Mincemeat: on writing
  "The secret of the creative life is to feel at ease with your own embarrassment."
ĖWriter/Director Paul Schrader

So, You Want to Be a WriterÖ

A 2002 survey came up with the terrifying result that 81% of Americans think theyíll write a book someday. Ouch. Odds are, then, that you are one of the 81%, and that you, too, secretly think that someday youíll get that book out of you. Sadly, the survey also showed that of the 81%, only 2% actually do write a book.

The potential is there. Actually sitting down and doing it is the hardest part. Author Joseph Epstein said, "Truth to tell, it is a lot better to have written a book than to actually be writing one." Writing is a grueling, thankless process that requires sacrifice of time, a social life, and wrist ligaments.

Iíve wanted to be a writer since I was 10. In high school, I read the poet Rainer Marie Rilke counsel a hopeful poet against the profession, telling him to pursue writing only if there was absolutely nothing else he could or wanted to do. I took that counsel seriously and tried other avenues. In the end, I had to admit that writing was the only thing that made me feel happy and fulfilled.

"Look, Iíve already thought it out and I know I want to be a writer. Now what?"

Well, thereís no reason to be so snippy about it.

"Iím sorry, I just want some advice, is all."

Ah. Well, then. Anything I can say has been said before, but here it goes. Read (bad stuff and good). Write (itís all bad stuff at first). Rewrite. And rewrite again. And all the while, be learning everything you can about the publishing industry in general and the genre you write in specifically. Start sending out short stories to magazines and keep all your rejection slips. Be proud to be involved in the process, and know that youíre very brave.

"Iíve got a book, though. What do I do with that?"

Be very proud. Youíre one of the 2% who actually finished it! Now ask yourself, is it really finished? Donít do a thing until youíve sought solid feedback in workshops or the like [see FAQ/can I send you my ms?]. Donít do a thing until youíve given it at least two or three rewrites. (I do much more.) And then, itís time to either query agents (who usually donít look at manuscripts from unpublished authors) or try your luck in a publishing house slush pile (many of whom donít accept unsolicited manuscripts). Yikes. Itís an ugly process, often very discouraging and unfruitful, which is why I agree with Rilkeódonít do this if you can do anything else.

All the same, even if you can publish your book, donít quit your day job and all that. Often when I tell people Iím writing YA fantasy, their response is, "Thereís a lot of money in that. Look at J.K. Rowling." Thatís literally like my saying, "Iíve decided to quit my job and buy a dozen lottery tickets everyday," and the response being, "Mm, good for you. A lot of money in the lottery."

Don't let me dissuade you.

"There's no way you can dissuade me. I'm going to be a writer, and that's that."

Good for you! If you know that's what you want, then there's nothing that will stop you. Knowing how difficult and discouraging it can be will help you take those smacks of rejection like a woman and keep fighting back. It's hard, but it's never hopeless. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep rewriting. Keep all those rejection letters and one day you'll be able to look back and laugh. In fact, don't wait to laugh. Laugh right now. Very good! You have a lovely laugh. Keep it up.


For further information, these Speculative Fiction authors have very helpful websites and online workshops:

Robert J. Sawyer
Holly Lisle
Orson Scott Card

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