Thursday, April 19, 2007

R E S P E C T and R E L I E F

As part of a longer post over at her personal blog Lyda wrote: Writers, in particular those who haven’t got book or short story credits to their name yet, have a hard time convincing their friends and family that what they do is real and important. Getting a paycheck is something you can wave in people’s faces to say, “Yes, actually, I got paid to write, thank you very much.”

This brought me back to trying to explain to people how I felt when I sold WebMage (the novel-when I sold the short story I was unambiguously delighted). Now, let me first note how fortunate I am in my friends, family, and writing community. Pretty much from the get go, I've had incredible support from people who really believed in me and what I wanted to do. In particular, my wife, Laura, has never wavered in the slightest in her belief in my writing, not even at those times I myself was wavering.

When I sold the novel I had quite a few friends who were not upset exactly, but certainly concerned about my apparent lack of wild excitement. Part of this was because I was going through a particularly difficult family trauma and there was fear on the part of my friends that the strain of that was devouring my joy. There may even be some truth to that hypothesis. But it wasn't the whole or even the majority truth, because I was intensely engaged in the experience of having sold a book. It's just that what I was feeling was mainly relief.

Relief from my own occasional conviction that I was never going to make it.

Relief that I would never again have to say yes, I'm a writer of novels but...

Relief that I had not let down all the people who had supported me on my way here.

Relief that the long trial of apprenticeship was over.

I have had a hard time explaining this to a lot people with two exceptions: Other writers-who have been there. And Ph.D.s-who have also been there. With the latter, all I had to say was "Do you remember how you felt when you passed your defense? Like that." And the response was a knowing nod or a wry smile.

Selling the book or passing the defense means you have passed through the fire. It doesn't mean that you're going to have a career or be a success. It just means that you have survived the ordeal of getting to the place where those things are now genuinely possible. That may sound pessimistic, but it's not. It's the voice of relief, and it's everything.


Anonymous said...

When people ask what I "do" and I tell them I'm a writer and an editor, they invariably ask whether I'm ever going to get a "real job" outside the home. :headdesk: It's very frustrating.

Kelly McCullough said...


Yes. Because I'm a third generation F&SF fan and because my people (family included) are book people (readers all, with many writers and academics among them) I don't encounter this as often as most of my fellow writers, but I still run into it once in a while and it's absolutely maddening.

Anonymous said...

Kelly, I have to say that while I had the el;ation, it was a brief and controlled elation. The story sale was one step along the way to a career, and I have a lot of work in front of me to make that happen. My wife was bugging me to tell people about the sale, or she said she was going to explode; she was a little concerned that I wasn't excited enough.

lydamorehouse said...

Me? I danced in the streets.

I'm still dancing.

When I stop dancing for publications, I'll quit writing.

tate hallaway said...

Yeah, but I GET it, too.

Kelly Swails said...

I have a feeling when I get my first book deal [note the sly use of confidence there?] that I'll be too frickin' scared to be estatic for long. As in, now I have deadlines and sales pressures and "can-I-do-it-again" agnst. Relief--or, the realization that years of hard work hasn't been for naught--will be a key emotion, as well.

Kelly McCullough said...


That type of confidence is how you stay sane long enough to get published. Keep at it.

Kelly McCullough said...


That grounding in realism really helps. Yes, you have to celebrate, but you also have to know where you are--in this case, same game bigger stakes.


I danced for my first short. And I danced for the second book contract WebMage III and IV. I might have danced for WebMage I too if it had come earlier or easier. But it came after eight novels and hitting an emotional wall.

lydamorehouse said...

I might have danced for WebMage I too if it had come earlier or easier. But it came after eight novels and hitting an emotional wall. >

All the more reason to dance, my friend.

Kelly McCullough said...

Reason maybe, but it's hard to dance with broken legs. I had to wait for them to heal, for me to heal.

Anonymous said...

I've only had a minor success, recently, but the reaction I kind of didn't expect (but did) was that all my friends think it's hugely egotistical to say "well I knew that piece was good, like, after 10 plus years of doing this I figure I learned a thing or two." Because all that hard work was done under the radar and not a job or school for a degree, so it wasn't 'real.'

Kelly's original post really hits home for me. Until recently, I tended not to tell people I spend all my free time writing. Then several months ago my partner of sixteen years finally broke up with me because the writing hobby not only wasn't gonna end and be replaced with a "real job" and free time, but in fact might start to require her to also make some sacrifices. (Obviously more complicated, but there's a core truth to it.) And I suddenly had to tell everyone I was a writer, to justify focusing on a deadline instead of being devastated.

Some of my friends now think I'm a cold-hearted freak, but it hit me, hard, that you can't really ask anyone to tag along for the writing career journey that hasn't really bought into it. It's difficult enough as the actual writer to believe that something's gonna come of it "some day." (I ain't too proud to beg, but you can't beg for deep belief in your promise at something so surreal and ephemeral as 'being a writer'... Don't take it for granted if ya got that...)

I've been amazed at how surviving this 'ultimate rejection' has given me the confidence to really be fearless about writing more ambitious pieces, submitting, and networking the heck out of situations I used to be terrified of - 'little' rejections pale... Still, validation from the Powers That Be really does make it easier to convince others you're not crazy to demand enough space to do the work - people who aren't artists or writers really have no idea what it takes to make all this stuff they devour like cotton candy.