I am — right now – writing a character who is emotionally maimed because she FAILED to take crazy chances. What I mean is, faced with a situation in which she could follow the rules and things would end badly or not follow them and have things end even worse, with a slim to non-existent chance of it all ending up well, she took the “follow the rules” and the lesser of two evils. And she forever regrets the “what might have been.”
This has set me in a mode of thinking about it. “What might have been” might be the toughest words in the English language, and I bet all of us over the age of twenty have an extensive collection of “what might have been.” I do, you do, everyone does.
What might have been if we’d taken our meager savings and invested in Amazon, for instance. (It’s not like I ever had any doubts they’d do well, either. We just never got around to it.) What might have been if I’d ignored the agents and editors and continued writing space opera and throwing it at Baen, ten years before I did. What might have been if I’d attended cons when we lived in the Southeast.
Now of my various regrets, most of them I can exonerate myself from. To have done otherwise would have required either supernatural ability to see into the future – for instance, if I’d known twenty years ago what I know now about ebooks and indie selling, instead of spending my time writing short stories to submit to the small presses, etc, I’d just have done novels, some for Baen and some for the drawer. But that would have required second sight or future-telling, or something, and though I have the occasional prophetic dreams and less occasional “feelings” (and yes, I’m still having the feeling that collectively we stand before the gates of hell and death is at our side, thank you so much for asking) I don’t actually have prophetic visions (what price the ability to call my younger self? And besides, she’d ignore me, she’s a stubborn b*tch.)
Then there’s the fact that I look back and go “What was I doing? Why did I think I could only write a book a year? What was wrong with me?” But that’s easy to say now, from where I stand, where I a) have a lot more practice, so book writing is faster, and b) don’t have toddlers around my ankles all day while rebuilding a house that we bought in a condition that needed rebuilding. (And btw, I’m not saying that the 18 and 22 year old don’t get in the way but I – thank heavens – don’t need to bathe them or feed them with a spoon.)
But then there are other regrets, on the same order as my characters, and stuff like ‘Why didn’t I go to the cons in the Southeast’ fall under them. I want to say “because I didn’t even know they existed” but that’s only part of the truth. For one, one of my casual acquaintances back then was a published member of Horror Writers of America and I’m sure he HAD to have told me about the cons, right? It’s more that I hated going out in public, was even more conscious of my accent than I’m now, and it was all too easy to convince myself not to do it and then ignore them.
Yet, at the time, taking the risk, meeting editors… Yes, maybe they’d hate me, but I have a feeling they wouldn’t.
And other stuff. I still with that when we found ourselves profoundly unhappy with Dan’s job we had packed the car with cats and the few things we wanted to keep, sold everything else at a garage sale, announced the house for assuming with nothing done and driven to Denver. People would have thought we were nuts, of course, but financially – not to mention emotionally – we’d have saved two years of h*ll, not to mention untold financial burdens.
Of course, that’s “what might have been” and what about that accident on the way to Colorado, where the escort (!) went off the street in snow and we all died, cats and all? What accident? Well, that too might have been, you know? And it’s good to keep that in mind.
But on the other hand there is no reason not to… How do I explain this?
Pretend you’re a time traveler. You just managed to come back to here now: your body, but a future mind. Look around. What aren’t you doing? What are you failing to allow yourself to do: creative stuff, interesting stuff, learning stuff.
And then there’s the risks. Last year Kevin J Anderson allowed to me audit his Superstars Writing Seminar, (which is happening again this year, and the early bird prices are about to go off.) Listening to people tell the stories of how they broke in, how they had a massive breakthrough, how they got there, how they got attention, just about blew my mind.
I’ve never scaled the heights these people have been to, but I’ve also never taken the risks they have, the desperate all or nothing gambles. Let’s just say that if I were in debt to my ears, and my lights were turned off, and there was no food in the fridge, I’d take whatever advance they gave me, instead of holding off for a big release.
And maybe that’s a mistake. Ever since the seminar, I’ve been listening to other stories of great success (not just in writing) and almost every single time the gamble was enormous, far higher than everything I’ve done, than everything I’ve even considered.
And of course, part of this is my obligations. I can gamble my money (could, if I had any) but not my family’s money and the kids’ educations.
Still, maybe a little more gambling is needed, a little more getting out of my comfort zone. And not just in terms of “how can I advance my career” but – taking in account the feelings (not good) I have of what’s ahead (very not good) – how can I optimize my chances of surviving and of being able to support my family in the future.
This is where I am today. My regrets unlike my character’s aren’t huge and irretrievable, but all the same, like Zen, I’m wondering “what’s the slightly crazy alternative I can take? And how might it pay off?”
Saner blogging tomorrow – and a post at MGC in about half an hour or so.