“You can write a million words of shit, before you write one word of gold.”
I don’t know the origin of this quote exactly, but I heard it from a traditionally published author.
He was kind enough to answer my email asking which way to publish was better: traditionally, or by “Vanity Press”. He cited the merits of both, however, he suggested in the time I spend waiting for answers I should keep writing. I even titled my weblog page “A Million Words of $#!t” to keep me in mind of the issue.
So it’s about 3-4 years later, and here’s me with one book published, book #2 a fifth of the way finished, and a handful of blog entries to my credit. That, and doing a guest blog – my first – appreciative of the writing space I’m graciously allowed. Which gives me pause for thought: did I ever figure out what my Golden Word was?
What is word 1,000,001? Is it golden by status or is this some sort of riddle dropped on me that I have to figure out if I want to consider myself a good author? Are there other authors in the world that share this Golden Word or do they have their own?
I see it as more of a question one meditates upon concerning whether or not it’s such a good idea to pick up the pen. It’s the kind of question that isn’t answered by thinking, but rather by doing.
I’m not satisfied with calling 3 years of somewhat steady writing (by very loose standards of averaging) my million words of s***. I don’t factor in several spotty phases of writing where I thought a good idea should find its way to the page, but never gave it much thought to write a story around it (yet). I don’t include social forums I’ve posted complete twaddle on for the fact that to me it equals striking up a conversation comprised of small talk with a total stranger. So what shall I count as my million words – or my Golden Word?
It’s a Zen question for me more profound than: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” The answer to that one is, of course, completely pointless. It’s so, because a clap is the desired sound traditionally made from a hand striking another hand to achieve a report. You look like a complete moron to others waving one hand around trying to hear something.
I suppose the first thing to consider is what fundamental need clapping with one hand satisfies. I then compare that need with the pursuit of authorship. You need two hands to create a clap, just as readers need authors to keep writing.
To achieve authorship we write like mad until our hands cramp, heads hurt, and fingers callous attempting to fill several dozen pages with something worthwhile for others to read. We go back over our writing several times to figure out what we did wrong and try to correct every aggravating mistake. Sometimes, we do such a job that all we have left is a handful of pages we’re satisfied with while the rest of the manuscript sits on the recycling pile. We’re then forced to go write more material that still pertains to the work just to flesh it out to avoid writing nothing more than a short story.
If we’re inclined, we’ll throw money at someone who’ll professionally sieve the lot for the good stuff before handing back roughly the same thing. Back to the desk to write some more and repeat the cycle. Correct the errors, pick out the bits we like, and then write some more and that’s just to get the first draft of the manuscript finished. Don’t get me started on other aggravations like correcting plot holes, culling out anything and everything ending with –ly, or changing from one kind of quotation mark to another…passive voice…show, don’t tell…strike head soundly against closest wall…
Even after the manuscript is finished we look to publishing avenues that work for us. Do we go traditional or do we make it quick and augment the MS to fit the requirements of Print-On-Demand? Do we accept the fact we’ll probably see enough rejection notices to paper the office walls from floor to ceiling (unless we’re writing well in a genre that’s the height of fiction fashion at the time)? Do we resort to writing for the readers instead of ourselves?
Finally, we’ve made our work available to the public at a price we find is the acceptable norm. We sit and wait for sales not gained from only friends and family. We scour library and internet resources pertaining to methods that help sell books.
Some gauge the future of their work by the numbers. They believe that great sales ranks or other contrived figures will keep them from languishing in obscurity. More will spend half their day – like me – attempting to find the quickest/cheapest ways to advertise so those contrived numbers shrink to acceptable visibility in the Top Whatever. Others will blindly follow every bit of “advice” given about how not to kill your sales and in the process learn what a good idea that wasn’t.
Please, for the love of all that’s good in this world, do not get me started on seeking out reviews. That in itself is an entire blog not worth writing for all the fear it would instill in the hearts of new authors. The trouble there is finding people who’ll take the time to tell you what they think. May your personal god(s) help you if you find the ones who tell you before they’ve thought at all.
Once the satisfaction has set in we finally have our works polished as much as possible and in the public view; we have to start thinking about the NEXT project. I’m guessing it would be at this point in my work that I’d ask myself, “Is this where I look completely mental swatting at invisible flies? Will anyone read what I’ve written? Is this worth all that effort each time I want to write a book, with or without the aid of a Publishing House?”
I am either completely mental talking to myself like that or I can look back on it all and find the good in what I was doing all along. Seeing both sides of the issue brought me to the conclusion of finding my first Golden Word:
Despite every disheartening or negative response, every unkind pursuit against the SPA community in part or whole, writer’s block, data loss, revision after revision after revision…
The diligent writers command their pen and do what they must to succeed. They continue to write even though they are confronted with doubts and uncertainties. They look past bad reviews, and voting wars. They couldn’t give the southern end of a northbound rat about who thinks whatever about them. They don’t have time to; they’ve got a self-appointed deadline to meet. I for one don’t even have time to care about deadlines.
I learned I have to ignore false labels like nuisance, liar, cheat, fraud, and other adjectives too unsavory to mention. I learned I must respond to insults, snarks, and What-you-should-have-done-isms with politeness I surprise myself that I am capable. I understand I’ll be exposed to the kind of emotional sapping that would normally make me wonder why it is I continue.
The truth is I am writing for myself. If I write how others say they think I should I’ll be cheated of the pleasure and the stories I want to share. I would be cheated of the kind of fun being completely mental provides.
In retrospect, my million words is the embodiment of all the work I’ve created to reach that crazy enlightenment where I can sum the entire experience in one word. Like a cross-referenced database in the depths of my consciousness, I can see that word for what it represents to me. It is the sum of my writing so far. I’ve marred the surface and proved its worth to be pure and invaluable.
However, whether I reach this ink-soaked Zen alone or with others, we all know that a little bit of gold will only get us so far or buy us so much. I’ve completed too much to not continue slogging through the process, finish writing the next book, write another blog, and seek the Zen of the (Next) Golden Word…
…because I’d be fucking insane if I stopped now. ;3