had to depend on an alchemical alignment, but as something I was required to do. For some reason, every time I looked up at that slip of paper, I felt like it meant something–that it was reminding me that this is what I chose to do. “I am a writer.”
Once I got a steady schedule together, and actually had a first draft of a novel finished, I decided to bite the bullet and move from LiveJournal to WordPress and make a writing blog. I honestly don’t know what I thought at the beginning; okay, maybe I thought there’d be some magic out there. I’d heard about writers “making it” and was intrigued by the idea of Creative Commons licensing. But more than anything, what the blog did was gave me a sense of accountability. Through the podcast, I garnered listeners; I wasn’t just editing for myself, I was editing for other people. I couldn’t half-ass it. Sometimes it led to a little anxiety and self consciousness. But all in all it’s been a driving force in getting me to actually write and keep writing–beyond one novel.
What I didn’t anticipate through the blog was the appearance of a writers network. Finding other writers like me, doing the same thing. It sounds a bit cheesy, sure–but up until that point I didn’t know that there were other people out there. Making connections with them, as well as people actually in the business, was extremely eye-opening for me (and admittedly, a bit overwhelming). I have a great online writers group, awesome friends and connections on Twitter, and lots of lively discussion between.
No, my books aren’t available in bookstores. I’m still a blip on the radar. But in the last year I’ve finished three books, and am halfway through another two more. For me, that’s the best I’ve ever done in such a short time. The first Peter of Windbourne took five years to finish; the first draft of The Aldersgate took just over a year.
I guess the “secret” is that I just keep writing. Even when nothing’s happening. Because I’m a writer, and writing is what I do. The more I write, the better I get; I want to keep improving. And I’ve learned to write without fanfare, without overwhelming success–to write because I love it, and to treat it as the thing that defines me; not necessarily because it’s magic or destiny or anything, but because I’ve chosen it for myself.