Friday, October 4, 2013

The Ten Stages of the Writer

One: The Chosen One

First step. The author is beginning to consider writing. He thinks he’d be good at it. He has all these fantasies that are slipping away. So close to being tangible, yet so far, he’d do anything to make them more real.

He also would like the respect of the author position. He’d like to do something worthwhile with his life, something that he could feel proud of. He knows he’s meant for better things than what he’s doing now and he thinks that writing might but that very thing.

But maybe it isn’t. While he would like to prove to himself that he’s not insignificant, he’s not sure that writing is the way to do it. So he is extra hard on himself. He compares himself to the great writers and finds himself lacking. He might interpret criticism, even his own, as proof he isn’t really as valuable as he thinks he is.

This stage is where most potential writers slough off back into the recesses of the real world.

“If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you will know I began writing as a result of a teacher. In fact, if I hadn’t had her class in the sixth grade, I often wonder how my life would have turned out. Would I even be writing? I don’t know. I enjoyed a poetry unit in the fourth grade, but that didn’t cause me to write… My ninth grade English teacher called me a genius—not true but a nice stroke to the ego. Even today, my history teacher helps me find sources for my research. I truly believe, no matter how much family support I got, I would not have continued if my teachers hadn’t encouraged me.”

-B.J. Kurtz, author of The Lord of Nightmares

Two: Self-Rejection

For whatever reason, the author is growing from the last stage. While he still is hesitant to call himself a writer, he has written some things. Not much. Hasn’t finished any of the big projects. Maybe hasn’t even finished any of the small ones. He has at least a started novel, if not twenty, and has actually made himself work.

Now it’s time for the self-loathing to kick in.

He thinks it’s important to write neutrally. No one cares about his opinions; they just want an outlet to input their own.

His characters are not like him. They are different. He doesn’t know how they are different—hasn’t pinpointed it yet—but they do not react in the same way he would.

He doesn’t want to be one of those writers. He has to be original at all times. He can’t write about what he wants because it’s already been done. If his tastes are in vogue, then they’re the wrong tastes to have. He has to write about something else.

What he wants isn’t what other people want. Just because he likes something doesn’t mean his readers will. Just because he doesn’t like something doesn’t mean his readers won’t. They are different from him.

Though the self-rejection stage is primarily self-destructive, it can turn externally malicious, harshly judging anyone who resorts to the same tactics as the author, the self-loathing being projected onto his peers.

“I think that NaNoWriMo in some ways still produces people that are using it for reasons other than love of Fiction. It produces a lot of really bad literature and encourages bad writing. I do NaNoWriMo and for my own personal reasons I like it. However, sometimes when I read some of the writing that exists it makes me want to give up my passion for writing just because I get so frustrated.”

-“A.J.” Online Commenter

Three: The Serious Author

Whether or not he actually feels comfortable with saying, “I’m a writer,” is debatable. But now he’s taking it seriously. He has written enough to feel that he might be good at it. He knows he’s going to do it professionally. He is going to get a book published no matter how long it’s going to take—though, of course, he secretly believes it’ll be soon. Probably "within the next year."

While the lingering doubts from The Chosen One stage are still there, it’s not as much about proving he’s meant to do it as it is being able to do it. He starts to seek out constructive criticism, but is still fairly tender on the subject. While he can better understand specific bad-mouthing, if the overall excitement towards his work seems limited, he will get depressed.

This is the point where it stops being a question of if and starts being a question on when.

He starts seeking out writer’s clubs, considers going to writer’s conferences, creative writing classes, and things that earlier mild interest couldn’t motivate. He works on finishing rather than just dabbling. He may even try submitting material. In today’s time, many authors start blogs or self-publishing.

“Today I think it would actually be beneficial to explain a bit about my biggest work; Maverip and its subsequent series. The work itself is one thing that I am most proud of in my life. It took three years to write the first novel in the series, and at the end of those three years I felt like I had finally accomplished something I could really be proud of. I spent three years on this work, not just writing and thinking, but researching. That was one of the most important parts of the novel. I had to look into the vast depth of vampire lore and rip it apart to find what I felt I needed. I have spent the last five years of my life immersed in a literal plethora of everything vampire, and I couldn’t be happier.”

-Damean Matthews, blogger: Life of a College Author

Four: The Good Girl

Similar to the self-rejection stage, the Good Girl/Boy is all about doing things for the “right” reasons and the “right” way.

He is more likely to experiment in outlining, having previously been far too annoyed with the order that he had to (by Good Girls).

While his actual word choice has more opinion in it (people no longer walk, they strut), and the author has probably even thrown away the idea that he has to be neutral for a while, he still balks at pushing his attitude and perspective on others. Having met all of those egotistical, megalomaniacs writers in his last stage, the author doesn’t want to be like that. He wants to be a good person.

It’s not about him. It’s about “whatever you want it to be about.”

He still won’t overtly discuss his opinions.

It’s not about being published, respected, or making money. He only writes for the “love of fiction.”

He just wants to express himself.

He doesn’t write for an audience; he’s not a sellout.

He only writes for an audience, he’s not a narcissist.

All his characters like each other, with the exception of the ones who obviously aren’t supposed to.

His protagonist wants for nothing, is unambitious, and grateful, satisfied, or at least submitted to what he has. It isn’t until someone else tells him he’s worth more and changes his life for him that the story starts.

“I didn’t want to trick anyone. No. I wasn’t trying to trick people!”

-A horrified poet in my writers’ group, being complimented on a twist ending.

Five: The Tolerance Development

It’s not enough anymore. The work is there, the effort has been put in, and everyone has nice things to say about the stories. But the author has developed a tolerance to it. The basic, “You are a good writer,” doesn’t satisfy him. He wants more reaction to what he writes. He wants to be published, or published traditionally, or better read. He wants more excitement, more devotion. It’s been sustaining up until now, but he wants more.

He becomes more aggressive in seeking his career. The tactics pursued vary based on personality, experiences, and snobbery, but now he’s committed. Whether it be querying more, editing more, self-publishing, self-promoting, forking over the cash for writer’s conferences, seeking thorough criticism, and doing things that he’d never thought he’d was above doing, he’s trying now, more than he ever has in his life.

He doesn’t want to be told he’s good. Sure, he likes the buildup, and sure a harsh criticism will hurt him like the rest of them, but it’s not about proof anymore. He knows he can do it. It’s just figuring out how.

Criticism sessions start to be fun. He is annoyed when he leaves with just a bunch of “good jobs.” They are a waste of time.

He starts to understand what he defines good writing as. He has taken off the rose colored glasses, become aware of his own snobbery, the ways he’s been limiting himself, and the unfortunate means that people have to judging literature. He starts to question destiny and begins to believe in luck, but that’s okay, because he knows, if he does it right, he can achieve his dreams.

“First I got really grumpy, and then got very determined to write things that were so good that not even the stupidest most irritating gatekeeper alive could reject them.”

-Neil Gaiman: American Gods

Six: The Doubt

Actively seeking out harsher criticism causes the author to get harsher criticism. He now has the skills that subjectivity starts getting worse. Now, not only is he becoming aware of his work for the first time, he’s becoming aware of how muddled feedback can be.

The more he knows about writing, the more he realizes he doesn’t know. He can’t tell anymore if he likes reading big words or just wants to be the sort of writer who uses big words. He doesn’t know if people are complaining about the obvious or about the problematic.

He doesn’t know if he’s any good.

It might all be up to luck. It might all be up to talent. It might all be up to networking and nepotism.

He might fail.

“You can go to fanfiction or fictionpress, or any other writing website out there, and you can literally see hundreds of thousands of individual works, all made by people who have the same dreams as I. I don’t see how that doesn’t intimidate someone. To believe that you’re going to rise above every other person out there trying to do it is absurdly optimistic and maybe even arrogant, and it’s just not me. I hate belittling others, and to base my life around a career where I have to keep pushing myself and believe that I can be better than everyone else is destroying who I am. But I have to do it… right? If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?”

-XJ Selman, Writer

Seven: The First Success

He’s had successes before, but they didn’t count. Too small in magnitude or an exception as to why he the opportunity in the first place, he doesn’t really feel that he has done anything amazing yet.

Until now.

This is the first success that he’s acknowledge. Maybe he has to dry swallow it, even force himself to admit that maybe, just maybe, it’s impressive to someone else, but still, he’s done it.

He is officially a writer, and now he has some proof.

“I'm writing a book. With pages!

And there will be pictures on the pages. And words. And maybe the pages will be really aerodynamic or something. I haven't really decided what all of the hi-tech features are going to be yet. It's tough to choose.

Anyway, I've been wanting to tell you guys about this for a very, very long time, and now I finally can!

Touchstone (a division of Simon & Schuster) will tentatively release my book in Fall 2012, which sounds like it's a long time away, but really, it's only the gestation period of two slightly premature babies. And if you're a time-traveler, then it can be as soon as you want it to be. It can be now!”

-Allie Brosh, blogger: Hyperbole and Half

Eight: The Doubt

And just like that, it’s back again.

What if it’s a one-time thing? What if it’s just a fluke? What if this is the only thing he ever publishes? Does anyone really take it seriously? Did he just embarrass himself?

The feeling of accomplishment dies. It wasn’t how he expected it to be. Things are still hard, nothing changed, and all the problems he’s had before are still there. Will achieving his dreams actually be that great? Will all this hard work pay off?

Many authors disappear from the face of the earth in this stage.

“I realize that I’ve accomplished a lot in life and deep-down I know that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I only have a few days a month where I actually felt like I was good at life.  I know I’m a good person (as in “not evil or intentionally arsonistic”), but I’m not very good at being a person. I don’t know if that makes sense and it’s not me fishing for compliments.  Please don’t tell me the things I’m good at because that’s not what this is about.  It’s just that at the end of each day I usually lie in bed and think, 'Shit. I’m fucking shit up.  I accomplished nothing today except the basics of existing.' I feel like I’m treading water and that I’m always another half-day behind in life.  Even the great things are overshadowed by shame and anxiety, and yes, I realize a lot of this might have to do with the fact that I have mental illness, but I still feel like a failure more often than I feel like I’m doing well.”

-Jenny Lawson a.k.a. The Bloggess, bestselling novelist: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Nine: The Security

Yes. The second book comes out. Whether or not it’s successful as the first, whether or not it took some time, a new agent, a few hits and misses, the second book is still there. And then the third.

He’s starting to accept he might not be delusional. It has taken a while, but the relief managed to come. The worry is still there, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.

“In 1979, when I wrote WHISPERS, I was less well-known than the young Harrison Ford before he appeared in American Graffiti–and a lot less handsome. I was slightly better looking than J. Fred Muggs, a performing chimpanzee on TV at that time, but also less well-known than he was. Although I had been a full-time writer for several years, though I had a file drawer full of good reviews, I had never enjoyed a best-seller and, in fact, had never known enough financial security to guarantee that I would always be able to earn a living at my chosen art and craft. Writing novels was the only work for which I’d ever had a passion. Although I put in sixty- and seventy-hour weeks at the typewriter, I worried that I might eventually have to find new work. Because I had no other talent, skill, or ability.”

-Dean Koontz, bestselling novelist.

Ten: The Legend

Who knows how these great people feel? What is like to finally be known as one of the “masters,” to have your words repeated and adored, and to be the authorized, unquestioned (usually) source of all writing, to know that you can produce a book, get a publisher and have readers without the horrible effort it took before?

We can only begin to imagine.

But, while we believe they are above us, that they must know they’re great, that they can’t possibility doubt themselves or take criticism poorly, I can only imagine that finding out you are The Chosen One, doesn’t make us question it. Am I meant to do this? Was it hard work or destiny? Will this continue? Do I deserve this?

 “Life is like a wheel. Sooner or later, it always come around to where you started again.”

-Stephen King