Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Desire (or: How I Got Published, Part 2)

Well, it’s Tuesday, which means I’m going to post another How I Got Published* thing! Let me tell you, however, that this was not the post I intended on writing. Funny how things work out that way. Either way, here ya go!


Writing for a living has been something I’ve had my eye on for some time, now. I’ll spare you the soporific details, but my love of writing began with my days writing fanfiction in elementary and middle school—and, of course, reading all sorts of amazing books.

I wrote a lot growing up, and I started writing even more in college, where the desire to do the writing thing for a living sort of congealed. By the time I graduated with a degree in English, I was pretty sure that’s what I wanted to do for a living. But, I had one major issue:

I still hadn’t finished a book.

Oh, I’d started books. I’d started at least half a dozen between middle school and high school, and in college I’d started (with slightly more serious attempts…that still got nowhere) three or four more. All in all I’d started about ten novels, and other than some scraps of world-building, a few opening chapters, and some character bios, had nothing to show for it.

Which isn’t to say I hadn’t finished anything—in college I remember reading an interview with GRRM where he said that the best thing a beginning writer could do was write short stories. So that’s what I did. I wrote not quite a dozen short stories/novelettes during my undergrad, and not quite a dozen more afterwards.

All of this is to say that, for me, the desire to write had been ingrained in my psyche for quite some time. And while we focus a great deal on the discipline and process of writing (and finishing!) books—as we should, because that’s really where the magic happens, isn’t it?—sometimes we neglect that first, catalytic sentiment of desire. Because I generally don’t do things I don’t like to do. If I don’t like hiking, I’m probably not going to vacation in a National Park. If I don’t like heights, I’m probably not going skydiving. And if I don’t like writing, or if I don’t like reading, or if I decide I don’t like a certain idea that’s been forming a story I’ve been working on, I’m probably not going to write.

So, for me, that was the first and one of the absolute most important steps towards writing a novel, finishing a novel, finding an agent, and ultimately getting published. I had to have a desire to write something. That desire comes from different places for me at different times; sometimes it’s from a story that feels so personal, or so poignant, or so epic, that I can't help but write it down. Sometimes it’s a desire for other people to read and be interested in the thing that I wrote, because it contains ideas or concepts that may be meaningful to me, or because I simply want to connect with others** (writing and reading, I’ve found, is a fantastic way to connect with other people, other circumstances, other ways of life and points of view). Sometimes it’s a desire to reveal the characters themselves, to introduce them to everyone else I know and love, or to people I don’t know simply because I know and love the characters.

What matters is that there’s almost always some kind of driving desire behind what I’m writing. That doesn’t mean I don’t have off days; writing is work, after all, and every day can sometimes be a struggle just to get words on the page. But one of the things—and sometimes the only thing—that keeps my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard is this desire.

If you’re reading this and are looking to write a novel or be published someday, or if you already have been published, I know you’ve felt the desire I’m talking about. The scary thing about this desire is that I, as a writer, have never outgrown it. As far as I can tell, it is always going to be a necessary ingredient to my writing. But here’s a fortunate thing: if I can sit down and start typing, that desire always, always comes. It’s one of the many happy miracles of writing, and being a writer.

* In case you’ve forgotten, this is an ongoing series where I talk about the factors that contributed to me ultimately getting published. What I did right, what I did wrong, etc. As a general rule for the series I don’t plan on dispensing a ton of outright advice, but hopefully ya’ll can learn something from my experience.

** As Stephen King said is his book On Writing, writing and reading are perhaps the only real-world way we have to communicate telepathically: I have an idea in my head, and I sent the general concept of that idea into your head without speaking to you or showing you anything or even knowing who you are. Magic!

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