Just What the (Bleep) Do I think I’m Doing?

The story opening I hated yesteraday maybe now looks like it still has some life. Or maybe I’m kidding myself now. Maybe I just didn’t want to face the effort I knew this story is going to require. Maybe…

This is not really a proper post, it’s more of a footnote. A bit of errata for whatever cumulative inertia this blog is responsible for, and it is a simple statement of fact to you to use or discard–I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

There. I said it. I have no clue about writing. Not one. I like to speculate and ponder and take this position or that, and it’s all good fun but none of it changes the basic fact that every story is different, every book is different. Every one of them is its own thing and not the thing you worked on last time. It can’t necessarily be conquered by the weapons you used last. Necessarily? I’d bet on it. Those tools may be comfortable to your hand now, their workings and purpose comfortably familiar. Of course you want to use them again, but they just don’t work. Why not? Because last time you needed a hammer but now you need a chisel. And a hammer, no matter how hard you pound, is not now and never will be a chisel. Just as simple and just as diabolically difficult as that.

People wonder why some writers drink so much, but I never do wonder that.

What’s astonishing to me is that we all don’t.

Barking at Nothing

I sent out a couple of stories yesterday. There used to be something eternally optimistic about sending a manuscript out. Now it’s that plus the culmination of far too much research and poking about. Good markets — like this is news — are scarce.

I’ve had this same conversation numerous times before with some of my gloomier colleagues. The few really good markets have their pick and, if they sometimes don’t choose wisely, that’s their own fault. It’s not that the material isn’t being handed to them by the shovelful. Unless your name is of such magnitude that it alone will sell magazines or pull pageviews (or at least the editors think so) you take your chances with the hundreds or so others who sent in stories that month. Then you manage to get through anyway, and your story is bought and published in a good venue. Many happies and much joy.

Then what? Continue reading

Patience, Grasshopper

Patience. Probably one of the most ignored and overlooked items in a writer’s toolbox. Not unrelated to the subject of stubbornness (see persistence), but a different commodity. New writers especially don’t have much use for it. On another board a new writer asked, “If I send in a story now, does it appear in the next issue? How soon do I get paid?” The sound you doubtless heard was a thousand shiny pins forming a queue to pop that lovely balloon. After the realities were explained, you could practically see the fallen crest. “Oh. I didn’t know it was so complicated.” Continue reading

Rejectomancy for Fun and Profit

 Ok, I lied. There’s no fun in it and certainly no profit, at least directly. What there is, perhaps, is the chance to avoid wasting time, and depending on the market, money.

I know I’ve touched on this before. Heck, everybody has put their oar in on the fine art of Rejectomancy. The consensus is “Complete waste of time, typical amateur mistake of trying to read things into a rejection that simply aren’t there.” Or as Mike Resnick likes to say: “The key word in ‘personal rejection’ is not ‘personal.'” He’ll have no argument from me here–a rejection means “no” and that’s all it means.

So. A rejection means “no.” We all agree on that, yes? However, what it means is not all that it says, and what it says is not always merely a variation on “no.” Sometimes it’s a “tell.” Continue reading

The Downside of Persistence

We’ve all heard the classic view of persistence as a virtue when it comes to writing and I’m certainly not going to be contrarian there. Show me a writer with a little talent and a lot of persistence and one with talent bordering on genius who lacks the ability to stick with anything for long, and I know which one I’d bet on.             

That said, what we almost never talk about is the downside. You hear about “Oh, So and So’s book was rejected 45 times before it was published or “Whatzherface wrote for fifteen years before she sold her first story.” Anecdotes abound. Heck, I’m a walking anecdote: I made my first professional sale in 1980 but didn’t make another until 1993. Tell me that sort of thing won’t bang your confidence like a steel drum. Eventual success — any success, even minimal — is greeted like the natural ending to your average morality play. Virtue triumphant.

So. That’s what we hear. What we don’t hear are the ones like: “John Doe Tenacious wrote every day for forty years. Everything he wrote was rejected multiple times. He self-published a few things that went nowhere,  and he died of a heart attack at the age of sixty. They took his files to the landfill when they cleared out the house and sold his computer for scrap.” Forty years and all of it gone… including the forty years. I’ll guarantee you there are a lot more John Does out there than either So and Sos or Whatzherfaces.

So what’s my point other than being a party-pooper? I have a couple, actually. Let’s start with the obvious one, and I’m a long way from being the first to make it–when it comes to writing Nobody Frigging Knows.

There are people who believe differently. I’ve been told more than once and quite forcefully that “Anyone can have a career as a fiction writer; it doesn’t take any special gifts beyond a little imagination and work.” Simply put–they’re wrong. It also takes one other thing, and this is crucial–it takes the ability to improve. Some people, for whatever reason, just don’t have that. They will never be able to see the flaws in their own work that turns writing into the self-refining and correcting process it needs to be. They can spend their entire working lives rewriting the same basic story, and they’re never going to get any better. Yet even if we accept the premise that anyone can learn to write it is still quite likely that any single individual who takes up writing can, with dedication, hard work, and persistence, wind up spending years working at their craft with absolutely nothing tangible to show for it when the Reaper puts a check by their name and calls time.

There are no guarantees, period, and while almost every hopeful writer will say that they understand that, almost none of them really believes in their heart of hearts that it applies to them. So what’s the deal? “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter”? Not even close. Still, like any other major life decision, try to understand what you’re doing. Recognize that, however a writing career works out, there are trade-offs. Think of all the time you’re going to be writing. Think of all the time you’re not going to be spending with family and loved ones. Think of those near and dear to you with a legitimate claim on your attention who will — not “may,” will— be shortchanged over the years. Realize that some will understand and some won’t, and that no one, not even another writer, will understand all the time. Recognize what you’re giving up, what you’re risking, and be prepared for the consequences. The Muse is big on accountability and what you do actually matters.

Which brings me finally to my second point. I am certainly not saying “Don’t write.” I’m saying if you must write, do it for the right reasons. Only you’ll know what they are for you specifically, but be absolutely clear about this. In my case I write because I enjoy it and I’m a happier, healthier, saner person when I’m writing. I answered this question for myself a long time ago and if you haven’t done that yet you need to, and darn quick; this is your life we’re talking about. Be sure your reasons are good ones and, sappy as it sounds, make sure their foundation is a love of writing. Not “success” because success is a fickle thing and comes or not at whim. Not the respect and validation of your peers, because odds are you won’t get it. Not even publication, because, even though it’s very easy to get some form of publication these days if that’s all you want, know that the world turns merrily along whether you get a byline or not.

The love of writing is, like virtue, it’s own reward. John Doe Tenacious wrote with no impact and no real success for forty years. Was it a waste of time? Forty years down the drain? That all depends. If he was chasing the shibboleth of success, if he didn’t love what he was doing and kept going only out of stubbornness, then yes, it was a complete and total waste of time and he was a damn fool besides. His entire life becomes a tragedy. Yet if he wrote for the love and joy of it, to be a better person and to understand the world he lived in a little better, if he believed in what he did, then it doesn’t matter if he was the worst writer who ever touched a keyboard, because he spent forty years doing exactly what he wanted to do, and what he loved to do.

And if that’s tragedy, friends and neighbors, I’ll take a bushel.