How I Became A Real Writer

I get a lot of apologies, when people write to me.  They think that I’m just some blogger, and then they discover I’m actually a professional writer with a novel sold and a SFWA membership and one big-ass award nomination…

…and they cringe.  They’re not a Real Writer, they tell me.  And I am.  And they apologize for wasting my time.

It’s true, man.  I am a Real Writer.  But thankfully, having scaled that summit, I am here to give you poor nebbishes a helping hand and tell you how I, Ferrett Steinmetz, became a Real, Honest-To-God Fucking Writer:

I stopped worrying about it.

No, seriously.

That’s it.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that I didn’t have all sorts of neuroses about acquiring the right label before I made my third professional sale – five cents a word, motherfuckers, they cut me a check for $200, it paid a quarter of my mortgage bill – but looking back at it, my obsession about who was “really” writing and who wasn’t was actually a fucking handicap.  Because here’s the lesson I’ve learned in selling a shit-ton of stories:

1)  You do the best work you can possibly do.

2)  You do as much of the best work as you can possibly do.

3)  You send it out.

Again, that’s it.  That’s all there is, in my eyes, to being a Real Writer.

Because what I’ve come to realize in six years of hoo-hah Professional Writing is that nobody really knows what works.  My best stories, the ones I was positive I’d sell?  Got trunked after thirty rejections.  The story I thought was a silly waste of time?  Got me my Nebula nomination.

The truth is that if authors really had a good grip on what sold, we’d all be millionaires.

So all we can do is our best work.  And send it out.  And if we’re lucky, we connect with an audience, but I think every published author has at least one story they thought was at the bare level of acceptability that they’d put out with their name on it that became a beloved tale.  And I know they all have that one story they loved so hard and it disappeared without a trace.

The lesson of the Real Writer is that all it involves is doing your best work.  The rest?  Markets and guesswork.  You can put in a lot of effort, and not see much reward, and I think most writers have had that six-month dry period (or sixteen, or sixty) where nothing sold and they asked, “What the hell is wrong with me?”  And the answer is often – not always, but often – “You’re just not what they’re looking for.”

Looking back, my personal obsession with becoming a Real Writer back in the day was a handicap to me.  I kept reading the bones of more popular authors, wondering what I was doing wrong, wasting time trying to emulate them when really, I needed to highlight what made me unique.

I’m an awful carbon copy of Stephen King, but the more I work on honing my Ferrett Steinmetz impression, the better I do.

I pissed away a lot of time, trying to be a Real Writer, and that time sublimated away in self-analyzing and whining and panicking was time that I was not writing.  It put me farther away from my quest instead of closer to it.

Instead of being a Real Writer, I was instead spending my time being a Real Neurotic, and that was not at all helpful.

Now, there are some Busy Writers, and for them, yes, you have to understand that you’re one of a hundred people clamoring for their attention, and you might not get it.  And there are some Popular Writers, and I suspect many of them are vaguely surprised that this has worked out quite this well for them.  But a Real Writer?

You’re a Real Writer even if you’ve never had a publication.  You’re a Real Writer if nobody’s (yet) heard of you.  All you have to do is to follow the three steps: Write the best work you can possibly do, write as much of the best work as you can possibly do, and send it out.

And maybe you’re not doing that.  Maybe you’re not pushing yourself as hard as you should be, trying new techniques and new characters and new experiments.  Maybe you’re not writing as much as you could be doing, wasting your days on the X-Box and ignoring that tickle that you could be doing something more productive.  Maybe you’re keeping your work locked on your hard drive, not sharing it with anyone because my God what if they don’t like it.  (Hint: Someone will not.  If all you ever get is praise, you’re not sending it out to enough people.)

But if that’s the case, then I am the last person you should be apologizing to for not being a Real Writer. You know what you need to do to get there, and you’re only hurting yourself by not doing it.

Now get out there and write.

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