The story of the master and the apprentice has always been an important one to me. Whether it’s Yoda and Luke Skywalker, Dan Millman and Socrates, Richard Bach and Donald Shimoda, or any of the countless other stories like them out there, I love them. The student/teacher archetype is one of my favorite ways of learning and being entertained at the same time; it’s no wonder I chose it for the setting of my first book. I didn’t even mean to do it that way; it just sort of happened, and I watched it unfold much like the reader would.
All I had to work with at first was an empty notebook, a clicker pencil, a story that wanted to speak to me, and a first scene. That first scene played out in my head, first in a dream and then in my daydreams. Soon I couldn’t meditate or concentrate, and I knew I had to write it. I was bummed, since it was all I had to work with; finally, resigned, I sat down and got to work.
Well, that was harder/easier than I expected. Now what? Well, I could focus again; at least for a little while. Then the next scene came, and I played the same silly game for a couple days. I wrote it, finally, and went back to see if it all fit together. It did; and while I was reading, the next scene played out in my mind. So I wrote that too. It was late, and I had to work in the morning, so I went to bed after that. I dreamed of the next scene, like I was watching a movie. It went on like that, me watching a story I had never heard of play out and then trying to throw a net of words around what I was seeing. I only got what I could handle, a little at a time; it was enough to keep me moving, but not enough to intimidate me with how far I had to go.
I have to laugh at that now; my first book is my shortest novel by far, and it took way longer to write than any of the others. I labored over what turned out to be about twenty-five thousand words for much longer than a hundred-thousand page novel would take me now; actually, I could write at least three in the time it took poor yesterday Jay to complete his first manuscript. I don’t type much faster than he did; but I use every time management tool I can to trim all the fat from my schedule that I can. It turns out that once I birthed my first story, the Universe thought it was time to let me know that I was pregnant with dozens more. I needed to get writing, and put this legacy behind my eyes out into the world. I had a manuscript; now what?
Well, I didn’t have a manuscript. I had a bunch of handwritten pages in a three ring binder. So I bought a laptop, a model that had come over on the Mayflower, and set to work typing and formatting for submission. I did it all wrong, of course, and took longer to type and format than I had to write it. I printed it off and…whoa! Where did all those mistakes come from? I put it through more edits, and printed it off again, and held it out proudly.
No one snatched it from me. Hmmm. Time to hit the books again. I learned how to write a submission letter and a query letter, how to entice publishers to take interest in your book, and how bleak it was out there for an unpublished author. I remembered the authors’ notes I had read over the years, how the only thing they all seemed to struggle with was their publisher. It was an author’s job to build a reputation and an audience, and it was mostly only authors that knew that. Big publishing companies relied on the talent to write and market, paying for the water cooler and endless hours spent doing nothing around it by countless employees who couldn’t care less about their book. It was there for anyone to see; but at the time, no one was doing much about it.
So I sent my manuscript to a couple places, after getting the copyrights. It was returned unopened both times, as I had been told to expect, with a letter saying they would not consider unpublished authors. Well, I had been reading books about financial success and how it relates to happiness; my first taste of it had me burying my head in technical manuals for the first time. I realized that this was a nice hobby, but not a wise career ambition. If I wanted a good life, I needed to learn about business and money and my new profession.
So I shelved the manuscript, and my many other ideas. I started writing several others in the next few years, but never got very far with them. It seemed kind of pointless, if I wasn’t going to publish; the stories may as well just live in my head. Independent publishing was just getting started; it looked like a good way to spend a lot of money to hold a crappy version of your own book in your hand. No, thanks. I knew what I was born to do; I could sit on it awhile longer.
It really was awhile too. I lost my way a little bit, and lost my patience a lot. Of course, it all taught me just what I needed to know. When the publishing world was finally ready, I was too. The timing seems as spectacularly serendipitous now as it did frustrating then; but there I go getting ahead of myself again. I’ll tell you about looking everywhere but in front of me one more time in a little while; the next three posts are an important sidebar, a good look at the way the publishing world has/is/will changed/changing/change. Timing really can be everything.
Thanks for reading!