I've been sitting in my writing studio contemplating how much I don't want to write today, feeling like a fiction failure, arguing with all those little voices in the back of my skull. One keeps asking why I'm so eager to continue writing while the other keeps whispering encouragement. "Look at last year," it says. "You've come so far as a writer and learned so much since then. You simply can't give up right now." Why does this one only ever whisper while the other one always shouts?
Still, that little voice got me to wondering just how far I've really come since the beginning of 2012. For starters, I began entering the quarterly Writers of the Future contest last year and submitted two short stories, both of which were rejected. I'm still unpublished and still unknown, but I have actually come a long way as a writer from where I was a year ago and I suppose that's the important thing. I'm not actually entering the WOTF contest to win; I promised myself when I started that I wouldn't focus on winning because I have no control over whether I win or not. I enter because it gives me a quarterly deadline to reach and it keeps me writing and submitting.
I read a TON of books last year, probably more in one year than I've read at all in the last twenty years. Many of them were science fiction but many were also non-fiction, mostly about the craft of writing. I look at the list and actually start feeling pretty good at what I've been able to accomplish and that little whispering voice gets a little louder and I sense that it's smiling.
Both Stephen King and Orson Scott Card have said it over and over and I absolutely believe that it's true: if you want to be a writer, there are two things you must do -- write a lot and read a lot. At some point between starting college and starting my family, I lost my love for reading. Maybe it was working through the night shift after attending a full day of classes and homework. Maybe it was the transition from being single to being married to being a Dad. Maybe it was one bad career move after another. I've just been so busy over the last twenty years dealing with life that I forgot how rewarding a good book can be.
As the kids get older and leave the house and my career stabilizes and I settle into some sense of a normalized routine, I've taken the time to slow down and find ways to escape all the craziness of the day. Writing lets me escape into worlds that I create, where I can hang out with extraordinary people from my head. Reading lets me escape into other people's worlds and hang out with people they created.
Here's a list of the authors and books that let me enter their worlds last year:
- Issac Asimov - Foundation's Edge
- Nancy Farmer - House of the Scorpion
- Charles Brokaw - The Atlantis Code
- Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451
- Anne McCaffrey - Changelings
- Arthur C. Clarke - Childhood's End
- Robert Heinlein - A Stranger in a Strange Land
- Steven Polansky - The Bradbury Report
- HG Wells - War of the Worlds
- James Patterson - Daniel X
- James Dashner - The Maze Runner
- Amy Kathleen Ryan - Glow
- Susan Beth Pfeffer - Life As We Knew It
- Ruth White - You'll Like It Here...Everybody Does
- Arthur C. Clarke - The Hammer of God
- Ray Bradbury - Something Wicked This Way Comes
- Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson - Hellhole
- Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
- Edgar Rice Burroughs - A Princess of Mars
- Kurt Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle
- William R. Forstchen - One Second After
- Mary E. Pearson - The Fox Inheritance
- Diana Palmer - The Morcai Battalion
- Michael Grant - BZRK
- Anna Sheehan - A Long, Long Sleep
- Orson Scott Card - Earth Unaware
- Jeremy Robinson - Second World
- David Weber - Out of the Dark
- John Scalzi - Fuzzy Nation
- Frank Herbert - Dune
- Annie Dillard - The Writing Life
- Stephen King - On Writing
- Ray Bradbury - Zen in the Art of Writing
- Orson Scott Card - How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
- Sol Stein - On Writing
- James Scott Bell - Plot and Structure
- Donald Maass - Writing the Breakout Novel
- Orson Scott Card - Characters and Viewpoint
- William Zinsser - On Writing Well
- William Noble - Conflict, Action, & Suspense
- David G. Hartwell - Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction
- Gloria Kempton - Dialogue
Forty-two books and I feel like I've only scratched the surface of what I need to know about writing. In addition to reading a lot, I wrote three short stories, joined a writing group that meets fairly actively every two weeks, and attended my first writing conference, where I met lots of outstanding people during helpful workshops.
Now that I've finished looking back, that whispering voice is beginning to shout, "What are you waiting for now? Get back to writing!" so I guess that's what I need to do for the next few hours.
If you feel like you're lacking motivation to write and wondering why you bother plugging along in a field that sounds so easy but ends up being so damn tough, take a look back at what you've been able to accomplish in the last year. Chances are, you've come much further than you thought. And if you can find a way to keep moving forward, this year will be even more productive and rewarding.