On Persistence

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. I particularly liked Dame Toni’s post this week.

First news, then your Friday writing post!

* MetaFilter saves two young women from (highly-probable) international sex trafficking. A drop in the bucket…but so completely awesome, and the best use of the Internet EVER.

* Events! On Sunday I’ll be at PSU for the Ooligan Press Write to Publish event; on Tuesday I’ll be at Beaverton Powell’s with Ilona Andrews and fellow Dame Devon Monk. Details are on my events page! I know some of you have emailed me about the events but I’m swamped, I’m sorry. I won’t have a chance to answer.

And now, onward.

I’ll be speaking somewhat about this at the Write to Publish event, but I also want to talk about it here. Last week’s post was pretty metaphysical, and this one will be half metaphysical and half practical. That’s fair, right?

There are two qualities I believe are essential for a writer, when you strip everything else away. If I were to reduce being a writer to two things, these would be what I’d pick: persistence, and seeing. Today I’m going to talk more about that persistence. (The seeing post kind of cuts close to the bone, so I’m holding that back. For now.)

A lot of the practical advice I give–make time for your writing, do it every day, never stop learning, keep refining, keep writing–have their root in persistence. I find myself often returning to Matthew Hughes’s No Surrender speech, and I can’t for the life of me remember the first person who said writers must have “near-pathological persistence.” Truer words, my ducks. Publishing is a game where the more pieces you have out on submission, the more finished works you have, the greater your chances of someone, somewhere liking something enough to charge money for it.

I am naturally stubborn. (I prefer to refer to it as a survival trait.) When I started aiming at publication, failure was not an option. The situation was dire. We needed money, my kids needed to eat, and I couldn’t afford any type of child care. There are a limited number of things a woman can do in such a situation, so I picked something I’d be doing anyway–writing–and promised myself that no matter what it took, no matter what I had to learn or how hard and fast I had to learn it, I was going to succeed.

The critical components were my willingness to work hard and my willingness to learn. The right kind of steady persistence eats away at hubris. (Besides, one can only be rejected so many times before one figures out hubris is so not a trait that’s going to get you there.) I set out to be taught. I did tons of research on publishers, agents, what separated a good agent/publisher from a scam, how to behave professionally. I wrote steadily and obsessively. I did not really care what I had to write in order to get paid. I only wanted to write as well as I could for as long as I could and get good enough that someone would pay me.

I’ve caught a lot of flak for stating openly my belief in everyday writing, in constant effort. I haven’t cared much, because I know for a fact that without the daily effort I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell. If I gave up on the daily effort, I was dead in the water. And we would starve.

I don’t mind starving, but I’ll be damned if I let my kids go hungry.

I’m going to draw a metaphor here–one I heard, I think, from Malcolm Gladwell. Say you play the piano. You practice hard every day for ten years. Will you become a Chopin or a Mozart? Not likely.

But you will become the best damn piano player in a 200-mile radius, or at least close to it. Which makes it easier to get a gig. The persistent practice prepares you to take advantage of every opportunity to play for cash that comes your way, no matter how small–and each gig you play is a chance to expand your network, impress someone, and get more gigs.

You do not have to turn out a NYT bestseller on your first round. You just need to get good enough, widen your options, and persist one more time than the rejections.

I couldn’t afford to fail, and it gave me the strength to keep going after the rejections reached a stack as high as my knee. I wrote serial stories, I worked slush and submissions editing, and when my chance came–when a small publisher said, “I like your work but I’m not the right publisher for it. Do you have anything else?” I was ready.

Boy howdy, was I ready. Not only was I ready, but when the editor/publisher came back and said, “I can take this piece, but only if you make these revisions…” I was more than ready to learn how to take my revision lumps.

What resulted? A four-book contract and the start of my career. Every hard-fought inch of success I’ve had since that moment, I trace back to being ready when the call came. And I was ready because I’d persisted. True, I did not even allow myself to think there was another option. For this reason I don’t consider it bravery–I don’t think there’s a lot of bravery in having utterly no choice. Privately, I think I was stupidly lucky in not even daring to think of failure; it would have bled off much-needed energy.

You only need to persist one more time than you are rejected. Every book in every bookstore, everywhere in the world, is the product of someone who gave it just one more shot more than the number of rejections they’d received. Sometimes in life you need to learn when to give up–like, for example, when your date says no. (But that’s–say it with me–another blog post.)

Writing for publication, however, is not one of those times. Persistence does not guarantee success. But it gives you a fighting chance to be ready when the call comes, so that you can leap on your chance and grab it instead of regretfully watching it slip through your fingers.

Don’t ever give up.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Publishing And Misplaced Punishment

Why was I up at 6am this morning? Oh, yeah. Getting the morning run out of the way so I can hit an early open climb at the rock wall. Yes, I am going to be attempting my first open climb. I hope nobody laughs at me and I hope I don’t embarrass myself. It’s bad enough that I’m going to be wearing capris. LOOK, I HAVE TO, ALL RIGHT? They allow freedom of movement and don’t interfere with my foot and toeholds the way jeans or my yoga pants do.

Anyway.

John Scalzi, as usual, hits it out of the park with Why “Punishing The Publisher” Usually Doesn’t:

So, on one hand, the attempt on the part of the potential reader to send a message to the publisher via the refusal to buy a particular work has succeeded. On the other hand, the message the publisher has received is “this author can’t sell.” To be fair, this has more to do with the publisher than with the reader. But that doesn’t change the result for the author. (John Scalzi)

YES. *points at Scalzi* What he said.

I wish I could make some people–including some people who have recently tried to take me to task and explain to me “how publishing REALLY works”–read this. Of course, it probably wouldn’t do a lot of good, for the simple reason that a lot of people who try to tell me “how publishing REALLY works” have no fricking idea; they have an emotional hobbyhorse to ride and it involves blaming Big Bad Publishing (which, like most straw men, doesn’t really exist) for their various ills in one way or another. I’d be a lot more likely to believe them and listen if they had, oh let’s say, any real publishing experience. And no, vanity press or one self-published missive full of typos does not count as experience that qualifies someone to be nasty or condescending to me about publishing.

But I digress. Moving on.

Scalzi highlights something I wish more people understood, and I know plenty of authors try to educate their readers about: that the publisher is generally consistently trying the best they can, but they are also hedging their bets. When bets are hedged and a reader decides to “punish” a publisher by not buying a certain author (especially when this “punishment” is aimed at something like a distribution problem that is not the publisher’s fault), what happens is that the author gets screwed. Which means that the reader has shot him/herself in the foot, because it’s now harder for the author to bring you those stories you love.

I’m not saying that readers shouldn’t be angry. What I’m saying is that readers need to direct that anger at the companies that are actually to blame–companies like Amazon, or distributors of ebooks who don’t like the agency model. Those are the institutions that deserve a reader’s ire in the current brouhaha over ebook pricing. Not the author, who ends up getting the full force of the misplaced “punishment”.

If you will, allow me to suggest to you another course of action in situations like these: Rather than “punishing the publisher” by not buying a particular book you would otherwise buy, support the author by purchasing the book. Why? Because the support you give an author allows that author to have a better bargaining position with the publisher the next time the two of them negotiate a contract, and you know what? Generally speaking, authors like being able to make potential readers happy, and thanks to that there thing called “the Internets,” authors are often aware of the wishes and desires of their readers and will try to make them happy whenever possible. (John Scalzi)

I know I do, dear Readers. Every other writer I know does, too. We want to make you happy. We like you.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Events in May

On Saturday I had my second rock climbing class. This one was technique and actual climbing instead of the belay certification. Four hours of climbing. We took breaks, but still. I was completely hashed by the end of it–I kept dropping my car keys because my fingers wouldn’t work right, and my knees are still bruised and skinned from the wall.

And I loved every second of it.

This week I’ve got copyedits and more wordcount to get out than I know what to do with. Fortunately it looks like the copyeditor is one I’ve had before, so she’s used to my little fiddles and indiscretions on the page. Getting a good smooth rhythm going with one’s copyeditor is like a great sparring match–you catch and ride the wave of the other person’s responses so it’s more like dancing than fighting. That’s not a good simile, because a copyeditor isn’t the enemy. They are, however, a good practice partner that can prepare your book for the battle it will encounter out on the shelf and in the head of a reader.

In addition, I have events coming up!

* On Sunday, May 23, I will be speaking at the Ooligan Press Write to Publish event. Other writers like Ursula LeGuin and Chuck Palahniuk, will also be speaking. A great time will be had by all!

* And on Tuesday, May 25:

That’s right. The fabulous Devon Monk, the utterly awesome Ilona Andrews, and yours truly will be at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s at 7pm. (The links on our names will take you to preordering copies of the books we’re signing. There will also be backlist available for signing.) There will be general craziness–between the Dame power of Devon and my and the complete and total coolness that is Ilona (and Gordon!), it promises to be a great event. (Check out my Events Calendar for more info.)

Whew. That’s going to be busy. *braces self*

Now off I go to spar with some more copyedits.

ETA: Huh. Just looked and figured out this is a new copyeditor, and he’s a he, not a she. My apologies.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

On The Importance Of Dreaming

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where you can find all sorts of cool stuff. Check us out!

It’s Friday again, which means a Friday writing post. I am taking a break from the usual hard-headed practical advice in order to get A Bit Metaphysical Here. Hardheaded practicality will return next Friday.

While I do think that the majority of writing “advice” is impractical and a bit airy-fairy (which is why my own advice is weighted so heavily toward discipline and Getting The Damn Work Done), every once in a while one has to sit back and think about why and how we’re doing this thing. Why are we using the telepathy of language to pull imaginary things out of the air and show them to other people? What possible purpose can it serve? What, in God’s name, are we up to?

Actually, this meditation was sparked by Joe Hill, who said:

Can’t say why I feel like the time my boys spend w/DR WHO is as key to their education as anything they get in school. Just do.

My reply? Of course it’s just as key. It teaches them to dream, to question, to stretch the bounds of imagined reality. Every advance in science or quality of life has come about because someone first imagined or questioned. The art that teaches us to question and leads us to imagine is the art that shows us a different way to live. It is a key, and behind the door it opens can be wonder or horror.

Either is equally instructive, if not necessarily equally pleasant.

There comes a point in every piece–book, short story, poem, whatever–where I make the compact to just show up and let the work do what it will. (Magic, do as you will, the great Schmendrick says.) I trust that the net will always be there to catch me when I launch myself out into space. Creating something, no matter how well or ill we execute our creation, is the ultimate act of faith. It transforms the world, whether or not it turns out lumpy and misshapen.

It is the act that matters.

I’ve written before about the state of focused wonder that is just as integral to writing as the knowledge of grammar and punctuation. They’re the engine and the chassis, if you will. The wonder is the engine that drives the story, and the grammar and punctuation is the chassis that carries it to the reader clearly and without too much damage.

This is why dreaming is important. This is why my first and last piece of advice to young writers, new writers, or old writers is do not stop. Do not ever doubt that you have a story to tell. Do not ever hesitate to dream. It is in the dreaming that you will find new stories.

Writers (indeed, any artists) are in the business of keymaking. We are the musicmakers and the dreamers of dreams, as Gene Wilder so memorably said.

If you want to view Paradise
Simply look around and view it.
Anything you want to, do it…
Wanta change the world?
There’s nothing
to it
… (Willy Wonka)

We craft the keys that open doors. We go digging for keys on every shore. We climb mountains looking for them, and bring them back from the bellies of beasts. Stories hide in every kitchen drawer, in every car on the freeway, behind every tree and under every rock. The problem is not the lack of stories, it’s the bewildering array of stories you can find everywhere.

All you need to create a story are two little words.

“What if?”

If dreaming is the key, what if is the precondition for a key to exist. What if a wounded fairy hid in my front yard? What if the man in front of me in the grocery store checkout line was really the prince of a hidden land? What if the produce aisle held a portal to a parallel universe? What if dinosaurs had survived, or were recreated? What if there was only one unicorn left, and she went to find the others? What if a young man helped a convict tear his chains off? What if a priest committed an act of kindness toward a sin-hardened felon? What if a demon fell in love with a human woman, or a human man? What if vampires were real? What if the silver serving spoon in my drawer was really an ancient weapon?

Everything that exists can give you an infinite number of what ifs. Each one can be a story. Whatever one you pick has the ability to become. It takes your work, your hands, your breath, your vision, your words to help craft the story–to carry the water to thirsty readers.

Don’t ever forget, day after day, that you are making the keys that open up whole new worlds. Whether your art is knitting, writing, painting, singing, raising children, sweeping streets, studying quasars, or whatever you do that makes your soul sing and makes the world change shape and color for you, you are a keymaker, just by virtue of being human. You can’t escape it, whoever or whatever you are. The shape of your keys is up to you.

This is why it’s important to dream, and to watch other people’s dreams in the art they make. I believe that if there is hope for humanity it lies in our ability to transform the world through the art we make–the art that can teach us that there is never a single story to anything.

I do not intend to ever stop hoping. Or dreaming.

And, my dearest one, whoever you are, wherever you are while you’re reading this, I hope you never do either.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Touchup and Catch up

Well, the tattoos are done. I was just in for touchups and everything is damn beautiful, if I do say so myself. Pictures will be forthcoming once film is developed. (If you’re curious, my artist is Sumer Johnson out at Dark Star. She does great work.)

Today is a gorgeous day, seventy degrees and sunny, with just enough of a gentle breeze. Since I’m writing a roadtrip that takes place in 90+ degree weather and nearly 100% humidity, it’s a bit difficult. It’s just hard to write angst and physical discomfort when it’s a beautiful day and all is well with the world. But I shall persevere. What a problem to have, huh? I’m not complaining, just noting.

For those of you who are asking, I am hard at work on the fifth Strange Angels book. There is as of yet no title for it, but things are…interesting. That’s all I can say until Jealousy comes out. Also in the pipeline is Angel Town, the last Jill Kismet book for a while. Copyedits on the latest Jill book, Heaven’s Spite, proceed apace. It’s nice to be busy. I prefer it to pretty much every other state.

In other news, I can finally listen to love songs again, and I can finally listen to more Blue October. Which is awesome. My taste in music retracts like a bruised anemone sometimes, and it’s always good when it creeps back out. I feel kind of crippled when there’s music I can’t play while I write. So much of the creative process is bound up in having music playing while I work. I know other writers like silence or the television’s mutter, but for me it’s CDs or Pandora.

Anyway, it’s time to hammer at the roadtrip again. I’m pretty sure of what happens next. After some respectable wordcount it will be time to lay in the backyard on a blanket and listen to the kids tell me about their days at school.

I really couldn’t ask for anything more.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Burn

Just a quick in and out today, dear Readers. I managed to get 3K+ out yesterday, which means today is for trimming and cleaning and getting another respectable 2-3K of fresh wordcount. Yes, I’m aiming high. I finally have some emotional energy to burn, and it’s all going to go into the work. Safest place for it, I think.

I’ve had a productive morning, including a wild fling with a double-tall skinny Cinnamon Dolce latte. It’s ridiculous to say–unless I’m ordering just two shots and a little half-n-half to cut it, I feel like all floofy ordering coffee. The sugar-free syrup is going to displease my stomach, but the caffeine is so good I don’t care. I need some little indulgences to make up for the severe calorie restriction. Rewarding myself is the only way to make sure I stick with it.

So. I’ve got my techno music on, my heroine covered in mud and blood, betrayal lurking around every corner, and my hair is actually behaving today. All systems go, ready for liftoff, pedal to the metal and rubber to the road.

GO!

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Resistance Is Futile

Hey, you. Yes, you, the novel I’m writing. Don’t you dare stand there and look innocent. Listen up.

Resistance is futile. You will be written. We can do this the hard way–I’ll keep going through blood and thunder, and we’ll continue fighting all the way through zero draft and initial revision–or the easy way, where you just open up and let me see the whole thing. Either way, you will be written. I know vaguely what happens, and I have no compunction about throwing a wrench or two until the Muse sits up and takes notice. (Oh, yes, my Muse, I’ve noticed that you’re just laying there instead of working. What, you think I’m blind? No more bonbons until you get cracking.)

Because as much as you want to jerk me around, dear novel-I’m-writing, mine are still the fingers you’re going to have to go through in order to be fully born instead of remaining half-dreamed what-ifs. I’ve been patient, and I’ve been kind. Today I am intent and focused.

You’ve been warned.

In other news, last week just flew by, including our trip to the Oregon coast. Cannon Beach was lovely this weekend; the weather was great and the driving shook loose a lot of plot points inside my head. We also visited Seaside and Astoria, and in the end it was a very sleepy and sandy crew who arrived home, exhausted but happy, yesterday. It was nice to go and have fun, but even nicer to come back. I travel well, but there’s nothing like home.

This weekend also taught me that I’m a lot better at navigation than I ever thought possible, especially with a compass stuck to my dashboard. Who’d’vethunkit? For a long time I’ve been the sort of person who could get lost going down to the corner store. No longer. Of course, most of the credit goes to the GPS on my phone and the relief of having a reliable car. But I’ll still take a definite slice of credit for being willing to get lost in the first place.

Now I’ve got a vampire attack to revise and some teenage-male territorial snorting and grunting to write. It should be fun; and it will keep my mind off the slow-burning irritation I’ve been feeling most of the day.

At least, it will give me something to channel that irritation toward. Hey, whatever works. No matter what I’m feeling, it all goes to serve the work. Everything goes into that maw, one way or another. It gets chewed up and transmogrified, and at the end of the day I’ve remade the world.

You hear that, novel-I’m-writing? One way or another. That’s a promise. *cracks knuckles*

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.