I feel like the old grandfather sitting in the corner of the room who wakes up every hour or so and shouts "Damn those Liberals!" before drifting back to sleep. I have been a member of Hatrack for about 6 years, but I've spent most of that time lurking and listening while sporadically stealing time from my other obligations to write.
What other obligations? During those 6 years, in my offline life, I've started 3 software companies and moved across Canada twice. A few years ago I had my fill of the professional software industry. At about the same time, it decided it had had its fill of me. In a fit of petulance, the market tanked itself. (I apologize to all software people everywhere who are still reeling from this little spat between the economy and me. :-)
But the truth is, I barely noticed this little market-place tantrum because I had already moved on to career number, er, um, 6. I am now a year into my PhD studies in Music and Computer Science. (Previous careers have included: professional cartoonist, software developer, children's entertainer, high-tech entrepreneur and non-profit sector fundraiser.)
During the 'software developer' years, I worked in feature film special effects for some fairly high profile films. The work done by my team was recognized with an Academy Award and I felt I had peaked in that field. (Largely because moving to California was the only viable way to advance my career in that direction - and that's something I wasn't willing to do, despite the generous offers.)
When it comes to writing, I've done a lot, but I haven't published a blessed thing - at least, not fiction. I've published a few academic articles and industry essays as well as having had a successfully syndicated technology beat newspaper column for a few years. As for fiction, I have a vast ouvre of work that lies completed but unsubmitted.
Why not publish? I'm simply not happy with my work yet. A wise man once told me that we all have about a million words of crap in us. Our training consists of coughing like demons to disgorge that megaword, clearing a path down to the good stuff. Once I've written something I'm happy with, and then confirmed my opinion by selling it, THEN I'll go back through the old stuff and make some decisions about what "wasn't so bad" and what needs to be burned.
I know a bunch of you are probably thinking "You can't get better without getting feedback from people who know better. And you get that feedback by submitting." I understand that view. I even agree with it, but I also know what system works for me. I know that I need to become very damned comfortable with something before I have the strength of personal confidence to hear criticism without taking it way to personally. So I choose to wait longer than most would before submitting.
Now, I'm in no kind of rush. I'm not trying to live off the fruits of my pen. I also have enough of an ego that I want to 'burst onto the scene' when I start submitting, rather than paying my dues in public, so to speak.
Another reason I have not yet sought publication is that, during my formative years, I had nothing to say. When I was younger, my writing was mostly for fun: telling myself or my children stories to amuse ourselves and writing them down. I've been teaching myself the craft of storytelling.
Now that I'm a more seasoned human being, I find that I have opinions about a great many things; opinions that are more thoroughly considered than the passing prejudices of my youth. In short, I have reached the point in my life where I just might have something interesting to say. So hopefully those years of writing 'stories to amuse' have given me the tools to now say something a bit more provocative and wrap it up in a damned good yarn.
Therein lies the labor of my current WIP. It's a story unlike any other I've come across before. It's the only story I've ever worked on that managed to keep my attention for more than a month. Way more. I've spent two years writing backstories and experimenting with character dynamics for this puppy. My goal is to be finished the novel by summer 2006, but I keep getting drawn into it for longer chunks of time than I have budgeted, so it might be finished as early as this fall.
And in case anybody got the impression I'm forever a bridesmaid, this is the project I've spent the last 20 years in training for. THIS one is going out the door. I've come close (twice now) to submitting isolated chapters as short stories, but have resisted the temptation both times. Don't want to let the gopher out of the sack just yet.
[Edited for style.]
[This message has been edited by Jefficus (edited March 22, 2005).]
Welcome, Jefficus! Judging by your well crafted letter, you have all the skills you need to succeed! I'm a newbie myself, not only here on Hatrack but in world of publishing. I've had articles published in local publications; I've been the editor of a quarterly newsletter with a 12,000 mailing list, but none of that feels like "real writing."
I thought I'd share with you something I learned from Jean Houston. Jean gives workshops on ... um, how to sum it up?... on identifying archetypes and using them for personal growth. Jean was a student of Margaret Mead's. At any rate, I attended a workshop of hers, where she had all of us (about 100+ total) divide ourselves into groups based on our "calling". Some were teachers, some healers, some artists... it was here in this workshop I learned about the Group Lie. As a group, teachers for example, all share the same basic fears. I now look for that pattern in other areas. Some of what you talk about seems to me to be more a case of "The Group Lie" that writers believe about themselves and their work, rather than anything based on your abilities or even your work. I think we ALL share the insecurities that the manuscript isn't tight enough, isn't well polished enough, isn't good enough... and that Lie keeps us from stepping into life, into the possibilities of what we can be. Maybe it's so hard for you to get your manuscript out the door because there is a private part of your secret heart tied up in this that was never tied up in the software business. This manuscript you are working on probably comes closer to touching you in your core identity, which is where the writer lives in us all. And it's really scary to reveal that to strangers. (Especially publishing strangers who might reject it and you.)
The great thing I like about this community is that it seems to me everyone understands that. This is WHO we are. The day-job stuff just buys us the time to sit down, and spill out the essence of who we are.
Well, that's my philosophical take on it! Seriously, based on your letter alone, you've got terrific skills! I'd love to see the opener for your story... toss your 13 lines up on the Fragments list and let us take a peek!
Thanks for the encouragement. I am aware of the 'Group Lie' that you referred to and I wondered if my posting might come across that way. When I mentioned "knowing what system works for me", perhaps I should have expanded a bit further. Aside from the various careers I've had, I have also ventured into the arts a number of times. I have fronted a rock band, I have held a one-man show for my painting and I have put it all on the line with stand-up comedy.
In each of these cases, I have used a similar pattern of behavior: I work out a bunch of material over a long period of time, and then, once I feel I understand the medium, I select the best of them and start submitting. I have yet to meet with any serious rejections using this pattern. The key part in this (for me) is to understand the medium before going outside my own sphere to seek comment from the outside world.
It has nothing to do with my confidence about showing my work to others. There is nothing like stand-up to teach you how to face up to potential rejection. My reticence is more about developing a sufficiently deep understanding of the craft so that I can articulately, and with confidence, defend my views in the face of any subsequent criticism.
In my experience, when artists of any type receive criticism before they have developed any personal confidence, they are often badly led astray by well-meaning feedback because they don't have a foundation of trust in their own judgement to help distinguish the 'good' feedback from the more spurious.
As for submitting my 13 lines, I did post an excerpt a couple of months ago, and I followed up with a few interested readers critiquing the entire scene. I got very useful feedback about it. I was using that as a barometer of whether I was able to achieve a couple of narrative effects I was trying for and of whether there were any serious weaknesses in my technique.
The problem is that, when working on a novel, having people analyse 13 lines (or even the 1000 words that follow) is like trying to understand Picasso from a single brush stroke. (I'm not comparing myself to P. Just using him as an evokative image.) His genius was not in a facility for any particular stroke, but in the imagery he constructed by combining thousands of them. Indeed, I have heard some people say that he was rather sloppy when critiqued at the stroke level. And by extension, the very nature of the mini-critiques we do here forces the commentary to similarly focus on the minutiae , even when the writer is trying to focus on the broad sweep.
So I use feedback as a surgical tool to help me take measurements of key concepts in my work and skill set. Rest assured, when I'm ready to go out, I'll be testing the waters first, and Hatrack will be the place where I dip my toe in. :-)
I respect your position, and it may well be that that is what works best for you.
My own opinion, though, is that by trying to appear on the scene fully-formed, you're playing it much too much on an all-or-nothing scale. Personally, I don't like those kinds of odds. Granted, with your resume, you have a fallback position. Still, though, I don't have a problem with paying my dues in public.
The other point (about critique) I do find a little worrying. Yes, you need to understand what criticisms are useful and which are not, and that does not happen automatically. However, I've found that it's easier to find out by repeatedly submitting my work to that process.
The other thing is that, from what I understand, the point of submitting your "hook" is to get readers for the complete work, or WIP, at any rate. This would *be* the equivalent of viewing, say, "Guernica" up close and personal, rather than stroke by stroke. (Of course, my own personal prejudice is that, what you write on a large scale is what you've written on a minute scale magnified--the same habits will show in both.)
Just my opinions, and no one has to agree with them. People don't quite frequently, and that's OK. I know better than to take it personally. I don't think you'll have any serious problems getting started, and you certainly have a lot of interesting experiences to draw from.