Learning My Strengths

July 27, 2017 | By | Reply More

Allow me to a paint a picture of the woman I was five years ago.

I worked long hours at a video game company, which almost anyone who works at a video game company does (it’s a field we join from love, you see, so we’re not supposed to mind the soul-crushing overtime.)

I commuted an hour each way through Los Angeles traffic and when I arrived home, I faced the choice of cooking or eating something fast and unhealthy (you can guess which way I usually chose.) After dinner, I ended up playing a video game for the rest of the evening. I had chronic back pain, no time to see a doctor, and no means to afford the deductible if I did.

I was also writing a book.

Actually, that’s not true. I’d written a book. Two books. Written them years earlier, tried to find an agent, failed, and shoved the manuscripts into a drawer. I’d brushed those off, made peace with the fact that I hadn’t found an agent because my manuscripts were objectively terrible, and vowed that I would rewrite them from the ground up.

So, I was writing a book. This made me different from most of Los Angeles only in that it defied the cliché that everyone in L.A. is working on a screenplay.

I rarely wrote those revisions, however. I knew I could do it. I’d done it before, hadn’t I? Yet, the manuscripts remained in progress. Perpetually, eternally in progress. I had a thousand excuses for why I wasn’t writing. Too tired, too busy, too stressed. Everything was a higher priority than putting fingers to keyboard. Months slithered away, chasing down years.

Maybe this story sounds familiar.

Looking back, my situation changed for three reasons: I took a job in Atlanta that was not at a video game company, I started using twitter, and a friend I met through twitter introduced me to the Women Writers, Women’s Books group on Facebook.

Atlanta was important because I went from a commute of an hour to ten minutes (sorry, Los Angeles: you know I’ll always love you, but your traffic sucks) and the new job didn’t have same demands of ‘crunch’ overtime so common to video games. Twitter introduced the idea of timed writing sprints. And last, the Facebook group allowed me to realize I wasn’t alone.

I remember that I resisted joining, even when that twitter friend (another writer) recommended the group.

“They’re really helpful,” she said.

“I guess,” I said, which translated as ‘I don’t believe you, but I don’t want to be rude.’

I relented, and then kicked myself for taking so long.

While it’s true that no one from Women Writers, Women Books ever came over to gift me with fresh laundry or the number of a magical agent, I suddenly had access to a group of women who shared the same problems I did. I had to talk to other writers to understand my own foundations. I wasn’t alone; my obstacles weren’t unique.

This was a revelation.

I learned that while everyone approached this idea of writing differently, as women we have more in common than not. My solutions as a career professional with no children are not the same as those of a mother with a newborn or a retiree working on her memoirs, but we all grapple with a world that isn’t giving us enough space, expects us to take care of everyone else’s needs first, and probably thinks this writing thing is ‘just a hobby.’

Thanks to this group, I have learned that I didn’t have to put up with that.

I’ve learned that from a business perspective, nothing is stopping me from fulfilling my dreams: where once I battled slush piles and rejection letters, I could choose to self-publish if I wanted. The different roads are all valid, even if all were filled with obstacles and pot holes. I’ve also learned that I’d given up far too early on the idea of an agent, and that agents don’t, in fact, live to murder the hopes and dreams of fledgling writers.

The most important thing I learned was that no one was going to wave a wand on my behalf and conjure up the free time I needed to finish my books. More so, I realized the real reason I’d never finished…

I was scared.

Scared that my new books would be terrible, scared this would be irrefutable proof I would always and forever be a terrible writer. If I never finished, I would never be judged. And here, having other writers to talk to helped gently shepherd me to the idea that first drafts are allowed to be bad, that writing is less like photography than sculpture, that putting words on a page is more important than putting the perfect words down on the first try.

I pushed aside other hobbies, the games, watched less TV, convinced my husband to cook so I could hit my daily word count. I dedicated a few hours a night to writing, and guarded that time zealously.

Within a year of moving to Atlanta, I’d finished my novels. It took longer to find an agent, but I did that too. Four years later, I’m working on my seventh book, and have just signed a five-book deal with Tor Books for The Godslayer Cycle, starting with The Ruin of Kings.

I didn’t know my own strength, and I learned it because of this group. Thank you.

Jenn Lyons lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, three cats, and a nearly infinite number of opinions on anything from Sumerian mythology to the correct way to make a martini. She is a video game producer by day, and spends her evenings writing science-fiction, paranormal mysteries, and fantasies. Besides her previously published novels, Marduk’s Rebellion, Making ShivaBlood Chimera, and Blood Sin, she is eagerly awaiting the release of The Ruin of Kings, the first book in her Godslayer Cycle, from Tor Books in Autumn, 2018.


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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

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