Tag Archives: career

Fighting the Huns

It’s always been easy for me to write, especially with the advent of the computer and keyboard. It’s safe to say that writing was what got me through college and even added to the reasons why my IT employers kept me around over the years. I can’t think of a job I had over the past twenty-five years that didn’t involve writing of some kind, whether it was technical specifications, user guides, or policies and procedures for the departments I was involved with.

However, there’s a difference between writing as a facet of your job and turning your writing into a career. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish. I’ve mentioned it before, but part of what kept me from pursuing writing as a career when I was twenty had to do with being convinced by someone else that I didn’t want to be a starving artist the rest of my life. There’s more to it, though. There is, in fact, a litany of reasons why part time and hobbyist writers don’t undertake the challenge of becoming a full-time writer. If that litany of reasons has a name, then that name is fear.

There is certainly the fear of not earning enough to pay the bills. The bigger fear, however, is the fear of actually making it: of putting your words out there for all the word to read. Writing is not unlike streaking, albeit in an intellectual rather than physical way. Writers pour themselves into their words. All their fears and hopes, all of their creativity becomes manifest upon the page for anyone and everyone to see. And in that process, there’s a sense of something akin to violation, or perhaps desperation is a better word for it. We have these words inside us, and we want to put them out there as a method of being accepted and even enjoyed. We hope that our words will prompt emotional responses or take readers to places they’d never even dreamed of. And if we do this, if we make the countless hurdles that must be crossed in order to achieve even a modicum of success, then there becomes an expectation on the part of readers that we’ll keep doing it.

I’m reminded of the Pink Floyd’s song What Do You Want From Me. It encapsulates this emotion of how hungry an audience can become. And as an artist, having achieved the successes that we all hope lay ahead, there is a feeling of obligation that can consume a creative mind… an obligation to continue feeding the need. For some that obligation has led to self-destruction.

And on the flip-side of achieving success is the haunting question “Will the words be good enough?” Will people hate what I do or, worse yet, relegate me to the abyssal ignominy of never-having-been-heard-of. Will all of my endeavors, pouring heart and soul into my writing year after year, go utterly unrecognized or somehow misconstrued and reviled?

Add to that the sacrifices that I now know are necessary to make it as a writer, and you get a volatile mixture of pain and sacrifice and responsibility that make the whole gig, if broken down into those disparate parts, something that doesn’t sound at all appealing. However, looking back on the past five years—five years where I’ve never been happier stumbling and bumbling and failing here and there—I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

You see, all of the trials and travails, the doubts and fears, they are all nothing more than Huns at the gate of a writer’s sanity. They can stop us from trying, instill us with a fear that freezes us and prevents us from chasing the dream. I was forty-two years old when I finally overcame the Huns and decided to chase the dream no matter what the cost.

That’s what I would tell my younger self: ignore the fears, take the sacrifices in stride, and face down the fears like so much ash on the wind. If I had started doing then what I’m doing now, I’d be well ahead of the game. I’d already have made the transition into full-time writer and created at least a couple of noteworthy compositions. As a result of letting the Huns get to me, I’m twenty years behind schedule and have a long, uphill battle to get where I’m going. And now that battle is made more difficult because I’m fighting time as well. In your forties, when your back hurts and your knees ache, when the silver and gray creeps into your hairline, and that hairline starts to fly south for the inevitable and utterly final winter, you realize that the clock is ticking, has always been ticking, and of late seems to be ticking faster.

There is no time like the present, and I should have realized that when I was twenty, not twice that age. They say youth is wasted on the young. I’m here to tell you that if you’re young and you have even a glimmer of hope that you can become a full-time writer, get started now. Suck it up. Give the finger to your fears and invest in your future now. It only gets harder the longer you wait.

 

Q

Raindancers

Everyday living for most people can be compared all-too-easily to what drought means for farmers, what the dry seasons meant to American Indians. It’s a barren time full of silence and waiting and subtle, fatalistic dread that nothing is going to happen, that life will wither and perhaps even die. And it’s that need for green, for life and living, which brings comfort and joy and the heights of emotional salvation when the rains finally come. One could make the argument that we read drama and fantasy and horror because we have an inherent, hard-wired need for emotional input—a need for rain.

That’s a writer’s job, at least some of the time. We must don the doe’s skull and bright feathers. We must clothe ourselves in tanned hides and wrap bone rattles about our wrists and ankles. We must dance, sprouting clouds of dust as we stomp our feet and we sweat upon the hard-baked clay of everyday life.

It’s our job.

One of the hardest things writers have to live with is the uncertainty that their dancing has brought rain, sprinkled or poured a little bit of life into a reader’s existence. The truth is that most writers, especially at the beginning of their careers, never find out if their dancing has borne precipitation. There is this gulf—a fundamental disconnect—between writer and reader, one that leaves writers with cracked lips and dusty throats.

I recently had two experiences—more milestones in my career—which gave me tangible evidence that my own dancing was not in vain. Last fall I submitted a short story called Family Heirloom to the magazine Steampunk Trials. It’s a steampunk take on the Underground Railroad where a white widow and a freed slave build an Underwater Railroad in Missouri.

Included in the acceptance email was a very simple accolade, and one I’ll never forget. The story had brought tears the editor to eyes. When I wrote that story, it was with the absolute intention of touching, playing upon the heartstrings of the reader. I intended to bring forth the emotions of suffering and sacrifice, highlight the resolve of an individual to carry on and enrich the lives of the next generation in spite of tragedy.

Because of that first editor’s response, I chose Family Heirloom as the lead in a short story collection of mine that came out this summer. It’s not a best-seller in no small part because it contains cross-genre short stories, which is really a double-whammy against people even looking at it, let alone buying it. And yet, in spite of its uphill battle to gain recognition, I recently received another bit of rain. One of the reviewers up on Amazon said the same thing as the editor: that the story had brought tears to his or her eyes, and that other stories in that volume also had profound emotional effects. A reader took the time to let me—and the world—know that there was rain to be found between those pages.

For a writer, there’s nothing better than that.

So, to all the writers who read this, I can say but one thing: keep dancing. And to every reader, for all the rain you have been given by authors, give them some back. Give them the rain they need in the form of emails and reviews and word-of-mouth praise for the rain that has sustained you.

Drought is a fact of life, but we all possess the means by which we can bring rain to those who need it.

 

Q

Get Your Fanny Out There!

I used to have a friend—a good one—and that friendship ended recently. It’s a rather long, sordid tale about politics and methods and appearances and styles and plans and… well, a lot of things. And mostly, it has to do with how each of those applies to a burgeoning writing career. Put simply, he and I are on different paths. We’re both committed to those paths. And we came to verbal blows as a result of those paths. Truth be told, we’re no longer friends for a lot of reasons. I’m telling you about the loss of a friend because of how strongly I feel about networking. Our difference of opinion on the subject isn’t why we’re no longer friends, but it was at least one nail in the coffin.

Ultimately, as entertainers (and we absolutely are), the only way we’re going to be successful is for people with disposable incomes to know who we are. And the only way we’re going to stay successful is to ensure that they never forget us—in a positive light, I might add. So how do you do that? Well, I can give you an example of how I got invited to participate in this really fantastic group of writers called the Fictorians—a move that was frowned upon by some. It all started with the Superstars writing seminar. If you’re a writer, you should look that one up. While I was there, I made an effort to meet people and talk with them. I asked what they wrote and how their careers were coming along. They returned the query. Friendships were borne, and not long after they asked me to write a post for them. And one thing led to another… and another.

And now, here I am, a virtual unknown writer who is lucky enough to have you reading his words because of that seminar and the simple process of networking.

The same goes for conventions and conferences. Attend them. (Note the imperative.) And while you’re there, meet and greet as many people as you can. Get to know them. Make them more than acquaintances. TALK to them about who they are and what they’re working on. And be a good listener.

I need to caveat this.

We’re writers, which means that many (most?) of us are introverts who really do prefer spending time at home in a quiet room while we chain words together than we do going to cotillions. It’s the nature of the beast. I have three words for you: GET OVER IT. And do so in, like, the next 4 seconds. I know that sounds flippant, but the biggest and best free (or nearly so) thing you can do to advance your career is to go out and introduce yourself to the writing community. Let them get to know you. And in that process, you’ll meet fans, you’ll develop contacts, and you’ll get invited to participate in things that help getting your name out there… or vice versa.

My girlfriend uses the phrase “creative sanga” where peoples of like-minded endeavors get together and are subsequently capable of creating things greater than the sum of their parts… or something like that.

It’s not B.S.

The writing community isn’t that large, and it’s full of really amazing people from all walks of life. Discover who they are. This is what business people call networking. I’ve come to refer to it as making friends, and when it comes right down to it, there’s little of the successes I continue to have in my career that aren’t as a direct result of this process.

And while you’re at it, introduce yourself to me. Friend me upon Facebook or Twitter. Look me up at the next convention I’m at. Give me the opportunity to get to know you. I can think of no better way for us to make our ways through this mortal coil as we pursue our writing careers.

It is a dream I have.