Sunday, September 22, 2013

How I Knew I Was Ready to Have Someone Other Than My Mother Read My Writing

A book cover I made for my first attempt at writing a novel
AKA: The moment I decided to start submitting to actual publishers.

I’ve always made art publicly, but I had never tried submitting a short story or poem for profitable publication before this past few months. It had never been my immediate goal (but always my future one!). August marked the first time I submitted work to a magazine. It was quite the rush, really. Whether they accept, purchase, and publish it is a different story, but at least I finally had cooked up the nerve to do it. I just wanted to write a post about what brought me to this point, which is the point where I decided I could show other people my work.

Back in high school was when I first realized that I was a writer. My group of friends decided that we were going to start a local band, and everyone picked an instrument (none of us knew how to play anything) and promised to learn said instrument within the year. Out of the five of us who made this pact, I was the only one who followed through. I learned guitar, and I started a band with a very different group of guys who actually knew how to play. In the first few meetings of this band, I remember debating who would be the singer. Naturally, I, who had never sung publicly before at that point, backed away from the idea of me doing it. However, the guy who wanted to be the singer was flaky, and we ended up kicking him out of the band. So, the job fell on me, as the drummer was too busy drumming like a wild animal to sing and we didn’t have a bassist replacement yet.

As a singer of a band, it falls on you to write songs, and so I did. I wrote beautiful high school ballads of angst and hormones (they were not really beautiful, haha). But, I did write. I learned how to compose and put words together. My favorite band, Incubus, inspired me to actually sit down and pen out meaningful lyrics (rather than clichés in rhyme), which were all poems to start. I spent hours and hours doing a single line in a song, but the work paid off. I learned a great deal about writing doing that. Near the end of high school is when the idea for The Unraveler sparked in my mind, but I made more visual art and poetry than anything else at that point.

During college, I went from writing lyrics to writing stories, plays, and even attempting to write a few novels. I did all of that before I even decided to become an English major (actually, I started as a music major and then went to computer science before switching to English!). Most of what I wrote during that time was garbage, but I’m happy I wrote it because I was continuing to learn how to write. My freshmen year of college was my first official attempt at writing The Unraveler as a full-length novel, and also my second, third, fourth, fifth, etc, etc. I probably have about fifty different documents where I tried to write the novel. In some attempts, I even got to chapter 3 before deciding that it was terrible. At one point, I stopped that and started something different. I wrote a 60k-word memoir about my high school band days. It was called, Join Our Cult (I still like that title). I never finished it because I realized that it wasn’t, strictly speaking, worth reading. Also, for creative nonfiction, I had taken too many embellishments and exaggerations. It just didn’t feel right. So, I shelved it.

I probably penned a few more one-chapter trials of The Unraveler throughout the rest of my college years. None of them really worked, but the ideas built and the story started to come together. I just didn’t have the skills at that point to make it happen, but the effort kept me learning.

I almost always make my own temporary covers for my book-length projects
During my final semester at my university, I wrote a 40k-word novel called Eyes On The Grid, but I didn’t finish that either. I knew it was closer to what a professional writer might put out, but not quite there. I think during the process of writing that, I gained about 30 levels in grammatical sorcery. I started winning writing contests (I even paid for my first apartment’s rent using writing contest winnings!). I wrote new songs, which my old band friends recorded with me.

I felt an awareness to writing that was different. I could look at other writing and identify why writing was good or bad (not just if). It was like a writing nirvana to me. When I hit that point, I began a new draft of The Unraveler that would actually get finished, and it was actually good. It was a story worth telling, and it was written with the skills I had been building for so many years with so much sweat.

I haven’t submitted The Unraveler to any agents yet, since I’m still trying to comb through and get feedback on it. However, I did submit a few short stories I’ve been writing when I’ve needed a break from doing my editing, and I did this beginning with last month (no responses on any of them yet). It was my first time, and it was a cool marker in my writing career.

Anyway, I guess with all this, the simple message I’m trying to put together is this: write. The only way to get good at something is to do it over and over.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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