The Labyrinth

I’ve pretty much been writing since I was born.

My first novel was finished when I was seven years old. It was done up on an old clackety type-writer with a rogue e that made it awfully hard to read.  It was about a detective agency full of rodents who solved kidnappings. The concept was clearly cribbed from Disney’s Saturday morning cartoon, Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers. The actual characters were based on a colouring book page that I really liked and created a backstory for, which lead to the incongruously reptilian Tommy the Turtle, the agency’s janitor. (My parents ran a janitorial company at the time, which made me think janitorial work was incredibly glamorous and cool.) The agency was run by Mary the Mouse, and I delighted in penning the sexual tension between Mary and Tommy. Tommy’s kidnapping by a gang of alleycats was thwarted by Mary’s clever sleuthing skills and there was a very salacious kiss at the end that I imagined myself very grown up for writing.

There’s a point to this story, I swear!

When I tell the story of Mary the Mouse and Tommy the Turtle to people who aren’t writers, they’re always incredibly impressed. Wait, they say. You were seven? How could you have done that when you were seven? I didn’t even read my first novel until I was eight, and you wrote one when you were seven? You must have been a wunderkind! How did your parents know what to do with you? I can’t even imagine being that brilliant!

When I tell this story too people who are writers, they smile knowingly, chuckle, and say that yeah, that sounds about right.

The thing about we writers is that we’re born wanting it. We can’t imagine anything more amazing that a stranger reading our books, experiencing our stories, and not only liking them, but believing in them, wanting to see more, wanting to share them with others. Publication isn’t just about success to us. In fact, success doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it. It’s about knowing that people out there are reading your stories, meeting your characters, walking through the halls of your world.

I feel a kinship to all my fellow writers. There’s no one else I can instantly connect to the way I can with a writer. The desire to write and to tell stories is a burning coal deep inside of us and talking to someone else who understands that feeling and how big and real and important it is, it’s like speaking in your own language after weeks in a foreign country. It doesn’t matter what separates you. Even if you disagree on every single issue in the world, you’re family in one little way.

Here’s another story that most every writer nods knowingly when I tell:

I kind of stopped writing for a while. I did this because writing got hard. We get to a certain age, or a certain level of education, or a certain something, and it doesn’t come quite as easily as it used to. And there are so many reasons. We have things to do. We think every word we put down sucks. We get caught up in the little things. We compare our work endlessly to that of our favourite authors. We come across something in our outline that doesn’t work anymore and it seems daunting and impossible to fix it, so we quit. I wrote almost twenty novels between 1992 and 2000, and then for eleven years, nothing. A lot of false starts, a lot of fanfiction, a lot of outlines, and not a single manuscript. The stories I wanted to tell didn’t go away. They just piled up. Some got repurposed into fanfiction ideas. Some turned into roleplays with my friends. But it’s not the same as writing down and really creating something, and when I tried to do that, it was like I was lost in an impossible labyrinth. The walls were all the reasons writing had stopped being the easiest thing in the world and started being one of the most frustrating, and it was like I couldn’t get out.

I did get out, though.

I finished the first draft of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant in October of 2011. (Wow, that long ago? Geez!) My tentative release date for it is July 13, 2015. And I actually started outlining the book in the summer of 2009. It’s been a long, long process, but I’ve learned a lot during it, and honestly?

I want to help my family.

Every Thursday from now until I’m done, I want to share things that I’ve learned in every stage of the writing/publishing process that’s brought me to where I am now. I’m not an expert. I don’t know all the secrets. I’ve never even sold a single copy, not yet. But I’m someone who’s spent thirty years learning about writing and I know a lot of writers who are still stuck back in that labyrinth and could really use the help getting out of it. Or at least hearing about how someone else got out. My advice isn’t law, it isn’t going to work for everyone, and I’m not even saying it’s good… but it’s what I’ve learned. Maybe someone will find that valuable out there and help them find their way out of the maze.

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