Friday, April 19, 2013

Getting That First Book Published

My first book comes out in 3 days.
--->me doing happy dance<---
And yet, I have to pause and reflect on the journey it took to get here, a journey that some would say remains incomplete. But I'll address that in a moment.
First, I think back to when I was in elementary school and it first occurred to me that I might be a writer one day. I had written a descriptive essay for my 4th or 5th grade English teacher about my first time diving in the water. I did my best to describe every moment - the bated breath, the burn of muscles, the desire to reach the object lying on the bottom of the deep side of the pool that no one else had previously been able to reach. Unknowingly, I succeeded in not just capturing the moment, but impressing my teacher. And it was her reaction that first made me realize I had stumbled on a new passion. 
A few years later, in the summer after 7th grade when I was 12, I started writing a book. Two books, in fact. But though half-written many times, they languished for years, submerged by my other passions.
When I was in grad school, I won 2nd place in a non-fiction essay contest and was officially published (and paid!) for the first time. That made me remember my first book and desire to be a writer. So I started writing again - not just short stories, but also that long-planned book. I decided to attend a writing conference with my writer's group to learn more about the business of writing, and on a whim, I submitted a story to their short story contest. To my utter astonishment, I won 1st. That amazed joy provided the stimulus for me to keep writing. Thus, 18 years after beginning, I finished writing my first book, an idea that somehow became a grand draconian epic spread out through a planned 9 books... but that is not the book getting published in 3 days.
The following year, I won yet again 1st place for a short story, which, as before, provided the impetus to work on a series of short stories. One of those stories turned into a book, my second complete book, a comedy about zombies, two subjects I never thought I'd write, but I thoroughly enjoyed them... yet that is not the book getting published in 3 days.
That same year, I saw an ad for a publishing company looking for short-story writers. With my first two books subbed out to potential publishers, I thought it would be a good opportunity to started building up my name and a fan base. So I applied and was accepted, and shortly after, began my first writing assignment. I finished writing it and turned it in, certain that I would never hear of it again. Then a few months later, I was told it was getting published in an anthology with two other writers. I was thrilled! 
But to my greater surprise, it was after the anthology came out that I was asked if I could write a part II and III. Though I had previously thought about writing more to the story, I hadn't written a single word. But I went ahead and agreed. When I was halfway through part III, I realized the story still had so much more to say. So it turned itself into a 5-part book. 
And that is the book getting published in 3 days.
But the biggest question I've gotten since this was announced is this: "can I get an autograph?"
My answer - "Uh... not exactly."
You see, my publishing company is exclusively online, so my book will not come out in print, only in downloadable book form(at). And therein lies the crux of the matter - does not having my book in print exclude me from being a "real" writer? 
The short answer is no.
Writing is not a hobby for me. Writing is something that I finally convinced myself to dedicate my time fully to, an art with words that, like any other skill, increases with time and practice. Though there may be only an electronic device to hold from which to read my book, I am still proud and overjoyed to finally publish my own book.
Do I want a book in print? Certainly. But as my journey in life has taken many unexpected twists, so, too, has the path to getting my first book published. My life after undergrad took me in many directions - some of which I truly wanted to refuse. And yet, even so, they brought me to this moment, which is firmly where I want to be. Thus, though this first book may not be in "print," I am truly content with where I am in my growing writing career. To me, the journey is "incomplete" only because it's just beginning.
So I leave you with this: whatever happens, just keep writing. And in time, you'll get that first book published, even if it's an unexpected one. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writing is Rewriting

So I was editing again the other day, as I do. In fact, I was editing something I had already edited several times and had even sent to some possible magazines for publication. In short, I was happy with my finished product.
Then I started looking at it for another project. And changed a word here. And a phrase there. And I realized - I'm editing this again!!!!! Wasn't I done yet?
The truth is, I don't think we ever truly "finish" editing, because as the interpreters of the visions we create, we somehow find other ways to express an idea, a moment, a detail, or a completely new inspiration. Some of these new ways are truly innovative while some are simply hackneyed - and that is okay. Part of the writing process is understanding why something does and does not work. This means - yes, I'm saying it - editing!
First drafts are wonderful. They give the writer a sense of accomplishment, of a hurdle surpassed, of a blockade surmounted. They are the product of an exhausting amount of time (an hour or a year) spent immersed in the creative process, using a string of letters to form into words and weave together in a tapestry  unlike any other.
Or so we hope.
And because we hope, we also fear. What if we are wrong? What if it's not as brilliant as we thought it was in our heads when we were writing? What if it's a disaster? What if we - accidentally, subconsciously - wrote a story that is just like our favorite author's, immediately recognizable as a plagiarism? What then?! Do we just give up?
The simple answer is - yes. Yes because it's easy.
But we don't write because it's easy.
Thus, the better answer is - no. We write again. That story, another story, an image or a memory or a series of disconnected words. It doesn't really matter what we write, but that we keep doing it. At some point, your story will start to emerge into a recognizable first or second or fifteenth draft. But it will be there, extant, irrefutable evidence of your desire to create using words.
It's only when we learn the value of re-writing that we understand that we are not any less of a writer if our story wasn't perfect the first time out. What in life is? Everyone works at his or her chosen art or sport or simple passion, and it is guaranteed that none of them were "perfect" the first time they tried. Why then should we, as writers, putting down a particular story for the first time, believe that we must be? Why do we chastise ourselves so much? 
The truth is, re-writing makes a story better. Not because your first idea was not perfect, but because you now have a place to begin refining your characters and plot. Does that invalidate the "goodness" you perceived your first draft to be? Absolutely not. But by re-writing, you are giving yourself a chance to take your good idea and make it into a great one. 
And every now and again, if you realize that your "good" idea is not so good after all, you are giving yourself a second chance to be better.
Isn't that the goal of any writer? To give his or audience the best story possible?
So I will re-write this here: you are not a failure if your first draft is not perfect. And you are not perfect on your first draft. And that is as it should be.
You are your own second chance. Write and write again. That's the only way to find not just the right words, but the best ones.