Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 in Review

I can say without exception that 2012 has been the best year of my life. I will always remember it as the year I finally 'woke up'. You see, to me, it always felt pre-ordained that I was meant to write stories. Not be a writer. Not even publish or sell a story. But writing stories? Yes, that had to be me. I knew it from the first time I read a story and was amazed at the magic of a good book. I would say to myself, 'How could anyone do this?' but deep down it was a thrill to wonder how I would do it.

I've always wanted to write stories, but never had the discipline to do it. I thought I was so chock full of talent, so well read, that I had merely to go out, live life to the fullest, read some books and when I sat down some day and put my fingers to a keyboard, the magic would flow. Little did I realize that everyone is out there living life to the fullest. And many of them read more than I do. And many more want to write just like I do. And many many more have written wayyy more than I have. Oh, and talent? Doesn't exist. If it does, I don't care about it. Talent is an excuse created by the lazy to justify the successes of the hard working. Give me work ethic over talent every day of the week. When you grow up half-assing just about everything in life because that's all life required of you, it's hard to realize that if you want to achieve what you feel is your destiny, then you need to go full bore. You need to push the other stuff away that eats at your minutes and put every fiber of your being toward what really matters, and you need to pay the bills at the end of the day. It needs to become a second job; it's something you commit to without reservation. I wasn't ready for that lesson until this past year.

It was in March 2012 when the best most stubborn story idea yet finally held me long enough to type more than ten pages and call it quits. If you'll recall through past posts, I made a goal to write 2,000 words every day. It's not about writing 14,000 words a week (though that is a fantastic side effect) nearly as much as it is about that every day part. Going a few days without that story in my head makes it stale and awkward. If you mean to write one story in your life, by all means. Stretch it out. But I want to write stories, and that means daily production. It doesn't have to be 2,000 necessarily, but that threshold works for me. If I can't get 2,000 on a day, I have to get something and then I can make it up later in the week. Either way, if you truly care about a craft or a calling, you have to do it every single day or you damn well better have a good reason. And no, being tired or drained doesn't count. Those are excuses rooted in your willpower. That's one thing I learned in 2012.

I've also learned that writing a first draft of a story is every bit the same thrill as reading a story for the first time. Sitting down at my desk every day and opening my laptop, I would think to myself, Now what will happen today? From early March to late June, I wrote on a near daily basis and I finished the first draft of what will hopefully some day be a novel that, if it isn't published, I can at least share with friends and family. What a rush. The first long form story I'd ever finished. I'd never felt so proud of myself.

Unfortunately it was a mess, and I knew it from the second I printed it out. I knew it before then really. I knew it was a hopeless mess when I was about halfway through the draft, but you know what? I kept going until I reached The End. I'm damn happy I did it now, but back then? On June 20th, 2012? Looking at that first draft? In the words of Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock, "Good God, Lemon." I needed a break.

I spent the next three months writing in different forms; it was mostly sports writing. I hooked up with a great site that allowed me tremendous freedom to contribute as I saw fit. I moved forward in writing weekly columns about the Buffalo Bills, but my fiction was drying up. I tried writing a sequel to that God Awful First Draft, but it just wasn't working. By about 50-60 pages in, the story was like a train running wildly off the tracks in the middle of the desert. I shut it down at that point and once again I found myself in that familiar slump. That place in everyone's mind in which you seriously question everything you've thought about yourself up to that point. "OK," I thought, "I gave it my best shot. It sucked. Maybe I'm just bad at this." It's weird because normally I beat myself up in that moment of introspection, and for a brief period, I did. The fiction dried up, the sports writing took over, and I wondered if fiction just wasn't my gig.

But something happened between the end of summer and mid-October. I read over my first draft in a marathon session and yeah, it was bad. Cringes were common. Forehead slaps came once a page. But in the end, it wasn't as bad as I'd remembered. The draft had sat and stewed for so long that I didn't feel the same emotional attachment to the paper in front of me. I could overlook silly errors because no one will ever read that draft. More importantly though, I felt a deep stirring. I could do better. Even more importantly, I knew how I could do better.

I wrote every single day between October 21st and December 16th and I finished the second draft of said novel. Again, it's shit. It's really more like the first draft that I wanted to write, but couldn't the first time because I was so enthralled by the process that I couldn't keep my head straight. This second draft was like running a hot knife through butter. The people, the images, the locations all came clearer, sharper, more meaningful to me. Everything made sense, and the ending? Well, it's a work in progress, but dammit I reached it. Again. And in a month or two, I'm going to come back to that thing and start doing some real work on it until it's done. It doesn't matter how many shitty attempts you make, if you're willing to stand up after rubbing your face in your own crap and do it all over again, then the future is yours. No one can tell you otherwise. That's another thing I learned in 2012.

I've never made a resolution, and I don't intend to start. But 2013 looms large though because I want to extend these bursts of productivity and make this a consistent process, not just something isolated to the rush I feel from one story. I want to do this every day throughout 2013 because I want to get better at writing, plain and simple. No other motive. I've worked in Corporate America. I've worked in dingy bars and shiny airports, and I've been a manager of a million dollar budget. None of it matters. None of it feels real. None of it is mine. Writing though, writing is mine. No one can take that from me. No one can take credit for my work (unless they raid my apartment). People can tell me it's crap and they can refuse to publish whatever I do write, but I will keep coming back. I will keep learning and I will keep improving. Because this is what I wanted to be since I was kid laying on my bed reading Squanto: A Warrior's Tale for the umpteenth time, and when you want to be something, the best way to achieve that dream is to just go do it. Sleep is for the old. Make time every day or it doesn't matter. That's another big lesson from 2012.

In ten years, twenty years, whatever, I hope that 2012 will not be seen as the best year of my life. Otherwise I've regressed and it's all for naught. I hope I can look back on this past year as a stepping stone. I hope I can see that this was the year I learned how I want to live the rest of my life. More importantly, I learned how to achieve that, and what it takes to get there. I want to value those I love, build a life with the woman who completes me, and write until my fingers bleed. Oh, and pay the bills of course. Everything outside of that is gravy.

Happy Holidays, everyone. See you in the next 'Best Year of My Life'. May it be the same for you.

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