So I am still working on both the interviews with James Maxey and Stuart Jaffe from over a month ago, and trying to finish my essay on writing Sword & Sorcery (which I had to scrap and go and start over because the first idea sucked.) But I since I need to keep the blog posts going, I thought I would take on something I have been thinking about and explore it in front of you all, hopefully to someone's benefit beyond my own.
As some of you may know, I am the head of Charlotte Writers, Charlotte's premier writing organization for genre fiction, poetry, screen plays, and the like. As many of you can probably guess, I run into a lot of different types of people who express their desire to be a writer, to get published, and to reap the rewards of the business. Looking at my short tenure so far sitting at "the head of the table", I thought it would be interesting to examine these characters (yes, they are real people, but for the sake of not getting sued or hurting feelings, let's imagine they are all... well, imaginary.) It was both a lot of fun and freeing to let loose some of the stress I deal with in my interactions with these characters, and at the same time, they made me look at who and where I am on the path to hopefully making writing a full-time career, i.e. I can pay my bills.
So let's get started. These are ordered from the worst to the best, but I hope the readers will try to think beyond the idea of "bad" and "good" and rather more in the idea of "how" and "why", because the latter more often than not informs you better than the former.
1. The Dreamer: This is the character I see more than any other that shows up to Charlotte Writers or at conventions. This type of person is someone who has always wanted to write and have ideas, but for some reason never start to actually work those ideas out of their head and onto a page. Tell me if you have heard this before: "I have an idea or a story/novel." Yeah, and so has everyone else! The sad thing for me when I deal with this character is that I cannot get them to understand that writing isn't something that just happens--it takes a lot of time, a lot of work, a LOT of failure, and a lot of willpower before you actually get somewhere with it. These are the people who show up to Charlotte Writers saying "I know that I want to write, but I don't know what I want to write." Worse, sometimes they try to hire out the real work to someone that is writing, and while I have nothing against ghostwriting, I don't think everyone has the ability to do it, even good writers. Writing is a very individual endeavor, especially fiction, and even though there are writing groups, critique groups, and editing circles, it is still up to you to do it and figure it out, and that in itself takes a lot of work. I got lucky because I knew I wanted to write fantasy from a very young age, and I knew what that meant in terms of my goals and how to realistically achieve them. For some, this is only a dream, and for the majority of them, they never move beyond that.
2. The Start-Stopper: Ooooo, this character. Like The Dreamer, I meet this one as much, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that I run in circles of writers. This character has gotten past The Dreamer in that they have actually started to put words down on the page. But wait a second... there's a comma in the wrong place, a misspelled word, a line that just doesn't read right, and they stop. And not only do they stop, they stop that story forever and rarely come back to finish it. I will admit I used to be a Start-Stopper when I first got into writing at 19. Any little mistake, I ditched the manuscript. What helped me get past all that was two things: first, I was in a creative writing class in college that forced me to finish things, and second was my girlfriend (7 years and going strong) who basically made me sit down and finish a story one day. Yeah, it sucked, but it was the rough draft. A lot of people don't understand that writers don't get it right the first time, and there is always a draft after the rough, and one after that, and one after until it is done. Finishing that rough draft, however, can be one of the most freeing things in the world, because you did it. You finished the story. 98% will never finish their story. If you can get past being this character, you have come a long way.
3. The Delusional: This is where some readers are going to go "Jay's talking about me! That ass!"
These people are delusional, and if you think I am talking about you, then I guess I am, but that's because you're delusional. This is a character that does so many things that just put people off and never realize it, and it has less with them as writers than them as people in general. For example, let's say you have moved past the Start-Stop stage, and you have finished your grand work which you think is just going to sell a million copies and set you up for life. Welcome to the real world, it doesn't happen that way. 99.9% of us need to hear the truth about the darlings we have written, and for many people who want to write they can't stomach that. They cannot stand the idea that something they made doesn't automatically shit gold. They avoid critique groups, they surround themselves with "yes" people, usually friends and family who don't write at all, when this fails in the end, they don't understand why their work just isn't doing it when it comes time to go out into the real world. They didn't want to listen to anyone else but them. I recently dealt with this with someone who came to another critique group (I am part of four) and said, out loud, "I am here to get help closing plot holes, but you aren't my beta readers." Yeah, well, we aren't going to be actual readers who buy your book either. EVERYONE IS A BETA-READER, even after the book or short story is published. And don't think that beginning writers are the only ones who don't suffer from this! There are many writers who get agents and don't understand why that agent hasn't sold their book. Hint: it's probably because the agent was wrong about it. The sad truth is that not every idea is going to sell, and that is okay. As long you keep going you will keep getting closer to actually making it, but first you must disassociate yourself with this idea that you are special. You are special, but talent and belief alone doesn't weigh more than just plain hard work and having the willingness to be slaughtered for the sake of growth. If you can't take a constructive opinion and honestly deal with your work in regards to it, then you won't get there. Now, this doesn't mean that you have to take every single piece of advice an editor gives you; all it means is that you have to be willing to listen.
4. The Drafter: This one is my least favorite because I am this character. Drafters are those people who can finish a manuscript, but are such perfectionists that they never really finish a book. They constantly go back and re-write, and it never ends. A lot of this, if I may briefly confess, has a lot to do with low self-esteem as a writer, and somewhat gets back to being delusional as well. Strangely, for me at least, this only applies to novels. I finish a short story and after the third or fourth draft, I send it out and wait to see what happens. With novels I just have this stupid head-space that I am working my way out of, and it must have been really bad, because recently my girlfriend once again came to the rescue and said "You are wasting your time. You are a good writer. When are we sending this out?" She made me see the truth that if I worked hard enough on this and let things be that I can keep growing into a good writer. So while I am long removed from being a Start-Stopper, I am only now getting over being a Drafter when it comes to novels, and like getting past being the Start-Stopper, it is a freeing thing. I can do it, and if my worthless ass can do it, you can do it too. Perfection isn't a real thing, but you can write a great novel or short story.
5. The Salesmen: Again, this almost a subset of delusion. I've noticed that one of two things happen when someone gets past the stage of being The Drafter-- they either go about the process of figuring out what is next for them, or they automatically self-publish thinking that New York (the mecca of publishing, though that's never really been true and certainly won't be in the near future) doesn't get their work and they are better off going at it on their own. The latter can happen because you pile up rejections or you are just not willing to deal with agents, editors, and the idea that if you do sell to New York that your work is no longer yours. And by all means, self-publishing is a completely legit avenue... but not all Salesmen are created equal. Some of them really have a knack for the business aspect of selling their books, and some just sale at every opportunity, even when it is an inappropriate moment to do so. These are the people that always plug their book to everyone they meet, which is more often than not so off-putting that they never make a sale. They often forget that people have such a wide range of choices, it is better to draw them in with a little honey than a mouthful of sugar.
6. The "This is all just for fun!": This character is a weird one to deal with, because on one hand they know their goals with writing and they aren't really troublesome at all, but on the other hand they tend to say some pretty insulting things that really grate on those whose goals fall into actually making a living at this. It is not their fault, though--they just don't know. They don't know about the hours, the sacrifice, and the plain ol' insanity that goes into trying to make a writing career happen and then make it work. Again, not their fault.
7. The Actual Writer: This is where you want to be, and it is an interesting place to come to as requires that you somehow amalgamate the first six types into this final form (goddamn, I feel like we are living in a Dragon Ball Z episode. One of the later ones with the earrings and the dancing. Happy Birthday, Nathan.) You have to be a dreamer who has that idea, and then you have to be the Starter who stops themselves from Stopping. From there you start Drafting, hoping that you can get your work to the level where it gets bought. If it does get bought, you have to learn to be a Salesman or Saleswoman, but not at the level where you turn people away from your work. All of this in a way requires the Delusion that you can do it, that it is worthwhile, that this is what you want to do. You will need to find help and learn a lot of wisdom along the way, and yes, you will get turned down a lot. But even though you have that delusion that you can make it, the fact you are having fun trying is the most important thing of all. As long as you keep it fun and you keep trying to make that dream possible, you will become The Actual Writer you want to be. You must become all these things.
You can do it.
So, it's that time of the month to shill work! If you really like what you read here on this blog, clicking on the G+1 button at the bottom of this post on in the upper right-hand corner of the screen will do a lot in terms of supporting Sit.Write.Bleed. You can also follow me @JayRequard on Twitter if you so choose.
Thank you for stopping by and see you soon!