2003 is the year I decided to “get serious” about my writing. The first time.
In mid-2003, my first non-fiction book, The Indie Game Development Survival Guide, was completed and published. Conceiving that book, pitching it and landing the contract, then writing it from start to finish according to a very sane and sensible schedule of 1000 words per day, showed me that I was capable of writing long projects.
This was an important demonstration. Though I had started any number of novels in my teens and twenties, I had never finished one. I got close to finishing one only once. I still have the several hundred double-spaced manuscript pages of that effort (and probably most of the other efforts, as well, in various typed and longhand forms).
In Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield’s followup to his book The War of Art, he talks about “shadow careers” we create because we’re balking from embracing our true, artistic career. Nonfiction writing, especially about video game development, had become my “shadow career” as a writer. It was the writing I did because it was easy, and because it was at least some form of writing. I recognized it as such, though not with the words “shadow career”. Sometimes I even felt like I was dodging “real writing”, replacing it with … well, it wasn’t fake writing. Just not fiction.
Maybe, though, it all worked out in a useful manner. By coming at the scary monster that was fiction writing through the flanking maneuver of nonfiction writing, working my way up from short, hypertechnical articles to longer, more general articles, and finally to The Indie Game Development Survival Guide, instead of head on, I seem to have built up both my skills and my confidence as a writer.
When I finished the pitch document for the indie book, I looked at it and realized I had written the complete outline for a novel-length work. That was heady stuff. I realized I could envision a full, long work. And then actually writing the indie book showed me that I could take the outline I created and turn into a coherent, full-length manuscript.
So, once the contract for the indie book was completed, I launched into my first real attempt at a novel in the 21st century.
I wrote over 123,000 words on that novel in 2003, getting to about the 2/3 mark in the outline I had written. And lost heart. All of that work, and the damn thing wasn’t done, and I lost faith in the outline.
It was 2005 before I finished that novel. I had taken a run at it in 2004, with a bit (a lot) of tweaking (and reduction) of the outline, but lost heart again. In 2005, I “got serious” a second time and with another running start at it, finally got to “The End”. I then shopped the completed manuscript around to agents, because I was young and didn’t know any better, but nothing ever came of that. I lost heart again.
It wasn’t until early 2006, after finishing a somewhat unexpected short story, that I “got serious” a third time. As I describe it in my post-mortem of the A Short Story a Day project, I could look at that first completed novel manuscript and SEE that my writing had improved. The writing in the last 1/3 of the book was noticeably better than the writing at the beginning. And that was without me making any conscious attempt to improve. I was just putting words down, one after the other, trying to get to “The End”. What would happen if I actually tried to improve?
2006 was a great year for my writing, and for me as a writer. I wrote a little of just about everything that year, and I wrote a lot, about 230,000 words. So much of what I have available in novels, collections and short stories came out of the rush of words that was A Short Story a Day. 2006 is the year I came closest to calling myself a writer in response to the question, “So, what do you do?”
Despite the high of 2006, 2007 was another year I lost heart. Even before the chaos of buying a new house and moving the family, then launching a major new version of The Journal, but after writing 80% of The Girl Who Ran With Horses, I lost that feeling of being a writer. I was so close to “The End” of that book, that “lost heart” is the only way to describe it.
All I wrote in 2008 were a few stories for contests. I focused on getting The Journal 5 done–and on not thinking about the unfinished novel I was avoiding.
I didn’t finish Girl Who Ran With Horses until November 2009, which marked my fourth time of “getting serious”.
So far, that fourth “getting serious” has stuck, and has carried me through 2010, 2011, and, now, 2012, even if I don’t seem to have been as serious in any of those years as I was in 2006. Part of that reduced seriousness has come from new software efforts, including The Journal 6, some from having a baby, and some from learning how to navigate this new world of indie writing & publishing. In all of those years, I set big goals for my writing and fell way short. Still, I did achieve something in all of those years, and I would like to think I’m continuing to improve as a writer and storyteller.
I had hoped to hit 1 million total words since 2003 before the end of 2012, that being the end (ish) of 10 years since I first “got serious” about my writing, but I won’t make it. I expect to be somewhere around
876,000 896,000 words. Which doesn’t seem too bad, really, for 10 years as a part-time writer who sometimes loses heart but always manages to find it again and keep going.