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The rough with the smooth

Writing is a great teacher of ‘it ain’t all easy’

If you’re hoping it is going to be, I suggest you try something else. Because this profession is living at the sign of the ups and downs. Lots of slog. Some great highs. Lots and lots of lows. Financially uneven. It can be very lonely, and occasionally very crowded. You will meet some lowlife creeps, some great people. Inevitably the unpleasant are louder, more vicious and nastier than the good guys. If you are insecure in yourself, regardless of what may be prodigious talent, this is the road weeping cross.  On the other hand it can make you blown up in your own conceit – there are plenty of lucky mediocre writers who are painfully vain. If you can’t handle all that – become a salaryman. Any regular job probably is going to be easier on you.

A large part of traditional publishing’s ‘capture’ (how writers got suckered into playing their game) was that it played the same trick on writers as casinos do. They show you the winners, in their moments of success.

It all looks very easy. All very good.

Trust me on this: It’s not. Yes, there are ‘winners’ who get an easy (or easier) ride. (And when you look closely, either there was a lot or work you didn’t see, more luck than winning a lottery, or a layer of connections and nepotism, and inevitably lots and lots of kissing up, playing the correct politics etc.). But no, you do not write a great novel before breakfast and have truckloads of money arrive just before lunch, and have dinner with fellow celebrities. ‘Richard Castle’ is a more improbable, implausible character than Superman.

Books take most of us a long time to write, to edit, to get into the shape they can go to that publisher – who will probably reject them. The odds for the best of them were 1:3000 – back 1999, and it has only got worse. And that was just to get in, not to be that runaway success.

Of course you can go Kindle, which at least does away with the nepotism and kissing up. It still is heavily influenced by your ability to network and promote – it’s not just about writing a good book. A truly great book can still fail. Mediocre crap can succeed. You’ll work your butt off, fuss a thousand details… and put your all into it, and still maybe fail.

If you’re going to succeed, you get up and try again. It’s battler’s turf.

Oddly most of those I know who have made a success of it – at least those where readers genuinely love their books, where it’s not just luck, politics or kissing up and push by a trad publisher – combine both being hard and fragile. They need to be able to have those insecurities, those doubts of their ability, those fears, to keep on pushing themselves harder. They need to understand weakness firsthand, to know sorrow, to have empathy with people completely unlike themselves, to know despair…

Having those issues is no reason to give up.

Letting them beat you, is.

Instead we put them into our books. We give of ourselves. We bleed onto those pages. They are us, and we love them, we give them, and the readers part of our what makes us. It’s not easy or cheap on the writer’s psyche.

We’re coming into Christmas, and as Ian Anderson put it “The Christmas Spirit is not just what you drink. (pass the bottle, Santa).”

And in the spirit of that: We’re writers and readers both here. Without writers, we would lose our reading. So: as a gesture to help writers cope with that rough – reach out and give them a little love. Buying books is always great (and always a sincere form of flattery) – but it’s a lonely profession, and one in which the best of us have self-doubts. A good review or a kind word on Facebook, or telling your Aunt Clara about Joe Author’s books… Would be something to lift a lot Christmas spirits for those who have given us joy throughout the year. It doesn’t have to cost you anything at all, but it would be worth a lot to the battlers.

And may you all enjoy a very Merry Christmas, full of the joy of its spirit. And I wish a prosperous and book-full New Year to all, especially my fellow writers. Without you, I would have lost so many hopes and stories.

Thank you for giving so much of yourselves to me.

  1. Being a self-published author is a sales job–straight commission with no benefits. Having a fairly decent product line is helpful, certainly, but a good salesman will do much better with a mediocre series of books than a poor salesman will do with great books.

    December 21, 2015
    • Very true, Misha. Which is why, because the product is important us, the reader, doing a little bit of marketing – even telling a friend or two is marketing -for an author whose work they enjoyed is important — it means the writer can spend more time and effort writing, and we get more books by them.

      December 21, 2015
    • Pretty much, yeah – I’d love to spend 85% of my time writing, and 15% marketing, but as it is, it’s about fifty-fifty. Time given to marketing is time taken away from writing. (Sob)

      December 21, 2015
  2. rawlenyanzi #

    What the post said is very true. We see the successes, but no one sees the backstory — the self-doubt, the personal struggles, the ways large and small that life can curtail the writing project.

    And this is before editing and publication.

    Being a writer is tough, tedious, and thankless. But when you succeed, you feel euphoric.

    December 21, 2015
    • The one thing about that euphoria is that it is transient. We all react in different ways to it, some of us go and write frantically to get more, some just dwell endlessly on a book that’s a long way back forever, and some lose heart. Be aware of it, and be the first group!

      December 21, 2015
      • rawlenyanzi #

        Of course. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of months.

        December 21, 2015
  3. It’s like being a duck – you look calm and unruffled on the surface, and you’re paddling like mad underneath.

    December 21, 2015
    • Holly #

      It’s a Swan. Camille Saint-Saens’ Swan, to be exact. Maybe that should be the writer’s theme song? (Incidentally, it’s the long shifts in the solo cello on that piece that are the real paddle like mad moments, which goes to show that it’s deception all the way down.)

      December 21, 2015
      • Bravo, Holly 🙂 I like that.

        December 21, 2015
  4. Dave, you’ve given us much. Through your books, and through your lessons. I hope we’ve given back, at least in praise, even if we haven’t managed to boost you up into the Best Selling Rich and Famous Author ranks.

    December 21, 2015
    • Thank you. Although sometimes it feels like you’re shouting into the wind, I have been well rewarded even if I am not best selling rich famous author. I’d have stayed rich for at least half an hour, I am sure 😉

      December 21, 2015
  5. B. Durbin #

    On that note, my friend Stacy has had a hell of a year. (Including her mom’s car being recently hit by an off-duty patrolman—who is OF COURSE not at fault in the accident.) Anybody who likes paranormal romance, please be so kind as to check out her work and perhaps leave a kind word.

    December 22, 2015
  6. mrsizer #

    I need to read something of yours not-Star Dogs. It was very well done, which is why I found the bad guys (most everyone, imo) so unpleasant. Let’s see… You write with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey? How awesome is that. Just bought all four of them (one click is evil). Merry Christmas!

    December 22, 2015

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