“You must, on really lousy days, remember that you have a dream you are trying to make come true.” – Holly Lisle
In the summer of 2002 two things happened within weeks of each other: my then-husband and I both lost our technology jobs, and my youngest daughter was born. For those who have had an infant around, you know that sleep is precious in those first few months. With both of us out of work and with no bites on the resumes he was sending out (shaky-fist at burst dot-com bubble) we found a solution to the sleepless nights and exhausted days: we slept in shifts. He slept at night, and I slept in the morning, and we were all awake together in the afternoon and evening.
A lot of World News Tonight was viewed.* A lot of lame reality t.v. ate away at my brain. A few books got read. And then I started writing again.
I say ‘again’ because — like most of us — I had always written when I was younger. When I was little I would make up stories to tell my friends during sleep-overs. I don’t remember much about those stories, except that they involved a fox. I started keeping a journal when I read Harriet the Spy in elementary school. I entered a novella contest in 7th grade — my dad had saved it all this time and gave it to me a couple of years ago; it’s embarrassingly bad, and only qualifies as a short story in length rather than a novella, but it won the contest for me. A friend and I began and distributed an anonymous newsletter in 10th grade, which invariably featured my (still terrible) short stories and poems. I took a stab at a few novel ideas in my early 20s, and a couple of friends took an interest and encouraged me to keep going. I will always be grateful to them for that (Shelby and Colin, where ever you are. Shelby bought me my first copy of Writers Market, and Colin provided my first critique.) I wrote fearlessly all those years — I dumped the contents of my imagination onto the page and admired my own turn of phrase, and the voice that I thought was my own, but was really borrowed from this writer or that one. I filled pages taking myself way too seriously, and learned nothing.
Then I’m not sure what happened — life changed a lot, I guess. For whatever reason, around the latter half of 1998, I stopped writing.
And on one of those long nights in 2002, between tending the baby and reruns of something vapid and soul-crushing, I started again. This time I wasn’t just going to make words, though. I had acquired some degree of humility by then, and was no longer in love with everything I wrote. I knew it was not as good as it could be. I knew it wasn’t as good as what I liked to read. I wanted to know how I could make it that good, and due to other circumstances in my life I had discovered that knowledge cannot be acquired in a vacuum. It requires other people, other examples, other perspectives and experiences. I was ready to learn.
Within a couple of months I had found the website of a fantasy author named Holly Lisle. Holly took a pay-it-forward approach to writing and success: she had wonderful mentors who had offered her their experience and encouragement and she was determined to make her own available to all of us. She had created an extremely supportive community of writers based around that idea. I became a member of the Forward Motion community, and when the baby slept I filled my nights writing fiction and talking with other writers in the Forward Motion chat rooms.
I devoured every article on her site. (If you’re a writer, I recommend that you do the same.) I got more insight into the craft of writing and the state of SFF publishing there than all of my other resources combined.
Did I mention she also writes great books?
Holly continues to leverage technology to help new writers, (and seven years later I am, alas, still a new writer.) She has followed her remarkable essays and articles with free online courses in plot and character development, and now she even has a videocast called Think Sideways Writer Crash Tests, (not Chrome-friendly.)
If you have ever wished you could attend a conference or workshop, or wished you had a mentor, someone to take your hand and help you hone your craft and cheer you on, you will find it on Holly Lisle’s website. Forward Motion is under different ownership now, but the spirit of it remains. She continues to ‘pay it forward,’ though I can’t imagine that she hasn’t repaid her own mentors a dozen times over by now.
I have started her free Plot Development course, (out of which will surely come some blog posts, so stay tuned.) I owe her a lot. I will likely never be able to pay her back, but maybe some day I’ll be able to pay it forward. Thank you, Holly. May we all be a little more like you.
* This entry has been edited since its original posting, due to flimsy cultural recollection of the blogger.