The Writing Life: Fear, Want, Dissatisfaction, Defiance


First off, sorry for the delay in getting this posted.  I was at Marcon this weekend, with Faith and Lucienne, and had a wonderful time.  We got to see Daniel and Donald, and we met a few new people as well.  Fun time. As soon as I got home, I was off to a Passover Seder at the home of a friend, so I didn’t get the chance to write this post ahead of time, as I usually do.

Second, check out the IGMS advertisement just to the right of this post.  That is the artwork for “A Memory of Freedom,” by D.B. Jackson.  It is the feature story for this month’s issue of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.  This is a Thieftaker story, and that figure in the ad is one artist’s rendering of Ethan Kaille, the lead character of the Thieftaker books.  I hope you’ll visit the IGMS site and enjoy the story.

Conventions are, for me at least, occasions for self-reflection.  I often come away from a con energized, but also deeply conscious of where I am in my career and in my work on a particular project, and where I want to be with respect to both.  Marcon was no exception.  Thieftaker will be released in less than three months.  “A Memory of Freedom” is out as of last week.  Another Thieftaker story, “A Spell of Vengeance,” will be appearing on TOR.COM in June.  I’m planning a blog tour for the weeks leading up to the book’s release, as well as a possible signing tour for the weeks immediately following the July 3 publication date.  The lion’s share of my professional energy right now is focused on making Thieftaker and its sequels (be there one or three or seven or ten) as successful as possible.

This probably sounds self-evident; I suppose it is.  But I have been throwing around words like “ambition” and “tenacity” in recent posts, and I guess I’m realizing that there are other words I need to own up to as well:  fear, want, dissatisfaction, defiance.  Because they are as much a part of what I am feeling these days as “ambition” and “tenacity.”

Fear?  Yes.  I am afraid.  I’m excited about the release of this new book, the true launching of the D.B. Jackson pseudonym.  I sense great potential in the new path my career is taking.  But I would be lying to you if I didn’t admit as well to being apprehensive.  There are no guarantees in this business.  None.  Tor is doing great things for this book in terms of production values and publicity steps.  I am committed to working my butt off to see that it succeeds.  And still, the book could tank.  I have no crystal ball; I don’t know what’s going to happen to help or hinder the book’s success. I have to wait and see.  This might well be the most important release of my professional life; the upside potential is pretty high.  But doubts lurk at my shoulder; Fear settles in my gut every time I look at a calendar and mark the approach of July.

Because I Want.  I want more from my career than I have gotten thus far.  I want to be a bestseller.  I want to have my books recognized not only as critical successes, but as commercial successes as well.  Once upon a time I wanted merely to be published.  Then I wanted to be able to write more books; the money was secondary.  I wanted to be lauded critically.  I wanted respect.  And I still want all those things.  But I want more, too.  Is it sad that “success” is measured in terms of sales?  Yeah, maybe.  I’ll deal with the sadness:  I want glittering sales numbers.  I want to be on Lists.  I want to have “bestseller” printed on the cover of my novels — embossed, if possible.  I suppose this is the dark side of ambition.  Or maybe it’s just the human side.  Whatever.  I think there is value to Want.

Because of Want, I am Dissatisfied.  I will admit to feeling somewhat guilty for what I have just written.  I know there are people reading this who are thinking to themselves, “That spoiled bastard!  Doesn’t he know how lucky he is?  I would be happy simply to sell this book I’m shopping around right now.  Give me an agent, let her find a home for my beloved manuscript, and I will be satisfied.”  To which I say, “No, you won’t.  Not for long at least.  Certainly not forever.  As I say, I was there.  I thought that a publishing credit would be enough, that publishing midlist books would be enough, that good reviews would be enough.  But Dissatisfaction propels me forward; and it might well do the same for you.  A writer toils with his book and envies his friend who just sold her first short story.  The writer of the short story is happy for but also jealous of her friend who just sold his first novel.  The novelist longs for the day when he can be like his friend who recently won an award for her third book.  The award winner wishes she could enjoy the success of her friend whose seventh book just made the New York Times Bestseller list.  The bestseller is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his friend whose book was just made into a hit movie.  And so it goes.  I am Dissatisfied, and while that dissatisfaction chafes, it also inspires.  It keeps me hungry, and hunger is a great motivator.

Because in the end, I refuse to give in.  I refuse to be ruled by fear.  I refuse to heed the voice in my head that says “Be satisfied with what you have.”  I refuse to stop wanting more.  I stand here today in Defiance of propriety, of humility, of the comfortable shackles of acceptance.  I will keep pushing and fighting.  I believe that my work is worthy of more, and I will shout it from the rooftops if I have to.  I am a writer; I have something to say, and you should want to read my story.  It’s a good one.  I Defy anyone to say otherwise.

So what are your words today?  How would you describe where you are and how you intend to get to where you want to be?

David B. Coe

25 comments to The Writing Life: Fear, Want, Dissatisfaction, Defiance

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you for the reminder. I just added Thieftaker to my amazon wish list. 😀 Though I have to say, I also *really* want a chance to read the urban fantasy you keep talking about. Please don’t give up on that one!

    Where *I* am now is almost finished with the overhaul revisions of my first book! which has me dancing a little bit right now. There’s still a lot of work to be done on it after this, but this is still a major step forward for me. Though my success-type ambitions for my writing are currently very modest, I still somewhat dread the point when I can pass the story along to a beta reader. Because I really *want* to be able to tell a good story set in a rich world. Probably my biggest writing ambition at the moment is to be able to write a book good enough for my husband to enjoy, and I suspect that this isn’t that book. But I’ll get there.

  • Fear, Want, Dissatisfied, and Defiance are all good words to describe my place and relationship with writing, sure.

    Another good one, for me, is Hungry. This signifies the need, inside, to write, to create, and to be read and recognized for that writing. The Fear, the Want, the Dissatisfied, and the Defiance all spring from that Hunger. I know that I won’t ever be satisfied with just getting published, or just getting some positive reviews, or just winning an award, or just anything. I’ll always want something more, and I’ll always want it because I’m Hungry.

    Unfortunately… another good word for me, right now, is Resigned. That sounds like it conflicts with Defiance, but Resigned is coming to accept that some things are outside my immediate control. I may be Hungry, I may Want more, and I may strive to Defy the things that constrain me. But in time I have come to Resign myself to work within those constraints. I’m not good enough to get published, but I can still write and strive to improve. I can’t write very fast, but I can still strive to write well. Ultimately, I can’t break free from the things which constrain me until I recognize them for what they are – and at some point I realize I must accept that some things are entirely beyond my present power to master and control and defeat and struggling against those particular shackles will profit me little. Instead, I must first strain against those which are just barely beyond my grasp but which I can reasonably achieve if I work a little harder.

    In other words… one step at a time. Right now, then, I’m focused on improving my craft and telling a tale that readers enjoy and finishing those projects. I’m doing that alternately by working on a novel and occassionally pausing to write short stories (which almost inevitably morph into novelettes for me) which I can complete drafting and revising in substantially less time than writing a novel.

  • Hang in there, man. I’m sure great things are coming.

  • David> Good words. How about phrases? “Banging my head into desk” oh, wait, that would be “overwhelmed.” And “Banging my head into keyboard” oh, wait, that would be impatient. I’m overwhelmed with stuff I have to do (finish an academic article that’s been accepted, grade at the end of the semester, do committee work, etc.) I’m impatient ’cause I can’t make my colleagues do stuff. I can’t make the angencies respond any faster than they do, etc.

    Two others “terrified/despairing” and “planning.” I’m frigtened that I’ll get no bites on my novel. That is drifting to despairing acceptance that I won’t get any. That leads to “planning.” I’m planning on what I’m going to do after that. I’m thinking I’m going to go to SCWW this year. I’ve been before, but I feel more prepared now that I did a while ago. Go to some pitch sessions, etc.

    And yeah, I’m jealous of you and your situation–I’m one of those folks who says “yeah, yeah, I’d love ONE book contract.” But I’m NOT one of those folks who says “then I’d be satisfied!” ’cause I know I wouldn’t. I’d be all happy for a few minutes (days, weeks), and then I’d be back to word #4: planning. I’m a planner.

  • Arg. Where am I? I’m at the “you bastard” stage of my career, apparently. 😉 I jest. I’m at the point where I’m waiting for an agent to accept, and waiting for him or her to find my book a publisher. I know myself, though, and I know I’m going to do exactly what you said: I’ll be satisfied with that for a while, but soon I’ll want more.

    Give a Mouse a Cookie, writer version. 😀

    I’m getting ready to send my manuscript back out to another agent, and getting the rewrites for another one completed.

  • sagablessed

    First, as I have said before (MARCON is the first time I have met real-life published authors in my genre in my 50 years of life) you guys re-kindled my writer’s fire.
    As to this post: you have just listed everything I have been feeling over the last few months. Fear, want, dis-satisfaction, etc. I am at the “I want more” stage. Even without being published, I want more. And that goes hand in hand with the fear of “I suck”. You, at least, should be beyond that stage.
    I will be honest: here at MW I have found inspiration, honesty, and valubale advice. Please keep posting, all you contributors.

  • mudepoz

    Freaking. That’s a very good word. Do I HAVE to live in Wisconsin?

  • I have confidence in your David! I think this new book will launch a very impressive career where you have already gained much. Soon, you will have masses of followers hanging on your every word. 🙂

    My words….

    For now, I would choose Uncertain. I am writing a lot in the non-fiction world of pay-per-view commentary articles which give instant feedback both in readers comments and in monetary gain. Yet a part of me still has fiction stories to tell.

    For the future, I am Resolute to achieve my goals of having a fiction career and a non-fiction career in tandem. It can be done because otehr writers have accomplished just this. It is difficult but what is a goal worth if it is not difficult?

  • I’m at the very beginning of my writing life. I have small goals like – write a chapter every week, or follow some blogs. So my small goals are achievable and I’m cruising along. Maybe I should start setting bigger goals? Not for a while me thinks.

    I found this post interesting and honest, and I can see the truth in these words you mention. I see how dissatisfaction drives us, and you explained it well. But what about taking the time to celebrate what you have achieved? If we didn’t do this then writing would become grueling wouldn’t it?

    I’ll be checking out ‘thief taker ‘ too 🙂 can I ask why you have a pseudonym? Don’t feel you have to answer, just curious.

  • Thanks for putting Thieftaker on the order list, Hep. I’m grateful. And not to worry: I have just completed revisions on that book you mention. I’ll be sending it to Lucienne and a couple of Beta Readers tomorrow. I think it’s great that you’re about ready to do the same — don’t dread it. Getting reactions from Betas is a good thing. Best of luck!

    Stephen, Hungry is another good one. I like that. And as long as being resigned doesn’t morph into “giving up” I can see where that can be helpful for the time being, too. The most important thing is that you keep writing, and it sounds like you’re doing just that.

    A.J., thanks.

    Emily, I think you would probably get a lot out of SCWW. I have loved teaching there and have been impressed with my colleagues. I won’t be there this year, but I hope that if you do go, you enjoy it and take away a lot from the experience. Oh, and please be careful. It sounds like you’re banging your head against a lot of things, and we want you in one piece for ConCarolinas…

    Scribe, yeah, I get that. And yes: Give an author a cookie and we know what follows. Hope you get a good response from the agent.

    Donald, it was great meeting you, too. Thanks for the kind words. All of us, I’m sure, are glad to hear that this site is helping you. And you should know that we all deal with the “I Suck” fear, even after a dozen publications. Or more. Seriously, it never goes away completely.

    Freaking IS a good word, Mud. Beyond that, I don’t think I can help…

    Thank you, Mark. I appreciate the confidence and hope it’s not misplaced. Uncertain and Resolute seem like great words to me. I think it’s great that you’re writing the non-fiction. Getting paid to write is a terrific accomplishment no matter what content and form. Keep at it!

    Aderyn, small goals are good, but I would urge you to start challenging yourself with a couple of bigger ones. Nothing too major, nothing unattainable. But pushing yourself a bit is good. I do occasionally take satisfaction in what I’ve done thus far. Really, I do. You’re right: there is value in doing that. But I spend most of my time looking forward, not back. And so I deal with these other emotions far more. As for the name change, it is a branding issue: David B. Coe writes epic, alternate world fantasy. Thieftaker is urban historical. Tor wanted to keep the two brands separate, at least for now.

  • Thanks, and I see your point, challenges are good, that’s how we learn. That’s one thing I hate about publishers, how they make authors take a pseudonym when writing in a different genre. They just don’t trust readers enough IMO.

  • My words are Tired, Overworked, and Frustrated.
    Tired and overworked because my dayjob is demanding almost every iota of brainpower and energy I can muster, leaving me little for fun writing at the end of the day.
    Frustrated because, well… read the above.

    But I’ve been here before and as all things must, This Too Shall Pass!

  • Razziecat

    Lyn, you and I share the same words today! Especially Frustrated! Not only because of my day job being stressful right now, and other things needing attention, but it’s the story, too! I keep asking myself why I wanted to write THIS story…sometimes it feels too big for me, and I keep having to wrestle with the plot. So yeah…frustrated is the Word of the Day.

  • Aderyn, thanks, but for the record, Tor didn’t make me do it. They came to me (through my editor) with their reasons for wanting to do it, and I agreed. If I gave you the impression that it was forced upon me, I apologize. And yes, I’m all for challenging oneself.

    Lyn, sorry to hear that. I hope that the day job eases up a bit and that you can get back to the writing with full energy.

    And Razz, I wish the same for you. I know exactly how you feel about your story, but I have to tell you that midway through my second book (yes, way back when) I was having huge doubts about the project. It seemed too big, too hard, too much of a stretch. It wound up being one of the most rewarding writing experiences of my life. I won’t say that it’s my best book, although when I completed it I realized that it was far better than book I. But it remains one of my very favorites, because the experience of writing it taught me so much. Maybe you’ll find something similar with this story.

  • “but I have to tell you that midway through my second book (yes, way back when) I was having huge doubts about the project. It seemed too big, too hard, too much of a stretch.”

    That’s how I’ve been feeling, a bit, about what I’m writing now (epic fantasy, of course). I know it’ll sort itself out, but I’m almost done with the first draft of book 2 and I’ll be starting on book 3 soon and I’m getting that feeling where I’m starting to doubt. I can work past it, but it’s slowing my momentum a bit.

    My original thoughts ran too long, so I may just post a companion to this on my blog tomorrow. Suffice to say, I have many of the same thoughts and have had for some time.

    It was awesome seeing you and Faith again, and meeting Lucienne. You all always have some of the best panels, and there may soon be a new plumber-based sub-genre out there, thanks to your comments. 😉 😀 And Thieftaker will be awesome! No worries. 🙂 I, for one, can’t wait.

  • If it doesn’t sometimes feel too big, then, in my opinion, you’re writing too small. Every new project should challenge you, push you. I honestly believe that. It sounds to me like you’re right where you should be. It was great seeing you, too, Daniel, and your lovely family. And thanks very much for the kind words about Thieftaker. I hope it meets (and exceeds) expectations.

  • […] on Magical Words, David B. Coe posted about The Writing Life: Fear, Want, Dissatisfaction, Defiance and it sort of struck a chord because I have had many of these same general feelings for a long […]

  • Megan B.

    ‘Impatient’ is my word right now. I’m waiting for a beta reader to get back to me with comments. She’s said she really likes the book so far, which I’m so glad to hear, but I want more specific feedback so I can get on with revisions. And then it will be time to start querying. I want to be in that stage now.

    Another word for me is ‘Uncertain’ (I think someone else mentioned that above). Is my book good enough? Does it need drastic revision? What if I have to cut so much out that it comes up short on word count? What if I have to cut out my favorite bits? Will I ever get anything published besides that one short story last year?

    And of course, even though I haven’t started querying, I must admit I’m already thinking about reviews, sales, contracts, awards… Ha. No wonder I’m impatient.

  • David, as usual, I’m a day late and a dollar short. 🙂
    My words today are for you, not me.
    Damn skippy.
    Them’s the words.

  • Impatient and Uncertain seem to be recurring themes here, and I totally understand that. As an established professional, I still have plenty of both — impatience with the slow pace of the publishing industry. I often complete books 18 months before they are published. That can be frustrating. And uncertain — there is no certainty in this business unless your name is Rowling or Martin or Sanderson or Gaiman. Best of luck with the queries, Megan.

    Thanks, Faith. Hope you’re having fun on the river.

  • Hope you’re back on a river further south! Durn April cold snaps. 😉

  • That’s okay with posting late. I’m commenting late. Just got back from Vegas late last night, myself. 😉

    “I will keep pushing and fighting.” I will, too. I can’t quite call it Defiance, but I can definitely call it Determination. I’m also dogged with Exhaustion by the journey, but Determination wins out all the same. Maybe too much.

    I also have a low-grade Fear that manifests itself as Anxiety, which then often manifests as Procrastination. Not good, that.

  • And yeah, I’ll add Impatient to the list, too. I’ve been working on this for long enough, having started researching agents and publishers as a young teen. I was hoping to at least get an agent by age 30. Obviously that is not going to happen now, what with 30 being eight weeks away. (Yes, I’m over that. I’d rather have something worth selling, first.) 🙂

  • Laura, thanks for the comments. Defiance/determination? Yeah, I think it depends upon my mood. Some days I’m just determined to work. Some days I’m ready to strap on boxing gloves and fight for what I want. But yes, two sides of the same coin. Same with fear and anxiety. Anxiety for me is baseline — as the THIEFTAKER release date approaches I’m constantly anxious. And on some days it spikes into full-blown fear. Here’s hoping you have the agent by 30, or at the latest 31. 🙂

  • Gypsyharper

    Long time reader, first time poster here.

    Frustrated, Terrified, Impatient – those would be my words, I guess. I used to write all the time when I was a kid, and of course had dreams of being published. But somehow after high school, I decided to get a music degree, and writing kind of fell by the wayside. I’ve recently realized how much I missed writing and am slowly finding my way back. In 3 1/2 weeks, I will graduate with a masters degree in music and my graduate project is writing the book and lyrics for a musical (yay, marriage of my two favorite things – writing and music!). This is where the terror and frustration come in – frustration because I can’t get it done fast enough and it doesn’t always go the way I want it; terror that it won’t be good enough or I won’t get it done on time. Then there’s my WIP novel that’s languishing on the back burner while I finish up all the last bits of graduate school (if only the musical was the only thing I had to finish!). And that’s where the impatience comes in – after 3 1/2 years, I’m so ready to be done with school and have the time to pursue my own projects again.

    But I’m also excited for what comes after the 3 1/2 weeks. I’m excited to actually BE writing again, and I’m psyched to try out NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. I will be happy if I can actually finish writing something, but like you, I’m sure I won’t be satisfied, because then I’ll want to move on to the next level.