The first step to taking anything in life to the next level is understanding that there even is another level. There are so many buildings in the Big City of Writersburg, and we're always keeping our eye on those, aren't we?
We think we're on our roof, training our telescope on the swanky Sales Temple, the Advance Tower, the shiny mirrored windows of the Review Complex (which includes the heavily guarded New York Times Temple, the Publisher's Weekly Starlight Lounge, the Library Journal Hall, the hodgepodge Amazon Vineyard, and the recently boarded-up Kirkus Morgue), and the massive Industry Insider Internet Time-Suck, not to mention the welcoming Friends and Mentors Cottages and the dank, odiferous Paranoia Slum where our imaginary enemies skulk around plotting our downfall.
The noise from our crowded city practically deafens us, and at first it's exciting, stimulating, and we run hard to the next level in order to see the next levels on all those other buildings. We gaze hard on them, trying to figure out how to reach their next level, or even how to skip a few levels, Super-Writer style, leaping all those tall buildings in a single bound, and we begin to ignore our own building, the one we live in, the one we've stopped seeing, the one we take for granted.
It's the Craft Building, and it is the tallest, strongest skyscraper in our city, but there is no elevator, express, penthouse, delivery, or otherwise. Our building is filled with steep stairs, and the stairway doors are guarded, videogame-style, with all manner of nasty animals, like fanged Day Jobs, and clawed Child Care, and the dreaded poisonous Spousal Time Jealousy. If we make our way through the first few levels, fight our way to the Chunk of Time Rewards, then we start to learn our craft.
But something happens toward the middle of the building. Maybe we get tired of climbing those stairs, because they get steeper and longer, or we get tired of fighting our way through the Door Guard Nasties because it seems like they get stronger and more devious every time. Or we've achieved some level of success that makes us believe that the levels overhead hold nothing new.
But chances are, we've just become so dazzled by all the other parts of the city that we can now see, that all of our focus turns outward, and we stop achieving new levels in our own Craft Building, stop even realizing that we've stalled, rooted, stagnated.
We've become deaf to the little voice that strains to get through all the noise. The voice that tries to remind you that at one time you fought for time to write your novel, and that now you fight for time to write a pithy comment on a Facebook thread. The voice that reminisces about the time you used to spend reading literature that moved you to tears, and that now you read industry blogs that paralyze you with pessimism over the Future of Publishing. The voice that quietly asks if the sentence is really good enough, if the plot really holds together, if maybe you're…cheating.
If maybe you're…skating by.
And then it's time to quiet the city. It's time to stop obsessing over all the other buildings. It's time to take the weapons of knowledge you've already won, gird yourself, and attack the stairway. Fight through the Guard Nasties, whatever they are this time (the Spectre of Sales Past, the Willies of Expectations, the FoP [Future of Publishing] Ogre), and emerge into the white space of the next level.
The next level is silence. The next level is control. The next level is blank white walls and high ceilings and it echoes as you walk through it. The next level is solitary. You are the only one there. And your sales do not matter, and your advance does not matter, and your reviews do not matter, and what your friends and enemies are doing does not matter.
You will never learn anything if you never enter that silent blank white space, that empty echoing chamber.
The next level is up to you. It's there, waiting for you. You know what you need to learn there, and if you don't, then you're not listening hard enough, and you're concentrating not just on the wrong level, but on the wrong building entirely.
Kristy Kiernan's third novel, BETWEEN FRIENDS, will be published April 2010, and has recently been chosen as a Featured Alternate for the Literary Guild, Doubleday, and Rhapsody Book Clubs.