10 Lessons From The Year I Got Published
By most measures, 2016 was the year I became a writer.
That’s weird to say, as I spent 7 years in the trenches at a medium sized newspaper and wrote, literally, millions of words written by hundreds of thousands of people, but the words felt like something different. I got into journalism with lofty thoughts of public service and left just this side of burn out and then, save the odd web page or memo, the writing stopped. In 2015 I started writing fiction but 2016 was a year of all the significant “firsts” other than “writing a book” and “getting an agent.”
Now that my second novel is under consideration and I’m twitchy and nervous, it will serve me well to go back and take a look at 10 of the big moments from last year. If there are any lessons nestled in my experience, you are more than welcome to them.
- Had my “George McFly” Moment – In the first “Back to the Future” film it wasn’t the Flux Capacitor or the time travel or Marty making out with his mom that stuck with me. It was the moment when George McFly, a loser for the entire movie, is suddenly a cool, successful, in charge dude with a loving wife, a happy home, successful kids and a former bully waxing his expensive car. How did the writers choose to really drive the point home that George was a success? He opened a box of his first novel while his wife cooed and children looked on for adoration. Of course George McFly was a success. He was an author! Ever since I was a kid I wanted that moment and while my car is old and my wife busy and my kids…well, they’re awesome, but still…I got my George McFly moment and it was everything I wanted.
- I Got Paid For My Work – This is pretty self-explanatory but I can tell you the dinner we had that night out on the town tasted amazing, as did the concept that someone would pay me for made up stories that came out of my head. I’m still kind of in disbelief.
- Found My Support Structure – I could easily spend 5,000 words going on and on about the people who helped me, the friends who edited me, the relatives that threw me an awesome party (complete with bloody cake!), Facebook friends who willingly forked over their hard earned dough to support me, and other friends who went along for the ride. I hope I’ve taken the time to thank you personally but I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as loved or garnered quite as much attention as I did in 2016 because of this side project.
- Wrote my First Dedication – It read “To Sarah, my partner, to Steph, my advisor and friend and to Chad. Burnt toast Bigfoot. Quickly, that’s my wife (obviously), my good friend Steph who read chapters as I pumped them out and gave me valuable feedback and invaluable enthusiasm which translated into forward motion and my friend Chad who read the book and has forgotten more about story and structure than most people ever learn. As for the inside joke, I could tell you but it wouldn’t be funny and once you got it you’d roll your eyes and recognize it as the inside joke made in a beery haze that it was. Best left unsaid.
- Finished My Second Novel – It’s called “Pack” and while most of it was written in 2015 it was finished in January of 2016 and then it sat for a long time because…
- Finished My Third Novel (and had it rejected) – I was struck with inspiration so instead of selling a first novel, editing a second and thinking about a third I wrote a third, sold the first and let the second sit fallow. This was a mistake, in retrospect, as I grew more and more fond of the third novel and less and less fond of the second. Then, once my inspiration and spilled on the screen I sent it to my wise and thoughtful agent who said “nope, not that one. What about that other one you were writing?” The Agent is right and I hadn’t given the story enough thought, even though I thought it turned out OK. The lesson, I think, is not “take one project at a time” but “think really hard about what you’re writing and why”. I may self-publish the third novel, called “Bitter Old Punk” or I might read into a digital recorder or leave it sit or shoot it into space. I don’t know. The good news my second novel, “Pack” got a shiny polish, a reconsideration (there’s some really strong stuff in there, I think) and is now up for consideration by a publishing house. I’m hopeful.
- Did All Manner of Interviews – From doing NPR’s local “All About Books” show (which was awesome) to speaking on author panels (also awesome) to other regional stuff, I was all over the place this year to the point where I started to feel a little…oogey about it. You’re supposed to hit all the media you can and while I’m OK on camera, It was an interesting thing to call up acquaintances and say “so I wrote this thing…”. I’m not the best at self-promotion, although you wouldn’t know it by as much as I was in front of a camera.
- Spoke With A Lot of Aspiring Writers – This was both cool and kind of weird. Most of the appearances I did involved running into folks who wanted to be published, which is good. I am completely on board for more art all the way around and am super happy to tell you want I did and how I did it. What was weird about it was I think, from what I hear and what I read, that I got kind of lucky finding an agent at all, much less as quickly as I did. Sure, I put in the hours and did the research but I honestly am not sure how much luck was involved in finding an age. Probably a lot and that’s a tough thing to tell someone with a manuscript and a bunch of rejection letters, but like I said, more art is never a bad thing and in my experience writers will write whether you encourage them or not.
- Learned to Read Reviews – My first negative review was kind of a doozy. I won’t say where it came from or give you too much detail (I don’t want you to find it) but the phrase “polemic against millennials” kind of rented space in my brain for a bit only to be knocked out of there by friends and family who seemed to like “FantasticLand” and a bunch of Amazon reviews that seemed to back that up. At the end of the day I feel pretty positive about the critical reception but reading that first bad review felt like a formative moment.
- Kept Writing – I’ve got books waiting to land, man. Bring on 2017.