Prior to publishing my first book, I spent five years writing. My goal was not publication; in fact, in the entire half decade of practicing, I sent a paltry seven short story submissions to literary magazines. My goal was to write. That’s it. To write was both the means and the ends. Back then the question everyone asked was, “Have you published?” My answer was a short, happy “No.”
Most of the time, I didn’t even share my stories with anyone. A few of my works were read by select handful of temporally and geographically disparate readers. In almost all cases, those occurrences can be linked back to participation in a workshop or online critique group. The online critiques helped, paradoxically, by providing too much help! The deluge of criticism initially led me to stray from my own intuition. I began to revise stories to take everyone’s suggestions. Can you imagine the steaming mess? A trusted critique partner, IrishJohnJohn, told me that he wept when he read a revised version of a story I had revamped to gain (of all things!) higher critique ratings. He was the one who told me to trust my voice – not by shutting out comments, but by learning how to evaluate all suggestions from the perspective of what I was trying to do with any given piece. The experience taught me that I cannot take a conglomeration of suggestions that may or may not be contradictory, incorporate all of them, and expect the resulting mash to read like something that is authentically mine. My friend, Jonathan Allen, discusses his experience learning this lesson in a recent blog post. I think he’s correct in saying a conscientious writer should “incorporat[e] feedback in an active, intelligent manner.”
During my five years of ‘going to the mountain,’ I wasn’t hiding that I was a writer, but I didn’t mention it often, either. The same old question would always rear its curlicue of a head: “Are you published?” By the end of the fifth year, my “No” began to feel hollow. I’d done good work. Not perfect, but I’d put in the time, practiced, and come out of it with increased skill and a completed novel.
Well, I thought it was complete.
Revision is a beautiful, time-devouring beast. Hereby amend the record! Five and a half, not five, years elapsed before I had a work I felt was worthy of readers.
What I’ve learned in my one month post-publication interval is that where there once was one question, now there is a horde:
Who published it? Do you have an agent? Can I read it on my Nook/Kindle/Smartphone/PC? Why do you write horror? Did you try to run me over in the parking lot as a plot device? How are sales? How much does the book cost? Did publication cost anything? Did you hire an editor? Who is the person on the cover? Can I have an autographed copy? Will you be using this in your next book? What is your next book? When will it be ready?
Do you want to know the answer to these questions? Do you have any of your own? I’d love to answer them!
You can leave your question in the comments, tweet @anikocarmean, or send an email to anikocarmean at gmail dot com. The plan is for me to record a video where I divulge all the secrets… um, answers to your questions. I’ll post the video here on my blog.
Feel free to be creative! In fact, feel free to try and stump me. You never know, I might be a Blade Runner replicant!