What is your greatest writing challenge? That is the question asked for this 28th day of March’s Horror Writer Challenge. When I gave but a moment’s thought to the answer I was lost to a something of a cosmic montage like David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The answer was so vast I scarcely knew where to start because the answer, quite simply, is…everything! The job, the other job, the other other job, the family, the relationship, the many varied menial tasks of life, the all too frequent catastrophic and troubling things that occur in the world at large, and the toll they all take.
But it’s oh so much more than that.
Writing, and being an author, while connected, are two different things. Writing means having the time in a day to sit down and actually put words on the page, often a difficult enough task on its own. Being an author however is a different beast entirely. Being a writer means dealing with self-doubt, anxiety, both internal and external criticism, and producing something creatively significant enough to be, at the very least, satisfying. Being an author means making a career out of that. Both are acts of will, but also circumstances which are often beyond your control. That right there is really the toughest part — navigating the many obstacles of life, getting the job done despite them, and finding a way to keep the romance alive in the process.
There’s this perception that authors are all high falutin members of some hallowed intelligentsia whose days are spent drinking wine and eating quiche whilst wearing scarves indoors and chortling at a witty remark our agents made over the latest Jonathan Franzen novel.
Not so. Especially for indie authors. Make no mistake — This. Is. Work! Hard work. I work harder and longer hours at this than what I do to pay the bills. And those hours rarely, if ever, pay off in the monetary sense.
It means working two jobs and doing the majority of your writing in between them. It means being an author, an agent, a publicist, accountant, graphic designer, web designer, social media guru, and full time adult all at once. It means being a parent, sometimes a single one, sometimes of special needs children while doing everything you can to market yourself and your work. It means having a well-reviewed book and working a job as a janitor. It means using the money you’ve been putting aside little by little for your next book to pay your taxes instead and assuring yourself you’ll find some other way when the time comes. It means facing hate online for being the member of a minority and having something to say about…well, anything, really. It means being told by virtual strangers that your problems are unimportant because you’re “doing better” than they are. It means watching the tide that is said to raise all ships raise every one but yours, leaving you behind to tread water. It means doing everything you’ve been told you’re supposed to do to ensure your book’s success only to see it lost to obscurity.
[Sidebar: those examples are definitely not all my own but rather the collective struggles I've gathered from others]
So why do it?
Because having something that previously only existed in your mind made manifest is a concrete sign that you’ve accomplished something you set out to do. That you endured those many hardships for something. Being able to hold that accomplishment, physically, in three dimensions, is priceless. Seeing readers discuss your work, tell you they connected with it, that it meant something to them, that it was there for them during a tough time, there’s just nothing else like it. It means you were able to give back what you were given by someone else and keep the cycle going. It means you have left something behind and because of that there’s a chance you will be remembered beyond the tenure of your all too short years. When you find that thing that was meant for you, everything else pales in comparison. In short, it is a sign of light in the proverbial long dark tunnel.
The greatest challenge for me or anyone as a writer is to just keep going. As much as you can, for as long as you can. And believe me, I’m saying this to myself as much as to anyone reading this. Gabino Iglesias once said that writing is the best gig there is, but you have to take the good with the bad. That’s absolutely correct; of writing and of anything in life. Anyone who thinks they can be a writer is correct, but it requires more than just stamina and talent and the ability to put one word in front of the other. It takes stubbornness, compromise, masochism, fire, no small amount of luck, and dare I say insanity. Often times that last one is offered up as a wry punchline in many a meme for writer’s to share around. It’s no exaggeration. You have to be crazy to do this. Crazy about it. You have to be married to it. You have to have an unkillable spirit; one which will incur many an injury but soldier on despite them. This is a calling. Something you will do for years, the rest of your life even. That doesn’t mean that everyone’s way looks and goes exactly the same, it just has to happen.
Stories truly have helped me in my life. They’ve been a comfort, a source of guidance, a source of strength, and a connection with certain things when I had no other presence of them. That’s why I do this. That’s what I want to give back. If I manage to do that for even one person, then I’ve done my job. If at the end of the day I can manage to scratch out even a few words I didn't have yesterday and still want to keep doing that job, even better. And so I will.
Because that’s what it takes. There is no “right” way to do it. There is only the write way.
Like many, I was saddened to hear about the sudden passing of Anne Rice. But for me it goes much deeper than that. Simply put, this woman is why I write. Others planted seeds but she was very much the water that nourished it and the sun it reached toward.
I discovered her work around the age of 18 and I can still remember reading them in the lobby of the Marriott hotel where I would go on my lunch break because the nearby coffee houses were far too busy. Everything from Interview with the Vampire to Blackwood Farm I read in that spot, and at some point in that time decided I to be a writer.
Actually, there was no real “decision”. It wasn’t something so ordered as that. She made me feel something through her writing that I didn’t know what else to do with. It became an extension of my mind and body. A part of who I was. To use her words, she gave me the Dark Gift, and so I was to give it to others if I could.
“If.” Key word.
At one point, she was very active on her Facebook page and in more recent works even offered dedication to “The People of the Page”. One day I briefly voiced my frustrations in the constant pursuit of publication to no avail when she shared an article about someone who had gotten a publishing deal from having written fan fiction, of all things. This was a time when I was very much fed up. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but at that particular moment I had had no success. None. Not even close and there was absolutely nothing on the horizon to make me think that I was anything other than a fool on a fool’s errand.
In an act that I’m sure must have seemed trivial to her, she reached down like a hand from above and bestowed upon me this wisdom that I have cherished as holy writ ever since:
“Keep the faith. It’s not a foot race, and if she can make it, so can you.”
Faith of any kind has always been a dubious concept to me to say the least, but in that moment I went from nursing a distant, intangible hope to truly believing. That kept me going. That kept me not only driven but firm in the belief that it was possible to be published despite all signs to the contrary up until then. It’s what eventually led to my first acceptance, and by extension, carried me through the long and arduous road of publishing my first book that I had worked so long and so hard on. I wanted to quit then too, but I didn’t. And this is why.
I was never fortunate enough to have met her in person, but if I had I would have said the following: Thank you. For your talent, your courage, your doubt, your belief, your loss, your pain, and for sharing it all with us. You were there for me when I didn’t know why I was here, when I experienced the same doubts and losses and wanted to quit, in more ways than one.
She didn’t just make me want to write, she made me believe in myself. If I just kept trying, just kept writing, and just kept the faith. She told me to keep going when I faltered. She meant and continues to mean the world to me, and that world is a little bit darker today without her in it. But the light she shed will live on in those of us whose life she touched and affected forever.
She’s with Stan and Michelle now, and has the answer to the almighty mysteries I know she had grappled with for so long.
Whatever that is.
"We regret to inform you."
Greetings and salutations. My name is Marcus Hawke and I am an aspiring author; the other type of A.A. Perhaps it’s fate that my introduction should sound like the beginning of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, since I know from experience that there is definitely some overlap between the two.
I’ll come strait to the point. While searching and researching how one goes from an aspiring author to a published author, there is one tidbit that continues to surface like a poorly weighted down body in a shallow lake: starting a blog.
Truthfully, I’ve had no desire to start a blog before, as a logophile the very word has never been a favorite of mine — conjuring the image of a kid barfing in the backseat on the ride home from Disneyland. It seems strange to me that such a thing should have anything at all to do with pursuing a publishing career. But hey, as we all know and repeat whenever this kooky world of ours provides its daily examples, these are indeed strange times. (I wonder if we’ll ever need not to say that to make excuses for the present, but more on that later)
So, here I am.
[Tell the crickets they’re on in five]
For the next several months, possibly a year, possibly longer or shorter depending on how things go, I will be documenting the process of publishing a novel in whatever form that happens to take; be it traditional, indie, self-publishing, or somewhere in between. One way or another, this is happening.
Along the way I’ll cover querying, editors, agents, word counts, other writers, other bloggers, scams, websites, Twitter and Instagram (ostensibly another “must have” today) and so forth. Also related topics like the nature of attempting a career in a subjective industry, and writing itself and why the hell we do it in the first place. Believe me, if I wanted to take the easy road, I’d have become an Instagram model, but my ass doesn’t look so good in yoga pants.
Now as an individual, I strive to look at both sides of the coin. “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” that’s my motto. And while the curve may often bend more toward the latter than the former, at the very least I like to acknowledge both, and will do my gosh-darnedest to approach things accordingly. Having said that…(aha, see! there’s the title) like a gimp with a Cleveland steamer, there’s something I have to get off my chest.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!!!!!!!!!!!!
Whew. That felt good. They say to succeed in anything confidence is key, but sometimes you just have to walk up to the Void, give the nipples a pinch and scream, know what I mean?
This is all new to me. Very much learning as I go here. The occasional bit of advice I happen to glean from someone with direct experience or insight will be duly noted. Otherwise, it is trial and error; AKA the future title of my memoir.
I don’t know if this will help me, or you—the reader—which, after all, is why you’re here right? That is in no way a criticism, quite the opposite in fact because that is my hope. I often feel better knowing that others have shared similar experiences, and if any valuable information or advice can be gleaned in the process, all the better. Still, the fact remains that I don’t know if this will bear any fruit at all. It might be just one colossal mess. But if that’s the case, would you really want to miss it? What’s a crash without a throng of gawkers to warm themselves by the burning refuse? If it be so, let this be the black box.
And if nothing else, it’s cheaper than therapy. Am I right, ladies and gentlemen?
Anyhoo, that’s all for now. More to come soon. Thanks for stopping by and you stay classy, Sodom! (but not you, Gomorrah)
(P.S. I don’t know why I said gosh-darnedest. Won’t happen again.)