Publishing, Professionalism, and You

(or, Why Every Time I Learn New Things About Getting Published, I Feel Completely Oblivious)

I have this terrible habit of choosing life ambitions for which I have no good personal mentors, barreling blindly along toward a goal that I slowly discover to be more and more unattainable.  Coming from a family where college educations were rare and career paths were often just whatever came along first, any time I stood up and said, “I’m going to do something crazy and amazing and clever with my life!” all they could really do was smile and say, “Cool!”  Not that the emotional support was undesirable, but it usually came with the understanding that they had no idea what challenges I would face, how I might face and overcome them, or what were the right and wrong things to do.  They operated in the same school of thought that tells children they can accomplish anything they set their mind to, if they want it badly enough, or work hard enough, or whatever, and I’ve learned from experience that that mentality, when not supported by knowledge or experience, can lead to soul-crushing frustration as you begin gaining that knowledge and experience.  Eventually, you hit that brick wall where you know enough about what you’re doing to know that you have no idea what you’re doing or how you’re ever going to get it done.

When you hit that wall, it’s discouraging.  You begin to see clearly for the first time just how difficult the path ahead of you is.  You begin looking back at all the wrong decisions you made, decisions that cost you time and money and got you nowhere closer to your goals.  You start looking ahead at all the time and money yet to be spent toward uncertain returns. I have to believe this is the point where many people give up.  The nagging doubts and the nay-saying become the most prudent-sounding voices.  At the very least, this is where you have to really look at the costs of your pursuits and decide whether the end result is worth the effort.  Are you capable of achieving this goal?  Are you good enough?  Strong enough?  Persistent enough?  Charming enough?  Lucky enough?

I’d like to believe you can break past this point simply with the power of positive thinking, but to me, relying on optimism alone here seems irrational.  This stage requires honesty more than anything.  Honesty to yourself, and honesty from the world around you.  I think that if you’re honest with yourself here and decide that you can and will proceed to your goal, then nothing can stop you.  Well, nothing apart from a freak hot air balloon accident or a hostile alien invasion.

Now to circuitously get to my point.  It seems that the further I get into my writing process, the more things I learn I should be doing or thinking about.  Writing, like anything, is an industry, driven in no small part by cash flow and complete with its own rules, regulations, best practices, and etiquette.  It’s one thing to set aside your idealism and acknowledge that fact, quite another to actually operate within that understanding.  To me, it feels a little like wandering around in a foreign country where your language skills are just about equal to the first ten pages of your pocket phrasebook.  There are a lot of exciting things around you, but also a lot of confusion and awkward, shuffling silences as you search for the right words to express the simplest concepts.  For every new scrap of information you learn, three new questions emerge, and at some point, you find you’ve gotten yourself inexplicably lost.

So where do I stand now?  Well, apparently I should a) have a website (for which this ramshackle blog may or may not count), b) have a social media presence, c) be a member of some sort of writer’s association and/or d) be subscribed to some publication about the writer’s market, e) be networking with publishers and authors at conventions, f) be shamelessly self-promoting, and g) probably be looking for an agent.  Of course, the list changes depending who you talk to, and there doesn’t seem to be any proven method of “success.”  I’ve encountered writers over twice my own age who have done everything “right” for longer than I’ve been alive and still seen no success while on the other hand some starry-eyed teen strolls out of high school in a haze of invincibility and promise to get work published from the get-go.  I’ve obviously passed the stage of youthful prodigy, but where on that spectrum am I going to land?

The best I can do right now is take all the things I learn and just file them away.  First things first: finish the first draft of my novel, then worry about publication, publicity, and professionalism.  Some sources seem to suggest that I should establish myself as an author before I’ve actually written anything final, but however prudent that may be, I can’t help but feel like it’s a little pretentious.  For the time being, this little blog is my web presence.  A story will unfold here as I bring my novel to completion and (hopefully) get it published, and maybe as I start putting the things I learn into practice, I’ll become that smart, professional author I’m supposed to be.  In my most idyllic dreams, I imagine looking back at this moment years from now, with several published titles to my name, and laughing over my panic and naïveté.  Maybe some other young author with no clue what they’re doing will dig up this blog post and say to themselves, “See!  She was a wreck too, but she turned out ok!”  One can only hope.

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Writing with Distractions

(or, Despite It All, I Still Love My Cats)

So, while writing at home, I frequently encounter this scenario:

 

Thankfully, my cords are inaccessible to kitties, but the rest applies.  For creatures characterized by their aloofness, my cats can be awfully needy when I spend a day at home.  So, have I come up with a method for beating this frequent distraction?  No.  No I have not.

In all seriousness, distractions are a massive productivity killer when it comes to big projects of any sort.  You need a few from time to time to keep you sane, but succumb to too many and you might as well give up.  For me, at least, writing requires a certain amount of time to sink into the material and get surrounded by it.  Anything that breaks the fragile imaginary world I’m diving into to pull my stories from throws me off my game and increases the amount of time I need to write the same amount.  What do you do when you’re easily distracted by things like kids, or tv shows, or in this case, cats?

First thing I’ve found is that being home is not conducive to getting a lot done.  Even a crowded, noisy coffee shop proves less distracting than being at home, provided you have some headphones to blot out the noise.  When you’re out somewhere, the task you’ve brought with you is the only thing you can do, so you might as well do it!  And for me, being in a public place makes me much less comfortable wasting time dilly-dallying with Facebook or checking updates on my 500 favorite webcomics.

The second thing that helps?  Finding a good soundtrack.  Complete silence leaves too much room for a cacophony of thoughts to fill the void, but listening to my favorite rock tunes just ends with me jamming out karaoke-style.  So, when it’s time to get down to business, I pull out the instrumental stuff.  My favorite music to work by consists of soundtracks from tv, movies, and video games.  These melodies can be beautiful, haunting, driving, and energizing, and they were designed as a part of a larger experience, often where plot, visuals, dialogue, or gameplay take precedence.  They tune out the distracting thoughts (as well as some actual distracting noises) and provide me with a mental place to work from.

The worst distractions come from inside, however.  Nagging thoughts about bills that are due, dishes that need to be washed, birthdays that need to be remembered … lose focus for even a few seconds and they can come cramming into your consciousness like half-drunk concert attendees catching the last metro train of the night.  Sadly, I don’t have a method for dealing with these distractions beyond hoping that I stay lost in the story I’m weaving long enough to keep them at bay.  You’ve just got to keep focused!  Keep trudging onward!  Trudging, I say!

Currently, my writing goals are outpacing me by a few thousand words, but they haven’t beaten me yet!  Good luck to anyone else out there working on something big!  Those little victories on distant horizons can sometimes be closer than you think.