One endless year wiser

desk-insetSilk’s Post #51 — One year ago today, as the DW (designated writer) of our critique group’s first post, I clicked “publish” and 5writers5novels5months launched itself into the crowded blogosphere.

“Let Us Tell You a Story …” introduced our crazy, self-imposed challenge of each writing a novel in five months, and our even crazier hope of getting at least one of them sold within a year.

It’s now 365 days and 245 posts later, a good time to reflect on our journey. What have we accomplished? What have we learned? And what are we going to do next?

5writers-9-5-13

Accomplishment #1 – happy anniversary to us

First and foremost, we’re still together. Through all our individual personal changes, challenges, triumphs and frustrations this year, the 5writers are (in today’s parlance) still committed to a deep and meaningful relationship with each other. We held an anniversary meeting on September 5, 2013 to celebrate, re-charge our batteries, and plan a new group literary venture for 2014.

Can’t tell you more now. Very hush hush. But watch this space for details of our next ridiculously idealistic and ambitious scheme in the new year.

The writing life is no place for realists. Much too hazardous to their sanity.

Accomplishment #2 – OMG, we’re actually blogging

A couple of our 5 had a bit of blogging experience. I wasn’t one of them. This whole blogging venture was – let’s call a spade a spade – a total crapshoot. Could we organize 5 different writers in 5 different places with 5 different lives to create a blog with any kind of continuity, and somehow sustain their efforts week after week? As 5 of the millions of unpublished writers out there, did we really have enough to say that people might be interested in? Could we attract any followers? Could we keep them?

As it turns out, we could. Okay, we’re not a trending phenom, but a few hundred of our valued readers keep sticking with us, and we promise to keep working hard to make it worth your while.

So, our sincere thanks to you. You keep us going, and hopefully we help you do the same.

Accomplishment #3 – over 323,064 words and counting

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that only 2 of the 5 finished their first drafts by the designated target date of February 5, 2013 (Joe and Paula). By the time the 5writers got together for our big Whistler critique fest in June, Karalee had finished her first draft, and Helga and I submitted partial manuscripts. As a group, we got over 300,000 words on paper, and critiqued every one of them.

And now, of course, we’re changing probably 150,000 of them, and adding another 300,000.

Ugh. Math. A writer’s least favourite subject.

My big, fat, life lesson

Personally, I’ve learned as much about myself in the past year as I’ve learned about writing. And that’s a lot.

Though I’ve been writing pretty well all my life, I came to fiction late and with great trepidation. I thought I had my eyes wide open by realizing at the outset that it would be a steep learning curve. I knew I knew how to write, but I didn’t know if I knew how to tell a story.

I not only underestimated the expected storytelling learning curve, but I was blindsided by all sorts of other learning curves I hadn’t anticipated. Like the extra determination it takes to start a whole new career when you’re 60. Not a hobby, where success is measured purely in terms of personal satisfaction, but a career, where success is also measured by satisfying an audience.

Let’s face it, most writers will never be published. There. I’ve said it. But if you’re writing to be read, then publication is the goal. And for me, the reality of what that really means finally sank in this year. It means:

  1. I have to actually finish the first draft.
  2. I have to then figure out what’s wrong with it (there will be lots), and polish it to a level that outshines the gazillion other unpublished manuscripts out there as I compete for the attention of an agent, editor and publisher.
  3. I have to go through the torturous snakes-and-ladders process of finding and selling to the abovementioned gatekeepers, which also means …
  4. I have to have another book, or more, in the works immediately.
  5. I have to repeat ad infinitum to feed either the slush pile or the bookshelf, depending on my degree of success.

Okay, we all know this stuff. We’ve read it. It’s been hammered into us by experts at conferences. We’ve discussed it ad nauseum. But internalizing the reality of this commitment – making it part of one’s life mission, because nothing else will really suffice – is another thing altogether. I had a long, long list of things I was eager to do when I retired from my “real” career. This year I had to realistically face whether writing was to be one of many pleasant pastimes, or would become another “real” career.

Everyone who writes has heard the famous writer-at-a-cocktail-party story, broadly ascribed to a lecture given by Canadian lit queen Margaret Atwood:

A brain surgeon meets a writer at a cocktail party.

“So you write?” says the brain surgeon. “Isn’t that interesting. I’ve always wanted to write. When I retire and have the time I’m going to be a writer.” 

“What a coincidence,” says the writer, “because when I retire I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

I’ve been harbouring the secret suspicion that I’m really just a naive “brain surgeon” who thinks writing is easier than brain surgery – something to keep me amused and purposeful in my retirement. This year’s 5writers challenge has forced me to come to grips with my ambitions. What kind of writer am I – really?

My decision: I’m still teetering. My heart says, “career”. My head asks, “do you really want to work as hard as you did during the 40 years you had your nose to the grindstone?” Because that’s what it will take to become a writer who gets published, gets read, achieves commercial success.

Like the majority of that huge community of unpublished writers out there, I haven’t really committed yet to writing being my life’s absolute, number one, top priority. But, like many of them, I thought I had already made that commitment. This year taught me that I have not.

And that, ironically, is real progress.

I’m acutely aware that I’m part of a generation that wants it all – a ridiculous impossibility. Time is a cruel taskmaster. To do something really well, you have to feed your dream with your blood, sweat, tears … and time. You have to give up other things.

I am a writer. I will write for the rest of my life. Because, as Maya Angelou wrote, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”

But the question remains: what kind of writer will I be? My “5writers year” has been endless. That is to say, I’ve not yet typed “the end” in the story I began on September 5, 2012. When I do, I can make a new beginning.

Hopefully by then I’ll be wiser about what kind of writer I am.

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “One endless year wiser

  1. Accomplishment #4: We have become better writers!
    Accomplishment #5: We have become even closer friends.
    Great post, Silk. Life is good!

  2. I can totally relate to your big, fat, life lesson. Can I make one of my stories “good enough” that an audience will want to read it? You bet I hope so. But it’s going to take a lot of work….

    • Have confidence JM – you’re doing all the right things and your talent shines through. Thanks for being a constant voice in our circle of online friends!

  3. I also relate to your big fat life lesson and have found myself fully committed to a brand new career at 61 (now 63). I’m young. I have a whole new life in front of me. I’m just getting started! Wooohoooo!

  4. I don’t want a second career with the stress and uncertainty of the first, but I want to be a writer who gets published, read, and well critiqued. Commercial success would be nice too, but isn’t as important as the first three things. Thank you for this post, because it prompted me to think that question through.

    • Now that I’ve thought it through myself, it’s hard to believe I’ve been devoting this much time and effort on writing over the past 5 years without knowing the answer. My ambitions are similar to yours. You should read the Ray Bradbury “Zen in the Art of Writing” — I think you’d like it. Very clarifying. See my post from today for more. 😉

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