Why I’m Giving Up My Writing Career

After graduating Clarion, I wrote short stories for four years.  I did this because short stories were easier to write; I could take drastic differences in tone and approach, attacking a different problem with each story, and get it all done in 5,000 words.

I got published in a few venues, and then I got my first professional publication, which set me on my way.  What would happen next was predictable: I’d sell more short stories to a mix of markets, until eventually I got my third pro sale (which was my entry to the Science Fiction Writers of America), and I’d sell more stories until my name was out there.  Then maybe I’d get nominated for a major award.  Then I’d write a novel, and I’d get an agent to sell it, and that novel would get good reviews.  And I’d keep writing novels until I made a name for myself, and then I’d be a Real Writer….

Except that didn’t happen.  My finished novel is circulating among agents, and has gotten some interest, but has not been an automatic sale.  In the meantime, I started work on another Very Salable Novel, which imploded after six months of writes and rewrites, and I eventually determined that I couldn’t write it at all.

Now I’ve got a third novel I’m planning, and my so-called career is a weight around my ankles.

I’ve literally been unable to get out of bed in the morning, harried by thoughts that OMG I don’t want to start it, because what if I fail?  If I don’t get it published, then I’ve wasted time.  My career is supposed to move smoothly from “well thought-of short stories” to “starred review first novel,” and if that doesn’t happen then who am I?  I’m certainly not a Real Writer.  I’m just some fraud, throwing out words but not moving down the correct path.

Plus, as I’ve gotten desperate to push this stalled career along, I’ve started thinking in terms of commercialism.  “People like happy endings,” I think.  “Maybe I should write happy endings.  People liked Sauerkraut Station, what lessons can I learn from that?  Sauerkraut Station was a Little House on the Prairie riff, what else can I emulate?”

The problem?  Sauerkraut Station wasn’t a goddamned commercial fiction.  It was this unwieldy, horrible novella I was convinced I’d never sell, let alone get any acclaim for; I liked it, and for the longest time I was the only one who did.  My best stories, as always, are the ones I write for myself.

What I’ve come to realize is that my writing career needs to get fucked.  All it ever does is make me compare myself to other writers, wondering where I’m ahead or behind on the curve, bringing unwarranted feelings of envy for people who write delightful stuff.  All it ever does is make me feel like shit for not hitting arbitrary goals.  All it ever does it is make me feel as though there will be some point in my life when I’ll feel so confident about writing that I’ll know how to do things… and the truth is, writing’s complicated.  I’m going to be taking huge chances all the time.  If I ever did get to the point where I knew how to toss off a bestselling novel, I’d start experimenting on the side with the things I didn’t understand.

I am never going to feel comfortable with this.

So fuck my writing career.  I’m still going to write, of course.  I’ve got this novel I’m excited about right now.  But when I write it, I’m not going to think of the agent who’d want it, or whether it’ll fit in this market, or what will happen if I don’t get it published.  I’m just going to put the words on the fucking paper, and make it the kind of thing that is as good as I can get it, and everything else will happen in its time.

I called a mulligan on my writing career, once.  I’m doing it again.  From today forward, I have no plan aside from my fingers, on these keys.  Writing.

Maybe someone will even like it.

12 Comments

  1. Dawn
    Oct 24, 2012

    .>

    <.<

    Okay, screw trying to sell that stuff. I love to draw, to paint, to sculpt, to write, to sing, to sew, to knit… these things make me happy, and I can do them until I'm blissed out to the nth degree as long as I let myself stay in the little fishbowl of "doesn't have to have a price tag to be worth something".

    (Which I'm following up with now on my own blog.)

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 24, 2012

      Good.

      Fucking go for it.

    • NC Narrator
      Oct 24, 2012

      Absolutely Dawn! I love to create things – crochet, knitting, tatting, embroidery, sewing – and every time I’d make something for someone they’d say, “You should sell this stuff, you’d make a fortune!”

      Guess what? No, no you won’t, actually. Because most people these days don’t really appreciate the handmade aspect. So I suffered through a lot of ignorant and downright nasty comments. Then I decided, screw it. I make stuff, I find people to give it to. If they like it enough to pay me something for it, awesome. If not, well that’s awesome too.

      I’ve taken the same approach with my writing. I self-published a novel I’m very proud of on Smashwords and Amazon. Whenever I get that little e-mail telling me that someone has bought a copy, I’m happy. BUT, my entire sense of being isn’t wrapped up in the idea that I have to make money on doing what I love. It would be nice, but it’s not necessary.

  2. Dana
    Oct 24, 2012

    I think I needed to hear this one today. Thanks, Ferrett.

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 24, 2012

      Any time you need to hear it, you call. You especially, love.

  3. JFargo
    Oct 24, 2012

    Good luck, my friend. I have enjoyed everything I’ve read from you so far so I hope we get more but I want you to be healthy and happy more than I want more stories.

  4. Dave Klecha
    Oct 24, 2012

    I think a long time ago I gave up the notion that there was a “should” for how a writing career should happen. I’ve seen a lot now never take off, plenty crash quickly, and some come out of absolute nowhere. So never at any time did I feel like there was a path to it, a “should” component of how writing for money should work, just some good examples and some cautionary tales–and a lot of objective evidence that sometimes, you’re just fucking unlucky. Or lucky. Or whatever.

    As a result I’ve gotten a lot more… zen, I guess, about the whole thing. It’ll happen or it won’t. My goals outside of writing are still there, my friends will (probably) be there whether or not I publish another word of fiction. It does take away some of the… drive, I guess, to make it happen, but at this point I’m still content to just create, to use plot problem-solving as a way to occupy my higher cognitive functions while driving, to keep my imagination stimulated and alive.

    And if I sell it? Hey man, bonus.

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 24, 2012

      That’s probably a very wise approach. I’m just doing what humans have done through time immemorial as a route to madness – looking at random noise and trying to assign a pattern to it.

      …I need to stop that shit.

  5. Megan Rose
    Oct 24, 2012

    I’m going through this same thing with comics right now. I think it adds a certain amount of pressure to “make it” or have a “career” when it’s all you have for a job. I’m not sure 100% full time comic arting is good for my psyche. I’m not even talking about it not being as fun anymore, but knowing that I have to make money somehow doing this, I’m always aware of that and it influences my writing decisions and I don’t think it’s always in a good way. I’d call a Mulligan except I’m not in a position to right now.

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 24, 2012

      Yeah. I can totes see that from where you are.

      Let’s both clasp hands and make fun art.

  6. Lyn Belzer-Tonnessen
    Oct 24, 2012

    Damn. Why didn’t I think of that? *grabs comfy pen and soft legal pad and commences just having fun*

  7. Abbie Kearse
    Oct 24, 2012

    O Ferrett

    Enjoyed your Jezebel re-print today and followed the link at the end of the piece. More signs of an excellent writer early on with the words “I did this because short stories were easier to write” and I read more. Liking that too now I decided to write you to say – writing is hard work and shorter is not easier – just shorter. A good writer you are do not stop.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. It doesn’t need a price tag to be worth something « The Normality Factor - [...] Ferret mentioned something on his blog today that oddly mirrored exactly a topic that I myself have been pondering…
  2. Writing Career And You! | Bum Scoop - [...] Ferrett Steinmetz posted on the concept of the writing career, and why he’s giving his up. A good, provocative…
  3. A System for Exploring Life Purpose and Setting a Primary Goal | The Blog of J.D. Moyer - [...] and/or entertain” reminds me to follow my muses and not fear the weird that is inside of me, to…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *