Somebody linked to “Growth Cycle of a Writer” by Jenn Reese on one of the various writing lists I’m on. It’s an interesting essay, well worth reading, and I think it aptly describes a vast majority of writers.
However, reading through … while some applies to me, not all of it does. (Ms. Reese makes an outright disclaimer that it’s not applicable to all writers, but now I feel all introspective. ;))
I never experienced what she describes as “Stage 1.” Or if I did, it was for a very short time, so far back that I can’t remember it. When I was eight, I decided I wanted to be a published, professional author. I wrote short fiction and printed it up on the family computer. Now, being a kid, I formatted like juvenile books I’d read (or at least as much as I could manage on a deskjet with xerox paper!), including a page on the back with lists of other stories and “Heidi Smith books are the best!” (Though, to be honest, that was more a childish attempt at marketing than true belief — I knew damn well my work needed improvement. Even then. :P)
What frustrated me the most was that I couldn’t get any critique from people other than “That’s nice, dear,” or “I really liked it,” sometimes with specifics as to what was good about the piece. I’d respond impatiently, “Yeah, but what’s wrong with it?”
And get no response. This was outright depressing. I’ve always been confident in my work, even when it sucked. If it was horrible, I wanted to know about it, so I could fix the problem. There’s no point in doing anything if you don’t learn and improve. No one succeeds in a vacuum.
I started researching submission procedures (minds out of the gutter, folks) when I was thirteen, after I’d completed the rough of a 20k juvenile novel. I was serious about submitting, and I’d asked my father (who is also a writer, and I really wish he would get off his arse and finish something) for a thorough critique. He agreed, so while I waited for him to crit it, I got a copy of Writer’s Market (I believe with my allowance) and started reading up on queries, synopses, and markets. I also scoured the internet for resources, and found Speculations and the Rumor Mill. Both of which were very helpful.
My father never got around to critting the novel, but after a few months, I realised myself that it needed a lot of work, so set to rewriting it.
By the time I actually submitted anything — my first submission was a story to CatFancy’s short story contest when I was fourteen, and then I started submitting other work the following year — I knew proper submissions format and procedure inside and out. I didn’t make the idiotic mistakes a lot of n00b writers do.
Never been there. Rejection’s never been anything but part of the game to me. My folks, my dad in specific, was convinced that rejections would damage my confidence. Hah. Yeah right. I’m a stubborn bitch (it runs in the family), and that’s come in damn handy. Especially considering the 150+ rejections I have at this point. 🙂
When I was sixteen, I asked permission to find an online critique group. Dad discouraged the idea. “People can be harsh with critiques, and hearing too many bad things can destroy your creativity.”
“If I can’t handle negative opinions, then I’m in the wrong business,” I replied.
So I joined Critters. I’d been banging my head against the wall that was The Diary of Owl Katerina, aka Sacred Daughter — that first finished novel, which had gone through multiple drafts by that point. I sent it through. Some people liked the concepts, but thought that it was too juvenile to be an adult novel and too adult to be a juvenile. (As it originally started as a juvenile and then the conflicts grew to the point where they didn’t fit J/YA, not surprising.) So I threw another WIP into the critique machine, Jaguarundi’s Rise, a truly horrid S&S novel. Again, mixed reviews.
I put both aside for awhile to mull over what I’d learned.
At first glance, I didn’t think this applied, but having thought it over, it does. I joined Critters in Summer 2001, but entered college that fall via Washington State’s Running Start program. First quarter, I dedicated almost totally to school, even though I was taking only one class. (I was homeschooled all my life, see, and had to learn how to write school papers and such from scratch.) I attempted NaNo, but got less than 3k in before giving up.
Over winter break, I started lurking Forward Motion, read class transcripts and writing articles. In February, I started posting. At first, I thought it was only going to be one post, in response to a thread on S&S, but, well, I stuck around. Started working on Jaguarundi’s Rise again in March, put a couple chapters through Critters, decided to leave Critters because it wasn’t helping all that much, signed up for a challenge at FM, entered chat (aka The Addiction) for the first time … and stuck around and got back into the game.
Finished the rough draft of Jaguarundi’s Rise, renamed Sanctuary, by the end of April. The 27th, I believe.
After that point … well. The only other place it might apply is the writer’s block (at least in regards to novel-length fiction) I had from mid-2003 through 2005. But that was brought about by a combination of real-life stress (read: abusive relationship and recovery) and sub/unconscious issues I didn’t recognise. I knew part of it related to the destruction of the writer’s community I’d called home for a year and a half. (The community still exists, but it changed so drastically in atmosphere it’s no longer the place I loved.)
But it wasn’t the only issue. Once I realised what they were (clicky if interested), I broke through the block. I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things, as it were.
However, I don’t think I would categorise writer’s block due to unconscious psychological issues in with self-censorship due to writing rule overdose.
I’d say I started at a cross between Stage 4 and 6. Even when I sucked, I wanted to learn — and I applied what I learned. Not always well, but that’s true of everything. I can look back at stuff and see improvement along the way. I’d say this is definitely where I was when I joined FM in March 2002.
In regards to “being good,” I’d say I’d reached here by Summer 2002. I’ve sold fiction I wrote back then. Not everything was good — some of it needs definite work — but it’s competant.
And it’s probably still where I am now. I’ve sold fiction to pro markets, but I won’t consider myself a “professional” till I’ve sold a novel to a NY publisher. Yes, I know it’s fucked up, because you can count as a professional by SFWA once you’ve sold three short stories to qualifying pro-paying markets, or (presumably) if you’re selling enough through epubs.
(Just to qualify — I don’t consider people who are pro-pubbed story authors or epub authors “non/semi-pros.” IMO, if you count through SFWA or the appropriate writer’s association for your genre, or you’re established in legit, reputable epubs like Ellora’s Cave or Double Dragon … then you’re professional. For me, though, I don’t think it would feel the same, though it certainly would be an accomplishment to be proud of. :))
So, for those of you who managed to slog through this overly long, introspective post:
How does this represention of a writer’s growth cycle apply to you?