Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The Best Laid Plans
Appropriate to do this, of course, on a day when I’m late posting. It’s not that I didn’t leave enough time to write last night. I did. My mind just refused to cooperate.
I’ve heard no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. With me, no plan seems to survive contact with the real world.
One of the things that amuses me is looking back, say, on my college years. I took a degree in languages and teaching. Now I’ve done many things since leaving college but I only used my degree for about a year and a half and even then a lot of the translation I did was Portuguese to English which I could have done without a degree and German to English, which I could have done after highschool.
Then there was the kid thing. We waited a year before having kids because we were going to have a large family and wanted to have a year for ourselves first. Six years of infertility treatment after that first year, we produced one child. And then we said “That’s it. We’re not having more treatments, so that is our large family.” Four years later, I found out I was six months pregnant. And then we said “Oh, it fixed itself. Now we’ll have one every year.” Do I need to say there’s been no third child?
So, what does this have to do with writing?
Well, plans are particularly funny when they are made about writing. At least for me, they are. Most people I know have some sort of contact between plan and career.
I started writing science fiction. I was going to be a science fiction writer. Twenty years later, I was published in Fantasy, Mystery and Historic Fictionalized Biography with multiple books in each when my first science fiction book (written 13 years before) came out. Now I start when I hear myself called a “science fiction writer.” For years, that’s how I thought of myself, even as everyone else called me a “Fantasy writer”. Now it seems too late.
However at this point I’m not taking any bets. It’s entirely possible that if I should end up being remembered by the future it will be for something I haven’t even yet written. Maybe the future will consider everything I’ve done so far my apprenticeship and will consider me a great writer for ... scripts. YA romance. Techno-pop-Fantasy. Or some other genre yet to be invented.
So, what’s my point with this, other than depressing you?
To tell you not to be depressed. To tell you to give yourself permission to fail, sometimes and to leave enough room in your plan to adapt to the unforeseen. To tell you in the distance view, this will all make sense, even when it doesn’t. And that if you keep trying, something will come of it.
Take the above – when no one would take my science fiction, I could write fantasy because I’d uh... done a couple of novels in it. I could write mystery because I’d read as much as fantasy and science fiction. If I’d refused that early offer on the fantasy novel and said “I’m a science fiction writer” chances are I wouldn’t be published in either today.
I’m not saying sometimes it doesn’t break your heart. I broke my heart over the cancellation of the Musketeer Series. But I took the opportunity to write a contemporary mystery, which seems to be doing well.
Oh, look, I know what it’s like to have plans fail and fail and fail. Did you think I INTENDED to write for nine years before I sold a word of what I wrote? Or to sell a short story four times (and never see it in print, btw) before I sold another? Sometimes it seems as if your heart is so shattered you don’t have a heart anymore. This is what my grandmother called a good time to turn your guts into a heart and forge on.
The thing is, if you read anyone’s bio, you’ll find the same sort of thing. And even if you look at the shelves of your favorite authors’ works, you’ll find there’s some books you don’t care for. If that were the only thing they ever wrote, how would you judge them? Do you realize sometimes those were their own favorite books, the ones they thought would go big? (And sometimes did. You just hate them.)
So, gird your loins (don’t grill them! Well, unless they’re not yours) and start walking down that old glory road. There’s gold in them there hills. Or maybe the other ones a bit to the side. We’ll find out when we get there. Plan but stay ready for serendipity. The way to do this is to plan on what YOU are going to do, not on the response. Don’t say “I’m going to write a bestseller” say “I’m going to write three novels and submit them. And if they don’t sell, I’m going to write three more.” However, keep your mind on the dream, on what you’d LIKE. It’s my firm belief that you’ll get there, if you only keep it in mind and remain flexible and working.
And because at this point you’re not nearly depressed enough, one good way to focus on your long-term dreams, without making them into plans that make you unable to react to here and now is to write your epitaph. Leave out your date of death and – if you wish – manner of death (though amusing ones are welcome) and other personal details, but write what you’d like to be remembered for.
Here is mine – you can write yours when you stop laughing –
Sarah A. Hoyt, aka Sarah D’Almeida, aka Elise Hyatt, aka Nikita Marques, aka Carolina Haute, died yesterday after being nibbled to death by ducks. It appears she ran out of bread and the ducks took revenge.
She is known to fans of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror and romance. She will however probably be most remembered for her science fiction. In a career spawning almost sixty years, she created a vivid and compelling “future history” to rival Heinlein’s. (Whom she was always very flattered to find herself compared to, even if it was just “oh, look, they’re both carbon life forms.”) Into that history she wrote men and women of extraordinary courage, who face their world and its changes unafraid, and whose example inspired a generation of men and women. She will be remembered by her husband, children, cats, but mostly by those ducks.