Asking the right questions

So, the Chuck Wendig has released another nugget of writerly knowledge and advice out into the world. Go on, go read, I’ll wait.

*As an aside, if you aren’t already following the Mighty Wendingo on Twitter and, more importantly, his blog, you are missing out on a profoundly brilliant source of storytelling knowledge. Seriously, I think this guy may have found the Font of All Writerly Wisdom and chugged it all, letting out wee burps of genius for us all to savour. Yes, I’ll let that mental image sink it.*

You done? Excellent.

I think most newbie writers will have been guilty of this at one point. I surely know I have been; far too focused on getting the publication credit, getting the line on the CV that says “Yes, I am a published author, how’s that for validation, world?”, rather than vastly more important question of “how do I tell my story good?”

I’ve been to a few publishers’ open days, namely Black Library Live!, and when I think back I suspect that many, if not the majority, of questions asked at the Writing for Black Library seminars in both years revolved around the act of achieving publication, rather than achieving, you know, a decent story to submit.

I’m certainly guilty of this. I’m not going to beat myself up about it, but I think it is worth acknowledging. When I first started writing (by which I mean, when I first started writing after I’d decided to pursue a career in the worl of storytelling), I immediately decided that I was going to be a novelist. That was what I read, so that was what I’d write. I gleefully sketched out a plan for my first novel – not a 40K novel, you might be surprised to learn, but a steampunk novel that I will be returning to later on in life – and proceeded to throw myself at it during the NaNoWriMo of 2009.

I crashed and burned. Obviously.

My other attempts were similarly poor. The closest I came to actually completing something was getting the first three chapters and a synopsis for a 40K novel submission ready to be sent (unsuccessful. About four months after submitting it I reread it and realised precisely why it had been unsuccessful).

My attempts at short fiction have had mixed results, but they’ve still been blighted by the same obsession – publication, not story-telling. I have a Word file with a table in it which lists all the anthologies and magazines with open submission windows. It currently stands at, I think, twenty-six opportunities for publication. Would you like to know how many of these I have actually been able to get a story written and submitted before the deadline? Five, I think. Possibly six, and that was recycling a story.

The problem here is obvious. Before I have really learnt the craft, and my process, I am diving into the world of freelance short story writing, expecting to be able to just reel off a short story every other week for every anthology and opporunity that comes to light. That’s what I want to be able to do, but because I haven’t put in the hours to actually learn and develop how to tell stories, and how I tell stories. Hubris, really.

So, let that be a tale of caution to you. Before you try to dive into the world of writing, swimming with the big boys and girls and chasing the publication credits, take some time to tell the stories that you want to tell. Write them, rip them up and write them again, and then edit them. That’s what I will be doing; it’s just a shame it’s taken me over two years to figure it out!