I have an admission: I don't know what I'm doing.
There's freedom in admitting that. Like the weight of an expectation has been lifted–an expectation I daresay no one has for me but myself. An expectation to produce perfection. To get things right the first time. To be a professional, when truly I'm an amateur.
I'm an amateur writer. It's time to embrace that.
My day job is in software engineering. It's a job that pays well. The work is challenging. I've learned many useful skills. I've met great people on my team. It's a good job, and I like it.
But I love writing.
That was certainly not something I had expected. It still feels weird to say it out loud, as if part of me expects to be laughed at for having such an impractical and silly passion. "You want to write fantasy books? Ha! How much money have you made doing that?" Well, none, I must confess, and there's a good chance I never will. I've long accepted that, and it hasn't made me stop to consider whether this is a waste of time even for a second. I write books because I love telling stories, because I love creating these worlds, because I can express myself like this better than in any other way. I'm an amateur, and even if I never become a professional, the effort was still worth it.
Two and a half years ago I sat down to clean up some notes I took during my friend's Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I had no idea they would grow into a whole book, one bearing only a cursory resemblance to what transpired in those sessions. The book is far from perfect, but it's a book I'm actually proud of. That was a bigger surprise than wanting to write it in the first place.
I obsessed over that book. I'm still obsessing over it. I make sure I have time to work on it every day; I start to feel anxious if I don't. The story started as a haphazard collection of notes, became an embarrassingly sloppy first draft, and eventually became a planned trilogy (because all fantasy writers are innately wired to write trilogies, I suppose). I'm even more excited about the sequel that I've already started outlining, not to mention the dozen other stories I've got brewing. I can't wait to write those either, but one thing at a time. I've got to get this one right first.
Did I get it right? Is the book actually good? It's my very first novel. Realistically, there must be a hundred or more problems with it. I've sent the latest draft out to some beta readers, so I'm sure I'll hear all about them, assuming anyone makes it through the first chapter (or the second, or the third). Sending out something on which you've spent so much time is a terrifying prospect. The idealized vision of the project I have in my head is going to come into hard contact with reality soon. I'm bracing for impact, but even negative feedback is useful. I hope I get plenty. If I do, it means the beta readers actually read the book, and each critique is a chance to improve. That sloppy first draft became something I'm willing to put in peoples' hands to read, but that doesn't mean I got it right. After all, I don't really know what I'm doing.
While releasing a book into the wild is terrifying, it's also exciting! Telling stories is something I want to get good at. Not just good, but really good. My first novel will not be the best I ever write, unless it's the only one I ever write. So I don't plan to let it retain its mantle. My second book will be better than my first, and my third will top that one. They still won't be perfect, but maybe they'll be a little closer.
I wrote this blog post so I can approach this craft with a little humility. The first step is admitting you have a problem. My problem is that I don't know how to do write my perfect novel, how to do things right, how to be a professional writer. Releasing a book feels like saying, "This is the best I've got." It feels final, when it's only one step along the path. I want to walk that path out in the open, share my challenges, show that I'm trying to improve. The next time I say, "This is the best I've got," I want it to be miles better than the last. I'm sure I'll stumble along the way, and make every mistake in the book, because even in this I don't know what I'm doing.
But that's okay. Someday I will.