The Improbable, the Impossible, and the Painful


I was talking to my husband the other day – it is an habit of mine – about how this life of mine is very badly plotted.  What I mean is, if the indie thing was going to be possible, it should have come about when I was young and could work twenty hour days and never feel it, not when I’m fifty and find myself suddenly having to do writing, publishing, cover work, in addition to my regularly scheduled traditional career.

Of course, this is by the way of fatuous whining, because truly, who can say how things would have gone, should indie have been available while I was serving my apprenticeship?

Who knows?  I might never have worked at perfecting story telling.  Given the nature of my first book, I might have sold ‘alpenny, two penny the rest of my life.  Or – again given the nature of my first (written) book – it might have gone viral and become a mega bestseller overnight and I might have written in it the rest of my life, in between telling my secretary to bring me a cup of earl gray.

Who knows?  Things come when they come.  The only thing you can say for the future is that it’s never what we expect.

Would it have been less painful to keep up my schedule at any previous time in my life?  Just about.  Except maybe when the kids were tiny.  Would it have been better?  Who knows?

The history of writing is full of people who blundered into it because it was “sort of like embroidering a cushion” – Agatha Christie – or who wrote because their main career path was blocked by illness – Heinlein and others – or who wrote on the side while doing other stuff.

What it is rarely full of is of people who wrote in ideal circumstances, with everything blessed by fate.  Oh, that happens, mind you.  In the last twenty years, when publishers suffered from the cute illusion that they could pick the winners and the losers, it happened a lot.  But it doesn’t last.  Even if technology hadn’t come along to upend the game board, other things would have happened.  And the darlings of fate are never resilient enough to keep fighting through Dave Freer’s mud floods (Thank you for that image, my friend.  Apt as always.)   The few darlings I know go under as soon as the water turns a little cold, let alone filled with mud – or sharks.

And even if they keep struggling, they rarely see the need to change their angle of attack.   They rarely think: I’ll write it differently/I’ll package it differently/I’ll publish it differently.

Those whom the publishers wish to destroy they first give a dreamboat ride to.  No, that is not true, but you could almost say it.  The ones blessed by the invisible hand of publishing often make it to the mid-high reaches, but none of them are going to become iconic.  (Which, due to the tight control on distro in the last twenty years means there are few to non iconic figures today.  Except Baen.  That’s something else.  Someday, when we’re at a con and have time, remind me to talk to you about the difference between mystery readership and sf readership and how much of it – I think – hinges on Jim Baen.)

Let’s face it, making a living with the word piano (yep, I stole the expression from Rex Stout, and I intend to ride that stolen pony every chance I get.  Deal) is never a path of high likelihood.  Like other artistic professions, if you work really hard, learn every chance you get and never slack off, you stand a good chance of dying of middle age in the gutter.

So, it’s improbable, and when you add in the handicaps and distractions of most of the people who do make it, it’s almost impossible.  It’s almost always painful.

And yet we have this idea – I know, I did, and sometimes still do – that if it is right it will all align perfectly, and that it will all come together.

That idea is dangerous.  It is what destroys your chances of making it.  Because when the current pulls, you just let go.

I know some of you out there are fighting currents much stronger than mine – mine right now is two boys in college and massive worry about money and a body that keeps falling apart.

This post is to let you know that not only aren’t you alone, but you might be blessed.  Those burdens you’re carrying help you stay focused.  There is a lot to be said for staying hungry.

Look at the work of your favorite author after they “made it” – it’s often worse than apprentice work.  Because they made it, they don’t need to try.

I know you often – I often – feel like Tevia in Fiddler, blessed with five daughters.  And yet, whether you believe in G-d or in blessings, it might be a blessing all the same.  It might be what makes you an extraordinary writer.

Swords aren’t forged over a pleasant heat and with gentle strokes of the hand.  They’re forged over infernal heat, with hammer blows.

So, hoist up your pain, shoulder the impossible, turn it into merely improbable.

You can swim through the mud floods to the other side.  It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be pleasant.  You won’t be unscarred.  But others will see you and do it.  And after a while someone will build a bridge.

And I hear the grass is green on the other side.


  1. Huh. I should have posted my braindump comment on ATH over here. I didn’t know I should have until I read it, though. Interesting.

  2. Shameless plug: From an upcoming chapter (3, scene 4 – end) of Pride’s Children on my blog (Kary is a writer, George a fan):

    “Tough break—getting sick, I mean,” George said.

    The sympathy in his voice, too close to pity, stiffened her resolve. Time to go. “You learn to live with it.” She shrugged. “Which reminds me—it’s been lovely speaking with you.” She gathered the shreds of energy, rose, offered her hand. “You said you liked the books.”

    George got to his feet. “Very much.”

    “They wouldn’t exist.”

    1. Have you considered following? Over in the lower right corner, click, fill in once, and forever after get email? No need to sign up for comments each time, that way?

  3. Apart from my age, I’m in ideal circumstances. And contemplating the drivel I’d probably have written before experiencing the last half a century, I really can’t say I wish it had happened earlier.

  4. I’m reminded of that exchange in “Children of the Lens” where Christopher Kinnison, having barely survived a solo reconnaissance of Eddore, is told he is now a “finished tool.” When he expresses puzzlement at why he went through all of that, he is asked to enumerate the steps in making a tool of ultimate quality. He describes several operations including smelting, forging, hammering, quenching… and is asked “Thank you the steel, if sentient, would enjoy such treatment?”

    Good post, Ma’am. Thank you.

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