I’ve done a lot of talking about writing and publishing. I’ve talked about how to find ideas, how to perfect ideas, how to find your market, put together a professional manuscript and query letter and send it out. In all this time, I’ve said there’s one thing I don’t know how to teach, and that’s how to finish. I don’t mean how to write an ending. I mean how to finish, to complete a manuscript, stop writing it, declare that it is as good as you can get it, and get it out the door.
I’ve never had a problem with this aspect of the craft/business. I write, I finish, I send out, I start the next. I started doing this in high school, and I’ve been doing it ever since. And I pray to all the divinities who take pity upon fools and writers that I never will lose this ability.
But I’ve seen plenty of people who can’t manage it. They are talented writers with solid ideas, and they just can’t, or won’t finish. There can be a number of reasons for this. Finding out how much work writing actually is is a big one. Or Real Life might toss a major detour in your way. These things happen. But there are reasons beyond this. Of these, the biggest, the most persistent, is fear.
So I thought I’d do a series about fear as it relates to writing, talk some about what it is, and what it isn’t, and maybe look at some ways to deal with it.
To do this, I thought I’d begin at the beginning and talk a bit about what professional writing is, and what it isn’t.
Professional writing — writing to be read by the general public, and more importantly to be paid by editors and publishing houses is hard. Really hard. It takes hours of practice, even if you’re a one-off genius. Because if you are a one-off genius, chances are you don’t know how you did that, and now you’re going to have to go back and do it again. Even in the Age of Interwebz, there are a limited number of paying slots and the competition for them is high, so you have to submit your work repeatedly, while creating new pieces for submission and researching new paying markets. It is a job and it needs to be tackled like a job.
Professional writing is not therapy. Writing can be an excellent theraputic tool. It can help you understand what you are truly thinking and make sense of what you’re feeling. There are veterans and survivors who have derived great benefit from being able to write about what has happened to them. But while these writings may sometimes be published, this is not professional writing. If you are suffering from a mental illness, clinical depression, addiction, PTSD, or other such problem, please, get a counselor, a therapist, a clergy member to talk to. Get whatever it is sorted out first and then you will find you have the emotional reserves to deal with professional writing. No, being cured won’t stop you from writing or ruin your ability to generate ideas. This kind of thinking is actually dangerous because it romanticizes mental illness and prevents the potential author from seeking needed help. Learning to manage such issues will give you a hell of a reservoir to draw on for ideas and emotions.
Professional writing is not what you do with a few friends. If you’ve got a writing circle of acquaintances who are turning out stories based on a TV series, or set of books, that’s cool by me (other writers have other opinions, but that’s mine), as long as you’re not making money off it, or failing to acknowledge the original source. This can give you a taste of the craft, start you in a routine of writing most days, and is such does some good. But beyond that, it will not get you a career or an editor’s attention. And it can become a far-too-safe harbor which keep you from getting your fully original work out there where it can start you a career.
Professional writing is not fast. It takes an average of ten years of practice to get to a professional level. As fast as the net has made things, there’s also an insane amount of time spent waiting around for answers from editors. Three months, six months, a year, per piece of work.
Professional writing is not a way to make your life better. It is not a way to get famous. Okay, maybe it is, but not for the vast majority of us. It is a way to make your life more difficult, but if you’re lucky it’ll bring some fun and money along with it.
Professional writing is creating a plot and characters that have never before existed in a new universe, or a new take on the universe around us. Professional writing is carving out time to write. It is taking the time to look up the guidelines for paying markets and presenting your work to those markets in the way they ask and then turning around and doing it again. Professional writing is dealing with friends and family asking what the hell you think you’re doing, at least until you make your first sale. After that, you may have to deal with them asking why you’re doing it again. It is developing the ability to shake off rejection and keep going. Professional writing is getting paid, not paying out to get a book printed or a story posted. It is turning aside all those flashing ads and submitting only to companies that will give you money for your work.
So, now you know. And if you are not scared, you ought to be. Every professional writer I know is scared at least some time on some level. We’re in a weird, uncertain profession and we know it, but we keep going anyway, because we love what we do.
But that brings us back around to the original question, what if the fear is keeping you from finishing, from submitting, from starting again? Next post I’ll try to look at some of that fear, and maybe look at some ways of dealing with it.