New Writer Cycle-Strange Monkey

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* and Lyda Morehouse linked to both in her benchmarks post here on the Wyrdsmiths blog.  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 out to crack 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. Please 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 a signpost at best. And in response to Lyda’s benchmarks post mentioned above, 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, that 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 from 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 came when my wife was reading my first novel and would point out an awkward sentence. 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 on 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 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.

P.S. Jay’s exactly right to talk about a member of the f&Sf professional writing community 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.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog August 24 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

*2013 Update: The original version of Paul’s post has vaporized, so the current link goes to the wayback machine.