I read lots of quilting magazines. Along with cutting and sewing instructions on quilt patterns, there are always skill levels. Beginner, confident beginner, intermediate, and—I think the last one is difficult. Goodness knows, I’ll never get to that one.
Professional writers have skill levels, too, though I’m not going to spell them out here. We’re complex, so we have many of them, and I’m pretty sure any one of us you asked would assign them differently. For the sake of the post, though, I’m going to call myself an intermediate. I’ve got eight books out there, with number nine coming up in October, so I’m not a newbie anymore, and no one ever attached the word confident to me at any level, but I don’t make enough money to live on, so…yes, intermediate.
I’m writing this to myself, today, but to you too, because—well, because I’m posting it. From that point of view—intermediacy—this is where I am right now, and I’m curious about you. Where do you consider yourself on those skill levels and how do you feel about yourself as a professional writer? I know it’s only Monday and things could change by the end of the week. Or, for that matter, by the end of this post. But how are you now?
What do you do when you have to come down? When you can no longer hold onto the excitement wrought by contracts, conferences, laugh-out-loud conversations with other writers, or YES! covers (or even NO! ones. A cover is a cover is a cover). When you sit down at your desk or in your writing chair or on the bleachers at the ballgame and look at the WIP and think, What am I doing here? I got nothin’. It’s not writer’s block—you’re still writing, after all. It’s not depression, because you’re…you know…not.
Do you work out? Do you go for a long walk or watch a funny-sad old movie or eat some chocolate? Do you sit there in panic mode because, Oh, my God, it’s over. I’ll never write a publishable word again. It is time to confine myself to succinct Twitter messages, sharing inspirational pictures on Facebook, and saying Good Morning to everyone who comes into Walmart.
You’re not a newbie anymore. You’ve advanced to the point that you give sage advice (whether anyone actually wants it or not) as opposed to seeking it. You don’t bother with agent and editor appointments at the aforementioned conferences because you’ve reached your own comfort level in that regard. You don’t panic about synopses anymore—you just say “Oh, yuck, not again" and start writing even though you’re pretty sure the finished product won’t bear that much relation to what you’re offering up.
What do you do when you feel like you’ve been at it too long, too hard, too unsuccessfully? Are you one who has counted her rejections, who knows how many manuscripts are under the bed? Do you remember how many Chapter Ones you’ve written?
Lots of questions here, aren’t there? The nice thing (for me) is that in the writing of this I found the answer to the question that pertains to me. The “coming down” part. And it’s easy. I’ll just keep writing till an Up comes along, because the Intermediate Level lets me know something will.
The reason for the other questions is where my sage advice comes in. I have no idea how many rejections my work has garnered, how many manuscripts I’ve written, how many I’ve started with great hope and stalled on somewhere between Chapter One and Chapter Six. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that I’m woefully disorganized. But there’s more to it than that. If I knew, if I’d really have gotten the creation of spreadsheets down pat, I’d have probably given up at some point along the long and crooked line to publishing. I would probably, at some point in the middle of those spreadsheets, have hated it more than I loved it.
So there’s my advice, which I do remember you didn’t ask for. If you have rejections, stories you’ve realized aren’t saleable, or non-finishers, set them aside. Don’t toss them (even the rejections can prove to the nosy IRS that you’re trying, really you are), but put them where you can’t see them. Then look at your nice blank screen and think What’s next. Because you are a professional writer and you’re ready to move to another skill level.