Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Journey

Before I got serious about publishing fiction, I don't think I understood the concept of a writer's journey. I guess I thought that people wrote books, and the books were either good or bad, and good books got published and made a gazillion dollars while bad books were stained with tears and shut away like a crazy aunt. Or something like that.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I now appreciate that the writer's journey is a very real thing. Equally importantly, no two people take exactly the same path, and nobody ends up at the same place. It's always different, unique as a fingerprint.

Yet I think the qualities that help writers on this journey are pretty universal. Willingness to grow is probably the most important one, and that's closely coupled to humility and honesty. Without a willingness to grow, there is no journey. There can be no improvement. If you can't be honest about yourself, about your own work, then you'll stall. Everybody talks about perseverance, but I'd rank it way below the ability to use criticism. If you're working 10 hours a day, yet you keep repeating the same mistake, then you might as well just quit.

I find myself continuously surprised how much is involved in this. True, I do everything the hard way, but I never expected my own journey would be so fundamentally challenging. I never imagined that trying to publish a measly middle-grade adventure would eventually challenge the deepest parts of my personality, would expose my oldest defenses and ask me to do the very things that are hardest for me.

My fondest wish is that every writer I know pushes forward, and I get frustrated and bummed when I see someone giving up, giving in or pushing back. Then I remember that I've done my fair share of fighting, and I've had my heart broken a few times, and it sucks.

But I wouldn't trade this journey, not for anything (although I wouldn't mind televising a chunk for some extra $$$). I'm so glad to be part of the writing community, glad to be around my people. I can always recognize them from their carpal tunnel, near-sightedness, and bags under the eyes from staying up too late, reading.


9 comments:

Mark Terry said...

"True, I do everything the hard way, but I never expected my own journey would be so fundamentally challenging. I never imagined that trying to publish a measly middle-grade adventure would eventually challenge the deepest parts of my personality, would expose my oldest defenses and ask me to do the very things that are hardest for me."

You know, this could have been me. I think I do everything the hard way. My journey to this point was long and convoluted and would have been a lot shorter and maybe less convoluted if I'd been exposed to writers who actually made their living writing a lot earlier than I was.

I never thought it would be as difficult as it's been or that it would challenge--well, everything I believed in. And still does pretty much daily.

I'm not sure I'd change anything. I tend to believe that we take our journey and the real hell is regretting what we didn't do. Still, there are days when I wish I'd picked an easier path. This one's brought out my worst, but also, I think, my best. Maybe that's the price to pay.

I'm reading a biography of George Washington and there was a little section on Washington's step-son, and the author commented that he had everything he needed in life except adversity. (the step-son, not George). And I thought, wow, what a challenging concept for personal growth.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Lurker:

This will sound bizarre, but I think I thought that you arrived with some set amount of talent and a set amount of hard work. And pretty much how you wrote at x age would be hour your wrote at y, just different stories. It sounds absurd. It IS absurd. But that's what I thought. I didn't realize--years ago--that the journey to get better would be, as you said, so challenging. I also didn't realize it wasn't about containing writing in one compartment in my life--but about pouring ALL of me into writing.

E

LurkerMonkey said...

Erica,

This is VERY true for me too ...

LurkerMonkey said...

Mark,

Every time I seriously think of quitting, it's that regret question that keeps me coming back for me. When I'm on my deathbed, and if I can't look back and say I got a novel published, there will be a real sadness there.

Mark Terry said...

You will. Keep at it.

I wrote a short story in my college creative writing class about someone who died and went to hell and was met by "The Keeper Of Regrets," and hell was basically being forced to contend with all your regrets. It was like the Keeper saying, "You're such a jackass. You got to go through life just once. Why didn't you do more? Why did you waste so much of it?" It was a powerful enough concept to stick with me for 25+ years, so I guess there must be something to it.

Melanie Avila said...

Funny you mention carpal tunnel -- I've resorted to wearing a sweatband thing on my wrist to help relieve the pain. It sort of works. And I look sporty.

I learned to be open to criticism during my design days, so all the suggestions I get are thrown at the wall together. If it sticks, it stays. Giving up hasn't entered my mind, but I'm still new at this.

Merry Monteleone said...

Wow, you don't know how timely this is.

I don't know what I thought when I started - I definitely thought I'd be farther down the road by now, though... Maybe that there was this magic plateau where the rank and title of 'author' became yours - is it being published? or selling well? or multi-published? or published well enough to have fiction be your sole form of monetary support (okay, not even at the start did I think that was realistic)... then again, if I was a true realist I might have been too afraid to write.

Great post.

LurkerMonkey said...

Merry,

Ha ha! Boy, do I hear you on this: "I definitely thought I'd be farther down the road by now, though." I've also wondered about what the "next step" is -- and I'm not at all in favor of realism in this game.

Pink Ink said...

Hi, found you through Melanie. This post rings true for me. After getting a couple of rejections yesterday, I thought, why keep subjecting myself to this heart break?

And the answer is, I don't have a YES yet, but I feel like every single thing I do and write brings me closer every day.

Write on!