WordPress sent me a very congratulatory notice to inform me that today is the third anniversary of the launch of this website. When I received it I thought to myself, ‘Wow, has it really been three years?’
It was a good feeling that lasted for only a second or two because right on the heels of that pleasant feeling came the sober ache that has come to accompany my frustration with my first manuscript. I’ve completely reimagined it more than twice and I’ve lost count of the major changes I’ve made just in my approach to writing it. Certainly I’ve written enough words for a novel at this point if you add them all together, so I know that being a novelist is something within my ability to accomplish. But as I feel the admonishment (and rightfully so) regarding the fact that I have spent so much time on this with so little to show for it in the way of a complete draft, there are some distinctly positive developments which are worth taking some pride in.
This date three years ago was the day that I devoted myself to writing as a career and showed it by creating something tangible and real: this website. Last fall I made it even more my own by buying the domain name tristanberry.com. Over the years, this website has mirrored my growth as a writer, starting out exuberant and fanciful and gradually becoming more aware and credible. It has portrayed my personal growth in an allegorical sense that I only see now in hindsight. But every leap forward I made with my vision of what stories I should tell and how I should present them came as a result of a deeper understanding of myself as a man and as a writer. Reflecting upon that on this anniversary day I have come to an important conclusion: that to write well about anything, one must first have a solid understanding of oneself.
This learning never stops. Just a matter of days ago I made yet another important breakthrough, and this could well be my biggest yet. Thinking on what I’ve learned from writers and editors I’ve come to understand that my first book needs to be truly unique in some fashion. This first manuscript that I shop around to prospective agents and publishers needs to not just be good enough to publish, but something much more than that; it needs to be a manuscript that will make their eyes bulge in surprise and their hearts race with excitement.
But at the moment I grasped this, I realized also that I had a problem. The fantasy genre is full to overflowing with aspiring writers, very talented aspiring writers, who all are hard at work submitting draft manuscripts depicting this magical kingdom or that wondrous realm, this heart-warming protagonist and that contemptible villain, and all of them telling the most amazing stories.
I’m a good writer. I know I am. But looking at the reality with all the sober objectivity I can muster, I must admit that while we all see one hack writer after another somehow getting their literary drivel published there are many thousands of excellent writers whose phenomenal submissions sit gathering dust in the inboxes of agents and publishers across the country. Mediocre books are really an expression of an anomaly that occurs in every industry, particularly the arts where quality is inherently subjective.
So, it’s important to just shake one’s head and chuckle when one sees a novel on a bookshelf that’s chock-full of predictable plots, cardboard characterizations, and purple prose. It’s going to happen because the world isn’t fair. But I would much rather be published because I’ve written something amazing that people pick up and think to themselves, ‘Wow! I can’t wait to read this!’ And I’ll only get there by making prospective agents and publishers just as excited about the chance to represent me and publish me – and I’ve discovered a path that just might lead me there.
This path is going to change my writing style somewhat. I already draw a great deal from J.R.R. Tolkien, Raymond E. Feist, and other giants in the fantasy genre, but I have other literary influences, too – and I’ve been neglecting them. I’ve also been influenced to varying degrees by Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Anne Rice. It’s time I gave them their due and allowed that influence to come through.
This is a subtle shift that will make a tremendous difference in the final product, and hopefully it will be a tremendous difference that will make a prospective agent or publisher read my manuscript, sit up and say, “Wow!” If so, the three years it took to get here will have well been worth it.
So, whether you’ve been with me from the beginning or started following me more recently, Happy Anniversary to US, because it is not at all an exaggeration to say that without you I wouldn’t be here and this anniversary would never have happened.