Hi Fellow Indies,
A little more than halfway through NaNoWriMo, only a week and a half to go! I’m participating informally in NaNoWriMo, which means I don’t really follow the website, but I’m using this month to buckle down and make sure I write at least a little every day. For National Novel Writing Month, Webucator has asked authors to talk about their writing journey, and what tidbits of knowledge they have gotten from it. So they had a few questions:
What were your goals when you started writing?
I’m not sure I really had a goal when I started because I wasn’t that organized. I guess I would say that if wishes were ponies, I’d write a bunch of novels that went best-seller and had movies made from them. But having statistics as part of my day job and knowing the odds, it wasn’t really an expectation. I just aimed for getting published, and having as many people as possible enjoy the book. So I’ve written the one novel so far, and have gotten a few short stories published. I’ve written on and off for the past few years. I wrote a fan fiction novel when I was in my twenties. And then when I got married and had a child, I didn’t really write much. Then one day, my daughter, who loved scary stories, exclaimed that she was bored with the library selection of scary stories for kids. She wanted us to make up our own. So the first story we came up with together was about shadows that moved. Well, I took that idea and fleshed it out, and wrote it down. When it was done, however, it really wasn’t a children’s story. It was called Orphans of Lethe. I submitted it to a few horror magazines to see what would happen, and The Horror Zine wanted it. That was the beginning of my adult writing career, kicked off by my awesomely cool little girl.
I started writing more horror stories. And then I couldn’t stop. After about six months, I joined a critique group because I realized that I needed other eyes to look over my work besides my busy husband. The first time that NaNoWriMo rolled around, which I had never heard of before, they encouraged me to participate. Aside from the Babylon 5 fan story which turned into a novel-length book, I’d never even tried to write a novel before. I remembered a short story written by Clive Barker, one of my favorite authors, about a demon who is trapped in a house with a man he is supposed to corrupt, but instead the man winds up driving the demon crazy. I started imagining demons having to deal with everyday exasperations, and somehow, out of that came a story about a well-known demon, Pazuzu, trying to raise a teenage daughter in Denver. I might have been envisioning my own future a little. I remember what I was like as a teenager. So I finished the novel a couple months after NaNoWriMo, and decided to try to get it published. I edited and edited. And got rejected and rejected. And then my husband tipped me off to a friend of his who had said that Journalstone is interested in the kind of stories I liked to write. I sent it off to them, and a month or so later, it was accepted and published as Pazuzu’s Girl.
What are your goals now?
My goal now is to keep writing, get another novel written, maybe a sequel, and get another novel published, and more short stories as well. I would like to win a few short story contests, which I’ve never done before, aside from once when I was in high school. I think part of the key is to make little short-term goals. If I think too much about long term goals, I might get intimidated, and then writing wouldn’t be fun.
What pays the bills now?
I am a medical anthropologist. I work in public health, specifically in emergency preparedness and response. So I help prepare for and respond to incidents and disasters. Most of what I do is program evaluation, trying to establish that positive outcomes are occurring from preparedness and response. But I also serve as a duty officer to coordinate response for spills and other public health-related incidents in Colorado if something occurs after business hours. In the event of a disaster, we also rotate shifts being liaisons for the state emergency operations center.
Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?
Writing doesn’t pay the bills. That would be lovely. Though even if my novel and future novels became best-sellers and could support my family, I think I would keep my day job at least part time, because I do feel good about what I do in responding to emergencies. I used to want to serve in the military. But people who have to take medication for asthma are excluded from serving. So when something bad happens, I feel like my job gives me a way to help. But I don’t ever want to stop writing again as I did after graduate school. It really opened up my life a lot. After I started writing short stories and sharing them with my husband, he told me that he felt like he was seeing a whole new side of me that he hadn’t seen before, and really felt closer to me because of it. I’m a bit of an introvert, which is not uncommon among writer-types, I imagine. I spend a lot of time in my own head, and I’m not always good at verbal communication about what’s in there. I feel like writing is a way to let the world get closer. On top of that, I am a bit of a stress-monkey, and I am really bad at meditating. So, I feel like writing helps to relieve at least some stress. It is often very cathartic. When I am sad, my characters can be sad, or I can write a funny scene to cheer myself up. When I am aggravated, or downright pissed off, lots of aggravating people can die horribly in my story, and I can shut my computer feeling like a boxer feels after punching the stuffing out of a bag. And when I’m happy, I can share that too, I can spread joy and warm fuzzies. Despite being a horror fan, I do have a few warm fuzzy stories. And I do have to say, when something gets accepted for publication, it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s like crack. It makes me feel like the story really reached people and was worth writing, even if I don’t get paid. Somewhere, the story made an impression on someone and made them think. The sharing of ideas and emotion is really what writing is about, communication.
And optionally, what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?
I would say that the best thing they can do is not get discouraged by rejection. In some ways, it is a statistics game. If you are a decent writer, someone somewhere will like your stuff. You just have to play the statistics game and keep submitting. Just like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. When we sold our house, we were told by the real estate agent that since it was a decent house in a not-terrible neighborhood, it was just a question of getting enough people to see the house that eventually, someone would walk through the door and find that the house was the right one for them. I think that in this day and age with such a huge market, the same process applies. You just have to be patient, and persistent. Also, I have found it helpful to make sure writing stays fun. After I got my novel published, I got into a bit of a writing funk because I was suddenly worried about what other people would want to read instead of what I wanted to write. I became too self-conscious as a writer and I started second-guessing everything I wrote because suddenly, it was serious. That’s not a good approach. I had to stop obsessing about the novel and what to do next, and start writing just for the fun and not think about whether or not it was publishable.
Good luck to all my fellow writers out there, and hope you have a fun and productive NaNoWriMo!