Famous Authors Before They Were Famous

It’s no secret that someday I want to make my living at writing. Nothing on this earth would please me more than waking up at 3AM with a great idea and being able to write it without worrying about work in the morning.

Some days it seems closer than others. It’s hard to remember that everyone had to start somewhere.

I found a great list on the blog at Publishers Weekly that helps to put things in perspective. Did you know that Douglas Adams thought of Hitchhiker while working as a security guard?

Read on to find out where some of the greats started.

Dreams Take Time…And Cash.

I’m in the midst of developing a Grand Five-Year Plan. It has glorious secrets, some of which I can’t reveal yet, but it also involves regular stuff like moving into a better house and having more money in the bank.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how it will all come together. The number one, very-most-important thing I need to work on is saving more money. For a number of my plans to come to fruition, we’ll need a sizable cushion in the bank. And I can’t count on us making more money for a while, so it’s all about budgeting and spending less.

I use Quicken already when I remember to. It’s moderately helpful, considering I don’t use half the widgets. The pie charts are pretty, though.

We use debit for most purchases. Debit isn’t necessarily the best move, because it lets you access your whole bank account ALL THE TIME, but at least it’s trackable when I remember to read the statements.

We’ve been getting better about the little things, like buying less drive-through coffee, but I still feel an unholy consumer lust when I see things like this.

Obviously, I need to get my financial shit together. And, being a word-person who can’t math, I’ll be diving into books for help. (Have any recommendations? I’d love to hear them.)

In the meantime I found some great blogs and websites that are geared to us artsy folks.

Writing a Novel? Cool Story, Bro.

Since I mentioned starting to write a novel, I’ve had mixed response from people I know. Most have been supportive, as I knew they would.

A few, though, have been a little skeptical. No one’s said it, of course. But there’s a certain look in the eye, a certain…pause…before saying anything, that gives it away.

I can see why.

Writing a novel seems to be one of those things that people say they’d like to do someday. I’d say a majority of people feel, at one time or another, that they could write a book. Most people say it, but most never do it.

Which brings me to the skeptics in my life. Because I’ve announced my intentions of “one day” making a living at writing, I can see how that might be mistaken for the same wistfulness that plagues so many wannabe novelists. Most people who have “one day”s sit back and wait for it to happen. “One day” I’ll run in that marathon. “One day” I’ll ask that guy out. They don’t make any concrete move toward their goals.

I say “one day” because there are so many variables. I can’t make someone like my work. I can’t make them buy it. And if no one buys it, it will never pay the bills. That’s life. I say “one day” because there’s no way for me to set an exact timeline for when I’ll be able to make writing my only job.

All I can do is fulfill my side of the contract. I can only control my output. I have to write, every day, no matter what, if there’s any hope of making it. I have to get better with every story, because it’s my job not to disappoint the reader. I have to bust my ass to make this novel the best I can. And the novel after that. And the one after that. Then I have to get my stuff out there, get people to see it, and hope like hell they like it.

Whether or not my “one day” ever comes rests squarely on my shoulders, and if I don’t work for it it never will.

(This post was inspired by someone who demanded I recruit followers for their writing instead of doing any work themselves. It doesn’t work like that. Sorry, Bro.)

Little Fish Gets Schooled

It’s tough being a little fish.

I’ve always written. I remember my public school having their own “book binding” (Grade Eights with glue and sewing machines), and how thrilled I was to see my “books” after completion. I wrote little stories all the time. And I read like I breathed, every single day, no matter what. I used to read as my Mom drove me home from the library because I couldn’t wait the ten minutes before starting a new book.

It’s been a dream of mine, always, to one day join the secret tribe of Authors. To know their secrets and learn their magic. I wanted to be a famous writer the way other kids wanted to be rock stars. It felt like the same thing.

I grew up just knowing that someday it would happen. Of course it would. I’d have a study, and a pot of tea, and I’d dash off bestseller after bestseller. It seemed formulaic: read the books, learn the nuance, then…fame. Easy.

I somehow, in my child-fantasies, completely missed reality.

I neglected to understand that I had to put in the work. It’s not glamorous to think that a good portion of what you write will be garbage, and it’s hard as hell to accept that and still come back the next day. I refused to accept anything less than perfection. Instead I dabbled, kicking ass at English and penning little stories here and there, just enough for the occasional ego boost. I was sure that some day the gate would be opened and I’d somehow just stumble upon The Truth.

I have, now.

Authors are people who buckle down and actually write. They’re (WE’RE) “Writers” because that’s what we do. We write. There is no secret. You don’t need permission, or approval. Anyone can do it, to some varying degree. Pick up a pen, open a laptop, and spill your story. It’s not mystical, or arcane.

It’s work. It’s the potential for rejection. It’s the sobering reality that I may never make a living at this. It’s the fact that the thing won’t write itself, and it’s up to me to carve out the time to make it happen. It’s knowing that I’m surrounded by peers who have been in the publishing game already for years. It’s reading articles by and about people who make enough to get by, by their words alone, and feeling hopeful and distraught at the same time.

It’s coming to terms with the fact that it seems like everyone is writing these days, and I’m a tiny fish in their immense pond. There’s no real path to take, no markers that show me what to do next. But I’ll keep swimming against the current, working harder, so someday, someday I might reach my goal.

I’m Not Going to Stop Writing. Period.

‘All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?’
-Philip Pullman

I had a bad day today. A nasty, wrenching, frustrating day where all I could think about was getting home and hiding from the world. It was the type of day where the kindest words actually hurt you further, because you’re so far gone by then that you’ve forgotten momentarily about kindness and it startles you to hear.

It was, in short, pretty fucking shitty.

And what did I do? I came home and instead of banging out some words and finishing the story I’m working on, I sat like a mopey lump and did nothing. When I finally came to the story, the cursor sat there flashing at me and taunting me for having nothing to say.

I was going to shut the laptop and go sleep it off.

But if I’m ever going to get anywhere with this writing thing, I can’t let stupid garbage distract me. This is what I have, what I’m good at, and I can’t afford to let it slip out of my control.

So: a pledge. I’ll have the damned thing finished and available for public consumption, in one form or another, by midnight EST tomorrow (Friday December 16th). It’s got guts and gore, all that good stuff (though I won’t say whose).

After all, you can’t take writing from me.

Where it All Began

My love of horror began with my Mom.

Which is funny, because if you know her, you’ll know that watching a horror movie is the absolute last thing she would ever consider doing. The fact that I grew to love gore and guts still unsettles her: “Whose kid ARE you, anyway?”

It began with my Mom, because she bought me an issue of Seventeen magazine.

To my ten-year-old self, Seventeen was an impossibly cool magazine. It was clearly for older girls. It talked about kissing! and boys! and tampons! I felt cool just having one in my possession.

Somewhere in there (I don’t remember the issue), one of the little quizzes mentioned having a Stephen King book on your nightstand. I think if you picked that option, you were “edgy” or something. And I desperately wanted to be edgy. I begged for a King book.

My parents were both the sensibly-permissive type: I wasn’t allowed out past dark, but they’d let me watch a scary movie as long as I promised I knew the monsters were people in costumes. I promised, and I promised also that if they bought me this “grown-up book” I’d be fine. It’s just words. What’s to be scared of?

Dad bought me Misery. I was smugly proud of myself. Not only was I going to read an adult book, but it was a scary adult book. I would prove not only my reading aptitude, but my incredible fearlessness. Besides, the language was easy enough for a bookish kid.

I zipped along, grimacing here and there, knowing that Annie Wilkes was very bad news, but still gleeful that I was getting away with adult behaviour. Being the little asshole I was, I made sure all my classmates saw me pull out the novel during Reading Time.

It was during this quiet time that I reached The Part With The Mouse.

If you’ve not read it, this scene has the captive hero locked in the basement of the madwoman Annie. He’s been starving, and, I’m pretty sure, drinking his own urine to survive. Annie comes to see him, and she’s all nutty and angry, and she scoops up the mouse that’s been running around the cellar. Then she squeezes it til its eyes burst and licks the blood off her fingers.

I almost lost it, right there. If it weren’t for a room full of my mean-spirited little friends, I would have cried and wet myself.

But I didn’t. I maintained. I also didn’t tell my parents that I stayed awake for what felt like weeks, petrified that Annie Wilkes was coming up the stairs with her sledgehammer.

She never did, and I came to realize that the little jolt of terror was a rush. How much could I handle?

The thrill never went away. And now, writing horror stories, I want to scare you too. It’s a fun little kick. Perfectly safe.

Well, mostly. As long as you keep the lights on, and listen for those little noises that follow you in the dark…