Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Time to Buck Up, Soldier

Jody Casella is this week's guest blogger. Her own blog, On the Verge, is one of my favorites.

So you’re thinking about quitting your day job and pursuing your lifelong dream to be a writer. Well, I have some advice for you. I could go into all of it here (how you should set up an office at home; treat your writing like a business; keep regular hours; resist the urge to take phone calls or sort laundry or scroll around on Facebook or rearrange your kitchen cabinets because you’re WORKING, darn it, and you need to act like a professional. Even if you’re not getting paid) but I won’t.

What I want to talk about is how you show up every day and do your work despite the fact that you’re not getting paid. And (gulp) may never be paid. I’m assuming here that you are independently wealthy and/or have saved up money from your high-paying day job and/or are blessed with a hardworking cheerleader of a spouse who’s taking care of the bills so you can pursue your dreams. Four years ago when I was about to take the plunge, I truly thought I was on the verge of breaking into publication. It pains me to say this, but back then I was prancing around bookstores making space for my as-yet unpublished books on the YA shelves. (Look for me someday beside Kristin Cashore’s brilliant Graceling. Not a bad piece of real estate, if I may say so.)

But I was a LONG way from a bookstore shelf. What I didn’t know when I quit my job to write full-time was that I had signed on for a War, one of those long protracted kinds with no discernible end in sight. Your enemies in this war are self-doubt and fear of failure. (Read Steven Pressfield’s writing manifesto The War of Art for a much better and more thorough discussion.) Waking up every day and facing the glaring computer screen is a battle, especially when you have a drill sergeant barking in your head about how pointless it is to keep writing and how silly your books are and if you’re so talented then why aren’t you published. You’re tempted to bark back, or worse, keel over in a cowering, sniveling mess at his feet. But don’t. Listen politely, then lace up your boots, grab your weapons (I guess I’m talking the keyboard here) and charge into battle.

Here’s some advice to carry with you on the long, muddy march:
1.      Read whenever you have spare time. After your writing for the day is done, of course. Read books in your genre and books outside of it. Not just for market research, but to remember why you’re working so hard in the first place. Because you love books! And you want yours someday to be read and loved, too!
2.      Find a community of other writers. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only soldier out there, sitting in that damp, dark trench, eating your, uh, tea biscuit. But you’re not. Join a critique group. Make connections at conferences. Track down people online.
3.      Find a mentor. Better yet, BE a mentor to someone just starting out.
4.      Stand up and stretch every once in a while. Be like Jane Austen and walk the heck out of your neighborhood. You need to clear your mind. You need to keep your butt from falling asleep. P.S. Yoga is helpful when it’s raining.
5.      Maintain a sense of balance. Set a word-count goal or a time goal, then stick to it. When you’re finished, STOP, and be 100% present for all the other parts of your life. The suffering cheerleader spouse. Your kids. Your pets. The toilets that you’ve neglected to clean.
6.      And last and most important, have a sense of humor. I heard author Linda Sue Park say once at a conference, “It’s not rocket science.” We’re writing books here, people—playing with words—we’re not doing brain surgery. Don’t take any of it too seriously.

A final warning to keep in mind as you head off to boot camp (cue violins or patriotic fife and drum, depending on your mood):

It’s possible that this experiment of yours may not work out as planned. It may take longer than you think to break even (or, ahem, earn anything). It may happen that one day you wake up and realize that your son, who you still think of as ten years old and sprawled out on the floor playing with Legos, is about to go to college and you promised your supportive cheerleader spouse that when that time came you would go back to your day job.

If this is you, by any chance, don’t fear; I am presently working on a battle plan.

Since Jody Casella quit her day job and threw herself into the battle four years ago, she’s had her fifth story published in Cicada magazine and has written a handful of novels, now floating around the Netherworld of the NYC Publishing Industry. All together she has logged over five hundred thousand words. You can read some of them on her blog, which chronicles her life as a YA writer perpetually on the verge.

No comments:

Post a Comment