I recently signed up for a lifetime subscription on a course package offered by Dean Wesley Smith on Teachable. Sometimes I just need reminders on my writing and I love the way Dean phrases things. He’s blunt and honest. Don’t expect warm fuzzies. I like that. It’s an eye-to-eye level approach and I know it sends many people scattering from the room like spitting kittens. Let them go off and lick their wounds. Writing is fun. Publishing is hard. That’s the truth Dean speaks.
Now I’m certain that Dean considers me a new author, and from outward appearances, I certainly am. The truth is that I’ve spent a majority of my life trying to be published.
I remember very clearly a day right before I turned 13. It was Saturday in early spring. I ran out to get the mail and I saw a Writer’s Digest magazine. It had my mother’s name on it.
I was devastated!
I can still remember how shell-shocked and betrayed I felt as soon as I saw that magazine with my mother’s name on it. I was the one writing and telling stories, not her!
Let me step back for a moment here. I remember spending quite a bit of my childhood coloring and painting watercolors with my mother. I always thought I was doing well… until that moment when I saw what my mom had been doing. Her work was stunning. I didn’t even know crayons could look like that. I recall sitting out on the wooden back porch, I believe it was the old gray-painted one before we put in a wider one, and looking at some of the oil paintings she’d done when she was younger. I remember the oil smell of her paint box. To this day, whenever I smell oil paint, I am taken back to that moment when she showed me her colorful world.
And I was insanely jealous.
Now, I did know that being envious of my mother was a dumb thing and so I never said a word to her about how I felt. She had so much talent.
She pitched her box of oil paints into the burning barrel.
That’s where the art she did with me ended up too.
When my brother and I were cleaning out my dad’s house after his passing, we came across some of my mother’s paintings. Now that I’m older and I’ve studied art, I can see that these were definitely student study paintings, but I also see the talent she could have grown. If she had chosen to.
So here I was, pre-teen me, standing with a fabulous writing magazine in my hand. I felt like she was trying to overtake my thing (like how she always overshadowed my attempts at art as if I were already something fabulous – dumb!). I went in and asked her about the magazine.
She smiled. “Well, that was supposed to have been a birthday present for you. Happy birthday.”
It wasn’t for her; it was for me. I was excited. I went to my room and read the whole magazine from cover to cover, including the ads in the back. My writing world opened up. I discovered so many things.
Each month as the magazine appeared, I grew more selective about what I was reading in it. But I learned a lot about the publishing industry. I knew more about it than a lot of the adults that I was attending writers conferences with. I send out so many requests for guidelines with my self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASE’s as they were known and I explained to many newbie adult writers over the years) that I had quite a collection of nearly every traditional book and magazine publisher at the time. I discovered The Writers Market book put out every year and I owned several (I still do, through I did throw some out finally this summer). I attempted to get stories published — okay, how good could they have been from a 15 year-old writer, but I was seriously making an attempt. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I finally got an acceptance letter, followed by several more, “Close, but not quite. What else do you have?” letters.
I always wrote into the dark without an outline. I hated rewriting; it was a bloody waste of time. I cycled, much like Dean talks about, if I was writing a piece out by hand and then making a typed draft which I did on a lot of short stories. Of course, that was the whole story cycled, not just part of it. If you find errors in my blogs, it’s generally because I cycle while I write these too and I don’t proofread as closely as I could; I just caught an error above and cleaned it up, but I’m certain 3 more will slip by me.
Back to my childhood writing. Because of schooling and the things I was reading in Writer’s Digest, I also got a lot of bad training. If I was getting rejected, I would go back to a piece and see what I could “fix.” I fell into the belief that I needed critique partners to tell me what I was doing wrong. Now, I did get awfully lucky here. I managed to find a couple of great writers and we offered each other peer-level critiques. I feel as if we all grew as writers. However, I can also see the damage that we did to each other and our own child artists within us. That’s why I feel like I’m starting over now. Before, I was a raw, untempered metal, but now I have been forged with flaws that must be sharpened out of me.
Hence why I really needed to find some writing continuing education that spoke to me. I am so fortunate that I stumbled upon Dean’s masterclass (and thankful that he accepted me to “come on down”) for the two years I went, and why when WMG had a sale on the lifetime subscription to the large class package, I had to jump on it.
This has been a really long way of getting to where I had originally intended for this post, but I felt it was important that you had the background.
I am currently listening to the “classic” (meaning it’s an older one) workshop on how to edit your own work. I suspected I already knew what Dean was going to say; I’ve followed him for several years now. However, I learn something or am given a swift kick with every workshop I listen to. That’s why I bought the package and why I’m listening to it; I need this.
He started talking about perfection and how deadly it is. Now, I’m about as far from a perfectionist as I can be. I don’t believe in slacking. I do like to do quality work to the best of my ability. I never mean to make mistakes, but I realize they do happen. I can also release it when I do make a mistake. I don’t beat myself up about it anymore. I learn and move on. So, I like to think that I’m in a happy medium here on this scale.
Dean suggested his wife’s book, The Pursuit of Perfection: And How It Harms Writers by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’ve seen and heard about the book before. I never thought much about it because, again, I’m not a perfectionist. Don’t need to read about it if I don’t have the problem, right?
As part of this workshop, they had a link to the book for free. Well, I had paid for the workshop, so I felt I should download the book. As it turns out, one of the assignments is to read the book and let Dean and Kris know what the workshop participant learned from it. Since I’m taking this workshop as a classic, we don’t turn in the assignments for their feedback. I still decided to take a look at the book, even though I certainly don’t have a problem with perfectionism.
Yes, I do know it is my ego which keeps me writing. My bullish ego doesn’t know when to quit. That I will admit.
So I started reading the book. It’s not a book so much about perfectionism, but about allowing and giving yourself permission to just do the best you can. I got a whole new perspective about critiques too (which is why I can say that I clearly see the good and the damage my peers and I did to each other).
I’m only halfway through the book, but I know what I would answer back to the assignment is I was to turn it in now. I’d say that I got a great reminder about returning the focus to my career.
I was 15 years old and studying Writer’s Digest ever month when I realized that it was impossible to make a living from putting out 1 book a year with a traditional publisher. I saw it back then. I saw back then that it was going to take 8-10 books per year to actually make a living as a writer. And, because I knew that they only put out 1 book per year by an author, that meant I was going to have to have 8-10 different pen names until one of the names gathered a following.
This was back in the 80’s that I realized this.
Now, if you’ve followed Dean as I’ve told all my writing friends to do, you see that having to follow the “write and release” method that they preach is not anything new. I realized it back then. At 15! And it took Kris’ book to really push it all back into place for me.
In the tarot, there is a hermit card with a solitary figure holding up a lantern. It is a shining of the light on the dark to illuminate what was hidden. Kris writes about focusing on the career, not the book. Dean talks about writing and having fun with the book, and then releasing, and he talks about building up 100-300 titles. Yet it was the way Kris put it about building a collection of titles (an oeuvre) that was that lantern in the dark. I knew that it was all there, but I needed it illuminated because I’m so down in the weeds focusing on a few books at a time that I forget to stick my head up and look back at all of the titles. Especially those I have written, released, and they sit out there making either no money or less than $1/year. Not that they are “bad books;” they just haven’t found their audience yet. Yet.
In going out to get the affiliate link from Amazon on her book, I dropped down to check out the reviews. I read reviews on other people’s books, never my own if I can help it. The review at the top when I looked read, “A little book that’s a wise friend to writers young and old.” Very well summed up. It doesn’t get more appropriate than that.
I’m excited to see what comes to light in the second half of the book. But even if it’s not as vivid as this first part, I have learned and grown as an indie publisher. I love this age of going directly to readers and not having to wait a year or more for a traditional publisher to get my book into their chain. I love having the control be all mine.
Someday I’ll have an oeuvre that gets discovered. No, not everything will be perfect, but hopefully readers will see that my work grew and got better. It was always the best that I could do at that moment. Is that what most of my art has always been? Learning as I go?
Thank goodness for my bullish ego which keeps me persisting.
Thank you Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch for your guidance and honesty with writers.
Thanks, Mom, for my subscription to Writer’s Digest.
Thank you world for a new day filled with amazing technology.
Thank you, readers, for allowing me your time. I hope I’ve entertained.