When I finally got around to writing novels it was in the “old days” when you not only had to write it on a typewriter but also hoped to find a publisher. Self-publishing was available through various places known as “Vanity Presses” but they cost a lot of money I didn’t have. So I went the query-submission-reject route multiple times. This, of course, didn’t exactly help my confidence since I was certain it was because my work was not perfect enough. Thus, I’d go back to the manuscript with a critical eye, rewrite and retype.
Revising meant retyping with the most fun when the pagination changed. Then you had to retype everything up to that point or perhaps do some more editing so it fit correctly. I became a master at fitting it in the available space, a skill that came in handy later when I designed pamphlets and other promotional material to say nothing of Twitter. Today’s young authors have no idea what it was like prior to work processors! OMG, it gives me an anxiety attack just thinking about it!
Of course I didn’t realize, naïve as I was, that in most cases getting published was largely political and a matter of who you knew and schmoozed as opposed to genuine talent. My lack of confidence made self-promotion like that impossible as I hoped to be “discovered” and thereby validated. Thus, getting published was often more a matter of confidence as opposed to ability which of course explained why so many books that I considered inferior, or at least no better than mine, made it into print.
I was a late bloomer, which was also a confidence issue. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, mostly based on the number of rejects I’d collected, and was afraid that everyone else would figure that out.
But I wanted to be a science fiction writer and a good one so I figured that I needed to get the education required to do so. So at 35 I went back to college to get a bachelor’s degree in physics. No one was more surprised than I was when I actually graduated and eventually went to work at NASA where my writing skills were often the tie breaker between me and another candidate competing for the same job.
One particular job I held at the space agency was that of a technical writer. My duties were to take minutes at safety review panel meetings which entailed recording the proceedings and capturing action items, writing them up, then submitting them to the engineer for editing and eventual approval. And again I found out how very imperfect I was! It was really hard on my pride when the engineer would bleed all over my hard work with red ink. (Years later, when I was the editing engineer I would use green ink, which somehow seemed far less hostile.)
After limping through hundreds of pages splattered with red ink, however, something I could actually classify as transformational occurred. Eventually I became jaded to criticism and thus got past the shame of producing an inferior product. After overcoming that emotional milestone I could see more clearly and recognize that my writing was greatly improved by the joint effort. I learned to collaborate and eventually let go of my pride. My attitude changed. When people edited or criticized my work I saw it as helpful because it improved the product. I finally realized that I was actually a pretty good writer even though my work still came back with numerous edits sprawled all over the paper like blood-thirsty worms. Writing was subjective and there was probably no such thing as perfection once you got beyond “See Jack run.”
Little by little I had become a “professional” writer.
(To be continued)