Join 3,442 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Persistence.
January 22, 2014 1:54 PM   Subscribe

On Persistence, And The Long Con Of Being A Successful Writer. by Kameron Hurley
posted by crossoverman (81 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
Persistence.

The question was, how long?

I’d soon realize persistence wasn’t an end game. It was the name of the road.


nice
posted by philip-random at 1:59 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, YES.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:06 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


By 24, I figured, I could make a living at this writing thing. By that point I’d been writing with the intent of being a writer since I was 12, and submitting fiction to magazines for two years. Two years feels like a long time, when you’re 17. The rejection letters were piling up.

I'd be 17 when I hit the NYT Best Seller list the first time, and Arsenio Hall would interview me. :P

Been at it since before then, though I ended up niching into the corporate world. But I got here the same way, persistence.

Now with web publishing and the plethora of self pub outlets out here though, I could go back to being the tween scribbling out her next novel ... even if Arsenio is off the air. :P
posted by tilde at 2:08 PM on January 22


...even if Arsenio is off the air.

Um.

posted by RakDaddy at 2:18 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


LOL. Yeah, I'm not in a rustic cabin in Alaska but it seems that in some ways I am, culturally. :P Just me and my laptop, scrolling down in doc review.
posted by tilde at 2:25 PM on January 22


Yup, The Arsenio Hall Show is back. The time is ripe to capture those dreams of your younger self!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:25 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


it seems that in some ways I am, culturally

Don't worry about it. Most pop culture is to culture as fast food is to food. If you have a McDonald's hamburger tonight, it's probably the same as the one you had 25 years ago.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:11 PM on January 22


I don't remember reading anything of hers. Anyone want to share some links?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:13 PM on January 22


Another writer who lays out the not-great life of a hardworking writer is Caitlin R. Kiernan. Her blog has been a daily chronicle of what's it like to write for living and how most of the time it is thankless as hell. Last week she posted a pic of a royalty check she got for a novel she published in 2001. A lot of people were outraged on her behalf but her response was:

"I received my first ever royalty check for Threshold. Yes, the very first. Ever. The novel was published November 1, 2001, and I likely received the on payment half of the advance that same month. So, the last time I received any income from Penguin on this novel was twelve years ago. Until yesterday. Apparently, after twelve years, the book finally earned out. And I have a check for a whopping $82.28. It would have been a little more, but there's my agent's commission. This is only my second ever royalty check from Penguin (I got one for Silk a few years back). So, if you're dreaming of getting rich off royalties, of your books taking care of you in your old age...well."
posted by Kitteh at 3:15 PM on January 22 [9 favorites]


I have a similar note posted to myself for those moments when I look at the submission tracker on Duotrope and say "fuck it, I'm going back to the Emily Dickinson box method," in which I put my writing into a well-marked box in the closet so that my heirs can find and publish my work posthumously a reasonable number of decades from now.

Of course, my other inspirational pin-up, which says "learn marketing, you stupid asshole!" is the one that gets me, because grar.

Regardless of how well I do with that one, I assume I'll be working as a glorified janitor until they find my withered old man husk flopped over his mop at the slop sink, though, so at least there's job security.
posted by sonascope at 3:19 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


I lol'd at the first comment "Inspirational". We'd an interview with 10ish modern novelists including George R. R. Martin posted here once, well over half had worked as screen writers for over a decade. I interpreted that as, if you want to be a successful fiction writer, then get a job writing other people's fiction, but actually several had non-fiction writing, copyrighting, etc. day jobs like Hurley.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:24 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I'm still planning to retire off of my MetaFilter royalties.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:27 PM on January 22 [16 favorites]


Ugh, this is brutal but I need more comforting lies in my writer pep talks. Otherwise I am never gonna get anything done, hearing about how opening Microsoft Word will just lead to drinking alone in the tundra. (I don't think it has to, it should be fun.)
posted by steinsaltz at 3:39 PM on January 22


Right now, my computer backdrop is a simple white-on-black sign that says "I would quit, but I still have motherfuckers to prove wrong." It's the same thing as persistence, except with some spite in there for good measure. I've been a working writer since I was 19; I'm now 40. I've gotten one residual check in all that time. None of my books have earned out.

However, I'm a little further along than a lot of writers. I'm debt-free. I put a down payment on a house with an advance. I've seen actors say my words like they were living them. There's a shelf in my office that has nothing on it but my books. Mine, mine, mine.

Right now, I'm between contracts. I'm stuck in the YA contraction, while editors figure out what the next big thing is without actually buying anything to find out. My family's income will probably halve this year, because I've written three books that won't sell (love the writing, don't know how to market it, over and over.)

Now would be a good time to quit. Get a nice office job and stop playing with imaginary friends. I'm an adult, after all. I got to go to the show. I could stop while I'm ahead, I suppose.

But you know what? I collected rejection letters on my wall until I sold my first novel. I had 1200 I took down and burned in 2002. Not because the hard part was over. It wasn't-- but I moved on to the next phase.

Now I'm a midlist author with no name recognition and no major awards under my belt. No starred reviews, no royalty checks. No bestseller lists or book challenges or reviews in magazines my grandparents would have read. So I can't quit. I'm not done.

I still have motherfuckers to prove wrong.
posted by headspace at 3:41 PM on January 22 [34 favorites]


Shit there is a YA contraction? Is there an article about this we can read somewhere? I just assumed it was still huge.
posted by steinsaltz at 3:42 PM on January 22


...hearing about how opening Microsoft Word will just lead to drinking alone in the tundra.

Don't worry: that's true for everybody, not just writers.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:43 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but I like drinking alone in the tundra.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:45 PM on January 22


The YA bubble popped. We dropped 46% in overall sales in the first half of 2013 versus 3% for the market overall.

Editors internally feel like paranormal and dystopian novels are oversaturated and played out. They're trying to hit a homer with contemporary fiction, but are playing it super-safe with the contemporary they actually purchase.

Instead of looking for the next TWILIGHT, they're looking for the next John Green. Unfortunately for contemporary YA writers as a whole, John Green already exists, so read-alikes are being rejected because people already read John Green.

Exciting times to be in YA. Exciting times. But hey, my first novel came out the year after Publishing's Black Friday. Things don't feel nearly so scary as they did in 2008. Just tough and chewy and challenging. Motherfuckers to prove wrong, is all.
posted by headspace at 3:46 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


I'm sure to be an expert at reading other peoples' stuff.
posted by Chuffy at 3:54 PM on January 22


Damn. Well stay strong and keep proving the mofos wrong. The world will always need a good dystopia especially in these times.

1200. I salute you. For me a fraction of those rejection numbers, plus one embarrassing nonfiction publishing disaster, was always enough to stop me in my tracks. But then there are all those successful people from the small-town high school reunion and someone's gotta blow their minds.
posted by steinsaltz at 3:57 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Not sure if you guys are going to like hearing this, but James Frey just got $2 million for this YA book/movie deal: "In a world similar to Earth, there are 12 bloodlines, or races. Each bloodline has a champion between the ages of 13 and 17 who is trained as a warrior and is always ready to do battle..."
posted by Flashman at 4:06 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Ignoring motherfuckers making money from bullshit is also a part of writing.
posted by Artw at 4:08 PM on January 22 [26 favorites]


"In a world similar to Earth, there are 12 bloodlines, or races. Each bloodline has a champion between the ages of 13 and 17 who is trained as a warrior and is always ready to do battle..."

So, the "next" Hunger Games?
posted by crossoverman at 4:11 PM on January 22


The Gorging Sports.
posted by gottabefunky at 4:13 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


"I would quit, but I still have motherfuckers to prove wrong."

I long ago reached the age where no matter how well you have proven the motherfuckers wrong, they still make more money being wrong than I'll ever make being right.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:21 PM on January 22 [11 favorites]


Ignoring motherfuckers making money from bullshit is also a part of writing.

I actually totally agree, I had to get past knowing that a kid who laughed at me in front of girls when I was in the computer lab in 11th grade is now a successful executive at Diapers.com.
posted by steinsaltz at 4:28 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Right now, my computer backdrop is a simple white-on-black sign that says "I would quit, but I still have motherfuckers to prove wrong."

I. . . Uh. . . I can't believe how, um how this is exactly why I write. And how embarrassed I am by the realization. Dammit.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:28 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


"But you know what? I collected rejection letters on my wall until I sold my first novel. I had 1200 I took down and burned in 2002."

Wow.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:32 PM on January 22


The YA bubble popped.

I want to believe.
posted by thelonius at 4:35 PM on January 22


I would quit, but I still have motherfuckers to prove wrong.

I've become too cynical for this to mean anything but "dance, monkey, dance!" to me anymore.

But that's probably why I'm not writing anymore, either.
posted by rue72 at 4:37 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Lately I keep seeing James Frey quotes on new books coming out and every time I do, I think two things: "Shit, I ain't buying that" and "I ever publish a book I hope they don't get this asshole to blurb it."
posted by dobbs at 4:39 PM on January 22


Vita brevis,
ars longa,

occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:48 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I think 2008 sucked for everyone in publishing. That was the year they cancelled that contract I mentioned in the post, and had to pay me out for it. Nice because hey, free money! Wacky because hey, no book...

I knew a lot of folks who had contracts cancelled or weren't renewed in 08.
posted by kameronhurley at 5:09 PM on January 22 [14 favorites]


The people who won worked harder than other people. They were willing to sacrifice more.

This correlates so strongly with my experience working as a writer (non fiction). It can be all kinds of things sacrifices, not just money, relationships, options. Aspects of your own writing, ethics and integrity can all go, too.

I wish more aspiring writers understood this, and that either choice - to keep sacrificing or to stop - is valid, on a personal level. But then I think most aspiring writers would do better to treat the job of being a writer as a job, rather than some quasi-mystical form of intellectual validation and elitism. Glamorising the idea of professionalisation. Glamorous is the opposite of what it is, and writing for yourself is a fine thing.

I suppose I would say that, sitting in the house that Not-Writing bought, my debased and atrophied skills put to use writing corporate dribble and bon mots on metafilter. I love it.
posted by smoke at 5:09 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Lovely to see you here kameron, I enjoyed infidel a lot and though I got it for free during one of nightshade's last gasp marketing efforts, it was good enough to make me buy the other two, so the system works! Looking forward to your next book, hopefully it won't be with hachette or one of the others that gouge for ebooks here in Australia.
posted by smoke at 5:12 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


OTOH, Alexander Solzhenitsyn intentionally got himself exiled to the the worst of the gulag so that he could be a better writer in terms of understanding the experience of the people in the Soviet Union.

I guess that what I'm saying is I think a pretty healthy way to look at it as an art form that you do for the love.
posted by angrycat at 5:18 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


A question, while we have you: what would you have told that young Kameron? Knowing how hard it would be and how, for all that hardness, you have still "made it" and many, possibly you in a different future, don't? Would you have urged persistence? A different focus? Relocation to a country with a functioning health care system?

Knowing what I know now, and don't know of I would have actually encouraged young Smoke to continue trying to write professionally. With a gap of years I see my most rewarding pieces were the ones I did free or almost, anyway. I could have had a lot of stability on those years working on a "real" job instead of poverty, writing as hobby.
posted by smoke at 5:21 PM on January 22


I'm glad you didn't get trapped in an infinity loop with that canceled contract, Kameron. I know a couple of people who lost their agent, AND their editor AND the house wouldn't pay on the contract, but neither would they release the authors and... what a mess. 2008 was a bloodbath. Thank you for your essay. It's so much easier to persist when you know you're not doing it alone.
posted by headspace at 5:32 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


OTOH, Alexander Solzhenitsyn intentionally got himself exiled to the the worst of the gulag so that he could be a better writer in terms of understanding the experience of the people in the Soviet Union.

I had a dream the other night where I was thrown in jail and my first thought was, "Well, at least I'll have more time to write."
posted by crossoverman at 5:40 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


But then I think most aspiring writers would do better to treat the job of being a writer as a job

It's sad—I still get intense pangs of not-work guilt from writing, in that I'll get up, write an eight thousand word piece for maybe-a-book-or-something, and still finish the day feeling like I haven't gotten anything done because I didn't find the receipt for something I need to return and didn't clean out the crisper drawers like I planned.

Lately, I'm in a mode to try to find alternate outlets and push my online presence and research marketing opportunities and edit the fucking manuscript (it is always the "fucking" manuscript, because editing is the worst of all worlds), and I'll work on those things from before dawn till it's time to put on Lost In Space and cry myself to sleep and I will still manage to feel like I've not accomplished a thing, largely because the payoff from that work is all five to ten years in the future, and has been for a long, long time. It's not even about persistence—it's about having the faith to continue chasing after a distant reward with almost no chance of feedback, like operating a rover by remote control on another planet light years away.

I think it's out there, like the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, so I beat on.
posted by sonascope at 5:50 PM on January 22 [9 favorites]


On one hand I feel like part of the problem as I just read Blackbirds & God's War without buying a copy of either, but I do try to tell evangelize authors I think people would like if their tastes match up.

Having just started to read YA fiction recently, what separates it from general or genre fiction?
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:50 PM on January 22


I spent a whole summer in a rustic cabin in interior Alaska (really, it was pretty much a Tuff Shed, with unfinished wood and no running water) just to get away. My personal writing output that year was about 4,000 words.
posted by mochapickle at 6:02 PM on January 22


Having just started to read YA fiction recently, what separates it from general or genre fiction?

A focus on teenaged or young adult characters, most obviously. Also more focus on coming of age and relationships. I'd also say the writing style itself tends to be a little simpler or more direct in YA, and there seems to be a preponderance of first person POV and present tense. Ultimately though, I think it might just come down to whether the author is specifically writing for teens/young adults or the YA market.

The separation between YA and non-YA can be pretty artificial, especially when it comes to genre YA vs. genre. Markus Zusak's The Book Thief was marketed as YA in the US, but was marketed as general adult fiction in his native Australia, and it's not a book I'd categorize as specifically YA despite its protagonist being a child through most of the novel. Another example is Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, which starts out firmly middle grade, then gets shunted into YA with the later books as the protagonists get older, but I honestly don't see why the later books are categorized as YA rather than genre.
posted by yasaman at 6:11 PM on January 22


This piece perfectly encapsulates why I quit writing. I wasn't willing to sacrifice that much of real life to create fictional ones. When I really started to discover what it costs, I became a lot less jealous of people who'd "made it." I still play with the people my imagination creates, but privately, without any expectations.
posted by rikschell at 6:18 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


Having just started to read YA fiction recently, what separates it from general or genre fiction?

YA is a category; it contains all genres. It requires a teen protagonist, and an immediate, intimate relationship with that protagonist. YA editors tend not to let us wander around for two hundred pages talking about our characters' grandfather's time spent salmon fishing in the Yemen-- they are much more focused on the central story.

The language isn't any more simple than any other category. Some books feature prose as clunky as Dan Brown's. Others contain deathless, lyrical prose that will wreck you. But for the most part, Young Adult is a category that requires a teen protagonist and an intimate POV. Everything else is up for grabs.

If written now, both Catcher in the Rye and Flowers in the Attic would be considered YA. It contains multitudes.
posted by headspace at 6:45 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Having just started to read YA fiction recently, what separates it from general or genre fiction?

YA editors tend not to let us wander around for two hundred pages talking about our characters' grandfather's time spent salmon fishing in the Yemen


Yeah, I also feel this way. I like to read YA because it tends to be more tightly and deliberately written than adult fiction. I don't know if this is because the authors are more aware of their audience (and their limitations, in terms of both patience and maybe skill as readers), or if it receives more aggressive attention from an editor, but at its best I find the result more enjoyable than "adult" or literary fiction.

It also means that after overdosing on YA I need to spend some time plowing through something by Samuel Delaney or John Crowley or Thomas Pynchon or Gene Wolfe or Virginia Woolf to feel human again.
posted by pullayup at 8:04 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


My complaint is with the literal existence of a "Teen Supernatural Romance" section in Barnes and Noble, not with YA in general, I should add.
posted by thelonius at 8:12 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Genre divisions are helpful for those who are looking for books within that genre. For teens who love reading books about vampires making out, a teen supernatural romance section makes perfect sense.

A ton of hugs to headspace, from someone who is also between contracts (I might just send you an email of commiseration, if that's okay.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:54 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


God, I wish I was persistent. I wish I had that burning desire and drive to chase after what I want no matter what the consequences.
But instead, I am as persistent as your average carpet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:30 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I earned a degree in Writing over twenty years ago, with fiction as one of my primary streams. Some of my classmates have had success -- one was nominated for the Governor-General Award, one was nominated for the Giller, a couple are full professors, tenured and teaching.

Unlike most of my classmates, I ended up making my living for most of my adult life in a related field, primarily as an editor and/or publisher, sometimes as a technical writer or copywriter, sometimes as a grant writer or report publisher. I have never submitted a novel for publication. I have never wanted to submit anything that I have written. I have no envy of published novelists, as I have never made any serious attempt to join them.

In 1995 I lost everything I'd ever written but not yet published when a computer repair shop wiped both my working drive and my backup drive, despite my explicit instructions. I still have tearsheets, spec copies, illictly-held copies of technical manuals that no longer really belong to me (shhh!), but none of those novels or stories.

Of course, they're juvenalia. I look back now and don't miss them. But at the time, I was killed dead. Haven't written more than handful of pages of fiction since.

But I sometimes get it into my head to start writing again -- really writing. A novel. Proper writing. I have dozens, hundreds of stories to tell. I've only ever wanted to write genre fiction, not literary fiction. (You know the difference, and I'm tired of arguing the difference, so stifle it.)

Here's the thing: Sturgeon's Law applies doubly so to genre fiction. Possibly moreso. And it's been that way for at least as long as I've been reading, and it's getting worse. I will read about some recent release; it's a critical darling, the author has struggled with poverty and illness, buzz buzz buzz. I pick it up and barely get a dozen pages in before I toss it away in disgust. This happens with such regularity that it is no longer alarming to me.

There are exceptions. One recent exception is MeFi's own John Scalzi's Redshirts. I went into that one predisposed to hate it, as I think Scalzi exemplifies exactly the person writers shouldn't want to have represent them. Great novel, meta without being twee. Inventive and fun. Another recent exception is Pat Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. A great novel in every way.

I cannot write as well as them, and I know it.

But I see work that shouldn't have been published by anyone, including by vanity e-book, dominating the shelves and I can only think that the primary reason why so many mid-list hacks get published is not persistence, but luck. What differentiates one unreadable hackjob with a fennishly-named Mary Sue protagonist from another? Only that one has been submitted to more publishers, really, and thus had more entries into the lottery.

That's where I would be. Part of the lottery, a midlist hack with at least the good taste to not give my protagonist a name full of extra apostrophes. Would I be proud of that novel if it got pulled out of the bingo cage by the right editorial assistant? Maybe if I was in my 20s, or maybe if I had deluded myself after two decades of failure into thinking that my novel was somehow exceptional compared to the novels that didn't get pulled.

But not these days. These days I own a toy store, and sit on an advisory committee for the city, and worry about when the Rotarians are next going to knock on my door wanting me to get further involved. I have less time than ever to write, even if I thought it was worthwhile, and soon there will be no time at all. I'm OK with that. I think that many novelists who were truly honest with themselves should come to a similar conclusion.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:15 AM on January 23 [9 favorites]


Scalzi exemplifies exactly the person writers shouldn't want to have represent them

Should I even ask?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:02 AM on January 23


Smoke - what would I have told my younger self? The healthcare thing, for sure. Move to Canada and write for BioWare when you have the chance. And maybe not try to date two people at once like I did that one time.

The rest, well. Who wants to ruin the surprise?

Note that the way the post is written, it only focuses on the hardships. There were good things too. It's just that humans tend to focus more on the tough stuff than the good things, and sometimes, when you're down about this whole game, knowing other people have been through down times and persisted can really help get you through.

(and thanks for buying the books!)
posted by kameronhurley at 3:27 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


In 1995 I lost everything I'd ever written but not yet published when a computer repair shop wiped both my working drive and my backup drive, despite my explicit instructions. I still have tearsheets, spec copies, illictly-held copies of technical manuals that no longer really belong to me (shhh!), but none of those novels or stories.

Of course, they're juvenalia. I look back now and don't miss them. But at the time, I was killed dead. Haven't written more than handful of pages of fiction since.


Oh my God, nearly this exact thing happened to me in 2010 - in that case, it was theft that wiped me out of everything. And it also really made my writing grind to a damn halt for a couple years.

But I'm starting to write again. Except not fiction - and really, I was kind of only half-assedly doing it anyway, the past several years have been mostly flitting from one type of writing to another as I tried them all on trying to figure out what I should do.

A year ago I started thinkin I should actually get back to writing - start a blog and commit to it, really, and I even tried starting a couple blogs with the thought that I'd tell people about them when I got a couple good posts up...but after maybe one or two, they withered on the vine.

And then I realized that the one kind of writing I've always done, no matter what else has been happening in my life - since I was a teenager - was travel writing. Even when I am not doing any other writing at all, if I go on a trip, I've kept an exhaustive and lengthy travel journal. Even at points within the last few years - years when I didn't write anything else - I wrote voluminously in travel journals; the one I kept for that week in London, the one I kept when I was only in Connecticut for two days, the one I kept for that long weekend in Chicago, the one I kept when I did that weird trip to Vermont for a wedding....

About a month after I realized that, this past October, I had the opportunity to start writing for the site Atlas Obscura. They've posted about 5 of my pieces already, the most recent one just yesterday, and there are about 5 more in the pipeline and one I've yet to write. I've got more ideas on top of that, and am even thinking of ways to collaborate with a photographer friend. I'm also tentatively thinking of my own blog of more personal travel stories mined from my travel journals (some of 'em could be good with a bit of polish). It's not the big book deal I maybe dreamed of, but I realized that that's not the kind of writing I'm wired to do anyway.

And I also realized that I am not writing because I'm after any particular goal or to prove anyone wrong - I'm writing because I simply do. It just took me a while to realize which genre was home.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:36 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


a computer repair shop wiped both my working drive and my backup drive,

That's a painful lesson - only one backup copy isn't much more robust than no backups.
posted by thelonius at 5:25 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I can only think that the primary reason why so many mid-list hacks get published is not persistence, but luck

The more times you roll the dice the more likely you get a double six. Give up after the first roll because it's never going to happen and you'll never see one.
posted by Artw at 7:50 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Is it typical to not have to return the advance if your contract is ended and you don't write the book? All this talk of how hard the writing life is, but I would take $30,000 in exchange for nothing in a heartbeat....
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:53 AM on January 23


I liked Rosefox's response to Hurley's post:
Every post I've ever seen about being a writer has told me that I'm not one, because there are no blog posts about "I write to pay the bills" or "I write because it's a good match for my skill set and interests". I suppose that's not as gripping and romantic as "I write because it's the only thing worth living for" or "I write because I can't not write". Maybe people do write posts about non-obsessive writing, and then no one links to them. Maybe no one writes those posts because they're too busy doing the sort of writing that brings in money. Maybe no one writes those posts because it's embarrassing to admit that you're a writer who's not a writer.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:56 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Maybe no one writes those posts because it's embarrassing to admit that you're a writer who's not a writer.

Ha, that's kind of me. I make a living as a grant writer, maybe the most unromantic type of writing there is. But hey, I get to write and get a paycheck and health insurance, so it could be worse. But yeah, hard to make a blog post about guzzling whiskey in a cabin* while furiously writing a statement of need for children's art education or what have you.

*I did spend a winter in a cabin guzzling whiskey and writing a 130k+ novel and I will tell you that novel was absolutely terrible. It's good to get the first one out and thrown away though.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:09 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I make a living as a grant writer, maybe the most unromantic type of writing there is.

You're a more successful writer than most. Starvation may be romantic, but food on the table beats romance by four tricks. I feel no embarrassment in having been a grant writer while more persistent friends were considering vanity press or suicide (same thing, really).
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:21 PM on January 23


You're a more successful writer than most. Starvation may be romantic, but food on the table beats romance by four tricks.

Sounds like Stephen King's rules of thumb for how to tell whether you're a talented writer: If you wrote something and a) someone paid you for it, b) the check did not bounce, and c) the amount was sufficient for you to pay a utility bill with it, you may officially call yourself "talented".

In all honesty, there were a few years there where I hung on to those words like grim death for the comfort they gave. The work I was doing may have only been getting read by teenagers in Scranton (I wrote tie-in booklets for a theater company's "arts in the schools" community outreach program), but I was getting paid, dammit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:47 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Maybe no one writes those posts because it's embarrassing to admit that you're a writer who's not a writer.

No embarrassment here. I've averaged 50k FINALIZED* words a year, professionally, since the mid 1990s.

In return I've mostly gotten three squares a day, decent health insurance, a 401k and IRA, users who don't read my docs, and management teams that a re-org every six to nine months.

I may be driving a city bus instead of piloting the Space Shuttle but I also actually share an office with a former contributor to the Shuttle effort by strange coincidence.

But I'm itching to do some flying so we'll see. 20k words towards that effort so far this month. Month's not over yet.

*Finalized - lots of rewrites. Oh, the rewrites. When I can get reviewers in the room.
posted by tilde at 2:07 PM on January 23


I make a living as a grant writer, maybe the most unromantic type of writing there is.

Not to turn this into a schtick waving contest, but I submit for consideration APIs.
posted by tilde at 2:10 PM on January 23


Hmm. I totally think that people who write to pay the bills are perfectly cromulent and can stand under my writerly umbrella. But, though I like Rose Fox quite a bit, I don't know that having many fiction ideas and feeling like one could make a living as a fiction writer makes one a fiction writer. Maybe I've been cornered by too many crack pots with ideas who didn't want to do the actual labor of writing? Ideas are easy and abundant and almost meaningless alone.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:59 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I liked Rosefox's response to Hurley's post:

I'm really not sure where the two coincide - it seems like an entirely orthogonal complaint about whatever type of writing they are engaged in not getting enough respect?
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on January 23


Rosefox: "I've never been able to plot--my natural inclination is to write vignettes full of setting and characterization and clever dialogue and absolutely nothing happening--but it's certainly a skill one can acquire. If I wanted to, I'm quite sure that I could make a decent living as a fiction writer, same as I did as a journalist."

Like PhoBWanKenobi describes, she sounds a lot like those crackpots who call themselves writers and don't actually write. Just the idea she could put her mind to it and make a decent living at it is ludicrous. That she's got ideas and does nothing with them proves she is not a fiction writer.

Rosefox: "I'm a writer but I'm not an obsessive desperate passionate writer."

Fine, good. Don't be a writer. You don't have to be a writer. Whatever metrics she's using to define writer and not writer are a bit blurry. She should be what she is - an editor, and leave writing to those who are passionate for it and actually do it.

Now sometimes being a professional writer means you can't wait for inspiration. Sometimes you gotta take a commission that you don't really want. Sometimes you've got to push through because there's a deadline approaching.

But don't lament that nobody writes articles about non-writer writers. Nobody writes articles about non-doctor doctors, either. But then, nobody stands around at parties and says to doctors "I'm quite sure I could make a decent living at being a doctor, because I've got all these ideas of how to fix people... I just never have."
posted by crossoverman at 4:22 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


But don't lament that nobody writes articles about non-writer writers. Nobody writes articles about non-doctor doctors, either. But then, nobody stands around at parties and says to doctors "I'm quite sure I could make a decent living at being a doctor, because I've got all these ideas of how to fix people... I just never have."
posted by crossoverman
epostynerical (or however you spell it).

The doctor analogy only goes so far, though, as there are certifying bodies for it at this time. :P

I think everyone's got their measure of what a writer is or isn't, and her tape fits herself. Our measures often do or don't; I don't see her as that different from any of the rest of the world, I guess.
posted by tilde at 4:55 PM on January 23


I agree with you crossover man, in that I feel like Rose herself is a victim of the "Romantic Writer" cliche - a cliche I might add that's far, far more popular with aspiring rather them practising writers in my experience.

For all that, she is right in that, as I said I think more aspiring writers would do well to approach it like a job, as many professionals do. And you don't need to be a good writer to be a successful one, a confusion that's widespread I think. Professional validation mixed up with artistic validation and vice versa.

But the sour grapes or feelings of being left out are as unwarranted as the assertion she could be a successful novelist - she might be but I wouldn't go around airily assuming it, a lot of ignorant people do that with all kinds of jobs.
posted by smoke at 5:04 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I've never been able to plot ... but it's certainly a skill one can acquire.

Is plotting a skill one can acquire? And if so, where? I've been watching this thread with the dismay I usually feel in proximity to Real Published Writers, hoping for someone to say, "Well, you know, I kept trying to write, but then failing and so I quit, but came back to it, and now the secret of finishing things using plots has finally revealed itself to me, and here it is."

(And now, back to the first chapter of my little thing again, because I was halfway through and it was all wrong and horrible and so I went back to the beginning and got maybe a third of the way through that time and it was far wronger and horribler.)
posted by mittens at 5:31 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


"Persistance" isn't exactly a romantic writing cliche - it's nuts and bolts stuff that actually works.
posted by Artw at 5:33 PM on January 23


Is plotting a skill one can acquire? And if so, where? I've been watching this thread with the dismay I usually feel in proximity to Real Published Writers, hoping for someone to say, "Well, you know, I kept trying to write, but then failing and so I quit, but came back to it, and now the secret of finishing things using plots has finally revealed itself to me, and here it is."

I spent ages 10-25 writing the first ten pages of things and never finishing any of them. Finally, I read this and decided that what I needed to do was to stop starting things and to start finishing them. I spent one summer writing 500 words a day, until I had 40,000 words of a really bad novel. I decided to do it again and wrote two more, longer bad novels. Then I wrote another one and decided to try to learn how to revise. Then I decided to try to learn how to plot and plan. I'm still not the best plotter.

I still start more things than I finish, but the key to writing a book is writing every day until the book is finished rather than to endlessly tinker with the opening. That's really the whole secret. Plotting isn't necessary, though it makes for more interesting books for your readers in the long run.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:50 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I think plotting is essential, but I also don't think you can be too prescriptive about writing. But plotting for me is essential to get things finished - or else I just get lost in the wilderness.

Actually, to be more specific, structure is important. Knowing the arc of the story and where things change. I write almost exclusively for theatre - though I keep tentatively branching out into prose writing and screenwriting. And all those disciplines require a different level of plotting/structure.

A lot of young writers want to be surprised about where a book is going when they are writing so they resist plotting. But for me, plotting is a map - that means you can deviate from the road you expected to go down, but at least you're headed in the right direction.
posted by crossoverman at 5:57 PM on January 23


Plotting for me is like that bit out of Dancing Aztecs (Westlake): "The map is not the terrain." You can have a map or not have a map but eventually you're in the terrain.
posted by tilde at 6:04 PM on January 23


Yeah, I always know How It Ends at the very least. But I've learned that process is messy. Like sometimes you write half a book only to find out that you wrote the wrong book and need to start over. Still, you finish just like you would with any other book. One step at a time. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and I think most writers who don't finish things rely overly on inspiration to move them forward in spurts rather than just trudging on ahead, little by little by little--word by word by word.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:10 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


So look I am no expert because I have only ever finished two Very Shitty Novels and never been published. Or, for that matter, ever had anyone besides my very patient wife read my 'manuscripts.'

But if you are just looking to FINISH a Very Shitty Novel, let me share some excellent advice I found on the green.

Now if I could find some similarly helpful advice for revising, I might end up with two Kinda Shitty Novels instead.
posted by Tevin at 6:26 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I get plenty annoyed by the mythology of the romantic driven passionate writer because that's not me, but I don't think that's what Hurley was going for. I keep getting knocked off course and I keep coming back to it, and it's not because I'm obsessive about writing. But it is something that I've made a commitment to and something that I believe is good for me, and I feel better when I'm on the path than when I'm off it.

It's not like I ever decided I wanted to be a writer so much that even if I lost thousands of words of work, even if my editor left and my agent left and my other editor left, even if I got mired in years of fruitless rewrites, I wouldn't give up. It's just that I found myself there, and I found myself getting back up.

Part of me was really saddened by Hurley's essay, because it reminded me that no matter how we'll things go with the next book, it's always going to be a story of getting knocked down and getting back up. And I want to be the person who keeps getting back up, and I'm scared that I won't be, or scared that on me it will have the vaguely pathetic flavor of the guy who's in his thirties and still really devoted to his garage band.

But there's a real power in being able to say to yourself, it's okay, I haven't given up yet.
posted by Jeanne at 6:27 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


I cannot write as well as them, and I know it.

But I see work that shouldn't have been published by anyone, including by vanity e-book, dominating the shelves and I can only think that the primary reason why so many mid-list hacks get published is not persistence, but luck.

&

I'm quite sure I could make a decent living at being a doctor, because I've got all these ideas of how to fix people... I just never have."


It's funny, I've got a buddy who's a published playwright, won all kinds of awards, and he still can't support himself on it. And he's really good. Like where you notice how good even though you (well, me) are a dunderhead who knows nothing about plays.

So he teaches, naturally, and people talk about writing to him (and in general) like it's something anyone can do really, really well. And hey, I can write well - in that I can put two sentences together - but there's a huge difference between 'talented dilettante' and 'Olympic Class.'

But that's the thing. You get a bronze medal and hey, everyone thinks they can roll with you. 'Bronze in biathalon, eh? Yeah, I've done some skiing. Hit the range now and then too. Yep.'
And yeah, you get tons of crap, even though you're what, 3rd best in the world?
Doesn't matter because there are a ton of people giving away lousy work that gets put into circulation because it's cheap and people will consume it.
...sounds like most businesses really.

I think though most people who write just want to share their work. For my part I want to give back so much of the joy that I've been given by other authors. And I look at them though, the greats, the not so greats, the unrecognized, the guys who died poor and the drunks, hell even the guys who are good storytellers with commercial success - Stephen King comes to mind - the ride doesn't look like it was easy.

Persistence, for me, is a non-issue. I can not eat for weeks and sleep in the rain if need be.
But I've already had my heart broken by something I loved that, clearly, couldn't care less for me and demands I have no other gods before it.
Just not tough enough to roll through that again. I've got a ton of stuff. Almost no one is ever going to see it. Meh. I like my ramblings. Some of my friends get a kick out of them. But what if I were great?
I think about that too. How many guys die in factories who have great books in them?

We must persist at anything we love to do. But why must it always be such a damn tragedy?
posted by Smedleyman at 9:04 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I disagree that it is pathetic to be in your 30s and devoted to a garage band. It would be pathetic to bet everything on it getting a record deal. But in general I think there are too many harmful myths out there about whether it is OK to love creating stuff without guilt.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:27 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Also, if anyone could use cheering up after reading this thread, and is interested in an alternative viewpoint that will buck you up, I guarantee that Steven Pressfield's The War Of Art will be like a cup of black coffee.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:40 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


But in general I think there are too many harmful myths out there about whether it is OK to love creating stuff without guilt.

I agree, actually. But when there's something that has to give, whether it's financial stability or any kind of social life or pulling one's own weight within the family with housework and errands... It's hard to get away from constantly asking oneself, "This is what I'm sacrificing, and am I being at all realistic about what I'll get from it?"
posted by Jeanne at 3:07 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


From The War Of Art ...

Call it overstatement but I'll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

Procrastination is a bitch.
posted by philip-random at 10:03 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


From The War Of Art ...

"Call it overstatement but I'll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas."

Procrastination is a bitch.


But it was TOO EASY for Hitler to start WWII, it would have been better if WWII had been much harder (ideally, impossible) to start.

It's hard to get away from constantly asking oneself, "This is what I'm sacrificing, and am I being at all realistic about what I'll get from it?"

I agree. I don't think it's pathetic to keep making art forever. Money and adulation don't have to define success, and they don't define meaning. However, sometimes it stops being about art and starts being about sacrifice -- and that's when I think "persistence" becomes "self-flagellation." I don't admire continuing past that point, because I think it's damaging (culturally and to individual artists) to fetishize pain that way.
posted by rue72 at 12:06 PM on January 24


« Older Aided and abetted by Domenico Vicinanza Voyager 1 ...  |  A Guide To American Football. ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments