Friday, August 27, 2010

Mike Myers presents…

No, not that Mike Myers, and not the one in the hockey mask. This Mike Myers is far more illustrious than those nobodys. To start with, he's the only member of my regional RWA chapter with boy parts. Oh and incidentally, single ladies, Mike [along with his boy parts, I can only assume] is available! Please inquire within.

I edit my chapter's newsletter, and Mike recently offered to write a monthly column on the topic of the yet-to-published writer's journey, as told by someone currently mired in its gnarly undergrowth. I gratefully accepted the article and wasted no time in strong-arming him [note to the aforementioned single ladies: he put up very little resistance] into letting me serialize his ongoing experiences here on the Super Lucky #1 Fun Blog as well. So without further ado, I'll turn it over to Mike.

I received flak at a recent NEC-RWA meeting for using a childbirth analogy to discuss writing my first book. The premise being that much the same as nature smooths out the vivid edges of just how painful, stressful and frightening giving birth to a first child can be, most writers don’t accurately remember how helpless and riddled with self doubt they were before they finished their first manuscript. Of course they remember the events along the way, and that much of it was unpleasant, but those are memories viewed through the filter of time and the distraction of holding their baby (or manuscript) in their arms.

That I’m obviously not an expert on either subject (I have yet to finish a manuscript and my baby making parts are of the male variety) played a small part in any backlash, but the larger issue voiced was how no one is immune to writing’s ability to humble and terrify. We’re in agreement on that, and it’s not my intention to belittle anyone else’s struggles. My point was that, regardless of what emotions a published writer goes through, the wannabe doesn’t have that “I did it once, I can do it again” mental safety net. Published writers have their own level of hell to face that’s neither better nor worse than the one inhabited by the newbie writer, but it is different.

Hopefully, beyond serving as a trip down Nostalgia Lane for those who have already traveled this path, this exercise can serve as a hand holding step-by-step journey down one writer’s pursuit to finish his first manuscript. I’m guessing the same doubts, questions and fears I face will be familiar to you.

For some background on my journey thus far we go in the way-back machine to January of 2005, when I decided to pursue my dream. I devoured books on writing and joined several online discussion groups. Later that summer, I attended my first writing conference. Since then I’ve read countless how-to books, attended more than fifteen writing conferences from Kingston, RI, to Salt Lake City, UT, to San Francisco, CA. I’ve had 3 a.m. drinks with NY Times bestselling authors, talked books with Stephen King, crashed publisher parties to sit beside Nora Roberts, switched genres from horror to romance, made some of the best friends anyone could ask for, and I talked.

Ah yes, the sign of the true procrastinator. We can talk the talk like nobody’s business. I’ve talked my way through pitches with publishers and agents, getting requests my friends would kill for. I’ve talked my way through an entire book, talking so much that by the time it was all plotted I was so sick of it I moved on to another book without ever writing the first.

I talked so much that soon my friends and family couldn’t ask “How’s that book coming?” without an accompanying eye roll. It happened so often I started checking the ceiling to try and find what everyone kept looking at. I fully admit that I’m a borderline idiot, but eventually even I realized what was happening. My friends and family had lost all faith that I’d ever do more than just “talk” about the book. That was okay because I had no faith in myself. Zero. Nada. And why? Was it because I couldn’t write? I’d like to think not. In five years I was able to produce a handful of chapters I’m proud of.

Okay, maybe the issue was that my story ideas sucked eggs. I’d like to think that wasn’t the case. Agents and publishers have appeared enthusiastic with my pitches, commenting on the mix of conflict and humor in my plot. My published friends get frustrated because they want to read my story, if I’d only write it.

So what’s the problem? I’m lazy. I have zero willpower. I’m a procrastinator. I knew I’d never finish a book because I can always find something else requiring my attention—usually something superficial and therefore less painful. I had zero hope I could change, but kept talking, hoping something would shake me out of my rut and force a change.

That time for change has arrived.

It’s easy to not write. Maybe the kids need my attention, or that new television show I recorded needs to be watched. And there’s always the job, right? Yes, I know all the tricks. In the end I’m only using them for one reason—because I am afraid. I’m afraid I’m not good enough, that the finished book won’t be good enough, that if by some miracle the first book is a hit the second will flop and I’ll be proved a fraud.

The “I’ll start my book as soon as…” scenario is a slippery slope for us newbies. For me it started that first day with “All I need is the right book to get the basics down and then I’ll write my bestseller.” So off I went to the bookstore, returning with my armful of self-help books. Unfortunately, they were most helpful at giving me my first excuse to not write…yet.

Next I wasn’t inspired. Surely I couldn’t write my masterpiece if I was tired, or grouchy, or had a rumbly tummy. I’m sure Nora doesn’t work on a rumbly tummy, right? (Actually I think she does.) So I waited for Miss Muse to come settle on my shoulder, whisper in my ear and words would pour onto my screen as smoothly as hot butter over popcorn. That thought would start a popcorn craving so I’d head to the movies because everyone knows movie popcorn is the best. And if by the time I returned home I was too tired to write that was okay because there was always tomorrow.

That’s the biggie. There’s always a tomorrow to work on your book. The problem is, string too many tomorrows together and you’re left with countless yesterdays spent chasing pursuits less important to you than writing. How crazy is that?

A fair question would be whether this series of articles is my latest form of procrastination. To make sure that’s not the case, my writing mentors have me on a strict daily word count. Any time spent on this project will be above and beyond that total.

Now let’s get started. If I can do this, then so can you. I work fifty hours a week at the day job with a second job as well. I share joint custody of my eleven-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son, each with full social and sports calendars. Don’t tell me you’re not ready. I have no more insight or inspiration to start than any of you. Remember we’re both going into this together and if, as writers, we do our jobs we’ll both make it to our destination. I believe that.

From now on there’s no more talking unless there are words written to talk about. To paraphrase pieces of advice given by Nora Roberts as well as super friend Marie Force, it’s time to put our butts in the chair, our fingers on the keyboard and make the magic happen. No excuses. Are you with me?

I'm with you, Mike! Can't wait to have you back next month and hear how it's going. I must say, for a self-proclaimed newbie, you've certainly got plenty of experience under your belt. You're the yet-to-be-published-writer all aspiring yet-to-be-published-writers should be taking notes from. Also, everyone be sure to follow and harass Mike on Twitter @MikeMyersWriter. Then when he's the next big thing you can say, "I stalked him way back when…"


  1. Procrastinators of the World Unite...Tomorrow!

    I'm looking forward to reading this!
    And I know you can write the book too and I can edit my book as soon as this one thing...and switch the laundry...and maybe check FB again... ;)


  2. Hi Mike! I have a suggestion....I kept re-writing my first novel over and over to the middle, and couldn't finish. Finally, I decided to write something "short" just to have a finished project. It's a great way to figure out how to write a complete story, it's not overwhelming, it could lead to a longer story or could be published as is (e-pubs especially like shorter manuscripts), and you can finally say you slayed your procrastination problem.

    Good luck!
    Penny (aka Neen!)

  3. Now that's an essay ANY writer would be proud to have written...nice job Mike. Your friends have never doubted your ability to write well, and I for one have never doubted that you'll finish your first novel sooner or later, regardless of how much I might tease you about the...errr...delays. :) So get writing, will ya?


  4. Hey Mike!

    I have another suggestion for you. Now is the time to enter contests--while you're unpublished. The competition against published authors is brutal and contests for them are few and far between. Fortunately there are oodles of contests for the unpubbed writer.

    Finish that manuscript if for no other reason that to have it ready when your dream editor requests the full after reading your contest final. Seriously! That's how I got my first Ashlyn Chase book to jump Raelene's outrageous slush pile. The nifty icon on the website is very cool too!

    So--there's a carrot for you. Many of us need a reason to finish an manuscript. Later on, your reason will be to meet a deadline and earn your big, fat advance. (Hey, we can dream.)