A Writer’s Manifesto: The Doubts and Resolve of a Midlister

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A couple of weeks ago, Diana mentioned in a post the latest publishing kerfuffle, which pits Barnes & Noble against Simon & Schuster. (Feel free to check out Di’s post, as well as the other posts to which she links.  I’ll wait.)  The issues in this fight, as with so many other publishing industry conflicts, are murky at best.  When corporate behemoths do battle, it’s hard to take sides because neither entity is terribly sympathetic.  But you can always count on one thing:  Whatever costs the giants incur as a result of their disagreement will be passed on a) to authors, and b) to consumers.  Certainly that has been the case this time around.

I bring this up because lately I have been feeling deeply frustrated by this business and my precarious-as-always place in it.  I’m a mid-lister.  I’m not one of fantasy/science fiction’s big names.  I’m too old to be an up-and-comer, still too inexperienced to be considered an old master.  My books don’t debut on bestseller lists, and believe me when I tell you that I don’t make a lot of money doing this.  I have a kid who’s about to start college and another who’s about to start high school, and I am feeling that lack of earning power more acutely than ever. I’ve just had a great big, milestone, mortality-reminding birthday, and I am all too aware that my window of opportunity for breaking into the ranks of big-name, bestselling authors is starting to close.

And yet . . .

The other day I went for a long hike through the forest.  The trail I was on traverses what’s called Shakerag Hollow (so named because many years ago you could go down into the hollow at night, wave a white cloth, and bootleggers would emerge from the shadows to sell their wares) and it was just beautiful.  The forest canopy has yet to fill in, so late-afternoon sunlight streamed through the bare branches.  Spring wildflowers lined the trail — the yellows of Celandine Poppy and Trout Lily, the soft whites of Rue Anemone and Dutchman Britches, the lavender of Hepatica and the expectant blue of budding Larkspur.  Wrens and kinglets sang, their exuberant voices blending with the gurgle of streams that carried runoff from recent storms.  As as I walked, all I could think about was how I would write about it, how I might work the setting into a story or perhaps just turn it into an essay for the local paper (which is always looking for pieces of this sort).

In recent months, with some frequency, I have found myself wondering if perhaps my run as a professional writer is coming to an end.  Maybe, when I’m done with the two Thieftaker books that remain under contract, I should find something else to do.  I really do have other marketable skills, though you probably wouldn’t know it to look at me.  I want to make more money than I do right now. (Did I mention that my older kid is about to start college?)  I find myself wondering what it would be like to work in an industry that makes sense — I still wonder at the fact that publicity money is spent on the most successful authors, the ones who actually need it least,while being denied to those of us who remain relatively unknown — that doesn’t treat those who create its most important content as second-class citizens, that doesn’t attempt to impose upon art the same business models that are used to market, say, laundry detergents.

But the truth is — as my hike through Shakerag Hollow reminded me — I am a writer.  I can no more stop writing than I can stop breathing.  I talked about this with a good friend not long ago (right around my birthday, when these existential professional doubts were weighing on me quite heavily).  And he asked me this:  “Putting aside your frustrations, do you still love it?”  Of course the answer was yes.  “You’re thinking about this stuff because you’re hyper-aware of it being your birthday.  You’re feeling your mortality.  Let’s say you only have 20 good years left.  Is there really anything else you would want to do with those years?”  Of course the answer was no.  “Then nothing else matters.”

He’s a good friend.

And he’s right. 

Sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded of what ought to be obvious:  I’m not in this to get rich; I write because storytelling is my passion. Which isn’t to say that I need to be complacent about where my career is right now. It would be nice to make more money.  I would like for my work to gain a wider readership.  But as people wiser than I am have said on this site (I’m looking at you Misty Massey, Faith Hunter, and Mindy Klasky) the best thing I can do to promote my work is write good books.

More than that, though, I have decided that my best bet is to throw off my professional ambivalence and commit myself with renewed passion not only to my creative work, but also to the business side of what I do.  So, I have new projects in mind, including a collection of Thieftaker short fiction and a new alternate world fantasy.  In the next six months I am going to take my first steps into self-publishing, both to put out some of my backlist, and also to begin marketing new novels.  And I am going to work my tail off in anticipation of the July 2 release of Thieves’ Quarry.

This is an odd post, I know.  There really isn’t much point to it.  I have no advice to offer, no helpful hints for those of you aspiring to the profession.  But sometimes it’s good for those less versed in the business to understand that its foibles and frustrations are just as difficult for the experienced as they are for the uninitiated.  And sometimes it’s helpful for those of us who are established to vent, to acknowledge once more what all of us already know:  This is hard.

But . . .

I am a writer.  I say that with pride.  I say it knowing that at some level I really have no choice in the matter; this is who and what I am. I say it understanding fully that to write is, at times, to struggle both creatively and financially.  I say it with a renewed sense of purpose, and with a pledge to pursue my art with dedication, with passion, with joy.

So who’s with me?  Why do you write?  What do you do when the doubts creep in?

David B. Coe
http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://www.dbjackson-author.com
http://magicalwords.net
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34 comments to A Writer’s Manifesto: The Doubts and Resolve of a Midlister

  • I go through things like this all the time. Even if we’re not in it to get rich, it’d be bloody nice to make a living wage without wrecking ourselves. I make a living, but I’ve been publishing a minimum of two, and once four, books a year. It’s not sustainable, and it’s frustrating.

    I recently posted a blog about the whiplash of my income from one year to the next, and a friend who read it was utterly appalled at how little money I made on average. I asked, out of curiosity, what she’d expected I’d be making, and she said that given how much I wrote and how hard I worked, that she knew I wasn’t getting rich but she figured I was probably averaging *twice* the amount I actually averaged. I wonder if this is one of those things we really ought to talk about more, using real or at least averaged numbers, simply because the perception the general public has of writerly income is JK Rowling and Stephen King.

    And on another note, having gone down the self-publishing road recently, if you have any questions, feel free to throw them my way! Although heaven knows Mindy’s been hitting it out of that ballpark already, so maybe you’ve got the discussion angle covered. :)

  • I wrote a birthday post on my blog and it’s funny what happened, because I’d written it maybe two weeks before my birthday, prepping it for posting on the day. When I opened it again, I remembered that it was a bit more doom and gloom and why-aren’t-I-published-yet, but between that time, I’d (well, D.J.’d), been signed for a novella, so I had to revamp the whole thing. And when I thought about it, I took it as a good birthday present, having to rewrite that thing. Just getting the acceptance renewed my confidence in my abilities. I couldn’t stop writing if I wanted to, so I may as well keep putting it out there for others to read, whether I find a pot of gold at the end of the Reading Rainbow (catch that?) or just an occasional night out or ability to get or do a few things we’ve never had the disposable income for.

    And at some point in the possibly near future, I may hit the self-pub route. I’ve been coming up with a game plan over the past couple years, mulling things over in my head, deciding what I might put out there. I feel like the best way to get yourself out there is to work as many angles as possible, even if you have to use pen names to do it.

  • It’s a little disconcerting, David, to have you inside my head, thinking my thoughts and giving them words. (Okay, I didn’t get to see and hear and smell and *live* Shakerag Hollow, but I had a similar weekend epiphany at the Pre-Raphaelite art exhibit at the National Gallery this weekend.)

    In any case, I am working through these *exact* same questions (minus the kids in school). I have renewed my efforts with a New! And! Improved! work schedule, where I’m devoting every other day to actual writing, with the “off” days spent doing promotion, marketing, self-pub labor, and household obligations (grocery shopping, etc.) I’m actually energized about my process for the first time in months.

    Thanks for speaking truth to those of us with a lot of heart but no power. And keep us in the loop as your thoughts about leaving the profession evolve — we want to be part of the discussion (and, hopefully, solution, whatever it might be.)

  • Interesting, challenging post. So many of the ‘gurus’ repeat the mantra: “Do what you love and the money will follow,” but I have begun to question the validity of that statement. I recently read about a long-lost letter written by Oscar Wilde that was discovered in an old piece of furniture. The biggest thing that jumped out at me form that letter was Wilde’s statement that you ought not to write for money. From NPR’s website:

    “A recently discovered 13-page letter from Oscar Wilde advises a mysterious “Mr. Morgan” that “[t]he best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer…” Wilde adds, “Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you.” The letter was discovered last November…”

    I don’t say this to be pessimistic or discouraging, and I hope it doesn’t have that effect on anyone. It’s just what’s been running through my mind lately.

  • Fireheart1974

    David,
    On one hand, it’s nice to read that even full-time authors still wonder! On the other hand, it’s a bit scary for those of who aren’t quite there yet.

    Anyway, I was at Ravencon this weekend on a panel about writing/full-time life, and one of the authors (Michael H Hanson) had a really great comment. He said (paraphrasing) if you look in the mirror every morning and can ask yourself “Why do you write?” and the answer is “Because I can’t not write.” then you are a writer…and the “real world” won’t change that.

    For me when the doubts come in, I think about my daughter…one day, I want her to be able to say…”My mommy’s a writer,” not, my mommy works in HR. I want her to be able to go to a bookstore (okay…online) and say to her teenage friends, “Hey, those are mom’s books. They’re pretty good.” :) And that keeps me writing.

  • […] Mindy Klasky, John Hartness, Kalayna Price, and James Tuck, among others. The post is called “A Writer’s Manifesto: The Doubts and Resolve of a Midlister.” It’s a statement of why I love to write and continue to pursue a career in writing, despite the […]

  • Thank you for this post, David. Something about milestone birthdays really gets us thinking. I know this sounds totally silly in comparison, but I did think about similar things last year when I hit a smaller one. I always assumed (when I was younger and had more hubris and less skill) that I’d be published by now. The conclusion I came to is that I’m happy with the journey thus far, but I want to push myself to do more.

    I’m with Daniel – I keep thinking of different ways to approach this. Considering both traditional *and* self-publishing, depending on the projects. Wincing because hey, I should really get back to work.

    I have a tiny note taped to my roll-out keyboard tray at work: “I am a writer. That’s priority #1.” Mostly a reminder for when the workplace drama gets too thick, but also something to help keep me focused. That’s where I’ll keep putting my energy.

  • Catie, I think that’s incredibly common on both sides of the pond. I have friends here who see how hard I work and how many books I have out, and they assume that I’m making all kinds of money, which, of course, I’m not. When I do writing workshops, I usually do a business realities panel. Aspiring writers emerge from the room looking shell-shocked. Thanks for the offer of help with the self-pubbing. You will absolutely be hearing from me.

    Daniel, I am so glad for you. You’ve worked hard for your recent success, and it’s great to see. I totally agree with you: the best way to succeed these days is to take many approaches and have your proverbial eggs in many baskets.

    Mindy, glad to know I’m not alone in this. I should try a similar approach to my work schedule. I might be calling you for advice, on this and on self-publishing.

    Edmund, that’s fascinating about Wilde — I missed that story. It doesn’t really surprise me though; history is littered with tales of artists who struggled throughout life and never really found financial success. There are exceptions of course, and they garner a good deal of attention — so much so that the realities of the publishing business (or the businesses of art, music, theater, etc.) are often obscured (see Catie’s comment above).

    Fireheart, I had a marvelous experience just yesterday: I was at a party, chatting with a friend about work, life, etc. And I made some self-deprecating comment about my lack of career progress. My 14 year-old daughter was standing next to me, and she immediately challenged what I said and started ticking off all the things I’d done in the last year — the release of Thieftaker, the coming release of Thieves’ Quarry, the fact that I just finished writing another book. In her eyes, I realized, I’m successful — money be damned. And in the long run, that perception on her part means more to me than all the riches in the world. All this by way of saying that the last graph in your comment really speaks to me.

    Laura, thanks for the comment. Milestone birthdays have always been this way for me, so I know what you mean. And I have something similar on my desktop — a horoscope that I clipped out of the paper years ago, when I was just starting out. The [paraphrased] message is: Keep working because your dream will come true.

  • “I find myself wondering what it would be like to work in an industry that makes sense.”

    If you ever find such a industry, be sure to let us know. I’m certain a lot of people would be overjoyed to work someplace sane for a change. It was always rumbling in the wings, but ever since the Reagan administration gave accelerated credence to the notion that employees are commodities to be exploited rather than valuable resources, the idea of finding rewarding, meaningful work became just that, an idea, no longer a reality—the American Dream, with a sorry emphasis on the dream aspect.

    The publication industry may not make sense (if it ever did), but the act of writing, as frustrating and unrewarding as it may sometimes seem, remains one of the most rational endeavors left to the creative soul.

  • Speaking as someone who has not yet written a book, much less published one, the thing I find most frustrating is that the people I admire–people who have not only completed and published books but also have brought me and many others hours of enjoyment and pleasure–these people who are my heroes have to spend endless hours taking care of non-writing tasks in order to make any money at all, and then most of them still have to worry about making enough money.

    Most of my milestone birthdays are disappearing in the rear-view mirror, so I’ve had these kinds of thoughts about my previous careers, and somewhat ironically those thoughts led me to re-focus on my writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and in many ways self-identify as a writer, but I never had the time and/or discipline and/or courage to think about it as a career. Right now I’m tolerating my career because it’s giving me the money I need so I can spend my spare time doing what I love.

    The changes in the publishing world coupled with my age have eliminated any plans I ever had to write for a living. (Still haven’t given up on the dream of hitting it big with a bestseller that becomes a movie so I can retire a bit early!) But I still find it incredibly sad that talented and hardworking writers struggle to make a living doing what they love.

  • Nathan Elberg

    I truly do not understand the statement “Then nothing else matters.” No? Is paying for your children’s college tuition unimportant? Keeping them in a decent home? How about making donations to causes that are important to you? Or paying for a good health insurance policy?
    It’s too glib to say nothing else matters. It’s too self-centered for a person who is part of a family, part of a community. A parent has responsibilities to their children. A human has responsibilities to his society.
    My father was a holocaust survivor, and an award-winning Yiddish novelist & lecturer. He wrote because he felt he had survived the holocaust in order to bear witness. Writing was a responsibility as well as a pleasure. He supported himself with a business, but always allocated time to his novels and stories. His writing mattered. His family mattered. History mattered to him.

  • Wolf, you do raise a good point. It seems that every profession and every industry has it’s own unique headaches and idiosyncrasies. On the other hand, publishing really is quite mad. I’ve been in academia; I’ve been in politics. Both are pretty crazy, but publishing is way, way worse. At least it seems that way to me. On the other hand, this — “the act of writing, as frustrating and unrewarding as it may sometimes seem, remains one of the most rational endeavors left to the creative soul” — is beautifully stated and absolutely true. Thanks for that.

    Sisi, I share your frustration, and I would add that this, like the madness of the profession, is not limited to writing. My wife is an academic. She works with some of the most devoted, intelligent people I’ve ever met. And they have to put up with way more than their share of crap all the time. The world is not always a fair place, and it certainly does not seem to value the same skills and sensibilities that I do. I wish that we could concentrate solely on our writing and not worry about the business stuff, but the truth is that as a writer, I’m also a small businessman. I don’t like that part of my job, but I understand that it comes with the territory.

    Nathan, I think you’ve misunderstood my friend’s message to me, and my message in repeating it here. And though I’m sure you didn’t intend it this way, your misunderstanding comes off as a bit offensive. No one is saying that my kid’s college education is unimportant, or that it’s not important that I take care of my family’s health and safety and shelter. What my friend was saying, and what I’m saying as well, is that assessing the value of a career path involves more than just gauging the financial bottom line. My friend was not suggesting (nor have I ever considered) that I put our house or my kid’s education at risk to pursue my career. He was also not telling me that it is all right for me to be “self-centered.” I’ve never thought that either. But there are trade-offs. Is it more important that I make a bundle of money? Or is it more important that I pursue a career that leaves me feeling fulfilled and happy; that models for my children the notion that there is value in the pursuit of one’s dreams; that gives me the freedom to work at home and be fully involved in the upbringing of my kids; that allows me to do more around the house and thus allows my wife to pursue her professional dreams? When my friend said what he did, he understood the subtext to all of this — the fact that my wife has a good-paying job, that our house is not at risk should I continue to write, that we have health insurance, and will manage (somehow) to send my daughters to college. You don’t have that information, and so it may have seemed to you that his statement and my repetition of it were too glib. I’m sorry for any confusion that caused you. But please do not lecture me on my responsibilities to family and society without first seeking more information. And please keep in mind that the conundrum that prompted this post and the resolve with which it concluded were both geared toward the idea that I really do want to be making more money; I don’t need to be told by anyone how important it is that I help provide for my family. The bottom line, though, is that pursuing a career that brings joy and fulfillment is its own reward, and there is tremendous value in that.

  • As I read your post I kept thinking “thank the lord my SO is studying to be an accountant” (which I think falls under the category of “career which makes sense). It also falls under the categories of “something he likes” and “something he’s good at,” both of which are great. I’m always amused that my day job is just a ridiculous as my dream job. When I’m not frustrated by one or both. Academia is possibly more arcane and bizarre than publishing. But keep writing and all that David.

  • I had a department meeting this morning which was no worse than any other department meeting and significantly better than some have been, yet, as usual, it left me feeling grouchy and discontent and generally spoiling for a fight. This meant I had 15 minutes to get my head back on straight before walking into my frosh writing seminar. It doesn’t help that I’ve been feeling a lot of FAIL lately – as a person, as professor, as a writer. I caught myself wondering if I should bother going back to my WIP or just give up. So I stopped and smelled the roses, literally. It helped. Something about getting out into nature puts my feelings of futility into perspective. I’m glad it does for you too.

  • You made me cry today. Twice. And they were the tears that come when I remember why I want to live a creative life, and who I want to surround me in that creativity. Once upon a time, I had a group of people I called friends, but I know now they were no such thing. When I talked about my work, they made sure to remind me that success was highly unlikely and I should really think more carefully about taking risks like that. In their eyes, my writing was no different than buying lottery tickets, and maybe not quite as useful. It was only after I’d rid myself of their toxicity that I understood how much I needed to write, and how much I wanted to share my stories. I promised myself that whether I became a star or not, I wouldn’t listen to rubbish like that again.

    I recognize that feeling you experienced in Shakerag Hollow (which I am now DYING to see for myself!!!) because it’s the one I feel every time I’m at the beach. I love to wander down to the edge of the waves at twilight and watch the sky darken and let the water lap at my toes and listen to the wind roaring in my ears. It sparks my mind like nothing else.

  • Heck, I wanna shake a rag down there and see if anyone answers. 😉

  • Razziecat

    David, I spent a lot of years either not writing, or not writing with any serious intent. The reasons don’t matter; but one day I was 50, and the way I looked at everything changed. I started to write again, and it was like breathing: Essential. Like you, I can’t *not* write. I won’t be the next big star in the publishing world, but that’s okay. If I get anything published, I will feel that I’ve done what I was put here for. But even if I don’t, the words will be there.

  • One of the things that brought me back to writing was my granddaughter. About two years ago I was visiting them, and my granddaughter, who was 14 at the time, dragged one of her friends into the room. “This is my Memaw, who wrote that story you liked so much!”
    I won’t ever make enough at writing to quit my day job; I have no illusions there. I’ll never write the next “Great American Novel,” and that’s okay. I will continue to write, and continue to attempt to get published, and one day, I might toss my collected works of short stories out on Amazon just to see what happens. No amount of commercial success, though, will be worth more than the pride I saw in my Granddaughter’s eyes.

  • Emily, as an academic refugee, I understand what you’re saying. But I see the academic world from my wife’s POV, and I have to say that I think publishing is even nuttier. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. The crazies are always saner on the other side of the fence, and all that . . . Thanks!

    Sarah, yes. Nature is a balm for me. Getting out to hike or take pictures or birdwatch always makes me feel better.

    Misty, thank you for that. Getting that kind of negativism out of our lives is so important for all of us, but I think it’s particularly true for those of us in the arts, where the road is so difficult, and so much of what we do happens in isolation.

    Daniel, it was always a somewhat risky thing to do. Those folks did not mess around . . .

    Razz, that’s a great way of looking at it — a fine manifesto of your own. The words are the most important thing. Something I don’t always remember. Thanks.

    Lyn, as I mentioned in my first comment above, the pride I heard in my daughter’s voice as she defended me from my own self-deprecation was so moving for me, so gratifying; I know exactly what you mean.

  • David – You know where to reach me, any time :-) Good luck finding a thread through all of this — there are always more threads to tug on, to see where they go…

  • quillet

    Such a beautiful, affirming post. “He’s a good friend. And he’s right.” Amen to that!

    For me, when the doubts creep in…it usually happens in the dark and gives me insomnia. But I get up the next day, however tired and haggard, and write. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a contrary creature, but those doubts just seem to feed my hunger to write. “I’ll show you!” I think. Even when the “you” is me.

    Not that it’s as simple as I’ve just made it sound. Sometimes a walk in the woods is needed (your description of Shakerag Hollow was wonderful!); or watching a sunset, a moonrise, or the rain… because—like you said—these things start me searching for the words to describe them. Which reminds me that I’m a writer. Can’t help it. Money or no money, I’ll be doing it anyway.

  • Thanks, Mindy.

    Quillet, thanks for the kind words. The “I’ll show you (read: me)” mentality gets me through a lot of the the down times. And the things I do for self-renewal — like those that you mention here — get me through the rest.

  • Hey David. Late to the party. Yesterday I was on a river, challenging myself and my aging body to do something that gives me more pleasure than I can even express. The cliff faces rose a hundred feet on my left, the water roared and frothed and slapped me around, and once literally picked up my boat and tossed it 20 feet right. (They call it being typewritered) And I didn’t go over. Totally cool. And we should all chat about that self-pubbing thing. I’d like to hear what everyone says about it. Maybe another group post?

  • Gypsyharper

    I had a similar conversation with my writing partner the other night. I’ve been so frustrated with the lack of time and energy to write, and feeling like nothing I write when I do get the time is any good, that I said “maybe I should just quit”. And my depression has been really bad for the last couple of months, so that doesn’t help. But as I told her when she asked, I do love writing, and I don’t really want to quit – I just want to feel better about my progress than I do. We’re finally getting some spring-like weather here now, so that helps – nature is such a wonderful balm. And I’ve joined a writing challenge called A Round of Words in 80 days, which is helping to keep me accountable to write regularly.

    Posts like this help, too. It’s somehow comforting to know that professionals have doubts, too, not because I want you all to suffer, but because it means the my own doubts and fears don’t necessarily mean I’m not cut out to be a writer. So thank you for your words, and your friend’s words. It’s so nice to have this place where we can all support each other when things get tough. Happy writing!

  • You have brought joy to your readers, Mr. Coe. We appreciate that.

  • Faith, that sounds wonderful — I’m looking forward to getting out again on the (calm) river with you and Rod — maybe this summer when I’m out and about signing books. And yes, a group post on self-pubbing sounds like a terrific idea.

    Gypsy, thanks very much for the kind comment. Doubts are part of the business, and part of being an artist. The writing challenge seems like a great idea; I hope it proves to be a positive experience for you.

    Deep, thank you so much. That means a great deal to me.

  • David–I spent over 20 years working in a profession ‘that made sense’ (Physical Therapy) until it didn’t anymore. It’s strange–I left a known job where I had a steady income for the uncertain life of a writer. It stopped making sense for me when I got squeezed in the middle of patients who needed me, elderly parents at a distance who needed me, and young teens who needed me. There wasn’t enough ‘me’ to go around and have anything left at the end of the day.

    I’m fortunate that my spouse makes enough to allow us to live for a time on one salary. I did support him for the first years of our marriage, so it’s his turn now. :)

    I don’t have any regrets, but I do share a lot of the stressors and worry that you mention. After 4 years of going out on submissions, my agent has yet to make that elusive first sale. I’m doing everything that I can to make her job easier–I’ve completed 8 novels, I work hard at my craft, have a professional web presence and a decent platform of folks who follow my blog and my serialized fiction. Yet so much of this crazy business is out of our control. So much of publishing makes absolutely no sense at all, but this I know: I need to write and I need to have my work read. And as long as I have the ability and opportunity to write, I will write.

    Keeping the faith in writer-land.

  • Nathan Elberg

    David, I presumed that all those things are important to you, which is why I didn’t understand “nothing else matters,” a statement that precludes ambiguity. In your response you are making it very clear that balance matters a great deal.

  • Lisa, now you’re starting to bring in the notion that life doesn’t make sense, an altogether different proposition, and one that is completely true. :) We are constantly pulled in a thousand different directions and it’s often incredibly hard to maintain any artistic endeavor in the face of such stress, even when that endeavor is also our career. But I admire your drive and I wish your every success as you seek that first big break.

    Nathan, I minced words a bit in response to your first comment, in the hope that you would come around to seeing on your own how offensive it was, and perhaps even apologize. Clearly that hasn’t worked. There are ways to address what you perceived in the post. You could have acknowledged that yes the “nothing else matters” passage might have been somewhat hyperbolic, but to your mind it seems somewhat less clear cut, and here’s why. That would have been fine. Instead, you accused me (and my good friend) of being glib and self-centered, and then you lectured me on my responsibilities to my family and society at large. You had no right. We don’t censure comments here at MW, nor do we make it difficult for anyone who has something to say to post a comment to the site. That is a privilege that we accord with the understanding that our readers will recognize that they are guests here, and that they will comport themselves appropriately. If you feel that these responsibilities are too onerous, you should rethink your participation in our community.

  • Nathan, I have to agree with David. Your first comment really did sound unkind, and I had hoped you’d respond with a an apology. It’s sometimes hard for us to gauge the impact of what we say in a setting like this, but once it’s pointed out to us, we all need the grace to say I’m sorry.

  • Nathan Elberg

    David, I am truly sorry that I seemed to imply that family, community, etc. are unimportant to you. I was dealing simply with the straightforward statement. As I said in my second comment, I presume that things such as family and community are important to you. I was addressing the statement that nothing else matters. I wasn’t addressing you personally. I think you didn’t place my statements in proper context either. I wasn’t saying, “boy, that David is a self-centered piece of—“. I was addressing the issue of writers (or anyone) making a statement that sounds clear cut, but requires interpretation to be understood properly.

    As it happens I know a novelist who abandoned his wife and child and relocated to China so no one would disturb him while he wrote. He has lots of money, and self-published. Nothing else mattered to him. I didn’t put you in the same category as this guy, who makes the clear-cut statement that he is not a nice person. His statement can be taken at face value.

  • Thank you for this, Nathan. As someone to whom family and community mean a great deal, I can understand wanting to emphasize their importance and rebut any statement that seems to trivialize them.

  • This is a great post! When I graduated from college I started writing romance novels and then, for various reasons, I stopped writing and went to law school. Five years after I finished my first book, I graduated law school and started practicing and realized “this is now what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I decided I wanted to pursue my dream of writing and one of the first things I did was rejoin several RWA author loops to try to get the lay of the land. There, I met someone my exact age who’d also started writing right out of college and she’d just sold her first deal and it was a great deal. We had so much in common — books we liked, our approach to the business, etc etc — and a large part of me wondered, “Could that have been me? If I hadn’t stopped writing all those years ago, would I be selling my first book?” And that’s when I realized that I didn’t want to wake up in another five years and ask the same question. And so I started writing and I did so very seriously with a goal to write, revise, and submit a book a year (and I gave myself 10 years before I’d reevaluate that plan).

    One of the things that’s difficult about writing as a career is that there’s a lot of luck involved. I was lucky to write about zombies just as they were becoming popular. But I also think that there’s a large degree of perseverance necessary. I’m not sure many people can have a long term writing career without facing a lot of obstacles: bad covers, poor marketing, cancelled contracts, rejected books, cancelled series, etc. (and you hope that you also experience great covers, good review coverage, nice word of mouth buzz, etc). This was something an author had told me very early on and so when I hit bumps in the road I tried to tell myself to hang on and get through — the same way I had to hang on and get through rejections on the novels that ended up in the trunk.

    I think I’m still early in my career and idealistic and so perhaps I’ll feel differently down the road, but I still look at each book as a new possibility. My bottom line has always been that I don’t want to be a lawyer again and I’m happy to write what I can to achieve that goal: I’ve done write for hire (I loved it and I think it’s had a hugely positive impact on my career), I’ve contemplated writing a different genre under a pen name, I’m putting together a short story collection to self-publish. I hit a point in my career where I felt fairly stagnant and directionless and there was definitely a part of me that wondered, “Was that it? Was I done?” I decided the answer was no. It took longer than I expected, but since then I’ve sold two new deals for a total of 6 books.. I’m in an *entirely* different place now than I thought I’d be and planned to be, but honestly, I think it’s a better place. And I wouldn’t have gotten here if I hadn’t (a) hit that difficult place, and (b) pushed through it.

    And my hope is that regardless of how those books do, I’ll continue writing. Because if I stop, I know that there will always be a time I ask myself, “What if?” What if I’d just kept writing? Also — I don’t want to be a lawyer again :)

  • Thanks for this wonderful comment, Carrie. Your journey, I think, is illustrative for all of us, not only because of your success in writing, but also because you gave up what would surely have been a lucrative law career to pursue your passion. Not all of us can make that choice and have it work out as well as it has for you, but it is so very cool that it worked out that way for you. And having read some of your work, I can say that you definitely made the right choice, to the benefit of us all.