HAVE YOU EVER FELT OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE?
Almost sounds like a dumb question, but let’s think about this a moment. How did you get started in this passion? The best way for me to express this is from my own example. It’s certainly not the only way it’s been done, but I believe my experience is not unique.
When the muse hit me and I decided I wanted to write, I just did. No second thoughts. No worries about publishing, editing, marketing, critiquing. I wrote for the joy and just assumed I one day might be on the best seller lists. That was never my prime motivation, but I’ll admit it was a factor to want my stories to be out there for others to read. Back then, it never dawned on me that my writing might suck. Not until the second novel.
When I started The Greenhouse, I’d made contact with not only my lifetime mentor, Carol Davis Luce, but Elizabeth Forrest (Rhondi Vilott). Both experienced authors, they took me under their wings and guided me with my work, gave me pointers and even dared to read some of my stuff. What I got most from the early days, was to edit and re-edit, cut waste, and work on my passivity. Even under those primitive conditions, my chops improved immensely and I realized I wasn’t such a hot writer, not yet at least. That really hit home when I looked back at my first novel, The Cave. ‘Nuff said.
MILD SHOCK SETS IN
By the time we moved to Indiana, I was well into my third novel, Lusitania Gold and several icky bug short stories. It was those short stories I presented to the Highland Writer’s Group, the very first writers I’d ever been exposed to, face-to-face. I was in for a big shock. Not only were some of these people great writers, they knew how to critique. They were able to show me how bad (gently, of course) my writing was, and how I could improve it. I listened as they read their work. Some of it blew me away while I noticed I was at a higher level than about half the group. At least all my effort started to show some payoff.
At the same time, after writing two-plus novels and multiple short stories, I realized I didn’t know squat! In front of these people, especially the better writers, I felt like a third grader reading a valentine poem! It was a horrible and overwhelming feeling. The key to salvation came from how gentle and giving this group turned out. I’ve preached so many times about seeking out a good writer’s group, and this one fit the bill.
Despite the very positive experience, that was my first lesson in developing a thick skin.
DEEPER SHOCK AS THE REJECTIONS ROLL IN
After several years and a big move, along with the writer’s group from hell, which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I found my comrades in arms, the Henderson Writer’s Group. As my skin thickened, so did my pile of rejections. On top of that, I’d bring in what I thought was a killer chapter, read it to the group and get a bunch of flack. They’d tear it up! Aaagh! All my hopes and dreams shattered! Ha ha. Add another dent to the old ego, which I don’t really have, but you know what I mean?
Then, along comes someone who just started writing. Guess what? They presented a story that blew everyone away. The writing was superb and the story was wow! Talk about depressing! I’d struggled and worked my butt off for years and along came someone that just started.
I mustn’t forget that teen that showed up at the very first writers’ conference I attended. This kid didn’t even have a full story finished, yet he half-assed pitched an idea to an agent. The agent went crazy and signed the kid on the spot! Sight unseen! Can you believe that? I still don’t know if that deal ever succeeded, but if you want to talk about frustration, there were a bunch of people there that wanted to tear up their manuscripts and walk out the door.
The world takes all kinds, and if I let that stuff get me down, I should just quit and find something else to do. Through all this, I knew it didn’t matter. I love writing too much.
YOU CAN’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO EVERYONE ELSE
To me, this isn’t a competition. That’s an ugly word. This is a passion, an art. A lot of people may disagree with me because sure, it’s also a business if you wish to make money. However, the money won’t be there without the art, the inspiration and the passion. That always comes first. You have to want to do this, regardless. If you think you’re a rank amateur, you will be. If you know you’re a rank amateur, build your skills but don’t let that get in the way of your muse, your drive and your passion. You’ll overcome that one day.