In the river of life there are long, straight, wide streams to float along, and then sometimes there are white water rapids.

And me without my kayak.

I had the opportunity over this summer to be unemployed. I realize that’s an odd way of putting it, but you can see unemployment as an opportunity or a burden, and I’d already chosen the burden route. I refused to be beaten down again.

This spate of unemployment lasted three months. (Which suggests that the economy is improving, if only to me.) During that time I took a “finished’ manuscript and edited the living hell out of it. I read words that I wrote three years ago, and formulated them into more polished sentences. I kept the superstructure of the piece unchanged, but honed the story so that it sounded less like a collegiate creative writing piece and more like a professional-level novel.

I sent the work off to my publisher, who was in the process of moving offices across the country. I knew that would cut into my turn around time, but I could afford to be patient. After all, I would end up published, which was what I’ve been waiting for all of my life.

Today, I got an email from my publisher. My book officially has an ISBN! This is an obscure but necessary step, taking a lowly Word document and allowing it to metamorphose into a brilliantly beautiful novel! For those who don’t know, the ISBN is the International Standard Book Number, and it’s how retailers can track your sales/inventory/income. Without it, no book store can find your work, or sell your work.

I shook when I read the email. When I saw the numbers. It was real. In less than a week my work will be released on the world, to stand or fall as it will.

Yesterday I was offered an official position as a software support specialist for a local company. I took it, of course. At the end of the day I need to support my family, and while I have high hopes that my book will become an International Best Seller and on the New York Time’s Best Seller list, I also know that it might not be this book that accomplishes that goal.

It will be hard, adjusting to the forty hour a week demands of a ‘real job.’ However, there is one thing that I’ve learned in these three months. I’m a writer, and no matter what my day job is, I’m not going to to give that up.

Off the trail, into the unknown

Our world is a world of stories.

Stories to teach, stories to entertain, stories to make sense of the world, and stories to create it. Everything is a story, but what stories we pay attention to matter the most.

I tell my son stories almost every night when I put him to bed. It’s a duty I share with my husband (and I will never call it a chore.) Sometimes I lean on the written word, but that was by recommendation of his teachers, who told us it would help with his literacy. Most nights, though, I enjoy spinning tales for him and watching his reactions.

I’m so glad I have this instantaneous feedback. Nothing is as rewarding as a gasp of surprise or a chiming laugh as I catch him off guard with some bit of humor. His eyes get big, he leans in very close, and he’s quick to ask questions if something wasn’t clear enough or if he simply wants to know more. My son is a parrot – I know I will be hearing bits and pieces of my tale the next day over breakfast. What he pays attention to is important, and I notice.

His instant feedback is one of the best ways to remind me why I love storytelling so much. It gives me what I need to sit down, day after day, and put words on a page. Everyone has a book in their head somewhere, stories of characters they love, rattling around, chapters unfinished and scenes firmly envisioned. It isn’t as easy as it looks, though, and it takes a lot of patience, fortitude, and sometimes suffering to get a book translated from brainpan to word processing software. (Or paper, but eventually it all becomes electronic format.) It took three years to take The Corsican from request to .pdf, and with luck it will make it to Amazon this month.

Even now, with more time than I’ve ever had before to write, I’m still struggling with being a student and a mother besides. I am constantly trying to keep up with my grades, my son’s needs, and my other duties. I am quick to apologize for spending my time writing when there are other things to be done, and there are always other things to be done.

It is hard to be a writer. The competition is legion, the hours wonky, the pay chancy. It’s a fringe job, like styling oneself an artist. People are comfortable asking you to do for free what professionals charge handsome fees for, “for your portfolio.” The bottom of the pile is a raggedy heap of hopefuls, who either cling to you for support or despise you for being alive, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

I know what I’m doing is risky, but the love of the word rests within me, and I’ve already denied it for too long. I have to keep trying, and work hard, and tell myself that the risk is worth it. I have to stop apologizing for my dreams and just stay strong in the face of all the distractions and life’s demands. I can’t give up now; not with the first taste of victory so fresh on my tongue.

A pack of lone wolves

Last night I had the pleasure of going out with two of my writer friends.  In truth, I have a lot of friends who could be writers, if they were so inclined.  However, not everyone has the patience to lock themselves in a closet and ignore the world for hours at a time in favor of the one they’re making up.  Understandably so.

Writing is a lonely endeavor.  All of the best stuff mulls in the brainpan, waiting to be extruded into the thread that weaves plots and tangles character’s lives.  On the other hand, without input, there would be nothing to live and grow in the writer’s mind.  As with most of the best things in life, writing is deeply complex, and yet not beyond the reach of those who grasp for it.

Now that I have my first novel squared, I am already twenty thousand words into my next one.  This puts me on par with my friends, one of which is in the outlining process of his work, the other who is creating a new RPG.  We’re not in lockstep but that’s impossible, it’s not worth trying.  What we provide each other is sounding boards, which is crucial in story development.  Ideas in one’s mind sound fantastic, but sometimes hearing them out loud or catching a friend’s facial expression helps to weed out the ringers from the winners.

Sometimes it can be as simple as having a willing audience.  It’s easy for a writer to be patient with another writer as they work through an idea; both writers have been there  It’s much harder to find personalities that work together; everyone has a different idea of what a story is, and what’s important in a story.  I applied for a position in a formal writer’s group, whom I discovered through an editing course I took at WWU.  I loved everyone and thought that I was a shoe-in.  It was honestly surprising to discover I’d been voted off the island.  The reasons they espoused were sound; “We’re not broken, why fix it?”  They weren’t accepting new talent, it was as easy as that.  On the other hand, let’s face it; nobody likes rejection, even if it is kindly phrased.

Being a writer plunges you into a strange and precarious world.  You’re an artist, but you paint in words rather than color.  You describe the world rather than show it with angles and light.  You hold up concepts lovely and profane and let the reader decide how it makes them feel.  It’s important, it’s vital.  But it is a mountain that not everyone feels they need to climb.

If you’re a writer, a support group is an excellent thing to cultivate.  I didn’t realize how much of a network I had until last night, and how welcome it was until this morning.  We might be lone wolves by nature, but lone wolves are still wolves, and they still have pack instincts.

A journey wrapped up in an expedition inside a quest.

How does one become a writer?

That’s easy.  I believe that inside everyone there is the ability to write.  The trick is, to make it more important than any other thing in your life.  Some people find that to be difficult, and turn to gardening or scuba diving.  For some poor, afflicted individuals, it is not so much a choice as it is a state of being.  I was a writer from the moment I was literate; in Kindergarten, when our assignment was to write a paragraph, I would write a page.  When I was twelve, I remember looking up from my notebook as a shadow fell over me.  It was my father.  He asked me what I was doing.  When I told him I was writing, he said, “It’s summer.  You don’t have an assignment.”  I told him I was writing for fun.  He shook his head and said, “I could never do what you do.”

Which was the first inkling I had that perhaps being a writer wasn’t for everyone.

I took a major hiatus from writing after moving from Wyoming to Washington.  I was a teenager, I had lots of new friends, and discovered LARPing.  (For the uninitiated, it’s Live Action Role Playing.  Or, dressing up as vampires and werewolves and running around looking silly.)  LARPing was great, because now my stories had a new venue.  An appreciative audience who could give me instantaneous feedback.  I was enthralled with this new form, which became an enormous time sink and rolled up improvisational acting, costume design, and good old let’s pretend into a cohesive whole.  At the height of this time, there were 90 players attending Western’s drama club, and I was not only telling stories for those people, I was keeping things organized as well.  No wonder I had no time or energy for my writing!

Eventually I moved to Seattle with several dear friends, but I didn’t leave LARPing, or gaming in general, behind.  We started table top gaming, which was much less interactive than LARPing but still told stories.  I was content.  A little too content, honestly.  I professed to love writing but other than a few false starts here and there, I’d never finished a novel!  I wasn’t even concerned about it.

My husband, Luke, was absolutely concerned about it.  He made a heroic effort to get me back into writing.  I wanted to, but I knew that if I went back down that path, it would mean I had to stop gaming, which was also my social outlet.  I was reluctant to give up my lifestyle that I had gotten so settled into.  It wasn’t until Amanda, Luke’s mother’s partner, took me literally by the hand and asked me to write a story, that I thought about getting back into it.

The dam broke.  I wrote The Corsican inside of a few months.  It wasn’t a great story in my opinion, but it was a good story, and the first novel I had ever completed.  (Yes, I said my published novel was only a good story.  This was 2009, and I hadn’t much editing on it yet.)  Not long after, Nanowrimo rolled around, and I started a new story, A Modern Fae Proposal.  It was quite a jump.  The Corsican was a science fiction adventure story about slave children who are rescued from their captors and taken to a new planet where slavery is not allowed.  A Modern Fae Proposal was pure urban fantasy.

I finished The Corsican in 2009.  Finished was a loose term.  It had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The characters were solid, and the plot only had a few holes in it.  This is where The Corsican would stay, on my hard drive, gathering spectral dust, until 2012.  That’s when a friend of mine posed the query, “Say, you have a finished manuscript, don’t you?”

Cue panicked resurrection of said work, and an intense editing regimen.

Tune in next time, when I answer the musical question, “What do you know?”  (Mission, by Pucifer)