Reflections on being a writer

From Rick:

(Sorry for the late post this week)

Over the years that Scott and I have been doing this blog, from the time of our first post on August 11, 2011, we’ve shared our thoughts about writing and publishing to help other writers out there, but we’ve not really taken the time to reflect on my life as a writer. I’ll see if I can corner Scott to share his feelings on the subject in a future post, but this time I’m going to share and reflect on what being a writer has meant to me.

First, let’s consider this: What’s the difference between being a writer and being an author?

The pretty much universal answer is that a writer is someone who writes and an author is a writer who has been published, usually meaning a book (fiction or nonfiction). For some reason when someone says he or she is an author, we think of books, not magazine articles or short stories, but those count just as much. The point is that if you have been published, whether by a publisher or by yourself, then you can call yourself an author.

I’ve also heard it put that a writer is someone who writes and an author is someone who has written, and I rather like that last definition and all of its connotations.

I consider the start of by writing “career” as June 1991, when I began writing my first novel, but I was writing long before that. Perhaps “writing journey” is a better term since we usually think of “career” as something that one makes meaningful money from and that we devote a significant number of waking hours doing. I certainly have not made what a good writer friend referred to as called “life-changing” money from my writing, nor do I currently spend a lot of time actually writing material I hope to publish.

My love of writing fiction goes all the way back to my elementary school days. I was in third or fourth grade, and my first stories involved our two Siamese cats and what one would consider anthropomorphic tales (look the term up). Admittedly my mom helped a bit with the writing. I still have an original copy of one of those stories, handwritten on loose-leaf notebook paper (back in the 1950s when still taught cursive writing in the schools). At the end of this post I have included what I believe was the first story I ever wrote. Just keep in mind my age at the time. While I liked fiction, I hated (as do most kids) writing essays, term papers, and anything NON-fiction. I was a sci-fi buff in a time when YA fiction was very hard to come by, and YA science fiction was even harder to find. I still possess the complete collection of the Tom Swift, Jr. books I read as a teen. I should pick up one or two and re-read them to remind myself where I was at that time all those many years ago.

I don’t remember if I wrote any more fiction until my high-school years. I read a lot, but I don’t remember writing. If I did, those manuscripts no longer exist. Back in those days most high schools did not offer creative writing courses, at least where I lived, but I was privileged to be able to take some special English courses, like dramatic literature that sparked my writing interests. During that time, I attempted to pen some plays. I still have many of those horrid pieces in my possession, purely for nostalgia reasons and because they remind me how very far I’ve come.

When I took fourth-year Spanish, we had to do some writing, so I turned out a three-part short story (in Spanish) called “A Trip of Mars.” Yuck! (But the Spanish was good at least.) I may still have those in my files as well.

As I moved from high school into college, I continued to write plays. All of them were sci-fi except for a couple of short ones one that I no longer have copies of. The writing may not have been good, but the story lines were not too bad—for a teen.

My last playwriting endeavor was called “The Planet Jumpers,” about an alien, three-man rock band. I wrote it around the time the Beatles became popular. It was intended to be a spoof because their rival band was called The Metamorphic Limestones. Yeah, yeah, yeah—sick humor and the play was pretty horrible overall (although I’ve seen some B-grade movies that made my script look almost good. Still I had fun writing it, and they helped hone my writing skills.

As I look back on those early efforts, I realize that, even though the plays were pretty bad, they helped instill in me one of the most important aspects of writing: how to write dialogue. After all, plays are pretty much all-dialogue writing. It didn’t matter at that point that the dialogue wasn’t very good but that it I learned how to use dialogue to characterize and to tell the story, which is precisely what GOOD dialogue should do.

Writing those plays also taught me about character creation because I tended to focus on making my characters interesting and three dimensional. It wasn’t until years later that, during a workshop exercise on dialogue, I would rediscover my ability to write dialogue. I only needed a little push to guide me in the right direction of crafting GOOD dialogue.

More importantly, good or bad, I was writing and exercising my imagination, something that later on would prove valuable.

In college I majored in chemistry and biology, not English, but I did have one opportunity in my sophomore English class to write a short story for an assignment. It was a sci-fi piece called “The Duty.” It was a good enough piece and the character was strong enough such that I was able to expand it to become one of the chapters and yield the major character of Jen-Varth in my first novel, More Than Magick.

From my graduation from college in 1970, through my grad school years and after, I did no fiction writing. All of my writing efforts were dedicated to the technical writing of my masters and doctoral theses and scientific papers (where I had to unlearn my creative writing and replace it with stiff, factual, academic writing).

In the 1980s, I became involved in the role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” (which I had been introduced to in college, the game being in its infancy at the time). D&D is what got be back into writing. During my gaming experiences, I had to create characters and build worlds. After that, it was only a short step into writing a novel, which I began in June of 1991, a year after getting married to a woman who not only shares my life, but also my love of fiction. She is co-editor and artistic director of Fabula Argentea magazine, now starting its seventh year of publication. I also used several of the characters I’d created in my gaming experience to help populate the novel.

After completing the first draft of the novel, I began taking workshops to improve my writing. I was later led to one online venue where I became friends with other writers, and learned to critique. The novel was published by a new publisher in 2004. I have written three other novels—two vampire novels that are out of print until I can rewrite them, and The Mosaic, co-written with Chris Keaton. Chris and I are currently working on the sequel to that. I have several other novels waiting to be written, and hope to complete those after I retire next year.

Scott and I also wrote Punctuation For Fiction Writers, which arose from the need for a punctuation book for fiction writers because nothing like it existed out there (and I still believe that ours is the only one that properly tackles the subject in depth).

I spent a lot of years working on that first novel, learning the craft, revising and polishing it, getting it ready to submit somewhere. Along the way I wrote some short stories, a few of which were published, the first being in 1998, and I am planning on expanding that one into a novel. I also had a few poems published. Therefore, I am a writer (and a poet) and an author.

I have also delved into helping others to publish by offering advice and critiquing their work. On the business side, I also edit books, format manuscripts for publication, and I have designed several book covers. As I said, my wife and I publish an online magazine several times a year.

Since I began writing seriously and was published, I’ve seen enormous changes in the publishing industry. Self-publishing (now more often called indie publishing) has gained respectability.

Where once authors relied a lot on their publishers to handle marketing, they now have more outlets for their books and more ways to market on their own. The amount of advice and help out there has grown as well. We’re also hearing about the ugly side of publishing that was for so long kept buried because no author wanted to risk being blackballed for revealing the truth about how badly some were treated by big publishers.

Vanity Publishing, as most self-publishing was called, has transformed as well—and not in a good way. “Vanity Publishing” was pretty much a dirty word in publishing. Now it’s being called “hybrid publishing” or “assisted self-publishing.” Unfortunately, while the name has changed, the business model of many of the companies that provide this service has not changed. No matter what you call it, it’s still “we will let you pay us for the privilege of publishing your book.” The nonexistent fine print says that they won’t guarantee any results. You pay a lot for the service and almost never recoup your investment—and I have not encountered anyone who has.

But I don’t want to dwell on the negative in this blog; I want to emphasize the positive. It’s been a long journey for me, and I do not regret any of it. I have grown as a writer and am helping others to benefit from my experiences. Indie publishing is now a viable way to be published and to control our writing careers. Yes, it means that we have to do just about everything on our own, but that’s part of the fun because you can say “I did it myself!” Another upside of indie publishing is that indie authors are more than willing to share their experiences and to offer help.

At one time, writing was a somewhat lonely endeavor. With the Internet, it has become much less so. Nearly all of the writers that I know today I have met on the Internet, and only a few of them have I ever met in person. I have collaborated with three authors and have only met one in person. Scott Gamboe and I have spoken on the phone a couple of times, but we’ve never met in person. I’m hoping that we will one day soon.

How my writing would have changed were I growing up in today’s world, I’ll never know. What I do know is that it’s been a great journey so far. I am able to point not only to my own small successes but also to those of the other writers that I’ve helped along the way.

It’s a great time to be a writer. More than ever before, we can truly be in charge of our own destinies because we have the means to make our voices heard without the gatekeepers—agents and publishers—telling us in advance what we can and cannot do. We can let our imaginations go where we wish, unfettered.

Some of us may hit it big in the world of writing; many won’t. But that’s how it’s always been. Writers have been often viewed with awe, yet few of the general public are aware how small the percentage of successes is among writers. The realistic among us don’t write for fame or fortune (although we like to hope that will come). We write first to share our ideas and visions in the hope that our readers will like what we’ve done. And no matter the outcome or how successful we become, we always have the satisfaction of knowing that we’ve put our ideas out there for the world—and posterity—to see.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.