As I’ve previously stated, I began writing novels back in 1993. I focused on short stories while in college and put the novels on a back burner. It took several more years of experimentation and failure to admit to myself that I wasn’t nearly good enough at the short story form to publish my work and that I didn’t really want to write short stories that way I wanted to write long stories. I’d hazard a guess that if I had devoured SF/F magazines and fanzines as a teenager, I’d feel differently, but I would also write differently, and I’m not sure I would have liked the result.
It’s not exactly the same way I would feel if I published before I was ready, but the nauseous undertone would be pretty much the same.
When I go back to my earlier work (not the earliest work, just anything from more than five years ago that hasn’t been edited since then), I cringe. I don’t just cringe because it’s bad; most of it is terrible. I cringe because I had the temerity to give up on hopeless projects but in doing so have not produced any FINISHED finished products, regardless of whether they will ever see publication.
Yes, I have Trunk Novels. They’re all UNFINISHED trunk novels. I stopped working on them, went back in six months to re-evaluate, and said, “WTF was I THINKING when I thought this would be enjoyable, much less marketable?”
It probably didn’t help that my education gave me delusions of grandeur and I aspired to be the next Chuck Palahniuk / Bret Easton Ellis. (I still reserve the right to reconsider my One True Genre Calling at a later date.)
Yeah…I was a bit of a pretentious douche once in a while. Then I went back to study with lots of people and the novels were put on hold.
It’s been maddeningly frustrating, finishing college and working though some serious medical crap for the past two years while the ebook industry has exploded and stars have ascended. I was chomping at the bit to get the hell out of there and get to work — and I forgot that I produce more work under pressure than without any.
Oops. Now I have to be my own pressure.
My college degree was not required to become a writer or a publisher. My health will never be perfect. I still chose to graduate, and I will never regret that decision. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and if I had been the same person that I was in high school, it would have been the easiest thing I’d ever done. Life doesn’t always deal you a good hand. I chose to finish that chapter of my life, no matter how long it took, and it took a really, really long time, so long that it’s taken some adjusting to realize that I will never have to pack up half of my stuff and move into a dorm with a bunch of people younger than I am.
I learned the value of patience. If something happens to my hands, heaven forbid, or my creativity, I can try to find different work. If I hadn’t finished college, that failure would have hung over my head for the rest of my life. It wouldn’t have helped my job prospects, either. (Have you ever tried to land a white collar job without a college degree? Have you ever tried to land a working class job with the name of an extremely prestigious college under your education background? People also tend to assume that your family could afford to pay the exorbitant tuition, which, just…NO. Without 80 percent financial aid, I could not have attended my college. People treat you differently and immediately assume you’re scheming or looking down on them or something. I was sorely tempted to lie and put no college education down. I gave up job hunting after five years of job searching.)
So, back to trunk novels! The only good thing about them was my ability to RECOGNIZE that they were, in fact, trunk novels. This is an important skill to master, and one that writers have a hard time maintaining as time goes by. The ability to realistically assess your own work is key. Amanda Hocking wrote a great blog post today about realistic expectations in the new self-publishing industry — or rather, the proliferation of unrealistic expectations that have sprung up with the ebook revolution.
You have to know your temperament, and you have to block out the voices of your friends and family who constantly yell at you in passing, “This ebook thing is really taking off! Why haven’t you published your work yet? Hurry up and put something out there!”
Yeeeeaaaaah…no. I’m going to publish when I’m damn good and ready. I know that most of my work up until recently just ISN’T READY, and even the project I’m working on now will need lots of outside critiquing and revisions before it’s ready for prime time.
So slow down! Work at your own pace. The industry is only going to expand for the next few years.
I’m very lucky that I have such a supportive family that understands my disability and will let me work to achieve financial independence at a realistic rate for me. If they were less understanding, I would be more desperate for cash and would inevitably make poor decisions and sloppier products.
Remember: for those of you lucky enough to be able to work full workdays during regular hours (yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound lucky, but I’m here to tell you there is always something to be grateful for unless you’re in a war zone or have a death sentence), YOU CAN ALSO TAKE YOUR TIME to do things the right way, for you and for your family. It takes discipline and energy reserves, but it can be done. Don’t set goals that will hurt you to accomplish. Just set public goals and let your friends — real, imaginary, or in between — cheer you on to your finish line. As Zoe Winters has said, the tortoise (has already) won.