September 7, 2014

Slice of PIE: Hunting For Writing Success my (very) early Sunday morning bike ride before church, I took a bike trail that winds along a marshland, behind a metropolitan bus garage, light industrial park, and a large, three-star hotel (NOT motel).

The trail dropped down below grade to ride perfectly level with the current surface of the water – this trail is often submerged in the spring and any time after a summer rain.

Sunrise light was still a hundred meters overhead, gently brushing the highest ledge of the hotel when I abruptly traveled back in time to October of 2012. My son, one of the boldest risk-takers I know, had decided that year to prepare for and become a deer hunter. Hardly a stunning past-time. Thirteen percent of the population of Minnesota goes deer hunting and Minnesota is first nationally in the sales of fishing licenses per capita. However, he wanted to hunt with a BOW.

After weeks of practicing in his back yard, the season opened and we set off with our pop-up tent trailer. We were headed to the southeastern “foot” of the state and I’d rented us a spot at a campground not far from where my son had targeted our hunt on publicly owned land.

After getting lost, we scouted out the hunting site after work on Friday and prepared ourselves. We made weary camp, and after a meal and a campfire, we hit the sack and turned the cell phones on to wake us long, long, long before dawn.

The next morning, we set off for the hunt! What ensued was a fascinating tramp through the woods that ended with a trip and fall into a stream of REALLY cold water; a short afternoon nap as the temperatures soared into the seventies and an Indian Summer settled comfortably over  the decidedly-way-more-than-redneck campers packed into the campground, listening to the blaringly broadcast Vikings game, and a sundown tramp through the woods again. The next morning we did the same (without the dip in the stream), and still came up empty handed.

Different story, apparently disconnected, but same intent – biking to the library at six thirty in the morning on a Sunday doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do, but my intent wasn’t to check out a book. The ride gets more intense after the level meander alongside the edges of the swamp. It climbs a walking ramp over the interstate highway. This involves some serious pedaling, but after a summer of biking, it was completely in my power to do it without having a heart attack.

Once to the top, I had to carefully coast down on a spiral ramp so I wouldn’t go careening off into the creek, the interstate, or the lawn below.

So what does all of this have to do with writing, science fiction, or faith?

First of all, no matter how much I want to quit writing, I have to keep practicing. Every writer has to keep their practice up to stay sharp. When a writer stops writing – novels, articles, stories, OpEds, or essays – only one thing is inevitable: they get rusty. They may not produce work that is the same caliber as what they first produced. I’m not saying a writer can’t change direction and remake themselves. That happens and will continue to happen. But if you stop writing, you can’t help but get worse than when you stopped!

Inversely, you can’t help but get BETTER the more you practice – provided you continue to grow as a writer and learn. (See my other article for an opinion on what might happen if you just keep writing without learning: No matter how difficult the ride seems, I have to keep riding, keep practicing.

Connected to that is the observation that what is past is important and may have a bearing on the present. My bike ride brought back the empty-handed hunting experience with my son to remind me that writing is a LONG-TERM commitment and more often than not, I’m going to get my story back with a rejection. Success will neither be swift nor regular. Maybe superstar writers only produce books and stories that are instant best sellers or purchased by editors without hesitation, but Kristine Kathryn Rusch said, “Failure is an option. If the manuscript doesn’t work, I redraft—in other words, I throw out everything I did and try again. Yes, that means I write sometimes two or three times more material than the readers will see in print. And yes, that means I sometimes toss out more material than I publish.”

Those are incredibly encouraging words for me! How about you?

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