The Vital Step of Starting Over

Through the multitude of careers that I have had in my life, there has been one continual, nagging doubt poking at me like some big footed clod kicking my chair in a movie theatre; am I good enough to succeed at this? What am I missing and why don’t I know that I’m missing it? As a writer, this irritating self-doubt has been amplified to the force of a child in the throes of a tantrum, kicking double-time at the back of my head. I have trouble concentrating.

Every writer starts his/her career somewhere along the trail. We don’t all start at the same place and rarely to we share the same experiences that make us writers. We are each comprised of a unique blend of training and experience inspiring us to brave the page (screen) and create a manuscript. We are all hoping to get to the same place at the end of the road, namely publishing. But having published a highly successful book, or any number of incredibly unsuccessful ones, does not mean that writer is finished learning how to write. 

Publishing a book does not mean you have “made it” by any definition of the term. It does mean you are “good enough” and probably have potential to succeed, but, as in my case, that promising future might still require more work. Sometimes it can mean starting over. 

I mentioned my abundance of careers earlier. In my life, I have been a bank manager, salesman, a TV producer, a screenwriter, an editor, a freelance business writer, a fundraiser and – also - an author. Before that, I was an unfocussed, over stimulated teenager, certain that I could do whatever I chose, if I just keep hammering away at whatever wall or road block before me. It took a while to realize I needed to learn things before I could do them. 

It wasn’t until I was well into my mid-life (actual age may vary) that I realized I wanted be a professional writer and that I could make a living at it, if I learned the steps, structure and form of composition. Up to then I had been writing everything that came to me, without connecting the dots: I like to write and I can write, maybe I should be a writer. Sure, it seems logical in retrospect, doesn’t it? 

 started the process in the usual fashion: pitching, responding to calls for submissions, attending conferences and selling myself at every chance I had. I did finally sign contracts and get paid to write. It was a revelation. I eventually achieved my ultimate goal when my first book was published and they agreed to publish a second one. I really thought I earned my stripes and could proudly proclaim that I was now a fully qualified, bona fide author. I had “made it”. 

After two books, a few short stories and a recycling bin full of rejection letters, I’m not so sure any more. It’s one thing to know the process, to understand the nuances of plot, characters, story structure; it’s quite another to master them well enough to draw readers to buy your book in large numbers and attract book reviewing media. Much as you can be a good piano player but lack the virtuosity to be a concert pianist. Judging from my 2.2 million (out of the top 100) rating on Amazon, I might be missing something. 

During my working life, I have met people I respected as being the best in their industry, who have chosen to back up and retrain. I never understood their thinking; I believed a leadership position in whatever you did was a lifelong post. But now I understand their purpose. 

I don’t want to be only a writer who puts out nice, thoughtful stories that get friendly accolades and 3 star reviews. I want to be a concert pianist (writer) and play with the big kids. If I am unsuccessful, or lack the skill to be a bestselling author, then so be it. I will go back to writing for my own enjoyment. 

A writer never stops writing but an author doesn’t always publish.

As in all things, we are never unable to learn how to write better, or differently. Writers need to remind themselves that they have to learn, to grow and experience to stay current. Immersing yourself into a new experience will make your story fresh and real, even if the new experience is learning about something very old. 

Sometimes the writer needs a refresher on the fundamentals of the craft to remember why they write. As in my case, there may be fundamental elements that got missed while I was learning the basics. Sometimes the process of writing needs to be stripped down like an engine to make sure all the small bits are working or are replaced. 

There is no single path to anything, least of all being an author. We learn how to create characters, but every one of those virtual people is complicated and made up of a collection of experiences. No one can possible have all that knowledge stored up and available on demand. Characters age, technology and society changes; relationships change; people die. Authors must retain their absorbency in order to continue to learn from experiences so they can create new stories. 

My plan is to go back to school (virtual, still have to work) and review the basics. I will break down my own writing process to find where I am weakest and need more development. I already have my next two books plotted out and ready to start writing. They will not see a single word until I’m sure that I’m ready.  

You don’t have to be as drastic as me, but you may still want to look inwards and appraise your own skills. Where in your writing is your weak spot (everyone has one), and what are your most obvious (bad) habits? Do you know what you don’t know about writing? Find your limitations and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Ultimately you are writing for your readers. It is good to know what they think. 

I hope this is useful to you.  

Happy writing, happy discovery.