(A speech I didn't give at a college that will go unnamed on the off chance they invite me back so I can recycle this puppy.)
I have been told in no uncertain terms that the fire marshal will not allow me to instruct y'all in the arcane art of personal illumination, i.e., lighting farts. Sad in a way; it's not only the best way to scare away rampaging bears you encounter while camping, but it is a corking metaphor for the subject at hand.
I am a blue collar writer who believes art is decided by the next century, not the pontificating fools surrounding me. I build stories and novels to launch my attitudes and observations into this messy little world of ours. It is what I do.
Writing is what I do.
A shrink friend of mine contends that writing is one of the few mental illnesses of which society approves. She makes a good point. There is no rational reason to become a writer. 'Tis a solitary vocation that earns little respect and less money for the vast majority of its acolytes. Rejection slips make lousy wallpaper. Work hard, work well, and you may be rewarded and/or ignored. Every week you will pick up a magazine or book only to discover someone with half your talent is successful. Meanwhile every minute you dance with the keyboard, your insecurities yap at your heels like a pack of rabid ferrets.
By the way, if every word you write is genius and your insecurities never harass you--get help, because you are insane.
Let's look at the numbers. Every year on our planet, folks start to write millions of novels and billions of stories. Of course, only ten percent will finish what they start. That knocks down the odds for the rest of us. Nonetheless, to sell a work means someone has selected yours from the thousands of submissions they received. Fortunately, only a fraction of the finished works are sent to the marketplace. Alas, even if you are the next Melville or Joyce, rest assured there are a hundred of your writing equals out there. Or if you're a blue collar writer like me, there may be thousands just as good out there. Cope.
How can you further reduce those odds?
Write. There are no books, no classes, no guru, no magic crystal that can improve your writing. You have to do that by writing. Bradbury or Asimovor was it my grandma?once quipped that you write a million words, then you can call yourself a writer. That's a pretty good beginning.
Read. Just a general way to make your life better. Like long baths and hot sex.
Don't imitate your favourite writers. Make your fiction your own. A million people can imitate Hemingway. How many can imitate you? Don't play the fad style game. Sure it might be hip to write stories in second person, future pluperfect... today. But it may be years before the right editor sees your work, and old fads age poorly. Indeed, just last month a story I first wrote in 1989 and sold in 1993 was published.
Finish and submit what you write. Rejection may suck, but stuffing a manuscript in the filing cabinet is a loser's game. Submit your work to every appropriate (and just for the hell of it, at least one inappropriate) market, not just one or two places. Should everyone reject it, then see if you still love the story; if you do, rewrite and retitle the puppy, and start submitting it all over again.
Persistence is the best way to beat the odds. Some of the best writers I have ever read no longer write because they couldn't take the punches. If your stories have to fight bare-knuckled for 106 rounds. Cope. You cannot lose unless you quit.
It can, it WILL be demoralizing. But if anything can dissuade you from being a writer, then you aren't one.
Maybe I am a writer because my mother smoked a joint during her pregnancy, or was exposed to nuke test fallout. Maybe I am mentally ill or a mutant like Wolverinegeez, I wish I could claw through walls, instead of climb the walls while facing deadlines. So what? I am a writer. It's what I do.
Look inside yourself and ask: what do you do?
I would also like to address a few words to the readers out there. First and foremost, thanks. Even if you never read a word of mine, thanks. Because y'all make writing for a living possible.
We live in a time of endless consolidation, of multinational corporations ruling the writing world by dictating what is printed. And the scary thing is: they don't have a clue what you, the reader, want.
When you read a book that makes you go WOW, drop the publisher a letter or e-mail. When one of your favourite authors hasn't put out a book in a few yearsin this age of mega-hit lottery thinking, many publishers are saying 'who cares' about the smaller selling authorsask the publishers why. Give them some input. Sometimes even a soulless corporation listens.
The magazine industry is also suffering. People aren't taking the time to read short fiction. Bummer. But here again, the reader can kick some major ass. You want a gift that can make a difference? Buy a 'zine as a presentfrom the small press to the big, there's something out there for every taste. For five bucks, you can share a beloved writer, or genre, with a friend, niece, or your fav wino at the bus stop. You can do your part to provide writers with markets, with careers. Once again, you can write to these 'zines and tell them what you like, what you want.
Exercise your power, or lose it.
Text copyright © 2012 by R. Neube.
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