It took me very long to get published, compared to normal humans who set out on this path. Depending on how you look at it, from first mailing something out to first sale — at half cent a word, a short story — it took me either 13 or 16 years. Though you have to understand that most of that time I was either not writing or not submitting, because life events had overtaken me. (In that sense, I suppose life is not much different now.)
Mostly,mind you, my ever-breaking down body. (Fifty nine years of not dying and counting.) But also moves across the country, kids and other stuff that needed done. (So, as I said, normal.)
Still even at the most generous of ways of looking at it, say it took me nine years of active trying: that’s approximately three times longer than it took other people who started at the same time or shortly after to get to that same place.
Now everything is up-ended, because Indie is different, and even if you intend to be traditionally published (why dude? Rats in head?) you’d be a fool not to publish and earn n indie as soon as you can.
I actually wonder if it would have taken me less time now to make significant (or measurable, eh) money in the new path, and/or if I’d have managed it all.
There’s no way to answer that, you see. We’re creatures of our time as much as creatures of our place. No matter how American I’ve become (apparently very, judging by how I rub the birth-relatives JUST wrong) I’ll always have my roots deep in a little Portuguese place that no longer exists in any meaningful way. (And most of the people who shaped me then sleep beneath the marble in the old cemetery.)
And no matter how successful I get at indie (I will. I’m like the energizer bunny. I might slow down, but I don’t actually know how to stop) I not only came up through trad, but I came up by a path that technically didn’t exist, already, by the time I used it.
Which probably didn’t help with the speed of the breaking in, and is part of expectations, you know?
I had grown up reading about people who had broken into writing and their path to success, and it went something like “Did a bunch of odd jobs, then started writing. The writing was unsuccessful for a while, then I broke in with a short story that paid me 1/4 c a word (I can no longer remember if my first was a fourth or a half cent. Eh.) And then I sold at one cent a word. Then three cents. Then eventually pro. And then I sold a novel.”
By the time I came in, this path didn’t exist. There simply weren’t enough magazines that paid anything, much less that kind of ladder. I didn’t realize most of those people had made it in pulp days, when you made your bones in serials, even for novels.
But I didn’t know that. Being a person of a place as well as a time, I was a deep-outsider. And I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But if I were a gaming character, I’d have rolled the highest possible for stubbornness, to the point that it’s almost a super power. “Give me this granite head, and I will move mountains.”
So, having sent a first novel out and got it rejected, with a rejection I didn’t understand, I set out, cheerfully, to make my way in “as it should be done.” (In my head only, understand, but hey.)
Yes, yes, I got a personal rejection for my very first submission, and to me it was purest Chinese. The editor informed me that they would accept it if I changed the bio-engineered humans pronouns. That wasn’t possible (still isn’t, and you poor slobs will probably get the re-write of that book this year.) But more importantly, not knowing about the rats in the heads of sf/f editors (already in 85, yes) I thought it couldn’t be the REAL reason. I mean, they were somehow sparing my feelings.
So, I became convinced of two things: my language wasn’t good enough to pass for native (not actually wrong. It reads slightly stilted to me, now. But since I can’t stand outside and see myself write-by on the street, I don’t know if it was “good enough”) and that I must go in via short stories.
Now you have to understand my natural length is around 40k words. (Awkward, yes.) I had to learn to write both longer and shorter. And longer is MUCH easier.
But by gum, if I had to go via short stories, I was going to go via short stories. It took finding listings (hard at the time) for literary and little and “for the love” and it took submitting to some very sus places, but I sold something at either a quarter or a half cent, then got stuck in a half cent for a while, then sold at a cent, then…. then three cents, then, well, then it broke and I sold a novel, and started selling shorts at pro levels (6c for those who wonder) and sometimes at 10c a word. I might be the last pro to make it in that bizarre way. (If anyone ever writes my unauthorized bio, may I request you call it The Last Dirty Old Pro. “Dirty old pro” used to be what the wanna bes called us, because we’d “sold out” but in this case it fits, since I did get my hands dirty enough clawing up through the grubby levels. The equivalent of starting out on the shop floor.)
The problem, it turned out, was not my writing, nor the method of going in, and I could have saved myself time and tears if I’d understood the problem was expectations. (Still is in a way.)
People who read expect certain things. Editors and publishers expect certain things. The editor who rejected my first novel wanted the hermaphrodite characters to be “she” because that struck a blow for feminism. (It also doesn’t work. At all, not with those people.) They expected characters to act a certain way. (And boy, the “Portuguese politeness” that was ingrained then and which my characters acted like, was interpreted as passivity.) And then later, when I became published, I got hampered by the fact that my editors and publishers wanted me to write like “Latin immigrant who made it in despite everything.” Because that they could sell. But most of my characters don’t even have Portuguese names. Because frankly managing what people expect of Portuguese characters and the way those characters would be due to my deep knowledge is almost impossible. (Why I don’t write things set in Portugal. Because like translation, it is anchored in lies at both ends. Has to be to work. And I hate lying. It’s different than telling stories.)
Twice, once because the editor didn’t care, another because the editor was drunk, I was told specifically how they could make me big “write an autobiographical novel, with a bit of magic, and a lot of why you are oppressed.”
Yeah, no. I rolled plus three million for stubbornness, remember? And besides, the stories are for sale, the soul isn’t. If I am going to do something that destroys me, it might as well be driving an eighteen wheeler. (Trust me on this. Not with my coordination.)
And yes, this is one of the ways that being a white male is, as that arrant fool put it, “playing life on the easiest mode.” Sure, corporations will discriminate against you. Climbing up is hand over hand and very hard, while every woman and minority with three brain cells gets promoted or chosen ahead of you (remember I’ve been watching this for 30 years. Don’t argue. I’m an outsider. I see clearly) but at least you know the expectations in other people’s heads, including the idea that you’ve had it easy. And in writing you can write whatever crosses your head that day. No one wants to fit you into the box in THEIR heads.
I wouldn’t say it’s easy, precisely. But the expectations are manageable.
But it was the expectations that were the stumbling block; and it is a characteristic of those deep-expectations that they can’t even be voiced most of the time, and you’re not really aware of your own, much less other people’s.
Figuring out at least some of it helps greatly as a writer, because you can play with it. This is why I refer to writing as playing a chess game with yourself, and the other side is pretending to be the writer. (Um…. if/when I get to teaching, I should do one on expectations, and how to study them and set them up.)
It helps as a human, because you can then figure out why people are reacting oddly to you. (I think my next door neighbor thinks I’m addled, because I start projects, then disappear indoors for day. He must not have the slightest what’s going on. (Mostly auto-immune and writing.))
But it’s very difficult, because there’s a good chance the model for other people’s expectations that you create is wrong.
Heck, in your nearest and dearest: it took Dan and I years — 30 — to figure out why certain things really p*ssed the other off, and why the other was reacting that way to minor things. I mean, once I figured out that he got furious at my changing the place of things in the cabinet, because he thought I WAS DOING IT ON PURPOSE, I could explain that no, I actually don’t have a spacial memory. So, if the plates are all gone (say) I don’t remember where they go. Not the slightest. Yeah, in retrospect, I can see for a normal person that sounds insane. (I’m brain damaged from the circumstances of my birth, and that’s one of the areas I really am not normal.) And yet, it was the truth. But there are things we’re still working through at 38 years and counting, because we don’t even know how to vocalize it.
Anyway, why was I thinking about this today?
I woke up with the thought that particularly among Odds, the path is rarely straight, and I don’t actually have a single friend who started out to do what he now does for a living. (I do have one that does what his degree prepared him for, but he started out wanting to be an MD, he just didn’t get in.)
Maybe that’s normal in the normal run of populations, but then one wonders why degrees exist AT ALL? Still all my friends are Odds — or the vast majority. The others might be Odder than that — and the array of mismatch is glorious.
I know lawyers who are really writers; marine biologists who program computers; biology phds who teach; agricultural engineers who draw….. They are all moderately or very successful, but between the cup and the lip the cup was grabbed by aliens, anally probed and returned on the other side of the universe.
And me? Well, I was tame, you see. After seeing my brother (and cousin — oh, yes, the chemical engineer who is a teacher) be unemployed for years, I was going to take a degree that had multiple employment prospects, AND I could always default to teaching at full pay. Safe. Secure…
And then I married across the ocean. In my entire career, I used my time-expensive degree exactly three years. And wasn’t particularly happy any of those years.
Part of this is that Odds don’t meet anyone’s expectations, and we have our own expectations, which are usually demented when seen from outside. (See where I looked at a page rambling about pronouns and decided the issue was that my language wasn’t good enough.)
Something else — and I’ve seen this in sons and friends — is that the Odds — or as psychologists called it “Highly gifted” — bruise more easily. It was one of the things they told me about both my sons when they were tested (and they start at “profoundly gifted”. The other one is worse) is that they will feel hurt or be traumatized at things others will shrug off, and sometimes at things that make no sense to anyone outside their heads.
When I finally understood it — look, my expectations, okay — what made perfect sense to me was my spending weeks, as a 3 year old mourning grandma’s LAMP. No, seriously, they changed the kitchen light from regular to a big, fluorescent shop light. Given how huge the kitchen was, and how tall the ceiling, this makes perfect sense for adults. (Or sane people.) But the introverted, sensitive three year old a) personified the old lamp, wondering why it was being cast out. b) mourned the quality of the light which made the room warmer. I lacked the language to express it, so I sounded like a crazy kid.
If you dig down through the traumas in my psyche, you’ll probably find grief over a lamp being changed. It’s not sane, but it’s probably there.
And it’s not something normal people expect. They’d go “You’re very smart, so you’re super-logical, right?” Yeah, no.
So, if you’re reading this, you probably have a hell of a time managing expectations (yours and theirs.) You bruise with things other people don’t notice. You break with traumas that are only traumatic to you, and which will make everyone else laugh if they hear about them.
And to make things worse, because the classification by IQ or ability ranks you really high, you feel you should be over-achieving and curl up in the fetal position for years at the slightest failure, even if it’s not your fault. And then feel worse about THAT.
I’m here to tell you that’s all bullshit. It’s all expectations: yours, theirs, and the cat over there’s. (The cat thinks I set my alarm at 7 am every day to pet him. Actually it’s to take the thyroid pills. But we argue about it every single morning, and sometimes pills get spilled all over the sheets as a result.)
You’re allowed to fail as much as the next guy. Actually probably more than the next guy (or girl, or dragon) because in many ways you’re such an outlier that you’re an alien in this world of humans.
If you really want to do something? You’ve got to brazen it out, and realize you’re the only one who is judging yourself for “failure.” You probably fail for other people, too, but in ways they don’t even realize they’re judging you on. Mostly I suspect you just jangle all their nerves by being really weird. Ignore them and forge on.
And you know what? Grab a corner of my mantle of stubbornness. I have enough to cover all of you. And again, “give me this granite head. I will move the world.”
Tell yourself you’re only being an autistic energizer bunny because Sarah A. Hoyt expects you to be. I do.
If I can do it, you can do it. Here’s my hand. Here’s my boot to the bootie.
As far up as you want to go.
We’re gonna get it done.