The Waiting Game

Great news! The Crossing is currently under consideration for The Masters Review Anthology. I’m proud of the story, even if it’s several yards and a number of fences away from the genre I consider home. The reality is that it has just as much of a chance as any other story under review. The optimist tells me that’s a good thing, that it’s got a shot right up until it doesn’t anymore. The realist tells me that I value my talents far too much.

Waiting to hear back from a publisher is a most fascinating time. You know the response times are calculated in weeks, perhaps months, and yet for the first day or so you cannot help but obsessively check your email. Maybe because you can’t take the anticipation. Or perhaps your story is so fantastic, the publisher wants to jump on it right away lest they lose it to someone else. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. The fact is, rejection is a part of the life of a writer. And it doesn’t limit itself by way of a short, albeit sometimes encouraging, formal letter of rejection, either.

The creative brain is in constant conflict. It begins with an idea, of course. Or perhaps an interesting character or two. From there you produce a result which closely resembles  something entirely unlike a good story. You jumble these things around for a while longer, and then, for some odd reason, you convince yourself there is enough there to not make a complete fool out of yourself. Perhaps even a book.

When that happens, every day I sit behind the keyboard and open up Scrivener. The blank page never scares me. It is an opportunity. A sign that something fun is about to happen. I am not afraid of it because over the years I have learned that the true meaning of “write drunk” has nothing to do with alcohol. It’s about writing freely and silencing the ever-present inner-critic. Everyone knows the first draft sucks (and they’re right), but the smart ones think they can clean it up during the editing phase (sometimes also right.) Might as well have at it, then. First draft is for dreamers, editing is for realists. So you write drunk and all the while, the inner-critic fights to reject you and your work.  It gets personal sometimes. It tells you the idea sucks, the characters suck, the book sucks, and you suck. (You may have noticed that the inner-critic isn’t very literate. Unfortunately, sometimes the inner-critic is also correct.)

However, once you figure out that the true joy for you is putting your ideas to paper, and that it can suck because you can edit it later, the act of writing becomes something to look forward to, not feared. The truth is, once you begin the editing process, you see what is good, what could be good, and what has got to go. You keep the good, fix the bad, and create something new to fill in whatever you trashed. It’s all creative work, and you always have one more edit to do so might as well write recklessly.   Do that often enough, and you’ll not only see how bad first drafts are, but also that you can put together something fascinating if you keep at it long enough.

Ever since I figured out how to truly embrace that, I’ve never once suffered from writer’s block. If I am obsessing over a story, perhaps lying in bed and thinking out dialog for a scene I want to write the next day, the act of writing itself never falters. When I’m short of ideas (very rare) and there’s nothing to write, I don’t sit in front of a glowing, blank screen. Why bother?

If it even exists at all, beating writer’s block isn’t a chore. There are thousands of tips about it, but I suspect those are written by people who are “blocked” themselves and can’t think of anything else to write about. If you haven’t noticed, I hate writing tips. Not because they aren’t sometimes accurate, but rather because they are rarely helpful. That said, here’s one from me: don’t listen to writing tips.

Not even that one.

They don’t help. I compare them to get-rich schemes. Somebody makes millions doing something, and then they tell you how they did it. The idea being that you can duplicate it yourself. The problem is, of course, you never do. Writing tips are the same thing. Yes, you should “show, don’t tell” and “write every day” and, well, “write drunk, edit sober.” But these are said in hindsight, and something that comes naturally. It would be like Wayne Gretzky saying “Just shoot the puck.” Yeah, thanks Wayne. Writing tips are advice from people who are trying to tell you how they did it. And getting better at something doesn’t work that way.

Tips can be accurate, but only useful in that a writer has found these common threads others may identify with and is sharing the insight. Writers need to look at tips and say, “Yeah, I do that” as opposed to “Oh, I should do that.” See the difference? The only use I’ve ever had for writing tips is how relate-able some are after I’m done.

Anyway, who am I to tell you what to do? Nobody. The idea behind writing, or anything else we do for fun, is to enjoy the experience. It’s why no one counts laundry as their hobby. Write drunk.  Edit sober if you want.  Or move on to something else if you don’t. Maybe get drunk-drunk. I won’t judge. When you get to the crossroads which dictate which direction to go from there, you’ll know exactly what to do.

In the meantime, I’ll be refreshing my email again.

Comments, concerns, and miscellaneous ramblings below, or on Twitter @paulkardos