Tuesday, April 26, 2011
One Writer's Journey: A Tale of Many Beginnings by Marilyn Brant
But, more than a decade into this journey, I now realize that it's not exactly a straight-line continuum for me. I haven't been scaling the side of Everest, using ropes and climbing gear (and, thank God, because I'm scared of heights); it's more like walking on a curving, ever-rising path that starts at the base of the mountain and slowly spirals upward. Every new stage -- each circuit around those bends in the mountain, up to a slightly higher elevation -- is like being a newbie all over again. Novels may have distinct beginnings, middles and endings, but I think writers just a have long string of often terrifying beginnings.
At first, the path seemed to be all about learning to believe in the dream. That is, gaining enough experience writing, studying craft and building the skills to recognize when the story was working (or not). Knowing when I was being true to my voice, when I should accept or ignore feedback, when the elements of structure and characterization were coming together vs. just flitting in and out of the manuscript randomly and with no sense of authorial control. To put it in courtship terms, I was flirting, dating, falling in love with writing fiction as I walked along that part of the path -- coming to appreciate it for what it was, and for who I was when I was with it.
But, then, this stage merged into another. I had to stop and catch my breath when I realized I'd circled the mountain once and was now beginning a new rotation -- one I wasn't prepared for in the least. One that required a brand new skill set. This circuit was all about working to make the dream I finally believed in a reality. Committing to it with the exclusively of a soulmate, and attempting to understand what made the publishing industry surrounding it tick. (Rather like a dysfunctional family, I discovered, but that's a post for another time... ;)
I began to research agents and editors, learn more about branding, marketing, publicity/promotion and what was involved once a sale actually happened (contracts, copy-edits and royalty statements, oh, my!), so I'd know what to do when I finally got "the call." I imagined that moment would be similar to a fairy-tale marriage proposal, with the time between contract and publication like the engagement. The release day would be akin to a royal wedding and then, of course, there would be the happily ever after.
Only, I've been married for eighteen years, and I know better, LOL. Weddings -- royal or otherwise -- are lovely, but then the marriage starts...and, as many of us know, it marks a whole new stage in the relationship. Likewise, despite all of my attempts at being prepared for publication, I was, again, left breathless by this new level in my career when it finally came. Two books (well, three in November) down the road/up the mountain, and I'm still trying to get a few good lungfuls of air, stay sort of on that walking path and keep slogging forward without keeling over from exertion and fatigue.
I'm still very much a beginner in this stage, which seems to be all about dealing with the daily reality of the dream. Juggling growing responsibilities, having more writing-related commitments and/or presentations, handling reviews (positive and negative), getting awards and hitting bestsellers lists (or, um, not...), being in the swirl of other professional authors -- online and off, having opportunities to experience the incredible generosity of my peers, especially those who've trekked further up the the mountain than I have and are willing to talk about their struggles and joys and, sometimes, having to face disappointment when either the vagaries of the industry or the insecurities of other people let me down.
It's scary here. As with every beginning, I'm wondering if I know enough to handle this particular leg of the journey...or if I can learn what I need to know very quickly... I'm unsure of what's ahead and can only hope I'll have the strength and faith to continue on, even amidst all of the uncertainty.
Yet, I need to look no further than my current manuscript to understand why I don't know. Why I can't know. I'm on page 92 of the draft -- still, by my account, the beginning of this new project. I need to somehow make it through another 300 or so pages of wobbly narrative and half-expressed dialogue before I get to what I consider to be the middle of the book, which is the revising/layering stage after my first draft. (The end is when I get to tweak and polish -- and that's light-years away at this point.)
Of course, in life we know there's no revising, no copy-editing. It's ALL first draft: one long unpolished beginning. But, I have to be honest with you. I never would have become a writer if revisions and tweaks were all I did. Despite how frightening and perplexing those beginning stages are, despite the self-doubt that arises during them, I also know they can be the most thrilling of the whole book. It is, after all, in the beginning where the magic of the story is born. Where the drive to journey forward originates. And where we get the inspiration and the courage to take that very first step.
So, I wish you, too, the gift of many beginnings on your long and winding journey, no matter what mountain you're trying to climb. May it be filled with life-long passions, wonderful companions and stunning vistas...and may you get to the thousand-mile mark and realize you've only just begun.
Marilyn Brant did a lot of traveling in her pre-novelist days, which meant a bunch of long journeys, seemingly endless roads and a few mountain hikes (often wearing inappropriate footwear, which wasn't wise). She started writing women's fiction in 2000 and wrote for almost eight years before selling her first book. She's the author of According to Jane, Friday Mornings at Nine, and the upcoming novel A Summer in Europe.
Is there something in your life -- a hobby, a career, a relationship, etc. -- that you're in the process of beginning...or beginning again?