Friday, December 28, 2012

What I've Learned: The Year 2012

Double sixes means I get roll again, right? Loading the
dice so that happens every time means you make your
own luck. That and perseverance are how you win.
This should be subtitled or what I've had to re-learn this year that I should've learned long before now.

LUCK IS THE RESULT OF HARD WORK AND TAKING ADVANTAGE OF CHANCE. Really, as cliche as that sounds (or reads) that's the absolute truth. It takes practice to get good at what you do. Some people say there are numbers you have to hit in order to reach minimum competence in regard to learning a skill or trade. Between this blog, my novel and short-story writing, and my weekly contributions at The Confabulator Cafe I've written over 200,000 words this year alone. Jeez, that's a lot, isn't it? Over the last two years or so I can count over half a million words written. Over a million if I count back to 2008. All fiction. All in storytelling forms.

And I'm still learning how to write with skill.

If I find a way to get my novel published (and that's the plan for 2013) then it won't be because I got lucky. It'll be because I've put the work into it. There's no such thing as an 'overnight' success. It's always the result of figuring out the way to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.

PATIENCE. AND MORE PATIENCE. AND STILL MORE PATIENCE. I was fortunate this summer to have time to spend with my son while I was between jobs. He's sixteen and he took Driver's Ed. That's the age where he's 'becoming interesting', as the senior Dr. Jones put it once upon a time. As a parent I've learned patience in raising him. It takes time to grasp concepts and be able to put them into use. The same applies to being a writer or anything else. You get good at what you do over time, not over night. I hope that I'm improving as a writer - I feel like I am - and things are looking up in terms of being 'successful'. All a result of being patient.

MULTIPLE DRAFTS ARE PART OF LIFE AT THIS STAGE OF MY CAREER. Oh, god, multiple drafts. The novel has been through five separate revisions at this point. I'm sure there's at least one more to come no matter what.

That said, the first draft, as much as I loved it, was really and truly that hot mess we call a Zero Draft which amounts to nothing more than a 'treatment' of the novel the story will grow up to be. One of the reasons I'm in love with Scrivener as a novel-drafting tool is that I can tell it what draft I'm in and the text I write is a different color from what already exists in the document. I can tell you that five colors on a single page is kind of distracting but damned effective in showing me how the manuscript has improved and changed. I understand that as I improve going forward I'll be seeing less and less of a rainbow. I'm looking forward to that.

THE PEOPLE CLOSEST TO YOU WILL SUPPORT YOU NO MATTER WHAT. There are tests in every relationship and when you are at your lowest you'll find who's there for you. The people who love you as friends and more will wait for you to tell what's on your mind unless it's obvious that you're  in a serious, perhaps life-threatening crisis. It hurts when you realize that people you thought were close really aren't but that's part of life, isn't it? Sometimes they come back but it's hard to trust them as completely as you might have once.

Just to be clear, I'm not mentioning any names and I'm not talking about any one person in particular. I'm generalizing because in this case it's the best way to illustrate the point. I've been pretty low a couple of times in my life and it's hard to see your way out of any hole that's deep and dark. As a creative person it's important to realize that you are really not alone though it seems that way. Occasionally you have to look up at the top of the hole and hold out your hand. The people who love you will help pull you out.

You'll find out.

BAD HABITS WILL REAR UP WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM. Not just in my writing (passive verbs) but also in my everyday life. I have to be aware of them when they come roaring back (like eating too much) and then double down on the things I have to do to combat them (like actually exercising). Watch out for them and when there's a time when you'll slip (and you will) embrace the fact that you are fallible and human and then beat that sucker down like - well, like whatever metaphor you prefer does.

WHO YOU KNOW MATTERS. (NO REALLY, IT DOES.) I wish it didn't, I really wish that everyone who was worthy could just be successful based on demonstrated talent alone. It could be that way in the future, but we're not living there yet. Or even now. Still not yet. So take the time to be nice to people you meet and follow Wheaton's Law. You may not recognize someone who could help you out in some small way so it's best to take the attitude that everyone can be of some service.

SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE OF LIKE MINDS (IN TERMS OF CREATIVITY) WILL MAKE YOU BETTER. This is an absolute truth. Even if it's only that you'll recognize that you might be ahead of the people you're around. Then you'll find a new group of people and realize that you're all at roughly the same level and that you can help each other quite a bit. Learn how to critique honestly without being personal. Develop a thick skin and be able to hear an honest critique without taking it personally. Adjust how you say things that others don't want to hear but need to in order to improve. You'll find that it gets easier to critique new members of your group.

A word about the group: it may not be an organized thing like the Confabulator Cafe. You may have to find that group by building it yourself. Do it. It's worth the time. Just be aware of potential likeminds when you're meeting people. A caveat, though: don't be pushy. Others may not be ready to be part of a group. It's okay. Stay in touch. Also: don't overextend yourself. You'll go down in flames too quickly if you try to do too much. If you can get together for coffee or a Google hangout, do that first. It takes time to build good chemistry as a group. Be patient.

LIFE HAPPENS. DEAL WITH IT AND FIND TIME TO BE A WRITER ANYWAY. Seems obvious, doesn't it? The biggest thing anyone who's creative has to do is manage Time. None of us are Time Lords (well, I'm not anyway) and we can't just slow things down in order to find time to do what makes us happy or drives us or whatever it is inside you that makes you want to do this. You have to treat your creative endeavors as a sideline, a second job, your own business. Whatever metaphor works for you. You have to schedule your attention. That's what makes NaNoWriMo so important. If you can write 50,000 words in a month, you can plan to write 50,000 words over three months. Or however many more you want.

Look, it's simple: set a goal and meet it.

No, really. It's that easy. Determine for yourself that your goal has to be met and then find the time to do it. Give up one TV show, one trip to the coffee shop, thirty minutes of sleep at the beginning of your day or the end or one party a week. If you want to be a successful creative person you have to work at it. This is the theme that we started with, right?

2012 has been a fantastic year for me. Personally devastating and gratifying at different points during the year. Highs and lows are part of being human. Once you understand that and decide that neither will defeat you or blind you from doing good work. Keep pushing yourself and you'll get better.

The old saw goes that the one that gets published is the one who didn't give up.

That's me. I'm not giving up.


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