When I was a very young author, knee high to a short story, I read something in a magazine that gave me a new perspective on the profession. I don’t even remember which magazine or who wrote it, whether an editor, a writer or what. But I do remember the sense of what I read.
It went something like this: We all yearn for recognition for our art. We long to be told we’ve done well when we think we’ve conquered a new challenge, surmounted a new peak of craft, we want that applause, that clap on the back, that “well done, you.”
Rid yourself of that hope now. It will hurt less. Most of the time the writing life resembles nothing so much as a series of kick in the teeth.
I read that and I believed it, and readied myself and put on my mouth guard. Which is a good thing, because for the last fifteen years, it’s got kicked a lot.
If you stay in this job, if you continue improving, it is despite and perhaps sometimes because of those kicks in the teeth – more than the crowd behind you, cheering. You pour out your heart and soul onto the paper, you study new techniques, and if you’re lucky you get back a standard rejection. If you’re not lucky you get back a rejection slip someone spent hours crafting in order to pick just the right wounding phrase. (You think I’m joking. One of these that I got ran to four pages and included the sentence “flipping voices like a cook flipping flap jacks at a greasy spoon.” Which a) is not a phrase that comes naturally to anyone and b) since the book had nothing to do with diners and wasn’t set in the present, was a bit of a stretch.) And after you’re published, the kicks don’t stop. People speculate on your motives when you created your characters, they make broad leaps of reasoning to attribute odd vices to you and – more importantly – if you succeed in hiding all your hard work and make your product smooth and clean, they dismiss you as a ‘light’ read and assume it’s easy to write like that.
Does it get easier to put up with that? No. But you do get used to it. Or you develop ways to cope with it. (Lately I’ve had to change mine, as ice-cream is off my diet.)
The people who only want praise stay forever in their local writers’ groups, or only showing the work to their family and friends. They don’t experience this kind of pain. They can continue telling themselves that they are unsung geniuses. But they’ll never be read by most people.
The rest of us, the ones who want to grow and improve, and most of all, the ones who want to be read by the wider world where try as you might, you can’t avoid some people hating your work, forge on.
But it is not – it is never, unless you grow very old at a position of semi-prominence – a walk in the park. It is not chilled champagne and canapes.
Still sometimes – very rarely – like the sun breaking through clouds, you do get a pat on the back. This happened to me yesterday when I got notification I was a finalist for the Prometheus Award.
It happens to be one of those awards that I dreamed about when I was knee high to a short story.
Of course I’d love to win – though I don’t expect it, considering the competition – but hokey though it sounds, it is an honor just to be nominated.
And now I’ll go sit in that little ray of sunshine and finish Darkship Renegades, shall I?