One of my favorite daydreams – which I would say comes from getting older, though frankly, I think it comes more directly from being a science fiction sort of chick – is what I would do if I could go back in time and give myself a message.
Let’s establish upfront this would have to be a short message. I don’t know what the rates are for trans-time communication, but it is probably prohibitive. (The alternate to this dream is the By His Bootstraps scenario, and I suspect the one-way-mind-ticket back is yet more expensive, plus I’d have to factor in the boys and Dan too, because I ain’t going nowhere without the guyses.)
Yes, yes, “buy apple stock” is rather obvious, but let’s be frank here, okay? Most of the time (with brief glorious exceptions when we had to catch up on all the deferred basics – forget luxuries) we were barely making it on the “we can keep roof over head, feed ourselves and keep cars running.” We might have been able to pinch some money for stocks, but it was never going to be a bunchaton or even enough o make a difference. Look, until about five years ago, I used to daydream IN THE CLEANNERS isle of the supermarket. As in “oh, wow, I wish I could buy the more expensive/efficient scrubbing stuff instead of basic all purpose pinesol.”
As for “I’ll warn the authorities in advance of 9/11,” forget that too. At best you’d get yourself on some FBI watch lists. At worst, you’d get locked up as a loony. It’s not like they didn’t have other warnings – the machineries of security work very slowly (and not very efficiently) and we all know what being the voice that cried in the desert got John the Baptist, right?
So, let’s just consider this – if you could – if you had the chance to just go back 20 years and tell yourself one thing… what would you say?
Needless to say my own favored thing would be to go back and tell Dan and I on the night the car broke down – OMG, 32 years ago. Where does time go? – by the side of that lone highway in Ohio “Just get married now. Four extra years.” It would have been tough, mind. And we’d probably be about where we are… but… four extra years.
I used to daydream of this in reverse when I was a broke would-be writer, just starting seriously trying to aim for fiction writing as a job (before that my main goal was to find employment as a multilingual translator) because I had an infant and I didn’t want to put him in daycare. So… exactly 20 years ago, give or take, when we first moved to Colorado.
I used to push the pram with Robert all over downtown, from bookstore to bookstore (we were so broke that most of my reading material came from the “rejected books” shelf outside stores, so I usually hit all three everyday to make sure I didn’t miss any good stuff) and daydream about myself-from-the-future coming back and just saying “you’ll make it.” I thought it would save me so much heartache and stuff.
Well, you shouldn’t lie. Not to the young. And I was (relatively) young then. If I could go back, could I really say “you made it?” Oh, sure, from the perspective of Sarah-back-then who thought she’d be happy if she just published a few short stories (yeah, and the moment I did I started going “I want to sell a novel.”) yeah, probably. But on the other hand, what about the years of heartache, the years I HAD to write six books, the years of throwing books into an endless abyss where nothing flourished?
If I told her, she might have chosen to do something less painful for money, like sell a kidney. And yet, from a certain perspective, if you squint – and are thoroughly drunk – I wouldn’t give up on what I’ve done. I think at least some of the books are very worth it. (And probably not the ones I THINK are worth it. Time and again writers misevaluate their work. So I’m not going to try.)
So, if I could go back – or send back a note to my younger self, what would I say… exactly?
Well, at the time we moved to Colorado I was starting to get a hint that being attached to my first world would be me nowhere. I’d jump on that and say “Diversify.”
These were the early days of online communities. Dan wouldn’t let me get on AOL because it was stuff for non-techies. (He’s always been in denial about the fact I’m a non-techy.) I’d have insisted, and I’d have got on the early Baen bar and pursued my traditional publishing that way. (Weirdly back then I was starting to write in the future history timeline, and DST wasn’t that far off.)
But more importantly? You know the worst block I faced? That was when I wanted to write something I knew had NO market. Say, an extended romance/ghost story set in the future (Well, that was one of them) or the fantasy everyone kept thinking was YA despite rape and madness, because it started when character was 17 (for one chapter.) Putting those stories “to bed” and continuing on the stuff that had a chance actually took more effort than just writing them. It was kind of like trying not to push when I was giving birth to #2 son and the doctor had to drive in from his office [kid was delivered by a doctor in street clothes.] It was much harder than actually giving birth.)
So I’d say “Just write it. Whatever crazy idea, write it. Don’t worry about shorts. Don’t worry about submitting. Don’t worry, really, about any publishers but Baen. Overtime? Not worth your effort. Write for Baen and write for the drawer. Write a lot for the drawer. Trust me, the time will come when you can put it all up for sale, and if you have twenty novels finished, you’ll have a huge lead.”
And then when I get to that point in the daydream is when I realize, if I can JUST get over being sick, I CAN still do this. I haven’t finished a lot of stuff, but I do have a lot of stuff almost finished. (This is where I explain that 1/4th written and fully plotted IS “almost finished”. Trust me. Like Christie said “it’s all written in my head.)
I can diversify. I can write faster. I can finish stuff.
And then I get warm fuzzies. Which is the happy part of the “talking to younger self” dream. Because, let’s face it, even if I could talk to her, so much could go wrong. First, without writing short stories for two years, would I ever have learned to start books? And without the years of forced writing, would I have honed the craft? And besides, even if I knew I could one day publish it all, would I have written much more? I mean, it’s easy to forget, in retrospect, but you know, under life is what happens when you’re doing something else? Same with writing. There was children’s illnesses, our illnesses, money trouble, moving… (Okay, so I’d have told self to avoid our first house in CO because ick.) There were weekends wasted in glorious walking around with the guys. There were days spent cuddling and watching stupid movies because there was a blizzard out. I wouldn’t trade any of those. (Okay, maybe the sickness and money trouble.) So, in the end, not much more would probably be done.
And now… Now I have a chance to do it, anyway. So – this might be the flu talking. Or the bourbon that I’ve drunk as ersatz cough syrup – let’s say I start today. Pretend myself from the future just came back and told me – fifty is not that old! – “write now. Write as much as you can. Write for Baen, and write for indie. Start putting things up now. Go. You have no idea how much better off you’ll be in twenty years.”
Well… why not?
It’s worth a try.
By my bootstraps.
Completely different post over at Mad Genius Club.