Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fear and Writing

I finally got around to looking through some of the "Smart Things" Kelly posted yesterday, and wanted to riff a little on what Jim C. Hines has to say about "Writer Envy.".

As all the Wyrdsmiths will readily tell you, I'm very a very jealous/envious colleague. We've institutionalized dealing with our feelings of envy at Wyrdsmiths, as it were, by making it a rule that who ever sells (a short story or a novel) must buy everyone coffee at the next meeting. I think that helps if, for no other reason, it makes it okay for people to express a bit of the envy we all feel for one night, and then be done with it.

But I think one thing that Hines didn't talk about in his short post is how much fear has to do with the envy. Perhaps that may be because it isn't true for him. But I know that for me, when I hear about someone else's success I always wonder: "whose spot did s/he take?" "Am I going to get the axe because so-and-so got the deal?"

The hardest part is that those fears are not unfounded. I've been a professional writer since 1999, which I guess makes it a decade now, and, in that time, I've seen writers' careers soar and crash. There are colleagues of mine whose debut books I loved that are no longer writing, professionally or otherwise. I, myself, have been through remaindered books, career/name changes, and "sorry, but your series is dead" (that last one, now twice.) There is simply a lot of fear you face as a professional writer. There are no guarantees that what you have today will be there tomorrow. It's not like it was thirty or forty years ago, when once you became a "name," you were in for life. (Of course, that might all just be a myth we writers tell ourselves about the golden age, too. Because things were always better BEFORE.)

The point is, that every time a colleague gets a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, as Hines talks about, you do feel a stab. For me, the first is envy. The second is fear. Because I think about the trajectory of my own career and start to wonder... if I don't get a starred review, what will happen to me?

I've been thinking about this a lot because I was complaining about something or other about the writing business to the people who work at my favorite coffee shop and their response was, "Well, you shouldn't put up with that!" And I said, listen, you don't understand. There are three million people ready and willing to take my job. There's no functional writers' union to complain to -- though you can complain all you want, getting action is another matter. Writers are very much often at the mercy of the publishing house in ways that most other professionals aren't. Most of the time, we just have to shrug and say, "That's the way it is."

This adds tremendously to the fear and leads, IMHO, to the envy.

I feel like I should end this post with a solution of some kind, but I don't have one. Except to say that writing is a tough business. I think that knowing that before you go into it will help you. I know that having heard some of this before I got my first contract helped me weather the ups and downs. Because once you hear what all your colleagues have to put up with you're reminded you're not in this alone. There will be fallow periods. There will be contract disasters and career hiccups. But, god/dess willing, you will survive to fight another day.

Then someone can be jealous of *you*.

1 comment:

Muneraven said...

I always find this point of view so interesting because it is so different than my own. It never even occurs to me that I am in competition with other writers. I just don't see it. I cannot write what they write, and they can't write what I write. Nobody can take my spot in the world of published authors because, if said spot exists, it is a me-shaped spot. I'm not naive. It isn't that I am some weird, Zen saint, either. It's just how I see it. I think that, in all the arts, all you can do is work your ass off to become the best you can be. Whether or not you get recognition, money, or anything else is pretty much out of your hands. And if you do not get ANY rewards for your work, it is not necessarily a commentary on the quality of your work. Life is just sometimes shitty and unfair. Okay, it is OFTEN shitty and unfair.

Anyway, so I'm scared of rush hour traffic, and the mushroom cloud, and Christian conservatives, but not of other writers getting good books published. More good books make for more readers. More readers are good for all writers.