Write It Sideways

You Are Here: The Road Map of Writing

Today’s article is written by regular contributor Christi Craig.

The road to publication is a winding, twisting path.

Whether you aim to see your work in print or online, listed in the pages of the journal of your dreams, or mentioned in the New York Times, you’re likely to encounter detours and experience days when it seems this writing gig is all too much like a never-ending road trip.

I don’t do well on long trips. Put me in the car for more than five hours and I grow restless. I tire easily, and tiny inconveniences becomes reasons why I should have just stayed home. I blame it on a touch of claustrophobia, but really, I’m just impatient and worry I’ll never reach my destination.

It’s the same when I pursue bigger, long-term writing goals. If I get side-tracked from working on the novel or that short story I really want to finish, I turn to sighing, complaining, blaming time constraints. Often, though, contrary to how I feel, detours and slow-moving days do not always mean I have fallen off track or lost my way.

Detours

When I first committed to writing on a regular basis, my one and only goal was to publish a novel: the first draft, the revisions, the book in print. Boom. Then I started a blog and wrote a few short stories. I joined Facebook and Twitter. I began interviewing published authors. Sure, I was having fun, but, as my time spent on the novel became less and less, I worried all the blogging and social networking and short fiction couldn’t possibly get me to the finish line.

However, the more I followed other writers and authors, and the more short stories I submitted, the more knowledge I picked up on the structure of novels, the keys to editing, and the ins and outs of the craft and the business—lessons I couldn’t have learned with my head deep in one marathon project.

Matthew Salesses touches on how these kinds of detours carry us forward in our journey as writer and author, and ultimately help us attain bigger goals. In his essay in this month’s Glimmer Train Bulletin, Salesses details how saying yes to one small project led him to the completion of his novel.

“Being open to opportunities […] is part of participating in the literary community, I think. My novel would not have existed without that community. It is a book written-on-demand.”

Agreeing to write one flash fiction piece, Salesses ended up writing several short shorts, which later developed into a full manuscript.

My participation in the “literary community” hasn’t gotten me to The End of my novel yet, but it has provided me with crucial connections and opportunities that have strengthened my writing profile and improved my craft. Those are detours I wouldn’t have wanted to miss, as a strong profile and a better understanding of the work can only help me in the end.

Long Days and Driving in Reverse

Moving forward in this profession doesn’t happen in leaps and bounds. Progress is slow and often we feel as if we’re moving backwards.

I recently felt the pain of sliding into reverse when I took a short-story-in-progress (one I’d rewritten several times over) to my writing group. Positive this story was close to done, I expected feedback on polishing it for submission. What I discovered through very well-thought-out comments, was that this particular story was far from submission-ready. Driving home that night, I questioned my ability and wondered, if I couldn’t bring a short story to better completion, how would I ever finish something as big as a novel?  I thought for sure I’d lost all quality in my writing.

Maybe I had. Maybe, momentarily, I’d taken a few steps backwards.

Even so, every step—forward or back—is a sign of progress.

This lesson became clear to me when I attended a keynote address at a conference for my day job (talk about a detour).

The keynote speaker was a colleague of mine, wise in her experience and clear on her perspective about our work as sign language interpreters. In the interpreting world, much like in the world of writing, learning never ends. Language, in its essence, evolves and changes so that, no matter our time in the profession, we must constantly seek to improve our skill. And interpreters, like writers, often take two steps forward and three steps back when it comes to professional development. We have good days and bad days and long days. Her point, then, was that as long as we’re moving in some direction, we are growing.

For me, a move backwards points to a lesson still unlearned, to some aspect of the craft or some door not yet opened that, once realized, pushes me to become a better writer.

Complacency in writing, then, is the real evil, not which direction we are headed.

How have you moved your writing to a new place today?