I attended RavenCon in Richmond, Virginia this past weekend and had a great time. Saw some old friends and met several new ones, sat in on some interesting panel discussions, and even managed to sell a few books.
We’ve blogged here before about cons, and about the purposes they serve for us professionally, so I won’t go into that again. Usually, though, I come home from a con feeling one of two ways. Either I’ll have spent the weekend talking shop with friends and thinking about work in new ways, in which case I’ll come home completely energized, or I’ll have a disappointing con and arrive home somewhat dispirited. But this weekend I seem to have discovered what for me is a new post-convention emotional dynamic (oh, joy…).
As I say, I had a good con, so I’m certainly not depressed or sapped of energy. But I don’t feel particularly energized, either. Instead, I feel restless.
Let me backtrack here. Most writers have something of a career plan. Many times they’ll begin with a plan — usually one that envisions the writer winding up on one or more bestseller lists, and having several of his or her books made into movies. As time goes on, these career plans will, more often than not, require some tweaking…. All kidding aside, any writer who thinks about such things will tell you that career plans really do require careful thought and constant adjustment. I had a career plan when I started out, and, to be brutally honest, I thought I’d be further along at this stage of my career. I thought my sales would be better, I hoped that I’d have received more notice in balloting for the big awards — the Nebula, the Hugo, the World Fantasy Award. I wanted to be a big name.
As it turns out, I’m a midlist author. I’m not a newbie anymore, and I do pretty well. But I’m not writing bestsellers, and I’m not showing up on any of Oprah’s must-read lists. And I have to admit that I’m ready to move up the ladder a bit.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining. Overall, I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I’ve had a couple of bad breaks, but I’ve also enjoyed more good luck than I had any right to expect; the balance sheet is definitely in my favor. I love what I do, and if this is it, if writing epic fantasy from the midlist is all that I have to look forward to for the rest of my career, I can live with that. This is a pretty good life.
Part of this restlessness I’m feeling, this vague sense of dissatisfaction with where I am right now, is merely “shiny new toy” syndrome — something I wrote about at length in a post a couple of weeks ago. I’m ready to be working on something new, and having outlined one project and started another, I even know what these new things are.
That said, though, I want more than the shiny new toy. I still have a career plan. It’s been tweaked, adjusted for the vagaries of the publishing industry and the stark realities of the current economy. But it still envisions many of those goals I mentioned earlier but have yet to achieve. I remain ambitious.
What was it about RavenCon that brought all of this home to me so powerfully? I really don’t know. There were some big names at the con. There were also some new faces, some rising stars. And there I was, the embodiment of the midlist, stuck in the middle once again. Not really a big name; no longer new enough to this business to be considered a rising star. The strange thing was, I didn’t feel jealous of the big names. It was the rising stars I envied. I want to feel that sense of possibility again. Maybe that’s the allure of my shiny new toys. They’re my next chance to break out of the midlist. The Forelands books and the Southlands series are doing fine, but they aren’t going to launch me to that next level. These next projects might.
For now, of course, I have to find some way to put my restlessness aside and write the book that’s contracted. Still I refuse to let go of this feeling entirely. Ambition is a good thing. It drives us; it challenges; sometimes it even taunts. But as long as it keeps me moving forward — as long as it makes me strive for more rather than despair of having achieved less — I’ll continue to feed it with hopes of what that next new project might bring.