The thought of publishing again used to bring me great anxiety. If you've read some of my other blogs, you know that a horrific experience with my first ever editor had me running for the hills and far away from publishing.
My first published work was Tristan, in 2014. I knew it was a good story but I also knew I sucked at writing. I needed a lot of work and a lot of practice if I wanted to be a real writer. I turned to said editor to help me polish him up. Polish is kind. He needed a facelift and some serious reconstructive surgery. I hoped to learn from her. I was scared (my writer's ego was fragile at that time) but I was open.
It's not that she didn't have points but she was nasty. And, she interjected her opinions on things that were near and dear to me concerning kink. I felt incredibly kink-shamed. She had told me she was familiar with kink but she wasn't. She confirmed for me what I already suspected: I couldn't write, and if I was going to write 'this kind of stuff,' it had to be done "X" way or it was "wrong." Unfortunately, her idea of wrong was my heart and soul. The things I was scared to tell people about myself that I hoped I'd connect with through my writing of them.
Even though I still published Tristan (after rewriting and reworking the entire thing), I wasn't as proud as I should have been. 97% of authors never even finish their books let alone publish them. I had done something calamitous and yet I downplayed the fact that I was now an author because I didn't feel I deserved the title.
An author was J.K Rowling, Stephen King, Octavia Butler; not me with my "silly" spanking stories. I honestly felt like a joke.
Believe me when I say, I needed a lot of work. I'm not being hard on myself. I did. Somehow in high school, I always ended up with the fun English teacher who let us play games instead of write essays. As I teen, I loved this - what teen wouldn't want an easy grade? But I left high school with minimal writing skill. I had many big thoughts with no idea as to how to put them together for myself. Forget trying to write for other humans.
But I'd already had stories coming to me for years. I had to write them even if I sucked. I thought that writing and getting edited would help me get better. It was the first time I'd reached out. I know how I learn and I knew this method would teach me. I wasn't wrong, but I had chosen the wrong teacher.
About a month after publishing Tristan, I vowed never to write again. I'd made a fool of myself. Who was I to think I could be an author? I almost unpublished Tristan. I can't remember why I didn't but I'm glad I didn't listen to myself. I'd been swimming in a lake-sized vat of depression. I decided to walk away from this embarrassment quietly and get on with my life.
I'd already been reading Fan Fiction for years by this point so as I would do, I read my face off. Also as usual, characters popped up and wouldn't leave me alone. I batted them away, told them to find someone else to tell their story.
"But we want you," they said.
At the same time, I'd heard it said somewhere that to master any craft you need ten thousand hours of practice. The word practice reminded me of what my yoga instructor said which was that, "It's called a 'yoga practice' because we return daily to our mats to practice. No pose will ever be finished. We will never stop learning to go deeper. We can only work on what we practiced yesterday."
I thought, "What if I created a Writing Practice?" Man, would that take the pressure off for starters. I wouldn't need to become Rowling, I just needed to show up to practice every day, excited to learn and take my practice deeper. I would improve little by little, just as I had in yoga. I didn't have to get to any one place, I just had to do a little better than yesterday.
I wrote the first chapter of "The Winchesters." But was I really going to post it?
Previously I had an account under my S. Legend pen name (which I still use for publishing). I had posted some stuff under that account but it never did well. Still, it would have been easier to begin posting under that account. I didn't. I wanted something new.
It was late at night when I prepared to post. I was alone in the dark -- my literal dark night of the soul I suppose. I remembered a line from To Kill a Mockingbird. This one:
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
In my depression-soaked mind that I'd somehow managed to yank a shred of hope from, the idea that if I was 'already dead' I could sing all I liked and no one could stop me made sense. I honestly don't know how I got from A to B on that one. I came up with DeadMockingBirds. Plural, because I didn't want to only sing for myself, I wanted to sing for others like me, whether that was kink-specific or other authors who wanted to get their stories out and have had an experience like mine, forcing them into writer exile.
I posted the story.
People actually wanted to read my stuff. No one was more shocked than I was. Especially when I knew my writing skill needed a lot of work.
But it was okay because I had new teachers. They allowed me to fuck up and make mistakes and play in my favorite playground.
There's still this prevailing belief that a writer must be "criticized" to get better. It's true we need feedback and critique, but you never have to criticize us -- we're already doing enough of that to ourselves. Believe me.
We need words that tell us what you liked. We need the reactions of the readers. We need freedom to screw up knowing we won't be raked over the coals or sent away in shame for bothering to try.
We need fairy clapping most of all.
It's amazing what you can learn through loving responses vs. comments that list all that is wrong with your work. When a chapter doesn't do well, you know you didn't connect with the audience. When responses are way off-base from where you were trying to go, or people are confused, you were not clear. When too many people hate a character you hadn't planned on them hating, you messed up somewhere. When people feel x, y, z from any one line, this is instant feedback on what you were able to create with your words.
When people ask you for more, you've scored on a breakaway!
I paid careful attention to a million little details like this from every response I got from readers of my Fan Fiction. I worked to make each new chapter better than the last and to go deeper with my skill, always refining. I continued to learn through reading books both on the craft and other works of fiction from the greats. I tried the things they showed. I experimented. I adopted the things I liked from some of the best authors out there and made them my own.
Each book teaches me something new. My characters are demanding assholes and want me to do things I've never tried before, often things I've never seen before! Intricate and seemingly impossible things. I don't always know that I'm going to be successful when I embark on these perilous journeys, but I'm committed to finding the way. I'm committed to my Writing Practice.
I thought Xavier's School was going to be an easy write. Since it was my 'warm up' to publishing again, I attempted to muse a simple and straightforward story. 60K words max I said! A one character story I said! But this is not my lot in life. The story isn't even chronological. It jumps back and forth in time. There are so many characters. It was a puzzle, let me tell you.
Oh, and it's not 60K.
I learned so much writing it, especially since my editor was phenomenal. She polished it up wonderfully and offered kind critiques. Her name is to be kept anonymous, though you will see it as Augusta Mallard in the book. *wink* She did an incredible job and I'm so grateful to her.
Artsy Ape brought the book to life with her amazing art talents. She drew some of my favorite scenes, somehow knowing which those were without me telling her. You'll get to see all of her amazing work.
The artist who did my cover art, Nadia, captured Finn and Xavier's gaze to each other without having read the book. On the cover I feel as though they are both wondering at each other, "How did I get so lucky?" Oh and Xavier has a side of, "I want you so badly, get over here and get over my knee." That could just be me, but that's what I see and you can't tell me different!
Chiara used the cover art and designed a paperback cover I'm proud for you all to see and Susan ironed out the left over kinks during the proof but you know, without ironing out the kink.
The beta readers. The unsung heroes of books. They kindly took time out of their days to read the book and give me their impressions. There are scenes in the book that wouldn't exist without their suggestions.
Once again this blog is longer than intended, so I will end it.
I am grateful for the struggle. I am grateful I was forced to push against the cocoon. I would not be the writer I am today without it (I know, I know - clique but true). Xavier's School is the first of many to come. I will continue to learn. I will continue to show up to practice.
I hope you enjoy the book.