The clock’s ticking down to the last few days before I’ll be getting up at the crack of dawn once more. But on this Saturday, the third of October, I won’t be traveling down the steps and walking the twenty feet or so to my office. I’ll be heading off to Oregon for two weeks and a day for a fiction Master Class taught by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and other fine authors and editors.
For a great explanation of the Master Class, check out this entry from Dean’s blog. I think the title says it all.
And, just re-reading that entry by Dean again myself — oog. 400,000 words in two weeks? That’s about 25,000 words per person, or about 100 pages of writing. Per person. Wow. Along with classes for about 8 hours a day, I don’t see much sleep in my future…
And I can’t. Frickin’. Wait!
So what does this Master Class mean to me? Allow me to explain…
These next two weeks represent my launching pad for the next level. I was gonna say “stepping stone,” but that’s not a big enough jump. I’ve heard writers talk about going to one of these Master Classes (they don’t happen that often, maybe twice a year, and this October’s class just may be the last one) for over seven years, and I’ve always wanted to go. Those Master Class vets all raved about it, all the while reminding me of how grueling it was (one person described it as being broken down, and then built up again, in the right way).
In the past few years, I’ve felt like I’ve been sitting on a plateau. Early on in my career, I’d figured out how to write a publishable story — a skill I feel like I’ve lost since, as I’ve turned my focus on novels. And I in those past five years or so, I figured out how to write a novel or two that haven’t been “breakout” novels by any stretch of the word, but publishable.
I want to get out of that “publishable,” just-barely-acceptable world of fiction-writing and push myself to write novels (and the occasional story, even) with staying power. Fiction that knocks your socks off. That makes you grin and nod along as you’re reading, late into the night. With characters who feel real as your spouse and best friend. With plots that surprise and shock and bother the reader. Fiction that haunts your thoughts and invades your dreams.
I’m not there yet.
I try to look at all this philosophically and put things in perspective.
I’ve been doing this fiction-writing thing seriously since the fall of 1995, when I went to N.C. State to get my Master’s in English with an emphasis on creative writing. Those first few years were all about figuring how to tell a story, how to create characters that weren’t basically different versions of me (I’m not into writing my memoirs), and all the fundamentals. Which I’m still learning, of course.
During those first few years after grad school, I wrote my first novel. And then stuck it back in the trunk, where it belongs (though I may pull it out one day and completely overhaul it. Maybe).
I also got married, and we bought a house and got going on our careers. Oh, those glorious late 20s. Things were so easy back then!
Then I went to the Writers of the Future workshop in 2000, where I got to see my first professionally paying story in print. And I wrote a pretty kick-ass story during that time, which was workshopped and eventually published in Asimov’s. Ironically, at that workshop was where I first met Dean Wesley Smith, along with a bunch of other pro writers who were in town for the end-of-workshop awards ceremony, and Dean explained how getting published wasn’t like winning the lottery. You make your own luck by writing a story or novel that an editor can’t refuse.
So I spent the next few years feverishly doing that. And I probably burned myself out in the process, just a bit. I also had some — well, let’s call them “issues” with my various day jobs, and did some job-jumping for a while. Part of the reason for that was that I was starting to fall into my holding pattern with writing, and wasn’t able to get to the next level. During those years, I started wrestling with novel-writing, and also had to be the sole bread-winner of the household, as Elizabeth went back to school to get her Master’s in Occupational Therapy.
Stressful times, but nothing like what was to come. Because it was just the two of us then. When we had kids, the stress level ratched up exponentially. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world — well, maybe I’d change Mitch’s horrible first year of reflux, where the poor kid was just miserable all the time — because our two sons Drew and Mitch mean the world to us. I can’t imagine a life without them.
And I was okay with not going great guns with my writing in the years from 2005 to this year, because I wanted to be there for Drew and Mitch, and Elizabeth as well. I put some stuff on the back burner and focused on work and family for while. I know my writing chops got rusty, but kids are only little once. No way was I going to miss out on that — it’s hard enough having to work 40 hours a week and not see them much during the week other than at breakfast and supper and bath time and reading at bedtime.
But now that the boys are older and getting more independent, and Elizabeth and I are more settled into our jobs and in a good place with each other (those years of her grad school and my job-jumping were rocky, as was the past year and a half when Mitch was so sick and we weren’t getting much sleep), I feel like I’m ready to truly push myself. I want to get to the next level as a writer.
I try not to look back at the past few years and think that I was spinning my wheels. That I was stuck on that plateau, looking up but unable to comprehend how to climb any higher.
Instead, I’ve got to put things in perspective, as I said earlier, and think of that “fallow” time as part of the process. Sure, I’d love to be ten years younger and not just be getting going at 39 instead of 29, but that’s life. Can’t change the past and all that. And 40’s not that old, is it? 🙂
So I’ll be pretty much out of pocket and gloriously offline starting Saturday, October 3rd, through Sunday, October 18, when I come limping back home after my flight arrives in RDU around midnight (ow). I have really high hopes for this workshop, and I know that the only thing that could hold me back is myself.
Well, that and lack of sleep. But I’m used to that!