Brain Babies: A Work in Progress
The title refers to my career. Probably yours, too. When I was first starting out, trying to write stories, I had a hard time getting the words out. I had a ton of ideas – hell, I still do – but, the sitting at the keyboard, knocking ‘em out thing was hard.
I read a bunch of books about writing, written by writers, so I could see how they did it. Some of them were really good. My three favorites were On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. If you haven’t read these, I strongly recommend them. One of the latter two (I think it was Bird by Bird, but I can’t find my copy to confirm), suggested writing 300 words every day.
I was like … What? That’s impossible!
Yeah. 300 seemed like an awful lot of words to me back then. And every day? I couldn’t imagine it. Looking back, after co-writing a novel and over a hundred short stories (many of which come in between 2.000 and 7,000 words apiece), I can hardly believe I was ever daunted by 300 words a day. Just yesterday, I finished the final edits on a horror tale that came in at 7,140 words and sent it to the editor. Hope they like it. Well, let’s be honest: hope they buy it.
Jonathan Maberry once said he writes 4,000 words every day. That’s a big number. I actually managed to pull that off recently. One day. 4,000 words. I was super-proud of myself and immediately sent Jonathan a message on Facebook. He was excited for me. It was pretty gratifying to have someone I admire tell me I was doing a good job. You know? Anyway, 4,000 words sounds insane, but that’s his job. I have a day job, as I think most of us do. So, when one of us pumps out a ton of words like that, it’s pretty amazing.
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah. The more I do this, the easier it gets. I mean, I’ve already written 350 words on this post. Uh huh. Ten minutes. 350 words of thought-vomit. Easy peasy. But, that’s because I’ve been at this writing thing for five years now. Well, seriously for five years. I’ve been tinkering with it for pretty much my entire life. I had my first (and only) poem published in fourth grade. Sure, it was in the school newsletter, but it counts. I didn’t get a single other thing published after that until five years ago. In my defense, I only tried once. I sent a short story I had written to a publisher I found online. It wasn’t formatted correctly, and frankly, it was pretty awful. It got rejected, of course. The publisher? Apex.
I had no idea just how high I was aiming. I still haven’t sold to them. And, I’ve tried, believe me.
However, I have sold my stuff to a lot of other people, including several professional markets. And I’ll tell ya, when I open up an email from a publisher and it says they want my story, it never fails to make me grin like a damn fool. Acceptances never get old.
So, if you’re struggling to get the words out, and we all do sometimes, that’s okay. It happens. Rest assured though, it gets easier. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Before you know it, the words will flow from your mind like arterial blood from a nicked femoral.
I look back on the stuff I wrote when 300 words a day seemed daunting, and shake my head. Not only is most of it under 1,000 words, but the words themselves are kind of embarrassing. I mean, I had some great ideas back then, and I was writing stuff nobody else was, which is cool. But, the writing itself? Not great. So many amateurish errors. Dialog attributions! Passive voice! Exclamation points!
I am leaps and bounds better now than I was when I started. But, every time I encounter a new editor; every time I work with a new publisher; every time I read an amazing piece of writing (Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, for example – if you haven’t yet, drop everything and go read it right now) I learn something. And, everything I learn makes me a better writer. I haven’t peaked yet, I don’t think, and frankly I don’t know if I ever will. I hope not. I want to improve with every story. I want each to be just a little better than the last.
They’re longer now. They’re better, too. That’s all a writer can ask for, I think. That, and for readers to enjoy them.
Incidentally, this is just over 800 words right here. And, I’m planning to work on some fiction today, too.
Ken MacGregor 2016
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