|Damn, is that romantic approach so full of shit...|
Ah, the joys of writing! Sitting down at a vintage typewriter, as the camera pans out to show your old, dusty room, bookshelves crammed with literary heroes as the rain and the wind rattle your windows and the electrical bills pile up under the door. The infinite joys of seeing your name in print; a publication among your chosen genre’s greats! A movie deal, just around the corner! Baying fangirls (or fanboys) clustered around your coffee shop! Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except it’s not, not really…
1. Writing is a job.
This might seem as a very obvious, almost naïve remark: yes, writing (possibly) pays the rent, but for most people, the idea of siting at their keyboard and churning out worlds is wreathed in a romantic little halo. Perhaps some of you might think that writing is simply a matter of talent; others might even consider it a byproduct of sheer luck and lonely Friday afternoons, as if J.K. Rowling cameup with Harry Potter halfway through a cucumber sandwich.
|Stephen King is reported to have come up with the Dark Tower halfway through choking on a footlong subway.|
There is a distinct possibility that many of you reading this article think that all it takes is ONE big hit of a novel and you’re set for life.
The sad truth of the matter is this: talent counts for little, luck plays a major part and nobody has ever made a name-or a fortune- for themselves by writing just a single novel (well, except for Koushun Takami, author of battle Royale, but he was already a distinguished journalist in Japan at the time). To put it simply, nobody ever lived off their job by doing a single great thing and those that did, well, they failed a hundred thousand times before they got it right. But to fail that much, you need to try. To try, you need to change your perceptions and see writing as work. Not so much as making up the specifics of the next great Amazon bestseller, as much as like unclogging an s-bend, or fixing someone’s car. Whether it is going to be a 9-5 gig or a thing you do in between your job and your free time is up to you. But words need to be set on blank .doc files, worlds need to be set up in your head, characters must be laid out, put together and watched carefully, as they go about their business and then have the story adjusted around their actions. This might sound artsy and air-headed but it’s really not, not if you care about the quality of your work. After all, only way to get paid for a job is if you do it well. And speaking of getting paid…
2. As far as jobs go, writing is a terrible career choice.
|A pretty accurate summation of an aspiring writer's business plan.|
I hope youlike being paid a pittance, because this is going to be a pretty accurate description of your earnings during your first steps at writing for a living. Be prepared to pore over your work for hours, days, even months, even as you scan any possible literary markets to send out your work, so it can be evaluated and either a) ignored b) ripped to shreds by the scrutiny of editors or c) accepted, against your expectations.
Writing fictions pays very little these days. The great magazine markets of science fiction and horror (Strange Horizons and Nightmare Magazine spring to mind, respectively) are the best-paying magazines at the time of this articles’ writing (with very few exceptions that occasionally pop-up, in the form of anniversary editions or all-star anthologies). At best, your work will be bought by a publisher at 5 cents a word for a minimum of 2 thousand words. That’s 100 dollars!
Woo-hoo, mister! I got me 100 bucks for a days’ work! Some of you might say. Oh, really? You actually think that magazines which have hosted the likes of Paolo Bacigalupi, Kij Johnson and Brian Keene are just going to settle for your piece? What makes you so certain? Is it your fresh, innovative look on tired tropes? Is it your verbose, poignant writing style?
In the interest of lightening up the mood, here is what happens in case your work is accepted: you wait for 3-6 months for the editing process to be done, then you wait some more, then you get paid and then you get your name on the cover or the contents section. In the meantime, you have bills to pay! However will you keep up with those? Which brings me to my next point:
3. If you are reading this, you probably aren’t a trust-fund dilettante.
It’s possible that you are at the age of 19-27, perhaps thinking that you will have made a name for yourself in three years’ time, five tops. Perhaps you think you could postpone looking for a day job, or if you are particularly deluded, that you don’t need to get one. ‘This next one’s gonna be a hit’ you are probably telling yourself: ‘Just let me get my name out there and I can get a movie deal within the year!’
The sad truth however, is that this isn’t going to happen. Not that you aren’t good enough, it’s just that these things take time. The money that you will get (when and if you get paid) will not be enough to allow you to make a living, unless you enjoy living off fast-food dollar deals and hogging free WiFi for the next half decade. And if this is your definition of heaven, then you are going to be sick of it pretty damn soon.
|If not, then behold your main source of nourishment with awe.|
Not quitting your day job and trying to keep up your writing should be your top priority. As of this moment, the Internet is flooded with people who think the same thing you do, who make up stories and hope that one day they will be recognized for their work in their chosen genre and let’s face it: very few of them will achieve even some moderate fame. This is not because of a lack of quality, however; there are brilliant new authors out there, who churn out gold every chance they get. This is a matter of quantity. There is so much fiction out there, that to make yourself known, to even have a chance to be noticed, your only option is to produce material that will reach as many professionals as possible or at the very least, allow you to build an audience. But the only way to reach an audience is to…
4. Promote yourself stupid.
|Look everybody! I am trying to write shit for a living!|
Chances are, if you are reading this article, that you do not have a publishing house representative pitching your book to Barnes & Noble. Furthermore, you are probably on the verge of cracking your keyboard in half. Some of you might just want to trash their entire story folder or are sick and tired of staring at their blog visit counter stuck at 5 thousand views.
The only way for aspiring writers to make their work known is by advertising themselves. This can happen through a number of ways, though simply going around and telling people that you write fiction might do the trick, for starters. Show off a publication (no matter how small). Tell people you know. Post your literary achievements someplace, anyplace. Set up a publication CV on the internet and shout your newest acceptance from the rooftops!
The time of the reclusive madman writer who lives off mooching from his friends is long since gone. The short story markets are beyond saturated and as of this moment, Amazon’s self-published Kindle Books outnumber their paperbacks almost 2 to one. Everyone can be a writer these days and to you, it might seem like everyone is.
By reaching out people you can learn exactly what the audience wants and adapt your work to it. By talking to professionals (or established writers) and talking shop with them instead of drooling all over their work, you can learn how the markets are at the moment and plan your next move. None of those are surefire ways to success, of course. But they are a constructive, useful way to get your name out there and let people know that you want to make stuff up for a living.
Got that? Jotting it down right now? Acting the social butterfly? That’s nice, because it’s about time you knew that…
5. Getting Published isn’t everything.
|And then keep fucking doing it forever.|
Hell, getting published isn’t anything, these days. There are tons of exposure markets that will be more than glad to put up your story online just so other people can read it. Getting your work published on a paying market will only get you so far, even. It’s going to perhaps be six months, maybe a year, before your bragging rights run out and then you’re going to have to do this again, except it won’t be as important or interesting as that last time.
Matter of fact, publications appear to be governed by a sort of reverse law of thermodynamics, where the more of them you have, the less potent they become before finally fading into your personal background noise (unless you get published on Clarkesworld or something. Now that’s always pretty boss). If you are young and new to this, creative writing teachers and fellow aspiring writers have probably convinced you that yes, getting your name on a cover is all it stakes. They are wrong.
Getting your name on a cover means you’re adequate, that you did well enough to get a special mention. But it’s not that spot on the front of the magazine that’s gonna make you, even if you appear alongside Michael reznik or Ken Liu. Instead, after the initial bliss of this joyous event subsides, you should tell yourself…
6. “So you got paid. Now do it again!”
|Yes, RIGHT FUCKING NOW!|
Let’s be honest here: if an editor deemed your work fit to actually pay you money for it, then that means that you are getting somewhere. Your hard work’s paid off and now you are enjoying the fruits of your labour. But then the landlord kncks on your door and swipes them away with a ‘Yoink!’ or you just hide them under the mattress and then you get that itch…
That yearning, that fire in your belly…
Because that is the exact point where it gets worse. You need to do this again, this time perhaps using your credentials topromote yourself to a market of a higher-claiber and perhaps appear next to the professionals once again. And this, in many ways, might be harder than before. Crushing insecurity aside, this is the point where the chaff is separated from the wheat. Upping your game and maintaining a steady flow of publications in the new spectrum that you have just reached. Of course, reaching that summit means that you need to follow the words of that savant and author, Ray Bradbury…
7. “Accept rejection and reject acceptance”
You probably already have about a hundred rejection emails in your folder by this point already, ranging from the automated “The story just didn’t work for us” to the occasional “Your story was awesome but we’ll pass” to the rare case of “Hi, I like your story but here’s what’s wrong with it”.
By shifting your focus to a fully professional market, you are increasing the number of these rejections, but there is a much higher chance of receiving actual feedback from professionals, which in turn will help you fix the mistakes you made in your story, with which you are probably enamored with and will not easily acknowledge its mistakes. Know this: rejection is a good thing; it builds character, gives you steel and makes you see what’s wrong with your style and approach. Acceptance, on the other hand is only a byproduct of this and should neither be taken for granted or considered the end of your troubles.
If anything, relying too much on your acceptances will hurt you more than a few more rejections which might, in turn, give you focus on bettering your work. Then again, if you are still stuck, you might just need to consider that you must…
8. Try everything and see what sticks.
|Kitchen Sink erotica? Pfftt way ahead of you, son.|
You might consider yourself a genre author, at this point; after all, you have a favorite genre that you work with, you have gotten yourself up there (if only for a fraction of a second) by the side of the greats and now…now you can’t seem to pull it off. Probably because you’re so hard set in repeating your last hit, you don’t even notice how you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. So maybe you need to try something new, something else.
There are a ton of genres to consider, from vanilla fantasy to the dark absurdity of bizzaro, not counting erotica or dinosaur pornography. Don’t knock any single thing, because by focusing on a single aspect of writing fiction, you pretty much shut yourself off from finding your niche. And if it turns out that your first genre wasn’t your pick, then give it time. Howard Phillips Lovecraft used to write situational comedies to pay his rent, before his work was recognized.
What? He died alone and unloved? NEXT SEGMENT!
9. For God’s sake, DON’T WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. Also, GET STUFF DONE.
|Long as you do not promote imperialism and make banana republicas out of nations, that is.|
These are not two separate bits of advice. As a matter of fact, they are the holy writ of trying to write fiction for a living. You are a citizen of planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Universe 1-Gamma. You belong in a world populated with 6.5 billion of you. You have no knowledge of how to construct or operate a trans-temporal matrix, have little to no grasp on how to perform enchantments on intelligent swords and you cannot possibly have seen a many-angled monstrosity, slithering into reality through the dark space beneath your little sister’s bed.
Nobody wants to read fiction based on things you know, because none of us know all that much, as it turns out. Make stuff up, improvise, mumble halfway through your technojargon but just don’t bore the reader. It’s not originality you are worried about, not in this day and age, when pretty much everything has been done at least once. What should worry you is how to not BORE the reader by not providing him with strange new vistas within and without his characters’ heads, while at the same time challenging yourself. But to do that, you need to get all Rocky on your brain and well, you need to eat lightnin’ and crap thunder, m’boy. And the onlyw ay to do that is by failing by trying, again and again, over and over until you run out of failure and find just the right voice to tell your stories.
Now I know what you’re thinking: why should I do this? This is a terrible idea! The money is terrible, there’s no dental and don’t get me started on the hours! Why should I be a writer?
10. Because you can’t be anything else.
|Also, "Fuck Literature", also by the same author.|
Let’s face it: you Googled this because you were looking for something to hang on to. Perhaps you wanted a kind word, or a pat on the back, or you wanted to hear about how it all gets better. It doesn’t. In the words of Warren Ellis ‘Writers never stop being writers. They just die’.
But there are worlds in your head. There are universe with revolving galaxies, populated with worlds and people and creatures that think and act and speak through you. There are wonders lurking in every nook and cranny of those worlds, there are diamonds the size of chicken eggs in the beggar’s baskets. There are creatures with mouths for faces that slowly replace the world, brick by brick and only you know about them. There are horrors and there are wonders and only you can bring them to light.
But it’s gonna be a rough road before you can give them their voice, with which to speak into the minds and the imaginations of others. And it’s worth it, every single step.
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