Get started. Finish a project. Do it again.
Writing is an exploration. As many authors have famously paraphrased, it is like driving a car while hanging a flashlight out the window with your hand on fire and blaring “The End” on your stereo as you careen recklessly into a black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Or something like that.
The original quote did, in fact, note that writing a story was an uncertain proposition requiring the attempt of writing before formation of the final idea. It is from that attempt that a story develops. But what about the writer’s confidence as the same sort of exploration?
I found it to be the same struggle. I didn’t write for long stretches because I thought You’re crazy, you’re obviously not a fucking professional writer so why are you bothering with this? It broke my sense of initiative. But I didn’t exactly give up. I angled my career path into writing for a living, first in marketing then in law. I read a great deal. I never abandoned the idea that I was decent at stringing together a few words. I even wrote many early manuscripts in my 20’s – short ones. Sometimes each was a few pages in a new word file, maybe even the start of a long story. The file was then abandoned. The carcasses of some fifty stories littered my hard drive over time. My old quip was that I’d written many books, I just never finished any of them.
Then I decided I should finish a project. I came to the conclusion that I needed to move forward, even if blindly, by completing a project in order to prove to myself that I was a writer.
The Tarnished Key was designed to fit my failings and allow me to accomplish that goal – short prose, all vignettes, no real overarching theme to speak of, but filled with a lot of fun scenes. Hell I didn’t even require that the book be read in any particular order. I just wanted it down on paper. I wanted to get to the formatting. I wanted it to out there.
And so I did it. I kept my costs as low as possible. I line-edited the damn thing myself until I couldn’t bear to read it any more. I made the built-in riddle work (sort of). I self-published it, not even researching enough to know I could query an agent. I paid for about $100 worth of marketing, if you could call it that.
It was not a critical hit.
But that didn’t matter. When I look back I knew I had a completed project under my belt. I HAD DONE IT. It was a stepping stone for me. A way forward. It was useful to build from. It led me to keep writing, first Burying the Last Titan (abandoned at 40k words), then The Light in Darkness (when it was The Great Library) and afterwards the City of Visions, then back to TLID. The last two manuscripts are now beyond their zero drafts.
So if you’re not yet to your first MS and are questioning your existence as a writer – don’t. Understand that you are a writer just by exploring the path of writing. Start writing and keep writing. Step forward to allow your brain to square with the fact that you can complete the task of writing a short story, novel, or other such target work. Commit yourself to forward motion. Finish something.
There you did it.
Now you are most definitely a writer.
Now you can do it again.