how long did it take?


There’s a meme going around on Livejournal about being a professional writer, with a ton of questions about how, when, and how long. It put me in mind of the fact that any number of times, I’ve had people ask how long I’ve been writing/how long it took me to learn to write/how long it took me to get published. That, combined with David’s post yesterday about the realities of writing as a way of making a living, made this seem like a reasonably good post for today.

If you go read my answers to the meme, I look like a bloody overnight success story, as far as these things go. To summarize, I got serious about submitting work in late 2002, got a 3 book contract 14 months later, had my first book on the shelves in June 2005, and have in the 3.5 years since then put out 11 books.

But how long has it taken? My whole life. An ambition to *be* a writer from childhood on. Years of writing a book a year before I got published. Years and _years_ of online roleplaying, which is perhaps not the best way to develop a writing style, but it’s not the worst way either. They say it takes a million bad words before you’re ready to be a professional writer (which is, in my opinion, both crap and has a grain of truth to it), and I did a million words a year for *years* (I added it up once) with online RP. It teaches you to plot on the fly, to respond to unexpected story developments, all kinds of useful things. (It also, with the groups I played with, taught me to write really really long sentences and abuse semi-colons: like I said, not all good!)

While I do know people who’ve published their first novels, it’s the exception. Mostly this is a long term commitment long before it becomes any kind of paying job. A friend of mine who colors comics for a living commented on my blog that it was astounding how much work and effort went into this kind of creative job, and how incredibly long it takes to start making anything like the kind of money you might have made at a “real” job. That’s a vicious truth to the whole matter. On the other hand, we keep doing it. It must be worth it. 🙂


4 comments to how long did it take?

  • Every author’s story is different, of course. I happen to have published my first novel — Children of Amarid was pretty much my first attempt at a novel. On the other hand, I first started playing with the ideas that lay at the core of that book when I was 16. I went to college and grad school, got a masters and a Ph.D., which were in history, not creative writing, but which taught me how to write, both in terms of prose mechanics and also the process of disciplining myself to put my butt in that chair every day. Every apprenticeship is different, but the lesson is universal: this isn’t easy, and there is most definitely a learning curve.

  • Hmmm. I feel the years. Literally.
    I wrote from the time I was 16 (skipping 20 months of tech training for my lab job job) and finished my first book in 1982. While I worked to get it published (yeah, I can paper my bathroom with the rejection letters) my new co-writer and I wrote my/our novel. Because it took two of us, the mscpt wasn’t ready to mail out until 1989. Okay, it sold 7 days later. But no freaking overnight success.

  • Christina

    Catie, great to hear about the RPing background. I’m a tabletop RPer, and have written 30+ books on the subject. I’m hoping my words there will amount for something on the fiction side.

    To all, these have been some great posts (even when some are depressing). Keep them coming.


  • Catie said, “But how long has it taken? My whole life. An ambition to *be* a writer from childhood on.”

    I always loved the written word, and it always seemed that writing would be the perfect profession for me. I wrote stories to entertain myself from the time I was 8 or 9. (I still have four pages of a Wild Wild West fanfic, from back before there WAS such a thing! My husband keeps saying I should post it on the website, for laughs. *shudder*) But I didn’t imagine I could write professionally until I was well into adulthood, because I just couldn’t believe that anyone would want to read what I wrote, when there were all those other, amazing authors out there.

    I had to find my confidence, and that took a while.