Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Million Bad Words

I came across this wonderful blog entry from KidLit (literary agent blog), that talks about paying your dues, as a writer. The basic concept is that, just as you can't expect to become a top-paid executive without the proper education and working your way up that corporate ladder, you also can't expect to get published with your very first attempt at a novel. I'm not saying it doesn't happen (there are some rare success stories), but usually, it doesn't.

I've been writing since I was twelve, give or take, off and on. I only got serious about it in my twenties, when I started writing novels. In fact, I wrote four novels during my twenties that will never see the light of day. I call them my "experiments." My "million bad words." I wrote them, playing with the art form, figuring out for myself how to write a novel, how to craft a story and make characters rich. During those years, I also went to writers conferences, read books, and learned how to enrich my prose -- avoid cliches, trim wordy passages, "show" instead of "tell." Those were my years spent climbing the ladder. Paying my dues. (And those dues paid off in more ways than one - I now teach Creative Writing courses and pass along the invaluable wisdom I learned during those years to my students).

Now, I'm working toward the goal of publication. Three years ago, I wrote the first book of a series, then the second, then the third. And after querying widely last year, I got myself an agent! (*still pinching myself*). He's submitting the series to publishers now, and I'm crossing all my fingers and toes...and am still working while I wait. I'm revising Book 2 and Book 3, and hope to finish Book 4 this summer.

Just because it's taken me a long while to get where I am in this process doesn't mean that every writer's journey will be this way. But I wouldn't change a single minute of my journey, my years'-long apprenticeship. Because it's given me time. Time to study the Masters (reading, reading, reading), to attend writer's conferences and meet other writers online, to learn more about myself as a writer, to study and improve upon my craft -- and all of it makes me the writer I am today. Oh, I'm still learning. As I tell my students, no writer should ever stop learning, ever stop improving. But that's the beauty of this writing journey. It's fluid. I love the ebb and flow, the waxing and waning of it. And I can't wait to see where the tide will take me next!


  1. I was talking about this with one of my friends yesterday... and mentioning how horrific it would have been if my first attempt had been published. My writing has improved so drastically in the years I've been working at this. This journey has been more important to my writing than I'd ever have guessed. Not only will you write a million bad words... but I pity the writer who doesn't get the chance to do that, but someday they'll wish they'd had the chance to really learn to write by doing it every wrong way first.

  2. Yep, excellent points -- learning by doing. That's how I feel about my early novels. They were so necessary, to help me figure out what the heck I was doing. I cringe when I go back and look at them, lol. But they served a very important purpose...