I’m 48, and I knew I wanted to write fiction by the time I was about 13. But I was an immigrant who only moved to the U.S. when I was 11, so I always felt insecure about the fluency of my English. My writing felt clumsy and lacking the lyrical quality I admired in the authors I read, and simply reading back what I had wrote made me cringe hard enough that I would give up quickly. But I would write in other formats such as screenplay/teleplay/comic book script, because those formats were less reliant on prose styling.
At around the same time, I was also deeply passionate about art and music and directing, having grown up with anime, manga, American and European graphic novels, sci-fi/fantasy/horror novels, movies, illustration, and listening to soundtracks and musical artists of the 80’s. I loved them all equally and couldn’t make up my mind which to pursue, so I ended up pursuing them all and became a professional creative that tackled all of them.
Starting from the year I graduated high school, I worked as an illustrator for graphic novels, and a few years later I got signed as a creator/writer/artist for my own dark urban fantasy series. Looking back now, I lacked education and understanding in dramatic structure, character arc development, thematic purpose, etc., so I was just writing from instinct. But I loved the storytelling aspect of creating graphic novels so much that I realized I loved it more than the art aspect, as drawing can sometimes feel like a chore, such as having to draw lots of buildings and cars and street signs in scenes if your story calls for them. When writing, every moment you’re conveying an idea, making a statement, or expressing an emotion, whereas often in drawing, you’re doing a lot of tedious repetition or technical polishing that doesn’t resonate with your emotions or intellect from moment to moment. It was around that time I realized my true passion was in storytelling, not art.
My other main passion is music, and I taught myself to compose/arrange at 18, and then became a professional songwriter by 22, and about a decade later I also got into composing soundtracks for film and games. But music has some of the same issue as art, where there are elements of repetition and tedium, such as having to practice for many hours on instruments or working out technically challenging compositional problems like complex counterpoint melodies or harmonic structures that are interesting yet still resolves to satisfaction. Music theory can sometimes feel like math in those moments. The technical aspect like mixing/mastering can also be a bit mind-numbing at times, when you have to listen to the same parts over and over and make minute adjustments to the EQ, compression, limiter, etc., while avoiding listening fatigue. However, I still love music and although I stopped doing it professionally, I still make music for pleasure now.
Throughout the last three decades, I’ve also worked in film, television, animation, video games, and photography, and while they are all creative and in the art and entertainment industries, often you have to deal with creative differences, funding issues, technical issues, and after having experienced arguing on the film set, or getting funding pulled on a production, or told to chop off entire storylines due to marketing decisions, or clients having strange and unreasonable expectations, it just feels like writing novels as a lone wolf suited my personality the best, because I don’t have budget constraints or technical issues or creative differences with others.
Although I’ve always been writing since age 13, and have been published since my early twenties, my dream was always to be a novelist. Around my mid-twenties I started to write short stories and novels, because I just felt the creative itch so badly and had to do it. But like I mentioned earlier, that insecurity I felt as an immigrant always gnawed at the back of my mind, and although by then my English was certainly every bit as good or even better than most Americans, I still felt like I was lacking when compared to my literary heroes. I would then write on and off based on level of inspiration/motivation.
I had my first breakthrough/epiphany in 2010. One day, I was inspired to write a zombie apocalypse novel, and the motivation was overwhelming. I ended up writing for about 14 hours straight that day, while eating the meals in front of the computer. The rush I felt was unprecedented, and it was on that day I realized it was my destiny to be a novelist. From that day on, I became more serious about writing novels, and would continue to write off and on for the next nine years or so, accumulating several unfinished novels, some as many as 75K words. But as much as I was writing, I wasn’t finishing anything, I then realized around the end of 2018 that if I was serious about becoming a novelist, I would need to finish them and get them published. I couldn’t just go on writing only when I felt inspired, or putting unfinished drafts on the backburner and then start another one, only the repeat that process over and over while the stack of unfinished manuscripts grows. It was actually the writing group I was in that talked me into doing NaNoWriMo that year that was the catalyst for this turning point in my journey as a writer. I had always known about NaNoWriMo and even toyed with the idea of doing it, but always felt like rushing was not a good idea. That year, I gave in to peer pressure and so glad I did, because it showed me what real discipline was in writing, and if I want to have a career at all in it, I would need to be disciplined.
Since then, I’ve finished the first draft of one novel, and I’m 77K into the next one I’ll finish. Once I get there, I’ll get this new one out to beta readers, and I’ll need to decide if I want to rewrite that other one I finished (the beta-reading process told me it needs to be completely rewritten), or tackle another one’s first draft.
My advice for anyone who’s serious about writing, is that you need to ask yourself what you want to get out of it. If you just want to write for your own enjoyment, then just write whenever you feel like it. But if you want to turn it into a career, then you absolutely must have discipline, because there’s no other way to have a career. Deadlines won’t wait for inspiration, and at any other job–including other creative jobs, your clients and bosses and deadlines and mortgages won’t wait for you to get inspired. While inspiration can’t be controlled reliably, discipline is something you can develop and rely on, and often that is better than inspiration, because once you have discipline, you can also train your mind to be more creative as well, so you can create at the drop of the hat and won’t have to wait for inspiration.
To build and maintain discipline, I try to write as often and as much as I can, and that means even if I only have 30 minutes between two things I need to do, I’ll take it and write for those 30 minutes. When I have longer blocks of time, I’ll try to shoot for at least 1K words. Sometimes when it’s not going smoothly, I might end up with only a few hundred words, but when things are going well, I can surpass that goal. It’s important to not let shorter blocks of time become an excuse, because the word count adds up even if you do only a few dozens words each writing session. At the end of the month, you’ll still be up by 10K words that you otherwise wouldn’t have if you let it become an excuse to not write.
Using record keeping apps help a lot. I use goal/task keeping apps to record my wordcount every time I write, and you can see an example of my record-keeping here: Finished the first draft of my book! « Ethereality News & Weblog
As for learning about the technical and artistic aspect of writing, there are tons of books and workshops and podcasts and YouTube videos out there. You can learn everything you need, but at some point you need to get that butt in chair and those fingers on the keyboard, because your books are not going to write themselves.
And don’t let shitty first drafts discourage you. Almost all writers, including the most successful and respected ones, cringe at their own first drafts. They would even get their first drafts torn to shreds by their writer’s group or beta-readers, and they’ll have to use the feedback to rewrite a better next draft. My first beta-reading experience from my writing group was so brutal that I couldn’t even writer for the next several months, but eventually I got back on the horse and rebuild my momentum, and now I’m on my way to finishing the next book’s first draft.