I’m having a hell of a time thinking of myself as a writer.

I know, I know – if you write, however casually, you are a writer. I write a bit most days,  I conduct serious research in pursuit of my book, I take classes and critiques, I tell people I’m writing a book. But I still can’t square these with having never been published, and only recently considering that this hobby could be more.

This situation is not entirely unfamiliar.

Fencing is my other great hobby*. I practice 3 days a week, take lessons, compete nationally, and have a rating (kind of like a belt in other martial arts). I may never be an Olympian, but I am an athlete. I wasn’t always though – when I started out 12 years ago I was a relative couch potato, fencing once a week to stave off weight gain.

What made the difference?

Among other things, getting good instruction and setting aside time for practice (instead of straggling to club only when I had “free time”), but I don’t think I would have done either of those things if I hadn’t been both obsessed with improvement and believed that I could improve. Simply taking my efforts seriously inspired more disciplined habits that helped the fencing: adopting a healthier diet, cross-training to improve strength and endurance, and finding the elusive persistence to keep going even when it was difficult.

Even so, it took me 12 years to call myself “athlete” without laughing:

photo of my "Athlete" pass from the State Games

doG only knows what it will take for me to ever feel worthy of the label “writer”, but at least I’m going through the correct motions. I may never be a bestselling author, but I will be (am?) a writer.

Rick Castle in "Writer" bulletproof vest.

*I also sew/costume, but lately it’s taken a back seat to the writing. File under: not enough hours in the day.

switching gears

My writer’s group critiqued my work for the first time last night.

I spent most of last week preparing the short (~1000 word) chapter I was submitting for review: writing, editing, rewriting, running through Autocrit, and editing until it was as perfect as I could make it. This is pretty standard procedure for me (every post you see on this blog has gone through a dozen iterations, including this one).

I have always worked this way because most of my shared writing has been episodic role-playing and fan fiction: once a chapter is out in the world I can’t take it back or edit it, so I aim for a finished product every time.

By the submission deadline I still wasn’t pleased with what I had. I wasn’t getting across the mood and clarity I wanted and feared my chapter would be seen as lazy writing, or just plain crap.

It turned out that nobody expected a completed work. Everyone could tell it was a first draft and liked it very much for what it was, offering some excellent tips how to fix some of my clunkier phrasing and ideas for giving it the emotional punch it lacks (more show, less tell – but that’s another post).

They also advised me against “over-polishing” because it hinders progress on longer (novel-length) works. Plot developments in later chapters mean I might have to rewrite those “finished” pieces or simply cut them, translating to hours of work down the drain. Besides, sometimes it’s good to get the blueprint on the page and then let it sit for a fresh look later.

It’s going to take a hell of an effort for me to write something and leave it in draft form – it goes against all my prior work habits and grates on my misguided perfectionism besides! But in the name of efficiency I’ll write my next chapter give it a once over, and then…stop.

It’ll be easy to stop typing. Stopping my mental editor when I should be working on the next thing will be the real trick.

On the upside, they liked my ideas and general plot. It’s heartening to know that I’m not the only person in the world who thinks a mixture of espionage, magic, alchemy, and madness would be a good read!