Here we go: How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?
Way back in October 2016, I wrote a post called “Things Authors Should Know.” It was actually a re-post of a blog I posted on Goodreads in 2010. This was one of the items on the list:
As the question itself points out, there are numerous ways to define success. Some days, it could be “I got out of bed and put on some clothes.” Others, it could be “Wow, someone in Australia bought my book. I wonder how they heard about it.”
And on yet another day, as happened yesterday, it could be “I knocked out 1,000 words on the manuscript with which I’ve been struggling.”
In other words, it varies for me on a fairly regular basis. And I’m fine with that.
What happened was this: I was a newspaper editor, which was the job I had aimed for with my career since I was 18 years old. I had just written my first book, a work for hire called Born of War … Dedicated to Peace. I had been assured that my role on the military base was safe, but that had proven untrue; the organization for which I worked was being inactivated. The Dept. of Defense had found me another job, but it was one in a role I hadn’t held for well over a decade … and for a boss who turned out to be abusive. That’s a story for another time.
To make a long story very short, I stopped thinking of myself as a writer, because my day job no longer entailed developing stories, researching the news, and all of the other things that I thought made me a writer. I didn’t pick up the proverbial pen again for almost a decade.
Here we go: For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?
I put it aside for a minimum of 30 days, regardless of genre. I didn’t always, but I’ve found that this technique helps tremendously. It allows me to see plot holes, and figure out whether I even want to proceed with publication.
Thing is, I never delete work completely. I have come back to a manuscript a couple of years later, for example Hugs and Hisses, and discovered that work which initially disappointed me was actually quite good. It just needed to be right time/season for me to see that. Another disappointing manuscript eventually became the Pocketful of Stories series as I pulled out all of the useful bits and left the rest behind.
Without having the perspective of that 30-day minimum break, I wouldn’t have been able to see the flaws or good qualities very well at all. Deciding to put things on the proverbial shelf for a while has made an enormous difference in my authorial process.
I think I have my Cranky Pants(TM) on as I write this post. It’s Frequently Asked Question time and, as is so often the case, this one comes from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
Here is the question, verbatim:
Has any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn’t expect? If so, did it surprise you?
Now, like I said, maybe I’m just cranky. The subject/verb agreement issue in the first sentence isn’t the end of the world. But I can’t help thinking, If I didn’t expect it, isn’t it automatically a surprise? I mean, that’s the literal definition of the word.
I guess the one example that comes to mind was a reviewer who wrote that a certain scene in In The Eye of The Storm left her in tears. Honestly, I felt like I’d done my job: I moved someone. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do? I certainly think so.