Of ambition, shame and exercising patience

Thanks for all the awesome responses to my writing status inquiry post! You guys rock on so many levels. Also, you’re at such varying stages of your paths through this murky, often scary writing world, that I feel there’s a richness to your combined experiences which I couldn’t possibly make on my own, not in the limited amount of time which I can dedicate to the pursue of my writing ambitions.

Which inevitably brings me to this post. Ahem.

My ambition with regards to writing fiction is fairly simple: I want to write good quality (ah, who am I kidding, I strive to eventually write awe inspiring quality) adult science-fiction, and publish it via the most convenient means available to me at the given time. Of course, I want people to read and like what I’m writing, and hopefully ask for more.

I don’t particularly want to make writing fiction a career in its proper sense, meaning I’m not out to quit my day-job and engineer space-cultures for a living. While I love it and couldn’t function normally without it, writing isn’t a professional ambition to me as it is a highly gratifying and mostly self-serving exploration of the possibilities of my imagination & storytelling skills.

Basically, I don’t want to be AN AUTHOR, as much as I want to WRITE STORIES, which ideally other people love to read. A very pedantic semantic distinction, but I’m sure you get me.

If it will somehow happen nonetheless — which requires for me to earn at least as much from my writing fiction as I do from testing software systems — then I’ll sure be one happy space-monkey. But I don’t aim at it.

That being said, I’m still somewhat weighed down by apprehension with regards to my output.

First and foremost, I feel like a total and absolute impostor, dispensing writing tips and professing my love of writing science-fiction, while not having published anything yet. At least a novella, a short story, even a darned piece of flash fiction to some reputable selling market. Something to justify the audacity of adding “science-fiction writer” to my name. (Yeah, I know, I haven’t even tried yet, shut up. I’m busy whining here.)

Things move much too slow for my infantile lack of patience. Which, obviously, I have only myself to thank for. Not having career ambitions about my writing, I dedicate only limited amounts of time to it (even though I never stop thinking about it). Which results in my project taking much too long to reach a level of satisfactory quality. Add to that the fact that I keep learning new stuff and inevitably improve with each lesson, and thus inevitably see more errors in my previous work. Headache preordained.

I sometimes feel ashamed of my lack of urgency. Somehow everybody around me writes and publishes things increasingly fast (regardless of publishing route), while I seem to trudge through a swamp. Don’t mind me, I’m just splashing about here. Smelling the waterlilies. Counting tadpoles.

My already modest ambitions have shrunk to getting my manuscript ready for beta-readers. That’s where I am now. Editing my stuff to get it into a decent shape that can support criticism. Luckily I don’t need to get myself ready for that, since I pretty much take everything upwards of “Your novel sucks sweaty, salty donkey balls” as useful feedback. But my novel… my novel needs work. Not much, not very deep work (I’ve already done that last year), but work nonetheless. And work takes time.

Will I find suited beta-readers? Hopefully. Will it take another half a year to get the novel in a query-able state? Likely. Will that bring me any closer to achieving my prudent ambition? I fucking hope so! I’ve put quite a lot more blood and sweat into this thing than I initially imagined, and I’ll be damned if I bury it in some drawer after all that.

So — to sum up this laborious post as succinctly as possible — I’m basically whining about not working as fast as I like, while not [willingly] investing more energy into it. How silly, you might think. Get a grip, girl. Type faster! But I also have a full-time job, a pre-crawling baby daughter, a humongous to-read list and a household to keep. And there’s decent weather now, so I’m outside as much as I can. Time to write? Shrunken to ‘just barely enough not to suffer from withdrawal-induced personality dysfunctions’ proportions.

Sigh.

All I can do is to continue editing my opus (I’m already somewhere around the middle), and exercise patience.

So easy, and yet so difficult.

I need to talk about it with people who understand, more or less, or I’d go bananas and tomahtoes and rocket ships.

How have you kept your spirits high through all the tedious, unrewarding, and uncertain time before your very first finished work met the very first proper eyes?

Are you even as anal as me when it comes to getting stuff ready for betas? I have a few writer friends who always send out their raw drafts to betas. I couldn’t do that, no matter how confident I was in my creation. Beta-readers are still not-me, after all, and thus their opinions have an innate market-testing quality to them.

26 Replies to “Of ambition, shame and exercising patience”

  1. Fast or slow, you’ll get there. Just keep going. 🙂
    Since you are writing stories, you are already an AUTHOR. Yes, yes you are. It doesn’t matter what career you follow.

    I’m one of those people who shows my rawest stuff to betas and anyone willing to read. Why? Because it is fun.

    I’m currently beta-reading for someone else, a military science fiction opus, and it is also fun. I get more readers this way too.

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    1. Thanks, Jelena. That’s about the only thing that keeps me going — the realization that no matter how little I am able to do at one time, it all adds up eventually.

      I envy you for the ease with which you share your work. Seriously. I get really anxious about it sometimes. But I hope it will all become much easier with practice, especially if I’m lucky enough to earn positive feedback from my prospective betas.

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      1. The thing is, whose judgement are you afraid of? You wrote a story that interested YOU.

        I did get anxious about my stories getting out there too. At first. But when feedback kept coming, I realized it wasn’t all that scary. I had a doze of really silly things, but it came from those who didn’t bother reading anything with eyes open. Heck, someone who was giving me a “constructive” criticism even misspelled my main character’s name. A four-letter word. So I, too, close my eyes to such “feedback”. I have to say, however, that 99% of what I’ve got was positive.

        Having your stories ignored (for some biased reason) and/or forgotten is more uncomfortable, I think.

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  2. This is why the workshop might prove useful. It prepares you for crits, some handfisted, some unwittingly cruel, others oozing in insight or sparking off tangential thoughts. I’m anal when it comes to sending off stuff to publishers/agents. I have to consciously force myself over the first barrier – anticipated rejection. Ref Beta readers, I’d be happy to read whatever stage you think the manuscript is – as long as it’s not 120K+ : )

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    1. Ha ha ha, *sob*, it’s somewhere around 160K.
      I would have loved you to read it, though. I’ve been keeping that prospect in mind for some time, no less due to your admirable command of the English language, your general erudition and your attention to detail. How’s that for sucking up, ha? 😛
      But I get it that it might be too long for your preferences. Sigh.

      I will definitely comb the internet for fitting, high-quality critique dispensing places & people the instant I’m done with this edit. I won’t forget about OWW.

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      1. Now you’ve made me feel really guilty, Vero 🙂 I could give it a try. I’m just worried that it might take longer than you wish. If time’s no object consider me in

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      2. Oh, it wasn’t my intention to make you feel guilty or anything. Thanks for offering, though. I’ll ask you nicely again when I’m done editing, in case you change your mind or have even less time. 😉

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  3. Veronica, wow, this one spoke to me. Telling you to suck it up, buttercup, probably not going to work
    I can flip a 135K ms in about 3 months. Should give you an obsession meter, right there. This fall, will have spent two yrs rewriting my current WIP, with a couple of leaps down the rabbit hole for another project. Early winter, I went hunting crit partners. Knew it was time. First one found me off a blog comment. From Africa. On the Kalahari desert! Exhilerating. Then I offered to crit someone’s writing ms & got notes in return. Then, an online crit group popped on Meetups. Wow, here’s someone in my backyard with amazing creds. Requested to be her partners. One month got extended to, umm, I don’t know, maybe six now. In month two, she invited me to come to four in person meetings with an established writing group, to see if I fit. I did. (And then some, ) And then, the Womentoring Project opened. I followed my gut again and low and behold, was selected.

    In short, you gotta put it out there, to get where you want to go.

    So, you go girl!

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    1. Thanks for the thumbs up, Morgyn. You’re very lucky to have found the right critique group, and one which you can meet with in person. I hope I’ll find the right crit partners too, eventually. 🙂

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  4. I know right where you are because I’ve been there. For the most part, writing and becoming an author takes a lot of time. But writing doesn’t spoil and evaporate…it’s there waiting for you when you’re available. The key is to not give up and keep your eyes open to the possibilities as they come along…that critique group, the special beta readers, the brilliant idea in the shower, the criticism that makes sense…if you go traditional publishing, you get one chance for that manuscript so don’t apologies for wanting to make it the best.

    But realize that at some moment you have to throw the dice and see what happens. Don’t look over the fence and worry about what everyone else is doing…do what fits you. Right now you have a wonderful and hectic life. Enjoy that too.

    Gah! I think I’m over dosing on advice giving and I hate when people tell me what to do. So, just wishing you luck and patience.

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    1. Don’t worry about giving too much advice, you’re not lecturing, you’re supporting. Big difference. And thanks for doing it, Sheron. You always say the right thing, what I need to hear. 🙂

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  5. The thing you have to keep in mind is what you really want out of writing. Some people want a job, some people want to publish a book or two, some people want it to be a side job.

    In the end, you get what you put into it, that’s sort of the idea behind the whole thing. For you it sounds like the job, kid, and other things are more important. Unless, you want to make them less so that’s going to be the results of not getting much done. And, that’s not bad, wrong, evil, lazy, whatever you like to insert here. It is a personal choice on what works for you.

    To answer your question I set small goals for myself. Today, I will write x amount of words and finish that one scene. Thing like that. I tend to give fairly rawish material to my critique group, because I often want to know if I’m heading in the right direction. I take what they say and revise the project based on it.

    Some of my stuff was the right place and some of it was so not, but best to know early before I spends next few months trying to finish the draft.

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    1. My family sure is more important than my writing, but my day-job isn’t. It’s just that I can’t cut down on the time I work, so I can write more. I do get some writing done while I’m at work, when there are downtimes, though, so that’s a win-win. 😉

      I set small goals when I write too. Now, when I edit, I go chapter by chapter. It’s the amounted time between writing the first draft and getting the MS ready for respectable beta-readers, that gets on my nerves. Then again, I took a pretty long break due to pregnancy & birth, but you know, I’m impatient nonetheless. Ha ha. Sigh. I just have to suck it up and keep going. Even at my current rate, I’ll be done editing in a couple of months, and then it’s OFF TO BETAS! YAY!

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  6. We all move at our own pace. My own first novel is a long way from where you are now, but I’m making steady progress. I have the hardest time preventing myself from editing continuously as I go. I constantly find myself going over the same section over and over again! Too much of a perfectionist? A little anal? Debatable I guess, but I know I have no intention of quitting. It’s something I love, and intend seeing through. Who wants to live with what if? Keep at it!

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    1. Oh, I had an episode of relentless editing of the same couple of chapters while I was drafting. It drove me nuts! In the end, I realized I was just reluctant to continue drafting because I had no clear idea what was to happen next. I invested some time outlining what lay ahead, and then I could finally move on and leave those poor chapters alone. Needless to say, one of those überedited chapters got entirely cut out in my revision, so… yeah. 😀

      Thanks for the encouragement, though. Feels good to know I’m not the only one going super fast sometimes, then oozing along like a drunk snail, and sometimes even grinding into a halt. Sigh. We’ll all get there, eventually. THE END. Magnificent.

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  7. Oh I think you’re totally justified in calling yourself a writer – same as you I haven’t published anything yet but I’d definitely call myself a writer! Actually I’m in the same place as you, working on the second draft of my book, getting it slowly into the kind of shape where I can send it off to Beta readers. I always remind myself that I’m in it for the long haul, writing’s not a sprint it’s a marathon (although like you I am VERY impatient and I’d love it if my book could be done already so I can move on to the next story I want to write, so it’s easier said than done). But all those little bits add up and then it’s awesome to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

    I do the same as Fatma in setting smaller goals for myself, it’s less daunting than staring up at the mountain of work that is getting a book ready for publication. Good luck and keep going! 🙂

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    1. “Writing’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

      Amen to that. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself of whenever I start to get antsy.

      Thanks for the warm wishes, Celine. Good luck to you too!

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  8. You should look at it this way: while you are writing and editing at your own pace, you are building an audience, which is at least as important as actually writing the thing. When you are done, without even realizing it, you’ll have dozens/hundreds/thousands readers waiting for your work.

    It took me five months from first-word-jotted-down to publication with five (IIRC) editing passes. I had to book a slot with the proofreader to force myself into publishing the damn thing. Too little time? Too rushed? Perhaps, but I know myself and I knew I had to build a physical deadline, otherwise I would keep editing forever. But that’s me 🙂

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    1. That’s true, the “audience” is important. I’m not really out to build myself one, I rather started this blog to exercise some writing discipline and meet other writers, but it does have the nice perk of allowing me to find readers easier. 🙂

      I’m not so much a compulsive editor as I am impatient. But I know I’ll eventually get the novel ready for pub.

      Thanks for stopping by to drop a comment, Dario. Good luck with your projects!

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  9. Well, I don’t really think of writing as career (not literature, at least). But most would say I’m too young for that, and they’re basically right. Still, I doubt all the more than 10 projects and stories stored in my head will just fade away with time. It doesn’t matter how many I already have, it seems I never forget a thing about any project, and still create more constantly. There’s just so much inspiration out there.

    I am not busy; as I said, I’m still young, I don’t have many duties. However I can relate to what you said about little time to write. Of course, I do procrastinate, however I find that I have everything so vivid in my head that sometimes I don’t feel the need to write it down. I literally think about my projects and what I could add to it all the time, but I don’t find the right time to write it. Laziness? Probably.

    And the point is that I’m still learning so much everyday, my stories keep changing. And what I learn is not related to writing as a whole. Everyday I learn more concepts, facts, theories that I find should be added to the story. That is something that also slows down my progress, even though I only write as a hobby and for myself. However, in my opinion, it makes it a lot more fun, and, well, I just gain knowledge with that, some of them I wouldn’t only use while writing.

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    1. Hi h, thanks for stopping by to comment.
      I totally know what you mean, when you say that things are vivid and detailed and all laid out nicely. It was the same for me, before I started putting those words down into a novel draft. Then I realized things were not as clear as I thought they were, and the details, while wonderful and exciting, didn’t make much overall sense. Writing things down in a structured story really forces you to face the gaps in your imagination — and trust me, there are gaps in all our concepts. But if you stick to it and work through the draft to THE END, not only will you fill those gaps, but you’ll witness your story grow much beyond what you had envisioned, and it will be even more magnificent. It’s worth the effort. Plus, you can share the result with others, something which you can’t with stories that are stuck in your own mind. 🙂

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  10. Oh, Vero, Vero, Vero. Reading your post was a lot like rootling around in my own head and spending some quality time with the self-doubt and impatience that have taken up residence there. Urgh. I reassure myself that this is all part of the process–of my process, at least–but some days it feels like I’m never going to turn that corner.

    I’ve spent the last year wrestling with a novel that saw its genesis in National Novel Writing Month 2010. Or possibly 2009; who’s counting? It sat on my hard drive gathering virtual dust for a few years until the characters re-infected my brain, and I dived in again. The last few months have been a combination of writing and restructuring, and after all those months, I am now four scenes away from finishing my first draft–first viable draft, that is. Yikes. So much editing still to go.

    Like you I look on as others race through their first, second, and third drafts, and all I can do is boggle. Whatever. I’ll do it my way, because that’s what’s working. However slowly. And as for sharing the results, yeah, not so much. Not until they’re one heck of a lot more attractive than they are right now, and even then, I’m going to be fastidious about choosing beta readers. The sad but true of the matter is that this is one area where all opinions are NOT equally valid. I’m not going to be wasting someone’s time asking them to plough through however many thousand words when I have serious doubts as to whether (a) they know what they’re talking about, or (b) I’m going to be able to use any of their feedback.

    Good luck with mooshing your manuscript into beta-ready shape. Don’t hesitate to hit me up when it’s ready, but equally, don’t hesitate to ignore this offer. Trust me, I won’t be offended. 🙂

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    1. You know, Kern, if I would have known how much rewriting it takes to get my “perfect concept” of a story (and that first draft wasn’t much more than a ton of haphazard words strung together to offer a skeletal support frame for my story concept), I would have been crushed. Maybe I wouldn’t have written this novel at all, and started out with something “easier”, like a novella, or a simpler novel. But I was sure only a few editing drafts would be necessary to finetune the MS into a worthy representation of the story living in my mind. Ha! *sob* When I read that first draft I was shocked. It was nothing near usable. Sigh.

      BUT — the efforts I drizzled into the revision(s) have paid off (so far), and for the next novel I already know what to avoid. So even if I was slow this time (learning curve and all), I know I’ll be faster next time. And even faster the third time. And all the while I focused on quality, not speed and quantity, which tickles my perfectionist bone quite nicely. I couldn’t work otherwise. 🙂

      And I bet you’re the same. 🙂

      I will go about the beta-readers same as you, because I don’t want to waste people’s and my time. I know I find it a chore to read through someone’s MS if it’s not decently cleaned up, so I would never ask that of others either.

      I’ll think about you as a beta-reader, but no promises. I still have to put together my list of required (to me) feedback types from beta types. That’s gonna be some mental gymnastics… ugh.

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  11. Hi there, newly-discovered soul-twin! 😉

    I am pretty much where you are at the moment (well, sounds like you’re a little further along the line with the editing process than me, but other than that…) I get about two hours a day to call writing time – usually confined to Monday to Friday because weekends is when the husband and Number One Son are off work/school. So yeah, I know that “dammit this dammity thing is taking too damn dammity LOOONNNGGGG!” feeling well. I have had a few things published in the past – a couple of short stories in anthologies no-one will ever have heard of 😉 and the lyrics to a couple of musicals some of the people of Washington USA might have heard of – but I’ve never managed to finish any novel I ever started. Until last year, when I finally finished my first ever draft one of a sci-fi novel.

    The thing that’s been keeping me going? Well, since I hit my forties three years ago, sheer bloody-mindedness, I think. I guess I suddenly woke up and thought “Jeez, you’re not on the Road of Youth anymore girl, you just hit the Highway that Leads to Old Woman. So you better get your mid-life-crisised ass in gear! And I’ve been working on my current novel ever since (and trying harder than usual not to get run over in traffic – ’cause that kind of irony would just pee me off.) And every time I get down on myself and think “Aw, this is gonna take FOREVER..!” I remind myself that before last year I’d ALREADY spent a forever-sized portion of my life NOT ever finishing a novel – so at least if I keep on going with the one I’ve got to finished-draft-one-and-now-halfway-through-draft-two stage I’ll STILL be moving faster than I did for the past twenty-odd years.

    So yeah – keep the faith, and – as Dory/Ellen says in ‘Finding Nemo’ – “Just keep swim-ming, swim-ming, swim-ing…” (In fact, that’s become my personal mantra now; I pinned it up over my computer – mainly ’cause I couldn’t pin up Chuck Wendig’s “Art Harder, motherf****r” where my 7-year-old son would also see it.) I’ll be cheering you on too from now on. Let’s sprint for that finish line together!

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    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement, Wendy. We’re definitely in the same boat when it comes to sweating away at our manuscripts. 🙂

      Let’s hope if we ever run out of stubbornness, we’ll rekidle the good ol’ childish enthusiasm and still KEEP GOING! 😀

      Like

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