Friday, August 24, 2007

New Writer Cycle-Strange Monkey

Drat, Lyda beat me to the post button so I had to wait a bit. Here's something related to what she said below.

So this is going to be another post in which I talk about not being like all the other monkeys, which is more a reflection on my own personal oddities than on anyone else's experience

It all started because Jay Lake was talking about being a newbie in the F&SF writing world in response to Paul Jessup's post on the same phenomena. I find my experiences to have been quite different really from the start–not better, just different–and I'm not sure why that is, but I'm guessing it has to do with two things, coming out of theater and the way I've always set up my personal goals.

Goals first: Mine has never been to be the best thing ever or to win the respect and adulation of the writing world (mind you I'd consider achieving either of those things as a hell of a perk). Nor have I ever set cracking this or that market as anything but an interim goal. No, what I've wanted to do from day one is tell stories and make a career of telling stories. Note that I won't be able to tell if I've truly achieved that goal until I'm quite old and looking back, and that any individual sale or award or whatever will only count as at best a signpost. And in response to Lyda's benchmarks note below, I've always counted my benchmarks by stories produced and sold, with the markets that take them being almost irrelevant as long as they meet professional criteria.

Background: Because I grew up in theater I learned in my bones that nothing would come easy, I would always have to work in a continuous and ongoing way to improve my craft, and that it would be a lifetime endeavor. I also learned in my bones that other people would be able to see things in my work that I couldn't–both positive and negative and that if I could learn to something that one of them pointed out I would get better.

That meant that I never had that I'm the best thing since sliced bread, why don't they see my genius thing going on, or at least only for spans of a few minutes at a time. An early confirmation of this is when my wife was reading my first novel and would point out an awkward sentence and I could see that she was right, but couldn't then see how to fix it. That was occasionally frustrating, but since I'd already experienced similar things in theater I knew it was a stage, and that the way to get past it was to improve my craft.

I do admit to the occasional brief bout of look at what all the cool kids are doing and if only I hung out with them I'd have an easier time but that was balanced early by the enormous satisfaction of getting acceptances and encouragement from editors who didn't have any reason to say nice things to me but the quality of my stories.

I guess that's all a long winded way of saying: Focus on writing the stories and getting better. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. There is no secret password, or magic clubhouse, and wasting energy on looking for them will only take away from the important stuff. Also, there are 1,001 and one ways to write and every one them correct.

What about you, dear reader? Does your cycle follow Jay's model? Or Paul's? Or mine? Or something completely different?

P.S. Jay's exactly right to talk about prodom in terms of large high school, in part because it's about the right size and ape hierarchies are pretty consistent in how they self-organize. At the same time, I went to an open school, and was simultaneously, a gamer, a theater geek, a student government nerd, and one of the popular kids, so I firmly believe that breaking the mold is possible.


Anonymous said...

I like the philosophy of telling stories. :D

For me for now, I'm primarily telling myself stories. Other sources - books, movies, RPGs - just get too predictable. Too many stories are like a mold, and if they're not, often they have a quirk that just irritates me.

Some of this is that I got tired of most anime. So much of that stuff is so similar. :)

I'm starting to think of my approach to writing a lot more seriously, and looking for stories that maybe pierce the popularity a bit more.

Whether it's ambition or whatever, I just feel like I'm right on the edge of being able to get published. Lyda's post on narrative voice a bit back /really/ helped that. IT's one of the obvious things that I just didn't know about.

Sure, I feel ambitious and cocky, but isn't that what gets people places? ;)

This reply really went on a tangent. Oh well. 8)

Kelly McCullough said...

Glad we're able to help. And, yeah, I'm all about telling stories and mostly internal validation (beyond getting paid that is). I'd suggest ambitious and stubborn over ambitious and cocky, but cocky has it's pluses.

Anonymous said...

Stubborn rather than cocky? Hmm.

I'll ponder about that. It might be a quirk of mine, but knowing the right word for something makes a lot of difference to my approach. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

Stubborn is what keeps you alive in this business, or at least that's been my experience.

Kelly Swails said...

After reading Jay and Paul's posts, I'd have to say I relate more to Jay's. Right now my career is about three things: improving my craft, getting enough credits to join SFWA (two more to go, woot!) and figuring out where I belong. The first two is all about stubborn work, and I'm all about that, so no problem there.

As for the third, well, I'm probably a lot like you, Y. In high school I was friends with the jocks and the gamers and the partiers. I didn't belong anywhere but belonged everywhere all at the same time. As an working adult, I notice that I don't belong to any one clique but I'm friendly with everyone. I suspect my writing career will be the same way--friends with the high fantasy nerds and the game tie-in geeks and the urban fantasy cool kids all at the same time.

For the record, I hope someday when I'm a Big Name Author that I'll be one of the ones that the newbies won't be afraid to approach.

Stephanie Zvan said...


Reading those two posts (the manic highs, the lows, the venom) really emphasized to me what a strange writer I am, not that I haven't been thinking about it for a while. Writing is something I do, something that fills a niche in my life, something I'm getting good enough at that I expect it to start paying something soon. It is not me.

I'm tough, smart, adaptable, and somewhat physically defective. I write (and read and garden and cook and work on the house and make my money coercing Excel). I am not my writing, and I don't want to be.

That isn't to say my writing doesn't reflect who I am. But if I had to send "me" out in the mail to collect form rejections, it would never happen. If my ego bobbed on the waves of the market, I'd be divorced, unemployed and hiding in dark corners.

Oh, and if I had to go back to high school...well, actually, I think I'd get on pretty well with a lot of the teachers these days. Even if it hasn't changed, I have.

Okay, rant done.