I’ve been away. I found myself back in the workforce after two years of setting my own schedule and working piece-meal on various projects, mostly in the non-profit sector. And by non-profit I mean “no profit” . . . not because non-profits don’t pay, but because writing, so far for me, doesn’t pay.
So I am back in the workforce as I said and I have to admit I’ve got a really great job. Five or so days a week I drive to the edge of the Pacific Ocean and direct the day-to-day operations, big and small, of one of the west coast’s still operational lighthouses. I get a good salary and the work is awesome.
Prior to getting this gig I was putting a lot of hope on my writing. I’d love to be a successful full-time writer just like most of the rest of you. It’s a dream, a goal, and a passion. But with all of the hope I’ve been putting on my writing there has also been a lot of pressure. And this is why, to-date, it’s failing.
Nooooow, that isn’t fair to say. My writing isn’t failing. In fact, I’m making a lot of small in roads on the dream, such as being selected for the Ekphrasis project (see post here). Furthermore, I’m getting more and more editor commentary on my stories. The writing itself isn’t bad, they say, but the storytelling has a ways still to go. Simply stated, my stories just aren’t ready.
When I was working before, and wishing I was writing and not working, I imagined one day I would climb out of the working world on the backs of my fiction and then revel forevermore in the success of a dream fulfilled. When I left the workforce, not on the backs of my stories, I still had a lot of story writing work to do, so I gave myself a small window in which to make the dream happen. I didn’t exactly meet my goal nor did I hold out as a starving artist and eschew my responsibilities for the sake of my art. I think it’s a good thing I didn’t (or I would truly be starving).
Now that I am gainfully employed and the pressure to sink or swim is off, I have come to the realization that it takes a good long time to get a story right. The urge to revise once and ship a story off is probably the biggest mistake unpublished writers make. We want that sweet nectar so bad that we’re willing to lie to ourselves in order to move the process along. And then we’re surprised when things don’t go the way we want. We blame idiot editors for being short-sighted rather than recognizing for ourselves that we have not done our due diligence.
I am now on the “no hurry schedule.” I’ve been on it for about a week-and-a-half. I just made up the name tonight. Anyway, the “no hurry schedule” is just what it sounds like. I am in no hurry to send anything out. I am willing to think, and think, and think about my story until I can find a way to push the whole thing to a different level. As satisfied as I might be with the current project, I know in my heart, and yes, my gut, that things can go beyond everything I’ve imagined to this point. The thing is, we all have a notion of the story we want to tell. It has a feeling and an energy and is dead-on a great story. But getting it to the point of our ideal is akin to mining for gold ore. We know there’s a sweet spot under all that dirt, but we’re not going to reach it without doing a lot of digging.
I said “a lot,” and by that I don’t mean “not a lot.”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever composed a story, just one story, that reads like it felt when you first imagined it. Now put your hand down – I can’t actually see you. If you did raise your hand then good for you. You are probably published, even if it’s in some obscure college lit. mag and we’re all proud of you like Little Lebowski Urban Achievers. For the rest of us, however, I’m pretty sure we’ve never gotten there. Close, maybe, but this ain’t hand grenades.
The point is, writing takes time to mature. It matures in our minds after we’ve written eighteen drafts and left it alone for three weeks. It matures in the re-reading we do when we go back for draft nineteen. As long as we’re asking hard questions then the writing is maturing, and so are we.
It’s the “no hurry schedule.” Better not to hurry, but to be fair to your craft, and in time to reap the rewards of all that work, than to usher your fledglings out of the nest only for them to fall into the drooling maw of house cat hellions. None of us are so good we can’t benefit from easing off a little. We didn’t mature in a week. Our writing isn’t going to grow much faster.