Eight Hundred

Eight Hundred

You never think it’ll happen to you and then it does. Since I started writing, I told myself I had thick skin. I believed myself armored with tenacity. But, armor eventually fails. Creative chinks don’t care about our intentions. They reveal themselves in a hundred different ways and often too late.

A book can flop. The most well-meaning comment can eviscerate. Sales numbers can collapse. Positive momentum can falter and then vanish entirely. The list is endless. Any of those can wear you down. They can make you want to give up. They can destroy you.

It happened to me around late-2016/early-2017. The catalyst is unimportant but the outcome isn’t. My armor failed. I felt defeated, and my confidence was shattered. I didn’t know what to do. I felt creatively adrift. That pernicious devil known as imposter syndrome arrived, and he brought his bag of “What Ifs” with him. What if I’m not good enough? What if this story is crap? What if I’m not cut out for this? What if? What if? What if?

“What if I’m not good enough? What if this story is crap? What if I’m not cut out for this?”

I withdrew creatively. I told very few. I kept up appearances, but inside it hurt. Thinking back, it still hurts. But, I kept writing, I drained those emotions out on the keyboard. Time passed. I finished one manuscript, then another—my biggest project to date—there were failed projects in between, unfinished starts, and discarded ideas. There always is. But I kept going. The writing didn’t stop. The writer is tempered by adversity, and I worked through it doubting myself the whole way. Eventually, I returned to the Bell Forging Cycle.

Writing is an interesting endeavor. There are a thousand ways to do it, a thousand voices offering (or selling advice), and numerous experts waxing poetic on a soapbox. It’s no wonder we all get the author equivalent of stage fright. What if someone’s way is better? What if we’re not efficient enough? What if our style changes? What if we’re not striving for the same goals as everyone else? We judge ourselves based on the perceived success of others. It’s no wonder even the masters talk about being stricken with impostorism. In a world of “experts,” it’s become a cyclical feedback loop.

So why all this? Why bare my soul now? This is my eight-hundredth post on I Make Stories. Every two hundred posts, I take a moment and evaluate where I am at creatively. It’s become a tradition. (Previously: 600. 400. 200.) Who knows how many thousands of words I’ve shared here? This silly little site has become a bit of refuge over the past few years—a place to vent, explore, and share—it’s my outlet.

It’s funny how in moments of struggle you forget your successes. I have three books behind me with a slew of fantastic reviews. I have readers who email me with excited questions or words of encouragement. (Or just wondering when the next book is coming.) I have colleagues who trust my opinion on their work. I have a community of creatives around me. When I started this blog eight years ago, I had no idea where it’d go. I had no clue what would happen. I wasn’t classically trained. I had a limited college education. I was a twenty-something kid with big ideas—that’s it.

But, here I am eight years later and staring at the completed third draft of Gleam Upon the Waves, Book IV of my Bell Forging Cycle. For those patiently waiting: we’re getting close.

Interestingly, I am at this point on this project when the 800th post has arrived. Here I reflect. In manuscript land, I’ve reached the moment where it’s time to contact my beta readers. The point where I solicit the first round of feedback on the roughest of stories. Just thinking about it makes me nervous. I can feel those old emotions welling up. Those old doubts that held me in check and slowed me down. I’m worried. I’m scared. I’m nervous. The wound may have scarred over but it still stings. I can hear our ugly adversary cackling “you’re a fraud” in my creative ear. But, I know he’s a liar. I know theirs no truth in that. Perhaps if I had quit, he’d be right. But I didn’t stop. I kept writing. I stuck around. I’ve gotten better. I kept telling the stories I needed to tell. Saying the things I need to say. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Sometimes it’s all we should do.

Right now, Gleam’s a manuscript. Soon it’ll be a book. A book you’ll be able to read. And here we are, eight hundred posts behind us and more stories in the future. Milestones are meant to be passed. Stopping isn’t in the cards. It wasn’t before it most certainly isn’t now.

Post one thousand is somewhere in the future. And who knows where we’ll be then?

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"There are thriving communities still out there that want more! They want to hear your voice, and if you keep at it, you’ll eventually find them and they’ll eventually discover you."

Ignore The Market. Tell The Story You Want To Tell.

Recently, over on KBoards there has been a discussion going on about finding success as an author in the current market. It’s worthy of discussion. After all, it’s always helpful to share what has worked for you. It’s a big reason why I started this blog, I want to share my experience and I hope you glean something useful from it. But, I had to pause when I read a post from someone on how reading through that thread was depressing them. This was sparked mainly by the heralded success of romance fiction—something they didn’t write—and its perceived market and potential profitably compared to their own genre.

Often authors get sucked into the comparison game—indie authors especially. They look at what others have done to achieve success and the kneejerk reaction is to emulate them. Likewise, they get disheartened when they pour so much of themselves into a work and the market seems to ignore it. It can lead to frustration, depression, and animosity. Instead of telling the stories they want to tell or sticking with their work, they end up chasing promises while trying to placate the desires of the market. It turns the market into a hungry monster. Instead of a place to share and sell work it becomes something else. It slumbers like an evil beast forged in the dark fires of jealousy and thrives on our desire for explosive and immediate success.

“Oh!” It will say in its sultry voice. “You’re writing an epic fantasy? No. No one cares about epic fantasy anymore, we’re all into hard science fiction these days! Didn’t you see the sales numbers for the last bookstore blockbuster? Your numbers are a pittance in comparison! Didn’t you see how Famous McAuthor did their giveaway? You should have done the same! Why didn’t you write a character like that popular one? Yours are boring in comparison!”

As long as you keep feeding it, the thing will never be silent. The mystical market monster cannot be appeased. Even success won’t sate its hunger. It’ll always want something else, it’ll always cause doubt, and it’ll always frustrate. You sold ten thousand books? Well, Famous McAuthor sold one hundred thousand. You sold one hundred thousands? Well they sold a million! On and on it goes. It’s easy to see how it can spiral down for anyone.

Yet… the market monster can be defeated. During interviews I have often been asked what my advice is for new writers. My best advice is to ignore advice. Advice will only get you so far. Everyone’s path to success is different. Keep working hard and keep trying new things. Don’t dwell on what others are doing. Ignorance, in this case, is bliss.

“There are thriving communities still out there that want more! They want to hear your voice…”

Sure, there are always cases of instant success but for the grand majority of people it takes time. Focus on craft. Write your stories. Tell what you need to tell and please, stick to it! It doesn’t matter if someone believes that “dystopian is played out” or “no one cares about steampunk” or “vampire romance doesn’t sell.” There are thriving communities still out there that want more! They want to hear your voice, and if you keep at it, you’ll eventually find them and they’ll eventually discover you.

That’s one of the best things about the internet and our connected culture worldwide. It’s what allows for stories like Homestuck to get told, find an audience, and become runaway successes. (If you haven’t heard about Homestuck, educate yourself.) None of the big publishing houses would have even considered giving the creator—Andrew Hussie—the time of day. He forged his own path and it took years but eventually his story found its audience.

So when it comes to your own creations, I really want to encourage everyone to keep doing what they’re doing. Keep writing. Keep perfecting your craft. Keep making quality products. Ignore everything else. Those three things should be your focus. Chase the stories you want to tell and ignore the market monster. You’ll be a lot happier and it’ll show in your work.

Now, get back to writing.