Thursday, November 17, 2005

Serious About Writing

First, I'm feeling much better, thanks! Second, Paul didn't get the job. He got a very nice rejection email, though. That's unusual in today's business world and we appreciate that he took the time to write. On to a topic I've been thinking about for a couple of days.

Serious about Writing

A bunch of us writers were chatting about writing. (What else?) We were observing how much we'd all grown in our writing during the past couple of years. One woman said that she noticed how much faster she'd improved after she "got serious about writing." I don't remember who it was that said that, but we all agreed. Then we started discussing what it means to be "serious about writing". It's different for each person, I think.

Up until a few years ago, I mostly wrote when I felt like it. When an idea hit or I wanted to play with stories for my own pleasure. I got better, but not very much better. I don't think it was just because I wasn't writing a lot that kept me from growing, either. I think it was that "serious" vs. "hobby" thing.

When writing was a hobby, I'd get a story idea in my head. Then I'd write whatever came to me that seemed to fit the story. I wasn't trying to accomplish anything other than amusing myself. That attitude reflected itself in my writing. For example, I didn't try to make sure I'd put everything on the page because no one else was going to read it.

I also didn't try to discipline myself to write at any particular time. I just made sure my writing stuff was available and wrote when I felt like it. Writing had the same place in my life as my needlework projects, cooking a new recipe, learning a new flute piece, or any other of my many hobbies and interests.

There's nothing wrong with that. I think writing stories for your own amusement is fun. I still do it, especially when I want to play with a concept and see if there's really a story there. Or it's something I know isn't going to sell--like sticky, sweet "fluffy bunny" fantasy. I love writing that when I'm feeling down. There's something about writing colorful, sparkly stuff that brings my mood back up.

But in the back of my mind, that ten-year-old girl who loved Nancy Drew kept nagging at me. She always wanted to write stories for other people to read. I researched the business of publishing. I asked myself some important questions about what I wanted my writing to be. If I managed to sell my work, there would have to be major changes in how I approached my writing. Writing would be a job, not just a personal source of amusement. My friend, Wen, talks about noticing how hard her husband worked, how many hours he put in. And she decided she could do that, too. All of the writers I know, and the ones whose blogs I read, work very hard. I knew I'd have to do that, too. I'd have to face deadlines. I'd have to be a business, with all that boring record-keeping. I'd have to be the main publicity for my stories. I wondered, "Do I want all of that or do I just want to play with stories?" I dithered around, doing the "what if thing" writers do. Eventually, I asked myself the question that answered all the other questions. "If I live to be 90, what would I regret the most?" My biggest regret concerning my writing would be not giving writing for publication my best shot. If I gave it my best shot, but never sold, I'd be OK with that. I wouldn't be OK with not even trying.

By this time, we were online and I started searching for things about writing. I discovered Holly Lisle's Forward Motion and for the first time in my life connected with other people who wrote stories. I took classes and tried to apply what I learned to my writing. I bored Holly, Sheila, and all of the more advanced writers in chat with endless questions, which they were gracious enough to answer. I still bug all the writers who know more than I do with endless questions and they're still gracious enough to answer. Other published authors who deserve lots of thanks from me are Zette, Wen, Tambo, and Catie. (Note: For links to the blogs of some of the generous, but not yet published writers, who have been so very helpful, see my sidebar of links. There are too many to post in this essay.)

One thing all the pros agree on is that you read regularly. That's no problem. I've been a bookworm since I was three and kept asking my mom what all the words in my books were. I've been reading in many different genres and lots of nonfiction ever since. That's the easiest requirement for me, as a writer, to do. I don't read the same way I used to. I still read for enjoyment, but I also reread and take apart books I think are especially well-written to see what the authors did. Looking at books in that way has improved my writing.

Writing regularly, the "butt in chair" thing, is the one thing absolutely every successful writer says you must do. It's the very first advice you'll get if you ask a published writer how to do what they do. I figured that if every pro said it, I ought to do it. So I did. Some people insist you must write every single day, not even skipping holidays and birthdays and other things that make life worth living. I'm not in that camp, in case you couldn't tell. I've noticed that what's important for my muse isn't writing the same number of words absolutely every day without fail. I always see my muse as a 4-year-old girl with brown pigtails tied with red ribbons. She wears red overalls, a white T-shirt with red trim, white socks and red tennies. Luckily, she has a grownup brain, because I deal with grownup subjects in my books. And like any child, what's important to her is that I write when I say I'm going to write. It's as if she's waiting for me and if I don't show up, she gets disappointed and won't come out to play the next time. Although learning to do the "butt in chair thing" regularly, rather than whenever I felt like writing, was important to my development as a writer, it wasn't the main thing.

The main thing that made a difference was a distinct shift in my attitude toward my writing after I "got serious". To me, getting serious was more about that attitude shift than anything else. I changed my writing goal. Instead of my goal being "having fun", it became "becoming the best writer I can." Surprised? I bet you were expecting my goal to be "getting published". Getting published is a dream. Writing the best I can is a goal. So, that became my focus. And I think that focus is why when I "got serious" about my writing it began to improve faster. That's what getting serious about my writing means to me. What does it mean to you?