Tag Archives: competition

The Cycle, an Explanation

There’s a method to the madness of becoming a well known author. To becoming an author. To be someone desired by publishing companies. Through the years, I’ve becoming increasingly more aware of the things that are needed to be done for exposure and to be recognized and sought after and have people like me.

My last post, Intimidated, was a reflection of my becoming overwhelmed by it all.

I feel like I’m sitting at the base of a cliff with only half of the supplies needed for my ascent in rock climbing, which I’ve only ever done indoors, in a controlled environment.

I see friends tackling things on their own in ways I have given up or gotten too shy for. Sharing my works on different blog sites hadn’t yielded much of anything by the time I realized it was a fruitless effort, but I’ve had this problem before.

There are many things I can say, I can write here, I can put it on Facebook or on Tumblr or even find a bigger platform, but who’s to say that it’s even going to get anywhere? On this blog, I’ve had stunted success with having an audience at all, which resonates everywhere else, and when I look at it, and look back at the cliff, my feelings are mixed.

Some days, I feel like conquering it with gritted teeth and a strong resolve. Other days I feel like I’m not going to get further than halfway up the cliff and fail.

Everyone is going to think that what they have to write and how they do it is interesting enough to be worth something. That their voice and style is perfect in a lot of ways and, of course, how could anyone not like it?

Even if I had finished my courses in creative writing, I doubt it would have mattered much. I’d have felt like I wasted money, and not even my money, on something I could have learned on my own in time.

I’m staring up at a cliff of trying to get myself out there more. I am ready to put my hand up on the first rock I can hold onto and hoist myself up, but whether my fingers slip or I keep pushing until the final pieces, to the very top, is dependent on people that I can’t control. I can write for a specific audience, but it’s difficult to tell who would like what, and simultaneously battling the thought that shouldn’t I be writing for myself anyway?

On top of it, my sister sent me a list of the different writing jobs I could get, and instead of making me feel like I could try  at something again, and maybe become better, it made me feel more like I wasn’t doing something right. Which is on me, of course, not on her.

But the only way to find out what will happen is for me to try, and I’ve been very happy keeping my writing between a few friends. Branching out is uncertain and sometimes painful, but I can do it. So many others have done it before, right?

That was the other part. So many others. You could get lost in all of the authors out there, and there are only a handful who are really well known, household names. It goes back to competing, but I need to remember, I think, that no matter how many others are out there, they don’t have a voice or style or ideas like mine.

We’re all unique, no matter how many in number we are. No matter how similar it might be, there’s always a difference.

So I guess it’s just time for me to swallow my pride and take the first step up the cliff. I have a decent support system, in the face of anything that may go wrong. I’ll be caught if I fall.

The Novice Wordsmith

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Intimidated

There are days where I feel enlivened and encouraged to go above and beyond for all of my goals in writing and in all other aspects of my life.

And then there are days like today, where I just feel like it’s pointless to try and want to step back from holding up all of these hopes and thoughts and enthusiasms to let my arms rest. When there isn’t much of an end in sight, you get a little hopeless, and today is one of those days.

Unfortunate as it is.

I can be optimistic, but on any other day than today.

The Novice Wordsmith

Guest Post: A House of Prose, and Don’t be The Lauren

Everyone’s a critic.

When you ask for an opinion from someone on something you’ve done, what you’re secretly asking is ‘do you like this?’ And you secretly want them to like what you’re showing them. It’s the author’s curse; we want to be published, but we need to write something that people can relate to enough to want to buy.

The underpinnings of our society dictate that we have to ‘get along’, ‘be liked’, and ‘hold approval.’ Popular people are who we hear about; unpopular people are spoken about derisively or with hatred sometimes.

Books and writing our expressions of our writer’s soul. It is the innermost child (..or occasional lurking adult) seeking the light of day and the likes of others.

We pick our genre, the one we feel the most at home with, and we decorate the house of our novel home with the things that belong there. A family of characters, or a single person looking out the windows. A bunch of good-natured or mean neighbors to challenge the family. And then there are the things that try and burn the house down or break in and steal their stuff.

I say it’s a house here because the analogy is apt to me; we ‘live’ in the space of our novel when it’s going good, and then when it’s done, we do our best to spruce it up and invite guests to come visit.

I’ve lived in a few places over the years; that first moment when someone new sees my new place they always look around. Form impressions. Some of them look at the things I have on the walls, some of them look at my knickknacks, some of them look at my furniture, and a few of them poke their head in the bedroom.

“Nice place.” they say. Whether they’re being polite or not, I don’t know. But then again, I live in a rental, so it’s not a house I can do a lot of decoration with. I’ve been in a few houses that I’ve said, ‘this is a gorgeous place.’ I have things that I want in my house, so when I see one of those things, I appreciate it.

Now apply that idea back to books again.

Some folks can write an amazing epic tale that grabs you from the get go; some folks write a ramshackle tale that barely holds itself together; you can see the holes in the plot like you notice crayon marks or holes in the walls.

It is not a reflection on the owner/author; it is all about the _everything_ in the house/novel, rather than the bits that you notice that stick out to you.

I’ve got a friend that I’ll call Lauren. She wanted to be a writer, because I was one. She participated in the NaNoWriMo, because I did, and people really liked my first novel.

When she read it, the first thing she asked was, “Is this about you? Is that character there me?”

(The answer was no and no. Because I am not a six foot tall efficiency expert who drives a convertible.)

Then she started poking holes in the novel. Pointing out typos, a half-finished sentence here and there, that sort of thing.

“I know.’ I said, defensively. “It’s a first draft. Thanks.”

When she won NaNo for the first time, she gave me her first effort at writing a full length novel. Asked me what I thought.

It was a pretty good tale, but she got lost in the weeds when she hit Week 3 and there were two very similar characters that I kept getting mixed up, and there was another point where she was missing parts of the description because she was in what I call ‘fugue state’ — you can see the action in your head, and it’s rushing fast, but she didn’t put it all down on the page.

“Did you want me to make edits or did you just want an opinion?”

“Just an opinion. I know my writing sucks.”

“I liked it. It had some good suspense elements, and your heroine is genuinely likable. Your supernatural elements are solid, too. And your writing does not suck.”

“Do you think I could get it published?”

“I think it needs some work before you can get there. There are some elements that need more details, and your ending is a bit rushed. I’d like to see more of the world, too.”

“You hate it.” she said.

“No, I don’t hate it. It’s good! It’s a first draft and I like what I see here. That’s the nature of the Nano — nobody ever produces a perfect first draft, but the Nano makes you actually finish that first draft. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have finished it.”

Later, I heard she’d shared it with some of her other friends, with the additional rider comment that she felt I didn’t like it, because I didn’t think it was good enough to get published. Of course, she was giving it to friends who liked her as a person, and since she had predetermined for them that she was looking for praise, not critique, by way of ‘Friend didn’t like it, I’m hoping you will’ — she was told what she wanted to hear, rather than the truth. And when one of her friends, who is usually bluntly honest, said that it was ‘scattered and disorganized’, Lauren was done showing people. The manuscript went somewhere dark and never saw the light of another person’s eyes again, for fear of disapproval.

She tried her hand at writing the sequel the next year, because like many first time successful novelists, they still have a story left to tell. And it’s easier to work within an existing world than it is to spin up a brand new one.

But she got sick the first week, and stopped writing, and because she was a week behind, she gave up. This was the same year I wrote 100K words in the month.

She hasn’t attempted the Nano since.

For me, the NaNoWriMo is one of my life’s passions. I’ve done it every year for the past twelve. I talk about it a lot. Whenever I’m with friends or family, and I bring up the idea of Nano and they like the idea and are impressed with someone who can write that much in that little time, none of them really ask, ‘Yes, but are they good novels?’ If they do, or they ask when I’m getting published, I just grin and say, “I’m still working on that part. It’s a first draft, and a story that needs to be told, and one of these years I’ll like something enough to edit it and try and get it published. But it’s great practice and a grand adventure that I willingly take every year.”

They are invariably encouraging.

Lauren, if she’s also present, frequently jumps into the conversation with the “Hey, I wrote for the Nano too…” (Subtext: I want some of the positive attention you’re getting.)

“Oh cool!” is the response. “What are you writing this year?”

“Oh, I’m not likely to. I did it once about six years ago.” she says. “I have a bunch of good ideas, but I don’t have the time.”

Predictably, that means the focus goes back to me shortly after, because I have Ideas and Advice and Encouragement That You Should Play This Year. Nano is my passion, and I believe everyone should play at least once — if not more than once — because everyone has that lurking story in the back of their heads, triumphs, troubles,tasks, thoughts, tribulations, trout that traversed the trawler’s tail temporarily, those things. Tall tales. Truth, too.

At the end of one of those days, Lauren asked, “How come they never acknowledge me as an author like they do you? Do I suck that badly?”

“You didn’t show them your work.” I said. “You can’t know that they won’t like it until you show them, and the people you showed all liked it.”

“You didn’t like it.” she said.

“I did. I’m sorry you don’t think I liked it because I offered constructive criticism.”

“Well, I’m not a writer anyway.” she said.

Don’t be the Lauren, ladies and gentlemen. Write because you want to. Write because you have an amazing idea that’s half-baked — and understand that it’s okay to write a story that goes awry in the first chapter, as long as you follow the prose wherever it goes.

Don’t write because you need to be loved vicariously through your writing. I’ve written some of my best work when I was miserable, because pain is a crazy good resource to write out of sometimes.

Do write because you have a world you want to share, no matter how big or how small the space is. Do write because you want to finish the story, or at least take it for a spin around the block. Or the galaxy.

You never publish what you never write.

Nobody will ever see the house that you’re afraid to invite them over to visit. And when you decorate the walls with your art, be it imitations of the Masters or kid macaroni art, when you get your furniture of gleaming chrome and exquisite silks, stuff you, personally, might never be able to afford, but your characters can?

Don’t expect everyone who visits to want to move in. It’s your house of prose. You wrote it. You made the installment payments of 50,000 words or more (or occasionally less). Maybe the back rooms aren’t done. Maybe the roof has leaks that you didn’t see. Maybe the patio door is hung upside down. But it’s your home, the home of the tale you had to build from the ground up, and you ought to be proud of it.

You can always redecorate later, but you’ve got to turn the key in the lock and drag the readers in, first.

Build your first story, and you have the beginnings of a homeworld that is uniquely yours.

Boston versus Camp

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, or even for a little bit, you already know that I have a relationship between running and writing. I’m in love with both, and I see parallels in both quite frequently.

So it should come as no surprise that I’m drawing another parallel, one between the biggest US marathon and a smaller, less stressful month of writing. Both, this year and last, have happened within the same time, with one Camp month of two falling on April. Boston has annually been in April.

This parallel is brought to you by my camp cabin. It had come to me while I was reading about the winners of the marathon, and the times of each. Men are obviously up ahead of women by at least 15 minutes because of natural physiology. Depending on ethnicity, physiology also plays a huge role in how fast a runner is and how much endurance they have. There are a lot of factors that go into what makes that person win, including what they eat, their previous injuries and recovery, and their style of running. Genetics can also have a massive effect on things like endurance, recovery time, and and speed.

Though pace is less important in writing, depending, there is still an instinctual stakeout that I do of the top writers, those who have gotten the furthest in the month. I may not have been able to write as early as others in the cabin, but consistently, I was ahead of the pack.

If you don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo has a feature that allows you to “bunk” was 11 other writers in a cabin, to help push you through the month and influence and inspire you. That is the charm of camp, it’s not just you, there’s more with you trying to achieve goals unique to themselves and their writing. Both Friend and I are a bit competitive and definitely ambitious, and seeing others up where our wordcounts were made us want to surge forward.

Being toe to toe with others in a race not only helps you push yourself, but it helps you understand what you’re capable of. Sometimes, you’re going to push too hard and fall out of the pack. The pace is going to get more than what you can handle with everyone else, too much for you to sustain.

Other times, you’re going to be the one setting the pace, and it’ll pull you ahead of everyone else by a longshot or a short one.

I have had very little competition this month so far in terms of wordcount. The closest behind me is 13k short of catching me. I am going to probably break 50k by the end of the month when my goal was 35k and I hit that on Thursday.

This morning, while reading the live tweets of the Boston Marathon, after the women’s winner was announced, I found out that her last time in the race was 2012, and she didn’t finish. This time, she surged ahead in a sprint to win it.

I know it’s ridiculous to compare, but it made me think of struggling through November, how difficult it was for me to finish that novel and do it well or do it any justice. How worried I was about my work and progress. I limped out of November 4k above the goal, and had even stopped writing two to three days before it ended.

Camp is different. Six months later, I’m above my goal and searching more to finish the small novel instead of stopping just because I got where I need to.

Writing, unlike running races, doesn’t stop when you break the tape at the end. It stops when you say it does, when you’re satisfied. In the case of NaNoWriMo and the Camp series that they have, the end of the event may serve as simply a checkpoint for some of us, depending on just how big the story is. Writers have a race to run that takes much longer than two hours and nine or twenty-four minutes, but ours can be taken as slowly as we need to, and with as many people as we want to involve.

In the mean time, I think I’ll grin at my early victory and hope this November goes a whole hell of a lot better than the last one. My training for it should be fairly simple. 😉

– The Novice Wordsmith

Push and Shove

Reminder to self and followers: There is such a thing as pushing too hard. Stop doing it. You’re going to effing hurt yourself.

Sometimes, all it really takes is time off. Though you may not want to let your fingers rest on the keys or put the pen or pencil away, or even tuck the sneakers and exercise bag away, it is, at some point, going to be best that you do.

Relax.

As my own experience has taught me, shaped by perfectionism, completionism, and competitive spirits, as well as a fresh and lively fear of failure, you can go too far. You get sick or your head doesn’t work as well, creativity is down, but when you have a streak staring you down that you haven’t broken, and a chance to keep it going, you can become a slave to regulation and forget that you’re human. That you need time off sometimes to recoup and get better.

The story can wait. The words will come. Do not force it. The road is always going to be there, the gym, the laptop, the journal. The only person you are disappointing by not doing it that day because you know you can’t, is yourself.

When I was younger, on a swim team and at conferences, a popular phrase I’d hear is, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I used to be kind of gray on how I felt about it, but recently, a friend has shown me that it’s the devil. It’s a clever way to force you past your limits and get you injured. The same can hold true for your writing, absolutely, but in different ways.

Stick with me…

On paper somewhere, post it notes or a notepad on your computer, an idea is sitting there waiting to be had, and you love it, you fell in love, which is why you had to write it down. Except, right now, you can’t get motivated, but you told yourself you’d do it, so you start…

Stop. It’s going to feel strained, your writing, your language is going to look like it’s not all there, like your heart isn’t totally in it, and it’s not, is it? When you throw yourself into a pit that you don’t have the strength to climb out of, you trap yourself.

And the hardest thing I’ve had to teach myself is that it’s okay to fail. That it’s okay to stop for the day and let it slide. Don’t let it become habit, but let yourself move on to something else, and come back when your heart reaches for it. Like I’ve said in The Fires of Passion Part 1, and Part 2, if your heart is in it, it’ll be easier, you’ll know what turns and hooks you want to put in, you’ll dig in deeper and put your all in it.

I had a huge lesson smack me in the face about the time that I started this blog. That failure is a part of life and I need to stop running myself through when something doesn’t live up to my expectations. Or it doesn’t exceed expectations, or something disappoints me, or I don’t do well at all. To step back and say, okay, I’m okay with this.

I have gotten better, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and I have a long way to go. When you can see what you have or haven’t done in hard numbers, it becomes more difficult to give yourself a pass. You hold yourself accountable, you hold more against yourself, and you simply don’t let yourself off easy. It’s harder to relax.

Completion is most difficult because you see that you haven’t done something and you force yourself to do it all. I once did exercise on a day I knew was not good for it because I had taken rest days through the week already, and made myself sick for the majority of the day. April Camp Nano was struggled through and I forced myself to finish a chapter and put it in the book when I absolutely hated what I came up with.

Then you have the inspirational crap you see all day, on Facebook, on Tumblr. I personally see a lot of, “Suck it up and keep going,” not verbatim, but to that effect, and I’ve gotten to a point where it pushes me to get off my ass.

It is okay to stop. It is okay, natural, human nature, to feel frustrated and stuck, because it happens, but you know, at least you should, that it will not always be like that. Sometimes, you’re just not going to be able to write every single day, your head won’t be in it, you’ll have decreased motivation. It will happen, and it is okay.

I guess in a lot of ways this is a reminder to myself. Another step forward in seeing what I’ve been doing to myself and forcing myself, in better ways, to relax. To breathe, and to see that I’m human and sometimes, I can’t always do everything.

Progress is gradual, and slow. If running and writing have taught me anything, that would be it. You’re going to hate some things you put out, but someone else might love it. So write on, or feel free to stop. Pause. Recuperate. Breathe. Pushing yourself isn’t always going to be best or wisest. You know yourself and your body and your limits and your brain best, you make the rules, but don’t cut yourself short when you know you can do more, when you’re capable.

My favorite piece of advice I’ve had to myself is that, hard work looks ugly. It’s not all smiling models, it’s gritted teeth and tongues sticking out in thought, it’s hunched over the keyboard and hair a mess. It’s natural and normal and life. Don’t let the pictures fool you. Sweat. Pour your soul in. Let it out, unleash, and without hesitation.

Just be careful of overdoing it. It’s possible.

The Novice Wordsmith

Competition and Success

For the longest time, I remember being in limbo between being a great writer and being a writer who’s better than all of the others. Reading turns into a pissing match of how you could outperform someone, and how you could get the attention of an audience better than that author. Writing turns into a competition instead of a past time or something you want to do for a living, something you enjoy.

It seems like one of the most fundamental lessons, to see every other writer as a potential teacher instead of someone you’re in a race with. When you take the competition out, it changes completely. You’re more relaxed about your writing, you take it in stride, you bury yourself in it and you do what you feel comfortable with. You’re more able to find your style and run with it than trying to one-up someone else or make a “Style to Rule them All.”

A lot of it came from when I was younger, writing in school and others telling me how well I did. Swollen ego can do that to you, and being around people who have written for longer and can do it better than you is an extremely humbling experience if you have that problem.

I forget what really happened to make me stop and reconsider what I was doing, but I know it happened in the past couple of years. Probably, I’m willing to bet it came from a talk with Friend about writing style. An attack of feeling too self-conscious about how I was doing or not doing, and the all too famous, “but this person, got published, I bet I could do better!”

There are literally several dozen thousands of writers out there, if not millions. Both published authors and unpublished. There will be published authors you read and think your skill is better than theirs, and unpublished ones who baffle the hell out of you when you find out they’ve never been published. It is seriously such a mixed bag, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Someone will find worth in your writing, if you want to get published. There is an audience out there.

It’s never about who you’re better than, but how you are, and how you do it.

Seeing others as someone to learn from opens new doors for you, to see what might work in your worlds or not, to test your own limits, to add to your vocabulary or your collection of ideas in some association. You go from bitter to supportive, wishing them the best in their endeavors instead of putting them down because you haven’t found your own success.

It’s so much easier for me to be happier for others, and that includes life outside of writing.

And so much nicer, not to get down about things. After coming to the realization that everything happens at different points in life for everyone, it became a lot easier for me to be happier. I know plenty of people think it’s a crock of shit to say that everything happens for a reason, but the phrase has given me a lot of peace of mind, and has made a lot easier to swallow in my life. Just because I’m not married or not popping out kiddos or traveling the world or working for a fortune 500 company or a world-renowned author by now, doesn’t mean I’m failing at life. It just means there are other things in my future.

Of course, it doesn’t mean sit around waiting for something to happen, it means: Make it happen, don’t let an inflated ego or a bruised one keep you down, go for it. Get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

For those who think that you can’t make your dreams come true, maybe it doesn’t work that easy for you. At least, find something that does, and do it until you can’t stand it anymore.

– The Novice Wordsmith