Love of the Craft Q & A
By Writing Coach David Duggins | Posted February 3, 2007 | Updated July 26, 2019
This is going to sound like an ego trip going in, but bear with me. I've got a point to make. And that point is not that I've been published.
I have, of course. Short fiction. Articles. The occasional poem here and there. At this writing I have a long prose-poem at Lone Star Stories called "Confession." Editor Eric Marin called me today to tell me he'd gotten an email from a reader who called it "exquisite." Samantha Henderson, a writer of extraordinary talent, used the word "astonishing."
Does all that stuff feel good? Sure. Am I proud of the work? Of course. If somebody offered me a huge sum of money to publish it, would I turn them down? Come on. Writers are supposed to be crazy, but I'm not that crazy.
Did I write the poem because I thought I'd get a fat paycheck out of it? Nope. I didn't write it for the praise, either (which is notoriously faint and sporadic).
I wrote it because not writing it would have hurt me. On levels below money and fame and fortune and power, the writing does good things for me. It heals wounds. Repairs damage. Keeps all the parts in good working order.
I had a great runup to a promising fiction career. I published a ton of short stories between 1989 and 1991. Then, convinced that novels were the only way to make any money in this business, I walked away from short fiction and spent the next five years writing novels. Terrible novels. Novels that didn't sell. Novels that got no attention whatsoever beyond the occasional request for a synopsis and three sample chapters.
It was the biggest mistake of my career, and I made it because I prioritized getting published over writing. There is a big difference. Huge difference. I didn't realize that until it was too late. It has taken me long years to recover. Now I'm trying to spare you that fate.
It's easy to get off course. It's easy to buy the writer's magazines, filled with articles about agents and publishers and contracts and million dollar deals, and forget that the whole thing really boils down to a relationship between you and the word. A commitment you give to the page.
If you sit down with notebook in hand, pen at ready and the foremost thought in your mind is where you're going to submit the story when you've finished it, you've already failed. Put the notebook away, cap the pen, take a deep breath and clear your head of dollar signs, magazine covers, anthology rights. Distractions, one and all, with no place in your creative process.
Good. Now. Think story. Think characters. Conflict. Emotion. Passion. Decision and action. Concentrate on the activity, not the result. It's such a simple thing. Such a difficult thing. I know you've heard this before, but I'll toss it out there again now. It's relevant to the subject at hand.
If you get confused, clouded, obfuscated and obsessed with finding an agent or publisher or self-publisher or any of the other million loosely associated things that are not writing, remember this:
Do what you love and the money will come.
That thought is not original with me. I stole it. Happy to steal and delighted to admit to it. Remember it. Take it. Use it when the voice in your brain shouts about bookstore signings and TV show appearances.
There is no fame when you're in your writing space bashing out a thousand words a day. It's just you, barely awake, still in your pajamas, your hair a giant rat's nest, pot of coffee brewing as you build one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time.
It's not glamorous. It's work. And that's the way it should be. It's a craft. You don't learn how to improve your writing by appearing on Oprah. You learn by writing.
There is no fortune when you're writing your fourth novel on spec. And there is no magic circle surrounding you once you've been published. I've been publishing for twenty years and I still get rejections.
The only difference is my bond with the word. It's stronger. My vision is clearer, my expression of it tighter, more succinct. I've learned how to make every word count. I've learned how to snap an image into a reader's head like a cue ball off a hard break. I haven't mastered it yet, but every word brings me closer.
After twenty years, I don't qualify my work by saying I've published almost two dozen short stories.
I say: I'm a far better writer than I was twenty years ago.
As long as that is true, the rest will take care of itself.
©2007 David Duggins. All rights reserved.
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