Friday, September 23, 2016

Supporting A New Writer 4: Where We Go from Here

Each of us has a tale to tell about struggling to start or re-start a writing career. Here's the background on this project, and two responses below.

Recently, I received this letter from a fan with whom I’d been corresponding. It spoke deeply to me, and rather than answer it alone, I asked some of my writer friends to join in a series of round table blogs on the issues raised. If you’ve been there, too, I hope you’ll follow along and offer your own wisdom.

I’ve been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life. I’ve spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills. Mom passed away in October. When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways. That foundation you always relied on — even as an adult — is gone for good. Whether you’re ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence. One of the most difficult aspects of my mother’s final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life. She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible. I’m 54 years old. More than half of my life is over. Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood. My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don’t want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing “career” never took off. I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams. I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well. How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long?
Doranna Durgin:  I turned 56 on the very day my mom died just over a month ago.  Meanwhile my writing has floundered for years—damaged by experiences in traditional publishing, never quite reaching fruition in the first place because I was in a financially vulnerable situation where I didn’t dare take risks.  So I played nice.  Too nice.  Too much fear, too much doubt, and way too much negativity from outside sources.  Familiar, right? I was trying to please everyone else before I pleased the muse, knowing it and hoping for some sort of break that would allow me to return to the muse.  But instead of reaching a break, I hit a breaking point, and then…broke.  Now I’m looking at the journey back and not certain how to take it.

So where do we all go from here?

In this case, I hope knowing you’re not alone is of some solace.  Boy, you’re definitely not!  And to some extent, I think we all wish we were bigger, bolder, better when it comes to our writing.  To that same extent, I think having that desire is the critical part of writing.  How do we do anything but stagnate without it?  And just maybe the fact that we do have that ongoing need doesn’t mean we haven’t already been successful in many ways.  Don’t discount those successes!

More practically speaking, I’m finding that I need to give myself space while at the same time setting reachable goals.  For me, that means noodling on development in the background while working on production stuff and writing-related stuff in the foreground.  For you, those first steps might include finding community online and in person, but I have some hesitation about focusing on these as a starting place.  Writing comes from within, not without—and in my experience, outside influence is often about diluting, not enhancing, those pieces from within.

To that point, I’ve found a good book discussion group comprised of savvy readers and other writers to be an excellent place to practice critical thinking and to see how different writing is absorbed by different people…well, differently.  I see it as a way to immerse in the thought process without subjecting the muse to the push and pull of others’ thinking.

I think one key, as we seek growth, is to recognize the successes we have in fact had, and then to keep our specific goals in mind while making decisions about the future—which means taking the time to truly understand our goals in the first place.  So are the support groups and community part of the goal, or a way to reach the goal?  And what other ways can you reach the specific goal?

Either way, good luck—hope to see you there on the other side!

Doranna Durgin is an award-winning (Compton Crook--best first SF/F/H of the year) whose quirky spirit has led to an extensive and eclectic publishing journey across genres, across publishers, and across publishing lines.  Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and highly accomplished competition dogs. She doesn't believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided...

Meg Mac Donald: On Starting Over:
Just write.

I know, I know.  That’s obvious.  I realize that it may be oversimplifying things, but it is true that the only way to begin again is to (simply) start doing it.  Anything.  Write that story idea, or outline—or even that one scene—that has been playing in your mind for years.  You know, the one about That Character when That Thing happened?  Yeah.  That one.  Jot it down.  Follow it as it begins to grow—give yourself permission to change it.  Keep writing.  If you write something, you have something to edit—or rewrite—later.  Worst case scenario?  You line the cat box with it and start something else.  Put aside any notion about it being perfect, or publishable, or even making the remote bit of sense.  It doesn’t have to.  What it has to do is give you something to work with.  Most of writing is rewriting and editing anyway.  Give yourself permission to make a literary mess if that’s what it takes to break the cycle of doubt that is keeping you from writing at all.

Write whatever you want and don’t feel guilty.  Write Firefly fan fiction.  Write a story about your favorite super hero.  What a vampire romance (if you have to, but remember, they are NOT sparkly)!

Need community?  The internet is a wonderful (and terrible) place.  Go forth, but carry an umbrella (and maybe some pepper spray).  Google. Or take a Safari.  Or play DuckDuckGo and look for forums, websites, blogs, and groups, and people on Twitter who share your interests.  There are writers everywhere—and many of them feel the same way you do.  You don’t need an army, you don’t need people to fawn over you or heap empty praises on your plate.  You just need a few honest people who you can trade thoughts with, encourage, learn from—or assist.

It is amazing how much we grow when first we assist others to plant their own seeds.

Have fun.  Enjoy the process.  Give yourself a chance to develop your talent and try not to be in a hurry. Did I mention give yourself permission to change things when you resurrect old stories?  Yeah.  Do that.  You’re older now.  Wiser.  Well, older.  Your perception has changed.  Remember: words are not the story.  The story is the story.  Use new words to tell the story you always wanted to tell.   Get feedback.  Be humble.  Be brave.  Take chances and send that story to Analog.  What is the worst that can happen?  They didn’t like it?  Pft.  Whatever.  Rejection is an invitation to submit elsewhere.  It isn’t a dead end.  It is an arrow.  Try another route.  Been there before, on the verge of “breaking out” and never quite got there?  We should form a support group.

I got a very good piece of advice from a friend I met online who later became a friend “in real life.”  He told me this:  look back, but don’t stare.  At first, I didn’t like hearing that because I couldn’t help but look back and dwell on too many “almosts” that left me frustrated and feeling like a failure.  Novels that were held by publishers for a year, then passed on.  Being the 21st book out of 20.  Being in the top group… and then not getting the contact.  Having imprints go out of business on the eve of what should have been my break out sale!  Then life threw curve balls that hit me square in the face.  It wasn’t fair!  But he was right.  Yesterday is gone.  What didn’t happen when I was a young writer didn’t happen, for whatever reason.  That doesn’t mean it will never happen.  Not unless I give up.  Not unless you give up.  Don’t. Give. Up.

Just write.
(p.s. Thanks for the tip, brother Al)

After a number of years away from writing, Meg Mac Donald set pen to page again in 2011.  Delightful chaos ensued.  She shares her home in Michigan with her husband, children, a Norwegian Elkhound and a clowder of cats (yes, it actually is bigger on the inside).  She would like to own horses again, sell a novel (how about a series?  Any takers?) and has, sadly, never been to the Moon.  Meg's sold stories to two previous Darkover anthologies (when she was very young but no less silly).  You can follow her on Twitter @kyrrimar, but she doesn't really go anywhere.  Her author page on Facebook is rubbish.

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