When I was but a very wee writer in Angus Young schoolboy pants, I would attend just about any science fiction convention panel for which the topic could be described as anything close to “Some Writer(s) and/or Editor(s) Talk.” Sometimes I would sign up for a writing class offered through a university extended education program, as long as there was some writer or editor who promised to talk. And I would read interviews with writers and editors, and tune into radio programs featuring writers and editors. For gosshake, I’d even haul myself to the library to read each month’s issue of Writer’s Digest, featuring such helpful articles as “Five Story Hooks To Blow an Agent’s Medulla Oblongata Right Through Her Eye Sockets!!!”
Shorter version of the above: I was hungry for wisdom.
I knew better than to expect a magic word, a shortcut, the literary equivalent of a get-rich stock quote. But I quite reasonably hoped to learn from the experience of others. I once watched our family cat Sheila teach our adopted kitten Socks how to walk the narrow ledge of a high fence. Even cats don’t learn everything by instinct. We animals need examples.
So, I think from time to time I’m going to use this space to post a good piece of wisdom I’ve picked up from others, and a bad one. If I can save someone from having to wear Angus Young pants, I will have done my job here.
The Good: Writing is not a race, and if it were, it’d be a marathon.
What It Means: It’s easy to get demoralized by the success of your peers. While you’re still waiting for a personalized rejection letter and they’re worrying about tax sheltering the advance on their third series, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve fallen behind, that everyone else is getting rich and famous and you’re just getting old. There’s no easy way to not feel this way, because there’s no easy way to avoid feeling natural human emotions, unless there’s something wrong with you, in which case please stand way over there, thank you. But, hey, look, writing is a selfish act, so don’t make it about them. Make it about you. Do you still enjoy the act of creating? Do you still get pleasure from writing a precise, beautiful sentence? Conveying a neat idea? Perfectly capturing a mood or an image? If so, focus on that. Your successful peers won’t drink up all the success beer before you get to the finish line. The world will continue brewing success beer.
The Bad: You’re not a writer until another writer says you’re a writer.
What It Means: It means there are some who’ve written and published and want more than the satisfaction of having achieved a goal. They want privilege, and they want someone to lord that privilege over.
Nothing wrong with wanting respect and recognition from other writers. But writers don’t get to decide who’s a writer. Not even agents and editors get to do that. If anyone at all gets to make that determination, it’s the reader. But I would dispute even that, because I was a writer before I ever published a thing. How did I know I was a writer? Because I habitually moved my fingers in such a fashion that writing occurred. I think it’s really that simple.