Thursday, January 31, 2008

Starting Over: Career Part Two

It’s a new year, and I want a fresh start as a writer, so I’ve decided my old career as a writer has ended. Now I’m starting a new career as a novelist. Yes that’s right – call it Writing Career Part Two.

In my old writing career I published about 350 articles and short stories and a collection of short stories and a revised collection, which felt like a whole new book. I’ve also been the editor of an anthology of short stories. A lot of experience. Not bad. But by no means great. An awful lot that I did write – countless drafts of novels and screenplays – have never been published. My new career will be different, more focused; unlike when I began my first career, I won’t be starting from scratch. I’ll be bringing with me a new attitude and, more importantly, over twenty years of writing and publishing experience. So I have a huge advantage than when I first started out. I’ll also be starting with a lot of publishable work: dozens of short stories, over a hundred articles, four novels that I’ve written (not counting several others abandoned along the way), four screenplays, plus a host of ideas for other books, which will feed my new game plan – publishing twenty books in twenty years.

When I first started out as a writer I didn’t set any goals. Vaguely I wanted to write short stories and novels and eventually get my work published. Vague goals I have now found out (albeit too late for my first career) can only take you so far. It did bring me to Malaysia and now Borneo, but not to where I want to be, a best selling novelist.

So the old career is over – no point dwelling on that. Instead, I plan to learn from it. I’m grateful for all that I have written and published. Now it’s time, in this new career, to GET SERIOUS. No more wishing and hoping. Just action. I’ve already made specific plans, a business plan, if you will, and more importantly, I plan to follow it. Otherwise I may end up where I started with a lot more years gone by and little to show for it. If I want to be a best selling novelist, first I have to write that best selling book. Wishing and hoping will not write it for me, so that’s what I’ve been doing lately – rewriting! For the last three months, I have been rewriting a novel that has done well in several contests in the US.

Of course, a second career as a writer is nothing more than a second chance. I like the idea of second chances, which is also an important part of the novel I’m rewriting. I’ve experienced my own second chance when I got remarried and started a new family. Then I experienced it again, when I uprooted myself and moved to Borneo to shake up the complacency in both my life and my writing life.

To give myself the best second chance possible as a writer, I’ve been reading a lot about success – why people are successful (and not so successful). I figured, how can I be a success if I don’t plan for it? Or, if I don’t take the necessary steps? Or worse, shoot myself in the foot? There are excellent success mentors out there, and by just reading their books, listening to their tapes, you start to think different­ly. For me as a writer, I now take full responsibility for all that I’ve done and all that I did not do in my first career. I can’t blame anyone other than myself – I failed to apply myself in ways I now wished I had. I’ve learned from it and have begun to change the way I write and market my work – that alone will help. If I fail to change what was not working in my first career, then I’m doomed to repeat it, and who wants to do that?

Also, to get this new year and this new career off in the right direction, I’ve been reading – rereading – several books about writing and about novelists, so I can reeducate myself and re-convince myself that I too can write and sell my novels. For starters, I read E.M. Forster’s Aspects of a Novel, John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, Stephen King’s On Writing, W. Somerset Maugham’s The Summing Up, and a book that I’ll be beginning soon, a Christmas present a couple of years ago, Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers. It’s hard to call yourself a novelist if most of your time is writing articles, blogs, and short stories. True, it’s all writing and it all helps. But time is mutually exclusive – I can’t do it all, not with a full time job and a family, so if I plan to publish my novels, I need to spend more time with these novels. They won’t get rewritten and published without me.

So for this new career, I’ve already set some specific goals, reorganized how I do my work (and my working environment so I have less distractions – mostly my distracting myself with other projects and temptations – which is why this blog entry is very late), and found new ways to stay motivated and focused. By taking action, I stand a far greater chance of achieving my goals in this second career of mine, than I did in my first career.

It’s also helps that in making this decision, I made sure that I ended the old career under a head of steam, rewriting a novel, which takes me in the direction I want to go. Thus I have momentum. Momentum in writing is everything. If you can’t maintain your momentum, then, from my experience, not much gets written.

I’ve also ended 2007 with a two-book deal in Malaysia, a jumpstart to my 20 books in 20 years goal. Of course I’m aware of doubters among my family and friends – hey look at my own track record? Have I come close to 20 books in my previous career? No! But that was my unfocused, goalless career. This new career is different. I got a plan. More than a plan, I have desire. And more than desire, I’m working hard to make this happen. I may fall short of my target goal, or I may overshoot it. Either way, I’m officially launching my new career. Psychologically, it’s a huge load off my back – the guilt, the self-blaming, and the regrets! That’s all behind me. This time around – this second chance – I plan get it right. Wish me luck.

Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


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