An Author's Flight Plan
Migrating my way through the world as a writer has never been hard for me. From my duckling days, I knew that writing stories was what I was supposed to do. But to say that it wasn’t work… well, that would be a deception of pterodactyl proportions.
I began as a tiny, timid vocabulary junkie. I worked hard to shake the gooey red pen edits from every paper I’d ever written in high school and college, believing that if I just put in enough effort, I’d figure out what direction I was supposed to go next. I was told that eventually, after I learned all the rules, I’d be able to break them and find my own way. This was not tremendously helpful advice, but it was inspiring. So, with the encouragement of my mentors, I pushed off the shell fragments of a newly hatched storyteller.
I had a lot of enthusiasm in the beginning. But enthusiasm alone isn’t enough. There is a natural process to becoming a novelist, and to deny the challenges only makes the turbulence more intense.
As most writers do, I began stumbling on wobbly legs as I learned to balance story, structure, trope, and character. Then, in a little while, I became a bit stronger. The downy fluff of purple prose began to cover my boney story skeletons, and I began to enthusiastically peck my way through the metaphors. Over time, I started to learn which seeds of discontent will fuel my characters toward story arcs that might captivate a reader’s interest. This was a long and arduous process. Too long. Sometimes, it still is. I scratched my way over paths lined with nuggets of inspiration and kernels of distress. Not every sentence lends itself well to a story. From time to time, I needed to kick the persnickety ones aside and hope they would appear useful in my next draft. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But I continued to work at it, testing and retesting every bend of wing until I felt like maybe I had something worth reading.
I emerged from my writing nest with material that made me look a little bit more like a swan and a bit less like an ugly duckling. World building made more sense and characters fleshed out more like real people than paper cut-outs. Of course, I still had lots of spikes of “Oh My Gosh! What was I thinking?” moments, but that’s to be expected. As any new flyer will tell you, there will be a few false starts when listening to instinct. Not every duck does it right the first time; just ask Ping.
I began to test the waters of critique by sharing bits and pieces of my stories with other writers. I submitted pieces on spec to newspapers, literary magazines, and whoever had a newsletter looking for content. It’s a strange thing, to fly with confidence through your journey and then open yourself up to a course correction. I found it difficult to know what praise to listen to and what admonishment to ignore. Finally, I decided that imitating the authors who traveled successfully along a similar flight path I intended to take made the most sense. So, I followed them through their writing, learning as best I could by their example. I still do.
I took classes, workshops, and mentoring sessions with other authors, hanging on their words of experience because, of course, they already knew how to fly. Sometimes, I was cheered for my tenacity and creativity. Other times, I was scorned for my inability to meet the expectations of more experienced writers. I did my best to let the negative comments roll off my back and realigned myself, wings tucked neatly at my side, diving deeper into my craft.
As my writing practice grew stronger, I began to shift my understanding of the thermodynamics of storytelling. I stretched my story and character arcs, reaching for higher altitudes, taking bigger risks in subplots, and the ideas of genre mixing and bending. There were times when what I wrote was simply outrageous and ridiculous. Other times, it was just bad. Sometimes it still is. I think that's necessary. Through that daily practice of allowing whatever floated into my sky to make it to my page, I taught myself patience. I took the time to devise new ways to make faster dives into tension and gentler glides through romance.
But even as I was plotting a new flight path toward what I was certain would be literary success, submissions were returned to me, mocking my aspirations and delivering gut-wrenching blows of rejection, time and again. But sometimes not. Sometimes, my work was welcomed, praised, and published for the world to read.
At last, I found my nest within a supportive community of Indies. I became comfortable inside a flock of readers who recognize and appreciate that I’ve outgrown my fluff. Now, I have more beautiful transitions and dialogue that lay together, drawing readers in to touch the delicate silk plumage of my stories. Okay, perhaps I’m not yet perfectly fluff-less, but I’m getting better at it. I practice flying in and out of story every day and trust those just as committed as me to occasionally take point and lead the way across the mid-day sky.
The euphoria of finding my place among literary clouds didn’t last, though. Too soon, I was forced to begin again, traveling to another community of Indies, to share my work with readers who haven’t yet discovered me. I'm guessing that the pang of that risk will never get any easier. I suffer tremendous anxiety while traveling abroad. When I began this migration from writer to author, no one told me how exhausting it would be. They didn’t mention how challenging it would be to believe in myself, in my work, and fight off the vultures of imposter syndrome, simply to keep my stories alive. I thought that the actual writing would be the hard part of this journey, not the rest of it.
But I refuse to give up. I suffer through the change in seasons year after year, migrating toward new sunny shelf space, with new readers and new opinions of my work. I push through the doubt and frustration because I believe in the strength of story and the importance of the journey of creation. I continue to take the risk in relocation, in both genre and audience, to fulfill that instinctive call from my creative nature. But, for odd ducks like me, ignoring the quiet voice that pushes me to repeat my flight patterns across the literary landscape, year after year, can be difficult.
As difficult as it is… I would rather fly through the anguish of growth than become grounded by the stagnation of the denial of story.
2/19/2022 11:29:21 pm
This is an amazing blog. Quite a journey. Even though your journey continues, it is great to be able to look back and see where you have been and how you got where you are today. And where you are going tomorrow. Very well done.
2/20/2022 10:40:51 am
It has certainly been a journey, and the adventure continues!
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