July 27, 2010 1 Comment
One thing I can certainly say for myself is that I’ll never wonder what would’ve happened if I had just gone for it. From traveling to different continents, to getting a PhD, to chasing random girls, I’ve never let the fear of possible consequences stop me from pursuing my dreams.
Of course, this isn’t always a good thing. Especially the chasing girls part.
Yeah, pretty much every romance I’ve ever pursued has ended up going horribly, horribly wrong. But while it wasn’t always funny at the time, it was always interesting. And it definitely all seems funny to me now, so I guess maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.
For the past fifteen years I’ve talked about wanting to be a writer, but I’ve never really done anything about it. I’ve never submitted a short story to a magazine, or tried to get a novel published. I’ve always felt like the thought of being a writer was just a stupid fantasy, and I should focus on something tangible and obtainable, like a career in science. The only trouble is, I just don’t have a passion for science.
A close friend of mine recently finished the rough draft of a novel, and I offered to help her edit it. Editing a full-length novel of a novice writer can be extremely tedious, but she’s a very good friend, and I know how much I would appreciate it if someone would do the same for me if I were in her place. Plus, the story is good, and with a little help and practice she’s going to be a damn fine writer.
The funny thing is, I actually found the editing process pretty enjoyable—much more enjoyable than doing my research. In my attempt to make her work as publishable as possible I was forced to look up things like how to use semicolons and dashes correctly, the difference between “lay” and “lie”, and whether the comma should come before or after quotation marks in certain circumstances (it depends). And in learning these things, as well as other guidelines for structure, narrative and description, I realized I could easily apply them to my own work as well.
But leaning isn’t always easy. Some of it was like a slap in the face. I’d always imagined that I could be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling because I have these really great story ideas, but the fact is, there are thousands—if not millions—of other people who think the exact same thing. And most of them have ideas that are just as good as, or better than, mine. And even if the story is good, most published writers can expect to get around $5,000 or less for their first book. Making a living as a writer is not easy.
That was kind of a reality check. But at the same time, I found inspiration as well. As Holly Lisle (a published writer and font of useful information) writes on her website, there’s no secret to becoming a writer of publishable quality; all you have to do is learn basic punctuation and grammar, and then just write a lot. Some of the most successful writers today aren’t especially gifted, or have something intangible that the rest of the public lacks; they’re merely the ones with good stories to tell who went for it, kept at it, and didn’t give up.
As I write this, I can’t help thinking about an episode of Saturday Night Live, a Celebrity Jeopardy parody, where the Alex Trebeck character is checking the Tom Cruise character’s final answer. Then Trebeck says, his voice dripping with utter disdain, “Your answer? ‘Go.’ And your wager? ‘For it.’ Go…for it. You certainly have.”
Then the Tom Cruise character giggles obliviously.