Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Cross my palm with silver. More silver. Um... let’s try platinum.
Oh, there it is, I see now. The future is coming into focus: Any of you who really want to be successful at writing and who are willing to fight enough for it, will make it. Oh, there will be setbacks. There will be blows of fate. And, yes, you’ll make mistakes (probably many) but you will eventually make it. If you live long enough. And if there is still a publishing industry.
Why all the weasel words? Because there is no fate. It is all in your hands.
I’ve told everyone I’ve mentored that writing is one of the most “superstition inducing” professions there is, because so little is in our hands. So, if you’re one of my fledgelings, right about now you’re scratching your head and going “Sarah, you have, as they say, zee issues.”
Yes. Comes with the territory. But what I’ve said isn’t necessarily contradictory.
Let me explain. Yesterday I caught myself thinking “If only I could have gone back and told my idiot twenty something year old self that I would eventually get published. How much anguish I’d have saved.” And then I stopped, because what I’d just thought smacks of fatalism, of resignation, of a pre-scripted future. For just a moment, I was in that place where I was born to be or do something; where I would have become that regardless.
I won’t go into why this view – regardless of what some scientists think – must be wrong. The short of it is that it would require the belief in an all-controlling (and dumb) divinity. Any scientific theory that requires Deus ex Machina, isn’t. No, not particularly going to argue it. Not here. There will be a blog on this in the future but not here.
Instead, I’ll go into why it’s so prevalent in writers’ (and other artists’) minds. First, it’s because most of us are in the grip of a compulsion. Surely we can’t want to do this so much if it’s wrong. Second, it’s because it absolves us from our failures.
Heaven knows that half the time in this field, the failures really aren’t our fault. As Dave has mentioned several times, you can’t attribute every crash to drivers’ error. There are a lot of factors influencing this unstable situation. That, of course, is the other end of it. Sometimes, no mater how hard you fight, you are doomed. And in retrospect, it seems inevitable.
The thing is that writing is not “all your money behind one horse.” Oh, sure, if you only ever write one novel, and it can’t succeed for whatever reason, you will fail. The question is “Why do you only write a novel?” “How much can you want to make it, if you only write one novel?” Yeah, it might be the best novel in the whole dang world. It still won’t make it, if it’s something no one wants to read/publish right then. You keep on trying and you’re not being defeated by fate. You’re being defeated by you.
Take it from me – you will make it as far as as you want to make it, dependent on how hard you’re willing to work.
This comes prettily from an almost unlimitedly ambitious writer who isn’t even a NYT bestseller yet, doesn’t it? Sure does. Because it's doable. Eventually. If I live long enough. And there have been times along the way when the world not only wasn’t my oyster – it wasn’t even my kumquat with mustard on the side. That I haven’t got there yet is a function of “How hard I’m willing to try.” In my case, two factors have forced me to take – shall we say? – the scenic route: a) the one thing I will not sacrifice to writing is my boys’ future. This means times when I should have pushed hard were “wasted” shepherding them through childish issues and teen angst. (Not their fault. I signed up for it. Glad I did it too.) b) I don’t work as hard at self promoting as 99% of authors. This will have to change. I know it will have to change. But it goes against a basic part of my personality (yes, the lazy part, smarty. True to an extent. Writing is far more of a pleasure than promoting, so I write more than I promote.) and those can take time to defeat. It can be done, it’s just takes a long time.
Are you really whining “but what if I don’t have enough talent?” Right. Because that’s the operational quality. You sit down, you breathe deep and writing flows from your fingertips IF you have the magical thing “talent.” Look... I won’t deny there’s such a thing as “talent.” I.e. by inclination and character, you do some things more easily. For me, that’s characters. But to compensate, I’ve fought EVERY inch of the way for plot and I don’t flatter myself I’m any better than “solid midlist” on THAT (Except for the last submitted book, Sword and Blood.) I don’t know anyone – not a single professionally published author – who is naturally good at the many parts that make a successful novel. Besides, come on, so far as there’s talent and you can discern it, read the bestseller list. You’ll come across at least two at any given time who have NO discernable talent. But they made it. Now, yeah, maybe they were golden children, raised up by fate with no struggle. However, my guess is if it looks that way, they’re REALLY good liars.
So, this is the bad news: you’re not fated to be a massive bestseller. These are the good news: You’re not fated to be ANYTHING. The future is wide open and even if at times it looks like the south end of a northbound donkey, it is open to change.
And now, like any good fortune teller I want you to open up so I can advise you (Only if you answer me, I suspect you can advise you after ;) ): What are your fears? What do you think can block you forever? What are your limiting factors? What will you not sacrifice to your writing, no matter what? What is your special talent? What do you know you suck at? How do you plan to get better at that? AND – for fun – what is your ridiculous superstition which you know is nonsense but makes you feel “safer” as you’re on your way? (My own security blanket in this area is that if I eat at Pete’s Kitchen in Denver, I sell something. Might be a short story, mind. Or Japanese rights. But I sell something. So far, so good.)