Friday, February 4, 2011

The Leap From The Lion's Mouth

You know the part in the third Indiana Jones movie where Indy has to commit and act of faith by stepping out into an open chasm to save his dad's life?

Writing is like that. Certainly publishing is like that.

Two things this week bring this to mind. One is the recurring theme of quitting your day job, which has come up in conversation many times lately. The other is the fact that no less than two writers on a forum I frequent had a case of writer's remorse. (Remember folks, you won't get anywhere if you don't commit, and it isn't a commitment if you can dither and call it back. Just sayin'.)

I'll start with quitting your day job....

One of the things that held me up in my writing career was that I knew so many people who were ahead of me. And I saw every one of their problems. The bad contracts. The way publishers dropped them after a couple of only moderately successful books. And one of the things I saw was that there was a big chasm in front of every writer who was trying to turn writing into a full-time occupation. And that chasm is usually a combination of time and money issues -- and is often symbolized by the idea of quitting your day job to write full time. Very often you have to write full time in order to make the money you need to quit your day job so you can write full time.

The people I knew who made it across had mass and momentum. They wrote a lot, and did not hesitate, and that carried them past a lot of the gaps. But a lot of people fell into the chasm because they misjudged it. They thought that being published got them across it -- and it didn't, and they didn't have the resources to carry them the rest of the way.

I have to admit, when I saw the kinds of advances that people who wrote children's books were getting, and I looked at how much time and effort we had to put in to writing.... I didn't see a way across that chasm. To maintain a career, you had to write as a full time job, and I simply couldn't do that until I quit the day job. And the key thing was the time delay. In traditional publishing, you not only get paid years later, but you also don't know if your first book will even sell until long after you've committed to other contracts, etc.

So I realized my only option was to put in the work before I made the leap -- which is a bear when working a day job. And started saving money and investing to help with that chasm later on. However, biding your time doesn't really work either. And it's frustrating.

However, Indie Publishing actually shrinks the chasm. It made things possible that were never possible before. You start earning income and reputation and audience rigth from the get go. You don't have to try to make a huge splash and then wait three years to find out if you are actually on a bridge or if you're tumbling into the chasm. You build your bridge from scratch, brick by brick. It may take you years, but after those years you've got something.

I like Indie Publishing because you can start small now. There isn't so much of a gap, not such a dangerous one. You can build the bridge before making the leap.

But you're still making a leap.

And that brings me back to the authors who are suffering writer's remorse. It is natural to have doubts. And these writers weren't wrong in wondering if they'd made a horrible mistake in publishing their stories, and asking their friends if they should unpublish them and completely rewrite them. They were worried that somehow their reputation would be completely ruined for life if they left an imperfect story out there where people can see it.

The thing that got to me, though, was not that an author would have these doubts. We all do. We're so emotionally involved with our writing, self-consciousness is natural. But what bugged me was the number of people who spoke right up to encourage this self-doubt.

Now let's just back up. These books were selling just fine. At least one was well reviewed. The people encouraging them to rewrite didn't seem to know anything about the books, they were just doing it on principle. It was their world view -- when in doubt, panic. And these people were supposed to be detached enough to calm the writer down.

So let's get this straight: if you publish something that is not so great, will it destroy your reputation for ever and ever? Well, yeah, if that's the only book you ever write. And if all you do is fuss at it and rewrite it and never do anything else.

As an Indie Publisher, that's pretty much the biggest way you can fall into a chasm, by scrambling backward and stopping your forward momentum. Don't do that. Don't look down. Don't look back. Concentrate on where you're going. Write more. Write better.

I know if you've only got one or two stories, they really seem precious and people judge you as a writer based on that because you don't have anything else out there. But the solution isn't to go fuss over things past. It's to give your audience more to think about. There's an old saying. It's not what you've written, it's what you've written lately.

But say that story is dreck. When you get some place, THEN you look back and see if you want to fool around with it -- but then you're doing it for your own personal satisfaction. When you're a big time writer, then you can pull a George Lucas. (And always remember this: George Lucas' fans HATED what he did to his old clunky original Star Wars.)

In the meantime, I'm working on the new scene in the livery stable, as well as still scouting cover concepts and writing blurbs for short fiction. I realized today that a part of my leap from the lion's mouth is my Sample Sunday commitment. I have to come up with 52 stories or excerpts a year, and I don't want to do any more repeats than are absolutely necessary. That means I may be posting some desperate rough drafts. Many people would be afraid to ruin their brand that way, but I might post tomorrow about why I think an awkward little rough draft would still be a good idea.


Ann Summerville said...

What a wonderful post. We all long to quit that day job but I've noticed that my writing friends who have full time jobs and write put out more manuscripts than those who are at home all day. There's a sense of urgency in those few hours that you have to write.

The Daring Novelist said...

Yeah, limiting your time can make a difference in your productivity, oddly enough.

The key is to learn to do it even when you have all the time in the world.