Thursday, April 12, 2012
The Long and Winding Road My Writing Journey – C. S. Lakin- Part I of a III Part Series
People sometimes joke with me about my “twenty-year overnight success.” Not that I’m a success by the world’s standard—and I may never be, but that’s not what my writing journey is about. Yet it certainly did feel like getting published happened overnight—when I look back over the last two or so years and stare at three books sitting on desk—three published books in the last seven months. That’s crazy, isn’t it?
At a writers’ conference last year, I sat with a group of published authors. They all remarked how they put proposals together—short summaries of a book they’d like to write, and then their agent sends those proposals out hoping to snag a contract to write that novel or series. What astonished me was that none of these writers actually write the proposed book until (read: unless) they get a contract. Why did that astonish me? Because they will sit and come up with proposal after proposal, sometimes year after year but not write a book, any book, until they are asked to do so.
It made me do some serious thinking. For all of a minute or two. What makes a writer? For some it is a job, a career, and maybe for many of those established writers, it makes no sense for them to write unless they are getting paid for it. I just couldn’t relate.
I’d been writing all my life—poetry, short stories, screenplays, plays, helping my mother develop series for TV—something she “specialized” in. I’ve read quotes by famous authors who talk about the need, passion, drive to write, saying they can’t not write. That’s me. As much as I bucked following my mother and brother in their gold-lined footsteps (both were highly successful TV writer/producers), I couldn’t resist the call to tell a story. For fun, back about twenty+ years ago, I sat down and wrote my first novel—a literary foray that delved into college students’ angst and set on the northern CA coast, where I lived. It took me about a year to write, since I had two children under five, a bed and breakfast to run, and a pygmy goat farm. But when finished, I submitted it to a top agent in Los Angeles, and he grabbed it. I was thrilled. I had written my first novel, got the first agent I queried, and now I was on my way to be a NY Times best-selling author, right?
Although I do have a few (and I mean a very few) friends who actually wrote a novel and got it published within a year, I learned that is far from the norm. That is an anomaly, as rare as a black hole in our galaxy (well, maybe they’re not all that rare, but I’m assuming they are). I went on to crank out two more novels—these were psychological mysteries, contemporary, unusual. Again, I picked up agents who loved my work, but I was forewarned. I was told my writing was so original and unique, it would be a hard sell. That’s proved true, as I spent the last twenty years trying to get published and papering the proverbial bedroom walls with rejection letters stating what great writing and wonderful story but my novel just didn’t fit in anywhere. I’m still getting those rejection letters on the six unsold novels I am hoping any minute will sell.
I could just write what sells. By now I surely know how to do that. There are basic principles to each genre that will practically guarantee a book will sell should you choose to align your writing style and ideas to the market. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, writers are pretty much encouraged to do just that—study the market, write what sells. It can be done. It is being done by many.
But I gave up writing for about ten years after my third novel didn’t sell. It was just too hard to break in, too much competition, too frustrating and disappointing. And I just couldn’t write anything that wasn’t exciting to me.