I’ve talked a little bit about milestones before, those little markers that tell you that you’re making progress. Your first actual rejection (easy to get, but it shows that at least you finished something). Your first personal rejection. Your first actual sale. Your first…well, whatever. One of the beauties of the system is that you get to pick your own milestones. That’s the thing about milestones—by their very nature, they are personal.
The picture above represents one of mine, though at this point it might also qualify for a bucket list. So what is it? It is two copies of Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter on sale at our local B&N. Granted, I’ve been able to walk into a local bookseller and buy my own work for years, but only in the context of a magazine or anthology. This is the first time I can walking into a brick and mortar and buy a real live book that was entirely written by me. A reader living in New York or L.A. or Washington can walk into their B&N and find this. Books often succeed or fail for reasons other than the content, but that won’t matter. My name is on the cover, and whether it stands or falls, it’s on me. That’s a little scary and, imo, long f%$*#ing overdue. But it’s a milestone I wasn’t sure I was ever going to reach. Took me long enough, but I finally got there.
So where’s there, which is now here? The same place it always is—the place where the work is done on the way to the next milestone. Which, as I’ve said before, is not a destination. Do you ever pull onto the highway with thoughts of visiting the 334 mile marker, maybe camping out, take a few photos? I’m pretty sure you don’t. More like “I made it this far, only so many miles left to where I’m actually going.” Which is where?
Which is onward.
Passed 20,000 words last week on the new book. Which is not a milestone, but at the moment it is something much better–it is progress. I try not to confuse the two.
Thinking about a passage from THE JEWEL HINGED JAW by Samuel R. Delany (also one of my writing bibles in my wannabee stage). The subject was the truism that “Writing is one of those crafts where, the longer you practice it, the harder it gets.” That specifically applies to anyone who’s trying to improve. We all know of writers who find a good-selling niche and are content to stay there, and more power to them. Even staying in one place is hard work. But, as the Red Queen pointed out, “You want to go anywhere, you have to run twice this fast.” As with Theordore Sturgeon, Delany then asks the next question, and comes to the very logical but rather depressing conclusion that, sooner or later, you’re going to hit a wall you can’t climb, break through, or go around.
In short, Delany posits that all writers eventually hit the limit of where their talent, imagination, and energy will take them. Like the weightlifter who trains all his life and eventually manages 600 lbs, but will never lift 625 if he trains from then till Doomsday. The bones and muscles simply can’t bear it. What then? There are a few options, none of them very good. Repeating yourself is one. Silence is another, and it might be the most common. A lot of writers, and you can probably name a few, came on to the scene in a flash only to quietly disappear a few years later. Sure, sometimes it was simply that they didn’t sell enough books and no one would publish their next one. These days there are other options, but not everyone can bring themselves to go the self-publishing route. Yet be that as it may, not every writer who’s disappeared from the field has done so because of commercial failure. Maybe not even most. A good many of them were simply done.
That is, if you accept Delany’s reasoning. Personally, I’m going Zen in a riff off the Enlightened Master Douglas Adams: Linear Progress is an illusion. Linear Progress in the arts, doubly so.
And there is no wall.