Advice to Struggling Writers

gas-mask-jay

This is me towards the end of my college years. Why, yes, I went to Art School. How can you tell?

So, in my How Not To Be a Writer series I explored, in depth, the process by which it took me twenty years to make my breakthrough series of sales. I wrote these pieces and this blog to some other version of myself, some younger incarnation, to try to help him or her past the stuff that slowed me down. I also write in the tradition of the wonderful autobiographical sketches by people like Asimov or James Thurber, bits which I often enjoyed as much, or more, than the stories that they surrounded in various anthologies. Not that I deserve such scrutiny. Still, it’s fun.

Who are writers? Where do the come from? Are they like me? What’s it like being a writer? There’s whole rafts of these books out there, it’s a fun sub-genre.

This isn’t that.

For once I’m going to try to be straightforward, to the point.

ADVICE TO YOUNG OR NEW WRITERS BEGINS HERE!

0. Read. Read for pleasure. Also, read higher on the food chain than you want to write and publish. If you want to write like Stephen King, read authors who have more literary fibre than Steven King; because that’s what Steven King does. Read stuff that wins awards and decide if you concur with that judgement. Read reviews and criticism, if only in your genre, but hopefully beyond it as well.

Oh, and read what is being written now, published now, what is winning awards now, what is being talked about now; not exclusively, but this should be a part of what you do, at least, in the beginning. You should read into the past too, but if you’re stuck, in a single era, a single genre, it’s going to be harder for you to get a real sense of what you’re doing.

Because the books you end up writing may not be the book you intended to write. Like it or not, you are a creature of your time and this moment and you cannot help but be informed by it.

1. Write. Write what you want to write. Actually write. Spend actual time writing. If not every day then every week. Measure what you write. Try to write more. Keep trying to write more, until you start spewing utterly useless crap; then write a little less than that. Until the useless crap comes out, though, you don’t know what your capacity really is. Figure this out. When do you dissolve into a shuddering wreck? 2k a day? 5k? 10k?

There’s writing and Being a Writer; being a writer is an identity; writing is an activity. Ideally, these two things line up; in practice, they often don’t. I’ve spoken of Kris Rusche’s Dare to be Bad challenge, of Dean Wesley Smith’s Race Score; if you haven’t read about these things, please do.

In short, don’t let being, or not being a Writer interfere with your writing practice. Write when you feel inspired, and write when you know you’re a fraud. Or perhaps, just edit when you know you’re a fraud.

2. Share what you write with people you have to look at. This can mean classes, face-to-face peer group workshops, graduate programs, internet based workshopping, Here’s a truth. Face to face is better than on-line. Because it’s harder. It’s harder to say sad or hard things to others faces, and it’s hard to hear these things; the whole process hurts much much more, and you can’t shut the pain off by discarding an email or a marked up Word file.

Telling the truth, the whole truth, the hard truth, to another writer is hard because it emboldens them to tell the truth about your writing to you. Learning how to be true without being mean, without being cruel, is difficult. You will screw up and say things you regret. You will be too mean sometimes and too nice other times. But keep trying.

Every workshop, every group of people develops its own internal logic, its own style and tenor; some of these can be damaging and toxic but the rewards, of even a toxic workshop, tend to outweigh the downside.

Honestly, this is a Darwinian environment. The person trashing your story at least read it and showed up to tell you and she thought about it. A lot. To say all those terrible, terrible things.

Professional editors simply do not have the time to do this for you.

They simply don’t. I can say, having had my little breakthrough, that it was form rejects and then acceptances with virtually nothing in between. You can be almost good enough, for years, and you’ll get forms, and then you’ll be good enough, and you’ll get checks. You can be very very close to breaking through and you won’t have a clue, if you don’t have a big, self created honest community giving you feedback.

3. Edit and revise what you write but do not let revisions stop you from writing new stuff. Rewriting doesn’t mean incorporating every suggestion someone gives you. This means hearing critiques and seeing new opportunities in a work; other people will give you permission to add stuff in you wanted to put in; this also means reducing reader confusion; if five, ten people all get the same mistaken impression from your story, the problem isn’t them; it’s your story.

Oh, and sometimes this means cutting, lots and lots of cutting.

There’s a lot of writing that you’ll discover is just you, in character, in deep POV, in the fictive dream, going from place to place in your story; there’s a lot of stuff that you write, that you need to know, that isn’t actually in your story. Other people can help you cut that stuff out.

4. Submit what you have edited. Struggle for publication and readership. I don’t care if you want to be the next Hugh Howy, or the next indypub sensation, still, write finish and submit and search this space. Use a service like Submission Grinder or Duotrope to track your submissions. Follow the rules scrupulously. Stack up rejections. 

Seriously. Stack those things up.

It’s humbling and humiliating and enervating and nauseating. And exhilarating. Because it’s a hard thing to do. It’s hard because nobody can really tell you exactly how to succeed.

You can go to school, and work hard, and go to law school and pass the bar and get a job at a firm and become a lawyer. Making partner of course, is super hard, but the other stuff had rules. Clearly defined rules. On How to Succeed. Tests and courses and content and classes and everything parceled out in bits and bites.

As the rejections pile up, you realize that, in writing, after gaining a modicum of craft and developing a voice, there are no rules, there is no guarantee, you may never make it, all the work might be for naught. and then, you keep doing it some more. And yeah, you console yourself with all the stories of the days of early bitter struggle by the Real Writers you idolize, but honestly, you might not be them. And you know that. You might just suck.

Then you keep doing it anyway.

It will build your character or destroy you; or perhaps just remake you. Because you know what going through something like this is, don’t you? It’s goddamn mythic. It’s heroic. It’s poetic. It will make you into something more than you were before.

I guarantee it.

Posted in Making a Writing Life

How To Get Nowhere Writing

1. Start novels, never finish them. Write and workshop the first few chapters and then give up, and then start another. Lather, rinse, repeat. The great thing about this is, no one can actually give deep feedback on a fragment. So you’ll shield yourself from deep critiques; you can also disregard a lot of bad things said, figuring, hey, these points will be addressed later on. Only, you know, you never actually do that. 

2. Rewrite the beginning of the novel endlessly. OK, so, you take all the feedback to heart, and now you’re going to make people read your novel correctly. Have the same people look at the draft over and over again. They’ll be able to tell you when you have it right.

2. Submit short fiction to magazines you never ever read. Hey you’re a reader. You have even read a few dozen short stories by a few authors you like in single author collections and in school. So you know more or less what a short story is. So why bother reading the magazines you submit to? They exist to validate your efforts with sales or to galvanize you with rejection slips. They’re not really for reading.

3. Disregard all negative feedback. When people tell you things you don’t want to hear about your writing, figure out what books they like to read that you don’t like, and figure, well, this person has no taste; they liked Twilght or Fifty Shades of Gray or Finnegan’s Wake for God’s sake. you’re not trying to do that.

4. Embrace deeply all negative feedback. The flip side of above. Focus on the most dismissive comments made by work shoppers. Believe mutually contradictory critiques of a story simultaneously.

5. Write as little as possible. A few short stories a year are sufficient to maintain your Writing Identity. So don’t write more than that. 

6. Submitting counts as writing. Have some stories out at places that take a year or two to reply? Well, you’re a writer as long as you have stuff out. Just wait. Those things will sell. Then, you can write some more.

7. Fixate on a tiny number of venues and markets; write in only one genre. Success comes to those that narrow the chances of success to as few avenues as possible, Nobody said, ever.

8. Do not network or communicate in any way with other writers. As we know, most accomplishments occur in pure vacuums. Don’t realistically assess how much work a successful writer you wish to emulate put into their career. Writing will probably get much easier after the thing you have out sells.

9. Immerse yourself in writing peer-group stuff to the point where it eats all your writing time. If a little networking is good, non-stop networking and socializing with a group of writing peers is better. Collect dizzying amounts of mutually contradictory information on every story.

10. Delay, delay, delay. Remember, there’s no rush. Sure, at a 1000 words a week it will take you over a year to write your first novel, but, you know, since first novels so frequently do so well, and sell so quickly, there’s no reason to try to speed that process along.

11. Social media writing counts as writing–you’re building your platform! For this to help you get Nowhere, don’t use metrics on your social media; just assume that lots of people read your stuff. They probably are. After all, you’ve published that one story a few years ago.

12. Never submit your fiction for publication. The great thing about this is, if you never get a professional opinion on your work, you can safely ignore all the peer criticism you’re getting. What do they know? They’re you’re peers. If you submit your work, and get rejected, and the piece is rejected over and over and over again, well… maybe that opinion  your ten workshoppers/beta readers had about the thing was correct. It was confusing. The protagonist was unlikable and erratic. The world made no sense.

So, number 11 has me thinking, time to go and actually write. Good luck to you all.

Posted in Making a Writing Life

Breaking Through

eight-reasons

The next stories out will be the Novella and the F&SF piece this summer, though the technology essay may also be out soonish.

So here’s here’s how it often goes. First you were a reader, and you read a lot, and you thought, hey, I should write something like what I read, because, you know, how cool would that be? So you try. And it sucks, and you go through that thing where your creative faculty isn’t as strong as your critical faculty and you want to just quit, it is so ugly but you keep at it.

God Knows Why.

At a certain point, in your reading and writing, your stuff seems good enough. It’s distincly like some of the stories you read in the magazines. It still isn’t selling. You haven’t broken through. You start to obsess; are you even being read? Do they think you suck because of the stories you sent a few years back which kinda did suck? Do they have a preconception that is blinding them to the evident ‘good enough’ quality to your work?

Then you realize, well, good enough isn’t really good enough, is it? You’re going to have to rise up past the median point, make an impression. Those median stories you’re reading may well be from people who broke through long ago, containing worlds and characters and a voice which has somehow proven itself already. Which you haven’t done. Yet.

Most short fiction markets want to be among the first to publish someone who goes on to be a Big Deal. I mean, that’s part of the point of a magazine. A magazine is a place where the reputations of authors are rubbed against each other, with some of the luster of the bigger names adhering, hopefully, to those whose name mean nothing when selling magazines. Like mine.

I made my first pro sale in the 90s, to a magazine called Aboriginal SF, but thereafter wrote a few utterly toxic stories with radioactive content. The content was politically offensive and I didn’t have the skill to really transcend these tales off-putting nature. Nobody told me this, but looking back I can see, yeah, nobody was going to publish that. Anyway, I quit for twenty years.

But I’ve got a streak of 8 pro sales to two top teir markets now, Asimov’s and F&SF, for stories written over the last decade; some brand new, my breakthrough story for example, some rewritten, some stories finished which I started a decade ago, and some older stories with rewritten endings. New stuff of mine continues to not sell, older refurb’s are selling, and stuff I’m writing now is often not right in ways even I can see.

So I’ve broken through, in one way, without breaking through, inside, in my process, in knowing what to write or if what I’m writing is actually working. I’d hoped that once I broke through, I’d sell most of what I wrote, because I’d know how to write things that sold, and while I have more insight now that I used to, I’m not there yet.

Maybe I never get there. Maybe that’s all right.

Oh, but the novel calls; not a specific novel, yet, but just the idea of something that long. I’ve gotten enough Signs. It’s time to write one. But which one? I’m collecting advice from authors on how to think about this; I’m told to not try to second guess the market; to write something I care enough about to live with for a good long time. So. I’ll do that.

Soon. Soon? I hope.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications

Like Now, Only More So

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Robert Heinlein spoke of a category of SF stories which answered the question ‘If This Goes On.’ These stories projected trend lines to make informed guesses about The Future. And to a degree, we see Science Fiction doing just that; in the post WW2 era, during what some would call the Pax Americana, and others American Imperialism, we read about futures that extended that post-war suburban dream outwards, enveloping the planet and in due course, the entire galaxy.

What didn’t we see, in the Universes of Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, radical extremes of wealth and poverty; a return to anything like feudalism;  powerful forces of religious fundamentalism. The Future was American; wealthy, secular if perhaps tinged with a protestant work ethic, but to a degree inclusive, expansionary, and more or less just.

We arrive, in SF’s second generation, at rational secular universes like Larry Niven’s Known Space. There are no poor people in Known space; at least none we ever see or care about; the universe is capitalist but it seems to work; and religion has vanished completely, not stamped out by totalitarianism, but dying a natural death sometime in the unremarked past.

Heinlein, a world traveler, had a shorthand he used for retrograde cultures, cultures which deviated from the plan, cultures which embraced slavery or religious extremism. They were portrayed as quasi-Islamic, but, they were isolated backwaters.

zanzibarSF’s New Wave projected trends deemed important and unstoppable in the sixties and seventies into futures both groovy and dystopian. Widespread legal use of Hallucinogens and Cannibis in John Brunner’s Stand on Zanizbar; the dystopias of Ballard and Budrys and Farmer; malthusian overpopulation and peculiar solutions to the same; building cities in The World Inside (or Oath of Fealty). Grim population control in Known Space. The New Wave was still obsessed with If This Goes On; only the “this” has changed, including now a series of new concerns, including ecology, eastern religion, inner space, and, most curiously for SF, modern literary values.

Gibson and the cyberpunks liberated us from this idea that we could really, like Hari Seldon in Asimov’s Foundation Series, project any trendline into the future. History had revealed itself  a slave to Chaos theory; it was sensitive to initial conditions. In the 80s and 90s we could see so many of the carefully constructed projections of classic and second generation SF crash and burn around us.

The rabbit-from-a-hat world of Moores Law, the failure of the doomsayers of the 60s to predict when a die back of the human race would take place (the Erlich’s of The Population explosion famous bet is an example.) Our failure to move away from fossil fuels, as fossil fuels failed to run out on schedule. The failure of fusion power to emerge as a high-tech, too-cheap-to-meter solution to the problem of growing our energy intensive civilization.

The failure of NASA and the US to push any further into the new frontier. The failure of private enterprise to build on the work of NASA to create any sustainable human presence off the planet. The failure of the perceptron causing the first AI winter. The troubled implementation of genetic engineering in the food supply and the backlash, perhaps more emblematic of fear of corporatism than justified fear of GMO crops.

Neuromancer_coverSo William Gibson, seminal Cyberpunk of Neuromancer fame, famously said, SF is really about the present, and suddenly the If This Goes On thing made sense again. Gibson tells us the apocalypse never arrives, no matter how desperately we might subconsciously wish it. the world gets denser and dirtier and more complex and layered without ever breaking down completely.

So, If this Goes On, really means, What’s Important Now.

This is the reason Science Fiction can speak to an era in a way that no other literature can; focusing on those elements of the present we see as important, as trending, as being worth extrapolating upon, we reveal what it is that is really bothering us about the present; what scares us and what gives us hope. This of course, also dates Science Fiction. Horribly.

Because we’re so wrong about what is really important so much of the time.

The Steampunks take the cyberpunks a step further, and cut extrapolation loose from reason, technology loose from history, allowing us to combine historical elements with whatever technology we see fit to include, with a single caveat. Humans remain at the center of a steampunk world. Steampunk relieves us of the impossible task of staring into the sun which is the Singularity.

Posthuman SF, and I’ve not read enough of it, I confess, has never been and I suspect will never be a popular genre with non-post humans. (Dogs do not read novels about humans.) Posthumanism stands now as a solid barrier between serious science fiction and many beloved tropes of the past; Space Opera; the galactic empire; interstellar travel. It is the reason that Space Opera itself now reeks faintly of steampunk.

At any rate, my sub genre, I think, is the title of this piece, and it’s the continuation of If this Goes on, through What’s Important Now, and I’m calling it, Like Now But More So.

It’s a kind of Steampunk, because modern day elements are exaggerated, without necessarily acknowledging or accepting the push and pull, yin and yang of cultural forces that prevent these exaggerations from becoming reality. The Hunger Games is an example of Like Now But More So.

Like Now But More So ranges from timeless allegory to ephemera to bad polemic.

Having written SF off and on now for 20 years, having read it for 40, I have begun to accept that  much of what we do is scrawled hastily in wet sand, speaking not only to a moment in time, but to an imaginary moment in time, fifteen minutes in the future, which is even more elusive, ephemeral, subjective, than traditional serious literature.

I believe in my heart of hearts, in a future which is either apocalyptic or post human. The worlds between these poles now seem to me mostly wishful thinking. But what’s wrong with wishful thinking?

In fact I think we live now in a golden age in which is possible to write and publish and be informed by any and all of these strands of SF to create great stories which find readers in new ways. We hunger for Space Opera, and Cyberpunk and Steampunk, and optimistic futures and dystopians, all of it at once. Nothing is lost, really, anymore. Science fiction permeates the culture, informing it and reflecting it in a thousand tried and true tropes which even those who pretend to disdain SF are totally familiar. Robot uprisings and Big Brother and Star Trekian diversity, Phillip K Dickian mind-fuck, its a Sfnal world we live in.

We live in the future which SF gave us and which SF gets joyfully and humiliatingly wrong, over and over again.

Like Now. Only More so.

Posted in Reinventing Science Fiction

7th Sale to Asimov’s Confirmed! We Interrupt This Mid-Life Crisis for a Brief Happy Dance

So, at some point I’m going to have to stop shrieking with glee every time I sell a story to a big market, right? I’m going to act like I’m not surprised, that this is a thing I do on a regular basis, because I’m a Real Writer Who Sells Things. Is this professional behavior? No? Well. But still.

Sqweeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!

Some little part of me is now worrying of course, what people will think of the story, which is titled Willing Flesh. The story brushes up against things like fat acceptance, GLBTQ and has a racial dimension. In other words, some people are going to tear me apart, as a white-straight-het-guy-of-a-certain age, why did I feel free to write this story?

In my defense, I wrote this story before I knew people would ever buy or publish it. Hah. So I have that excuse. Actually, my stories do take risks, and I know, I am going to end up getting beat up now and then, but, you know, I think that’s OK. My people, the White Men, trashed the planet and looted the country. I have it coming. Insert symbol for not being ironic here.

<Irony > The story is about a bunch of lady editors in chain mail bikinis who come from a galaxy where everyone is gay, and also Hitler.</Irony>

But I kid the 60 people who read my blog. Seriously. It isn’t about those things at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications, Uncategorized

The Weirdness, literary fantasy and a damn fine cup of coffee.

weirdnessSo I haven’t done a book reading in twenty years. I’m not sure why. I didn’t write, other than blog about my kids, for about fifteen years. Oh, wait, that’s it; I had children. I didn’t see any non-animated movies for a decade either. Also to be frank, people need to needle me to leave the house. What’s strange is I have a great time, whenever anyone drags me to anything; play, musical event, reading, lecture, parade, fetish bar, whatever. I’m delighted to be out of the house. Which I never want to leave.

So I’ll admit that when the teachers at my son’s free-school invited me to a friend’s reading, I assumed I’d skip it. Then Bryce, my son’s teacher, read me a few pages, in which a wise-cracking youngish writer surrogate in a filthy apartment found himself confronted by Lucifer Morningstar. The Devil. And something about the quality of the protagonist’s internal monolog made me want to go. So I hopped on the subway, left my family to their own devices for dinner and homework, and headed out to Porter Square.

Jeremy Bushnell’s reading started where Bryce left off. The youngish (to me) Northeastern University teacher took the podium, and promised to not take his pants off at this event. There was a smattering of applause at that. You could tell there were a fair number of friends and students in the audience of twenty five or so people. Bushnell’s reading was relaxed, unrushed, and thoroughly enjoyable; humorous; the heavily trodden territory fresh in his voice.

When Billy refuses to watch Lucifer’s power point presentation, I decided I had to buy the book.

The second chapter was better than the first; much was made in the text of the coffee which Lucifer had brought with him, and in fact, the Brooklyn Roasting Company had created a special blend of whole bean coffee to commemorate the books launch. You can buy the book and the coffee at the same time here. 

We were told there would be a drawing, to see who won a free pound.

During the Q and A, when a bookstore employee piped up that the first person to ask a question would win the coffee, I piped up with a perfectly ordinary question which I hadn’t thought worth asking. How long have you been writing fiction? Of course, the answer, for as long as I can remember. Jeremy’s first novel is of course, his third or forth—not that he ever marketed the juvenilia. Published by Melville House in Brooklyn as general fiction, we spoke a bit about genre labeling and the rich world of stuff wedged halfway between traditional genre categories and literary fiction.

“There’s a huge space, there, I think,” Jeremy said. “I don’t care where I’m shelved, really. I love fantasy, and fantasy tropes. But what I’m doing with these characters run’s deeper, than what you see in most fantasy.”

I sensed no animus in the statements, not a whiff of condescension, and instead of being offended I got what he was saying. As a BFA without a lot of college level English under my belt I have felt, to a degree, like a naif, as a writer, aspiring primarily to entertain, and then, uncontrollably making art, sometimes difficult and sometimes crappy, instead. Some of the negative reviews of my stories in Asimov’s has made me wonder, at times, what the hell is is I’m actually writing. Or trying to write.

At any rate, I look forward to finishing the novel, and drinking the coffee.

God it’s great to get out of the house.

 

Posted in Making a Writing Life

Getting Something Out of It

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Evidence of industry; unused marketing card concept for failed entrepreneurial thingy

When I was a tech entrepreneur, I had a boss who liked to say, about working for his web-based startup company, that you got out of it what you put into it.

Yeah. I know. But I fell for it.

I loved this guy, he was brilliant, a straight-edge former body builder who abstained from drinking and drugs and, more amazingly for someone his age, social media. A punk musician and programmer, I spent a year with him, and three other guys and his tough-talking, exquisitely beautiful girlfriend from the wrong side of the tracks. We worked together on something; he worked harder than everyone else put together, of course, as it was His Thing, his Company, his Vision.

This thing that never went anywhere.

I made stuff for him, though which I still have, logos and branding and photos and copy and screens, and a business plan. I learned a lot, even if mostly what I learned is that Business is Hard, and failure is always an option. We fell out, and he’s off somewhere now, making iPhone apps, I think, was the last I heard, chasing the dream, still.

As long as you never quit, you never lose. Well. I guess eventually you die, one way or the other, and there’s some kind of reckoning.

Which brings me back to writing, and my present.

We live in a culture that measures everything with money. When people ask you what you do, it is understood, that that person is asking  how you make a living. She’s not asking about church or volunteer work or your silly little hobbies. Because, quite frankly, as far as the culture is concerned, that’s all bullshit. Money talks. That bullshit walks. (That bullshit can’t even afford  public transit.)

If you ever meet a man or woman of means, someone who doesn’t have to work, and ask them this question, you’ll get a job-like reply . People with money do things, frequently things that could pay enough to earn a living, and so, they say that, skipping over the ‘how I make my money’ part of the question, as if by asking what they did, you really wanted to hear what they do.

If you ask a stay at home parent, especially if he’s a man, he’ll generally tell you what he used to do, or now does part time while he spends the lion’s share of his time taking care of his kids. Nobody  says, “I spend most of my time doing laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning and teaching and farting around with and driving with my kids. I bill a few hours a week too.”

They say, instead, “I’m a freelance writer.” Or editor. Or designer. Or whatever.

In my workshops, I can sometimes feel the resentment radiating from the folks I write with who have to work full time, soul-devouring jobs to support their families. I tell them what I’m doing and they say, “Must be nice.”

And it is. It is nice. It’s also hell.

Because that culture, the one we live in, the one that made us, the one that surrounds us, is inside us too, judging us and measuring us and whispering in our ear, always, ‘how much money are you making at this? For how much time? Gee. Why don’t you collect cans on the street instead?’

Even for those enjoying the free lunch, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I have my shield, now, my armor, given to me by Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov’s SF magazine, and Gordon Van Gelder, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Warren Lapine, editor of Fantastic Stories. My last eight  professional fiction sales. But this is a relatively new thing, and I don’t know exactly what to do with it. I wave it around a lot , the three issues of Asimov’s.

I’m a science fiction writer. Really.

Writer Jay asks Employer Jay, sometimes, what the hell he thinks he’s doing. (Hint: he is not making regular 401k contributions.) Employer Jay smiles, and says…

You get out of it what you put into it.

Our lives are hopelessly confused baskets of apples and oranges with no straightforward way to convert one thing into another, no simply logical way to organize our fleeting time and precious energies. I want to tell you how much I made writing last year, and I don’t want to, because it isn’t professional; the amount I made and the act of telling it to you, both. I want to be professional. I know that writing is both more than a profession for me, and, alas, at the moment, less. I’ve told you that writing is a source of meaning, and I stand by that.

But I look forward to a time, when I can answer this question, in all senses of the word, without caveat or explanation.

I’m a writer, I’ll say. And I’ll mean it.

Now, back to work, imaging this into reality.

No one can tell you lose, if you never stop playing.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, Self Indulgent Mémoire

Trust the Process

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An old photo of mine, manipulated, the doorway to the underworld.

So it’s a tough time for me now, writing wise, which isn’t really intuitive, but there it is. My recent streak of sales should be inspiring, and in fact, it has been; I’ve written a lot of new words, writing to a schedule for a while now. The problem is none of it is anything I can send out.

I’ve had some family, life stuff, of course, but everyone has that, all the time, so it doesn’t feel worth mentioning.

So. I know I need to just write and trust the process, trust myself, trust the universe, let go of expectations for each thing I write, let it be what it is and go on to the next and be glad I can write anything at all; not everyone can. Knowing what you should do and doing it are two different things.

Odd influxes of people reading the blog lately, too, which is strange. Generally speaking I get a few readers every time I post and then the thing dies back to almost nothing. Huh. 

Anyway, my goal for the week is to write 1000 words, every day, in a different place; I’ll post some shots of the interior, I’ll drink the coffee, and I’ll bang out words. If I have to write ‘all work and no play makes jack a dull boy,’ I’ll do that. I’m dead serious.

Part of me wants to just give up and look for regular employment. I had my little moment. It’s over. Some bit of pent up something has spilled out and maybe it will regenerate and maybe it won’t. I need to nurture whatever tiny spark there is inside me, marshall it, not just keep expecting it to roar out of me…

Well, fuck that. I’m fifty. I could be dead tomorrow, in six week, in ten weeks. Hey, if I want to write a goddamn novel? I have to write it NOW. If all there is in me is another ten unpublishable novellas, fine. Whatever. I’m writing the damn things.

I wish I could say it was getting easier. Everybody else seems to know what they’re doing, to have some kind of clue, but me? No idea.

But today the voices started in again, the characters and stories were boiling away, again, and who knows if they’re any good or not really. I guess that’s not for me to decide.

I can do this. Is it worth doing really? Will I ever have fans, people who really care about my work, people who buy something because my name is on it? Can I finish a novel; if I can, can I market or sell it, and if I can, will anyone buy it? Who knows.

But I can write. I know I can. All I have to do is lower my standards, and a tidal wave of crap pours out. I’ll pick through that. If it’s garbage it’s garbage and I’ll chuck it.

Trust the process, trust the process, trust the process. Say it with me. Trust the process.

Posted in Making a Writing Life

My Annus Mirabilis Kickoff Story, That Universe We Both Dreamed, for .99 cents…

that-universe-coverAnnus mirabilis is a Latin phrase that means wonderful year, “year of wonders” or “year of miracles”. (This term  originally referred to the year 1666, celebrating its non-awfulness even though it had the number of the beast, ’666′ in it.) My Annus Mirabilis was my 50th. I’d returned to writing a year earlier and had rebuilt a long neglected  community, reconnecting with people I’d written with in the 90s, and made a bunch of new friends as well. I’d decided to give short fiction one last shot.

Long story short. I had a great year, and, the world didn’t end. (Coincidence? I think not.)

To celebrate this I’m re-publishing the story that started my lucky streak. (The rights reverted to me a month after the original publication at Asimov’s.)

If you intended to read the story but missed the issue, here it is again. If you’re a friend of mine that doesn’t read SF, you still might want to give it a try. If you’re a young writer wondering what a breakthrough story might look like, check it out. This worked for me.

Oh, and big confession time, I wrote this story for myself, had fun writing it, and never thought it would sell.

Amazon Book Description

(Amazon) Publication Date: March 11, 2014

My first of six sales to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine in 2013. It’s one of my favorites. What’s it about? Well.

When the Aliens make a visitation request, you get the day off work, which is nice. Most people go about their lives normally, after the interview. A few disappear. And a few try to make a few bucks, hawking new religions on the interwebs. Joel isn’t entirely sure which group he’ll fall into, but one thing’s for sure…

He could use the day off. He’s got a ton of laundry do to.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications

Why is it so hard to do something you love to do?

So, I’m off the stands again, the new issue of Asimov’s is out, and as always, there’s a sense of sadness there.

The question above haunts me. Seriously. As a younger person, I lived for years, literally years, secure in the knowledge that I was an artist, and then a writer, and that I would make art, or write–tomorrow. I knew that every now and then I made things. Every now and then, the mood struck. Making art, creating something new, seemed to be a now or then kind of thing, and certainly when one has a full-time (or even a part-time) job, that’s the way it almost has to be, because a Job is ab every workday thing and it’s hard to have many parallel every workday things going on without going nuts.

But even in my twenties and thirties, it wore on me, and there were periods of time when I gave up on the idea of being a writer or an artist for years at a time, while I was a  entrepreneur. One of the great things about being a self-employed entrepreneur is that there are always things to do, some you enjoy and some you hate, and you try to let the needs of the enterprise inform you on which thing you should be doing.  The entrepreneur knows she’s on her own. Entrepeneurs don’t have muses. They have deadlines, payrolls, angry demanding clients, the possibility of great success and the greater likelihood of humiliating defeat.

It gets you going and keeps you going. Until it blows up in your face and it’s over and you wonder if you should do it again, knowing the new things you know.

My entrepreneurial activity of course never made me rich, and since that was what it was supposed to do, it was, in one sense, a failure. It was also a wonderful way to learn about the world. When you have your head down digging a trench, someone else’s trench, you get good at trench digging but you never get a big picture sense of business, of capitalism, of employers and employment. It’s like being an adolescent, being a child, being a student without ever having tried to be a teacher, parent, owner. It’s easy to see how stupid management is. When you don’t do that work, ever.

Step into the role of the other; the employer, the teacher, the job-creator, the parent, and Oh My. The circle becomes complete. The student is now the master. The employee now the employer. The worker now the owner. And you learn something.

You’re lousy at everything! And who do have to blame for that now, eh?

Only you!

You are half-assed. At everything. How in the name of God does one get one’s entire ass in gear?

Optimism, Great Expectations, belief that you can do something, is always the first step, isn’t it? The sense that you can do this thing. That has to be in the mix somewhere. Where does that come from, one wonders? Your parents telling you as a child that you can do anything you set your mind to? Doing well on standardized tests in high-school? Being able to make friends and make money in other contexts? Where does that confidence come from?

That optimism and belief in one’s self runs headlong into one’s critical sensibility early on. That wonderful Ira Glass quote above, about how hard the first five or ten years of creative effort can be, when one’s creator isn’t as powerful as one’s internal critic.

That Ira Glass poster can keep you going for for awhile. Then maybe you find a bit of your voice and have a bit of success and, well, you find yourself at the bottom of a new heap of people. Like that transition from Middle School to high school, when you go from being the biggest kid in the school to the smallest and most insignificant. Then high-school to college. Then college to work.

Every arrival is  stunning. Oh. Here again? Wow. I suck. Again? I’m just this guy who made a cut and now it’s time to prove myself, all over again?

I’m 50. I’m 20 years in, though as I’ve mentioned, 20 years of now and then; who knows how many real years that is. Five? Ten? Basically, I need a new Ira Glass quote to keep me going for this bit of the struggle. I’m afraid I’m going to have to write that new inspirational quote myself, this time.

This post is no good for my professional career or persona. But somehow I want to share this part of this process too, for anyone who might care, for anyone it might help. Because you think you might arrive, someday,and it sure looks like some other people arrive, I could name names, but why bother,

But for you? No. You may succeed but you’ll never arrive. Maybe that’s just how it is, doing this thing, what it feels like on the inside.

Enjoy it right now or you never will. Every moment is as good as it gets.

But keep going. There are no more years to waste.

 

Posted in Making a Writing Life

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That Universe We Both Dreamed Of

Jay O'Connell's First Asimov's Short Story (0.99 cent short story)
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