I’ve heard of writers who make a point of completing manuscripts by hand because seeing a physical, completed work makes it easier for them to see exactly what their time has gone into. Basically finishing a draft on a computer, renaming it “done” or something and then sending it off to magazines or editors doesn’t have the same sort of effect because it’s just on a screen. I write exclusively on a computer (though I brainstorm and outline by hand sometimes) and so I get that feeling once in a while, which is sometimes reinforced by the Excel doc I keep that outlines my current projects and what I could work on next (the list is vast). It’s like a hydra; I knock off one idea and there are ten more to take its place – which I’m not complaining about, don’t worry
Every accomplishment, though, helps me overcome this feeling and remind me that what I do actually leads to tangible results. In the past couple weeks, that came in the form of selling a new short story (details on that once the TOC is released) and, to my amazement, finding out that one of my Black Gate posts was the most read post for January. Anytime I get news like that, I do a little dance (usually in my mind), blast a little celebratory music (usually Meat Loaf) and, if the news is really big, reward myself with something else. But then inevitably the question that blossoms in my mind is the same one that crops up when I finish a project: “Okay, so what’s the next thing?”
Basically, my mind never stops working. Every accomplishment reinforces the fact that I’m not just pissing in the wind when it comes to my writing, but I don’t give myself a lot of time to sit back on my laurels; I take the energy of any accomplishment and put that back into my writing. Sure, I sold a story, but now I need to sell the next one. Sure, I got some attention online for something I wrote, but now I need to figure out how to do that again. My inner psychologist sometimes needles me that this kind of mindset is maybe unhealthy – that taking a break once in a while and basking in one’s accomplishments is good for the soul – but I tend to ignore that little bastard and start writing up notes for another project. I feel like it’s too easy to become complacent, especially with how difficult it is to break in as a new writer, and so I think there’s a part of me that’s actually afraid to take too long of a break, especially after a moment of success. I’ll add that to the list of things to ask a therapist about when I have benefits and can afford that sort of conversation.
This week, though, I’m jumping back into editing a space opera I drafted over the summer, which needs a ton of work (expect more than a few posts about that in the coming months). The energy and drive that fills that question “what’s next” is crucial for a project like that, as I figure out everything it needs for draft two, and eventually drafts three, four, and as many more as required. And with that drives comes the most important thing: the sheer love of the craft. There is little I enjoy more than pounding out a new piece of fiction, getting to know new characters and working with them as I finish a narrative. The love of what I do feeds that energy, which in turn feeds my drive and feeds that love of writing, in probably the best cycle imaginable save for the sort of cycle of love and affection that comes from being with your perfect partner. Because that question of “what’s next” is simultaneously an affirmation and a challenge, to prove that you deserve whatever accolades you’ve gotten and you can achieve even more.
So … what’s the next thing for you, fellow writer?