Monday, January 04, 2010

The Road to Success

By Ali Cross

Recently I had two experiences that in tandem opened my eyes to where I am now as a writer and from whence I have come.

My husband, David, who started this writing journey with me—we both finished our first books on New Years Eve a few years ago—is reconsidering his decision to give up writing. He quit two years ago when I invited him to join my first critique group. We were hard on him, and he wasn’t ready yet, his writing too tender and fresh to face the harsh storm of critiquing.

Next, a friend of mine, who wants to be a writer, read one of my manuscripts. She came away feeling sad because she “could never write like [me].”

I remember the first critiques I got—how they made me feel sick to my stomach, made me cry, and made me doubt. You often hear how writers need to have thick skin, but what you don’t always hear is that writers aren’t usually born with that thick skin. We get it like an athlete builds calluses—from constantly exposing ourselves to judgment and growing tougher because of it. But you definitely have to be in the right frame of mind, to be mentally prepared for such lashings.

I also remember—particularly because it wasn’t too long ago—that I read a friend’s soon-to-be-published manuscript and finished it both incredibly pleased for my friend for writing such a fantastic book, and utterly depressed because I couldn’t imagine writing anything that good. However, now it seems the tables have turned, and my own writing is evoking such responses in would-be authors.

I realized, in consoling my friend and encouraging my husband, that the manuscript my friend read is one that’s been through at least ten major revisions. It stank to the high heavens in versions one-through-nine. Perhaps, now, at version ten, it’s finally starting to look its age, finally starting to make heads turn. But it certainly wasn’t born that way.

All of these experiences have brought me to a point where I can honestly say, with pride of ownership, that I am a writer, nay, I am an author. And I can also say with true sincerity, that anyone can do it as long as they’re willing to do the work and never, ever, give up.

You just need to try. You need to not give up. You need to get to a place where you are ready and able to hear and withstand the criticism of experienced writers. Then, you need to be willing and able to take what will help you move your story forward, and incorporate it. That means rewriting. Revising. And then you do it again.

So far, I’ve yet to write a novel that has reached completion. Until a manuscript is published, I imagine it can always be improved. I think this is the mark of a successful writer—because I do intend on being successful—to never stop seeking to improve our work.

No matter where you are in your writing journey, rest assured someone else has been there before you and gone on to great success. I’m happy that David has decided to step back into the game—I’m proud of him for not giving up on his dream. Hang in there and you’ll be successful too.


Annette Lyon said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes!

I love the athlete's callous analogy--that's perfectly apt. A writer really does have to gradually develop that thick skin. And the skill gradually develops with it. I have manuscripts that will never see the light of day--and there is a reason for that. I cut my writing teeth on them--learned how to write--but they stink. And at this point, I'd rather write a better new book than rewrite those ones ten times.

L.T. Elliot said...

This is just what has been percolating in my mind of late. Thank you for putting the words to it! I'm very glad David's stepping back into the ring and I hope your friend doesn't give up either.

ali said...

Yay! So glad these words rang true with you guys. Thanks for visiting and for taking the time to leave a comment!

Kimberly Job said...

I was so busy reading about and trying to learn the craft of writing that my first critique experiences filled my thirst for information rather than making me want to quit.

Anything worth doing always takes effort. I think it's very cool that you and your husband have writing to share.