As I wait for ‘Til Undeath Do Us Part to be released into the wild on April first, I’ve kept myself busy with social media, reading, and reviewing. I initially committed to start its sequel, Man and Brother, just after the release. With books to read and review, I’ve pushed off that start date a couple of times. Now, I realize perhaps anxiety has kept me pushing that start date back. I’ve begun to doubt whether or not I’ve succumbed to delusions of grandeur. Do I deserve to keep my daydream job?
I think of the writers whose friends and families lightly dismiss the writing life as an endearing hobby. Taking a novel to publication is no hobby. Shopping a manuscript to agents and publishers is no hobby. The road to publication is a grueling one of blood, sweat, toil, and tears. It doesn’t matter if one chooses the indie publishing route or the traditional publishing route.
Some days that beloved daydream job is a nightmare. The good news is that like all nightmares, it ends when we wake up to reality. Being abused by the muse is part of any artist’s life, and writers are artists. We paint with language in broad swipes and tiny strokes. We create from inspiration alone at times, unsure where and why we’ve been gripped with a need to tell stories–our stories. We develop our craft through observation of the masters, through education, through practice. We stop writing and become writers.
When I started my journey with the Dome Trilogy, I was a hundred-percent sure Beneath a Sunless Sky would be a breakout novel. I dreamed of awards, of interviews, of book signings. I imagined that I would not be able keep my adoring public from my front door. I fantasized about giant mailbags filled with fan letters about my genius, how I deserved to be among the science fiction elite forever, based on that first book alone. The applause would be thunderous when the second book, Nightmare Specters, was published with massive fanfare and accolades. The expectant hush would be life-changing as the third book, Solaray Dawn, arrived into my loving fans’ hands. I would sit back and watch the movie or television series win awards. I would sign graphic novels of my beloved trilogy beside the artist at conventions. I would be famous and insincerely lament the life of a famous author even as I reveled in it.
My daydream job had chosen me, but I had not chosen it. I gave up on ever publishing again after the first review which pointed out that the book had problems. I was sure I had published a perfect work of fiction; I threw a tantrum and insisted that review was wrong. I opened my darling, beloved novel, and I saw that it bore the scars of my inexperience. My skin was so thin that I quit right then and there. I treated writing like a hobby, and I got precisely out of it what I deserved for the effort I had put into it.
An email from a Beneath a Sunless Sky reader snapped me out of it. The email was short, but it was life-changing. He just wanted to know when the second book would be published. I was shocked. Someone who I did not know had read my first book and wanted to know what happened next cared enough to send me an email.
I scrambled up and dusted off Nightmare Specters, prepared not to make the mistakes I had with Beneath a Sunless Sky. This would be my breakout novel which would lead to a life of fame and riches. I put out a better book, this time in ebook and in print. Because I did not understand the nature of ebook formatting, the better-selling ebook was a mess. I was embarrassed; my vain and imperious demands about how I wanted it formatted had made me look like an ass. Shame-faced, I walked away from the behemoth end of the trilogy: Solaray Dawn. It hung over me like, well, a specter. My work was unfinished, and I did not have the energy to do more than lament my failure.
Ideas kept coming, so I developed some stories into novels and others into detailed outlines. Very detailed outlines. In 2014, I was told that I had a choice: Prepare Solaray Dawn for publication or have it prepared for me. Resentful, I settled in and did the hardest work I had yet done. The intervening time I had spent writing, between publishing Beneath a Sunless Sky and picking up Solaray Dawn, had done wonders. I published that third book and accepted a personal truth:
I do the best work I can do at the time I do it.
I did the best work I could do at the time on each of those books, and my writing voice and skill evolved. The satisfaction of finishing the trilogy was indescribable. I was liberated; the Dome Trilogy was complete. I was ready to start a new project, write a new book or a new series. I was ready to take what I had learned since I drafted the Dome Trilogy in 2003 and put that knowledge to use. I was ready to evolve and improve and become the best writer I, personally, could become. Part of that evolution was learning to publicize and market my books. I finally took on the responsibilities of the daydream job and became an authorpreneur.
While I’m worried I won’t start Man and Brother and will miss the publication deadline, another part of me knows that I will start it in April and work diligently. I may miss the publication deadline to assure I have done the best work I can do, but I don’t think it’s so bad to miss a deadline for that reason.
So to the new authors out there who worry that people who call it a hobby are right, I offer this advice on becoming a career daydreamer–from my interview with Indie Book Promo:
Reading is how you learn to write. No one will beat a path to your door in order to publish your first book. Traditional publishing and independent publishing both have benefits and drawbacks; only you can decide which route to take. Prepare the best possible work you can at this point in your career—even if it means hiring editors and proofreaders to guide you to what a good, finished product of yours should look like. Treat criticism as advice meant to improve your writing skills. Celebrate that you published a book at all: Do it with fanfare, accept your deserved congratulations, and feel proud at your accomplishment. Then, take what you learned from this experience and publish as many more titles as you can. Most of all, accept that writing is an art, which means you’re an artist among a sea of artists. The chance that you’ll earn a comfortable living at it is infinitesimal. Publish anyway.
Despite having days when I wonder why I do this to myself, I am happier knowing I am a writer-for-life. I am still learning, growing, and evolving at a job which chose me: my daydream job.
Keep your daydream job, my friends. It’s not a hobby.