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.