Self Determination


 I’ve been looking into my own psyche lately. (Yeah, I know. Pretty scary with all the Faith/Jane/Beast/Thorn/Gwen/murder/battle/mayhem/rapids/dead-body/scary-muse stuff that lurks there. But I’m trying to be brave.) I’ve been looking inside where the future of my writing life skulks, where my expectations prowl. Or slumber, maybe. What do I expect—what do I really believe will happen with my own writing future?

Do I really believe that I can write? (There lie dragons…) Do I really believe that I can build a growing audience? Do I really believe that I will earn a 7 figure advance someday? Do I really believe that I will be a bestseller someday? Do I really believe that I have a book inside me that will be like a tsunami on the reading world? Or do I believe that I will muddle about in the shallow waters of near-obscurity, make a few small splashing waves, and then sink below the surface of the publishing business, to be forgotten? What do I really *believe* about myself…? And how does that belief shape my own writing future?

I’ve been asking my writing pals what they believed about their futures when they started out. And I’ve gotten some really interesting answers. Answers that point into the soul of us all.

One said, “I want to get another book published. That’s all. It’s always just one more book.”
One said, “I’m hoping to be a bestseller in a couple more years.”
One writer pal said, “I’m a firm mid-lister.”
One said, “I’m in the middle of remaking myself from a mid-lister into who I really am. I’m going to be on Oprah soon. You watch.”
I asked a bestseller writer buddy what she expected when started out. And she said, “I knew I’d be at the top.” It wasn’t arrogance or conceit. It was the most firm self-confidence I’ve ever seen. Wow. Just wow.
And suddenly I realized. This is what makes a long-time, successful writer. Unshakeable self-belief. And that understanding rocked me. Because I don’t have it. I am still trying to deal with what I learned that day. Still trying to see what I might do with that understanding that will/might/could change me inside and let me grow.

When I started this business, I had two images of myself and my future:

  • I’d write a book a year, making about $25,000 per book to satisfy my inner muse (who was a lot prettier in those days) and to supplement my income.
  • I’d write five books, build an audience, impress a high-placed editor, and then have a breakout book that would put me in the 6-figure income area for twenty books or so, and then I’d retire.
  • Nowhere in there, in those expectations, was there a vision of myself as a bestseller with four feet of backlist shelf space in every bookstore in the nation. Nowhere in there was the possibility of fabulous success. Was I being sensible? Or have I…(deep breath) have I shackled myself?

    I do not know. I do not know if I am master of my own vessel (USS Firm Mid-Lister) by my own expectations or if the market made me what I am and I flounder in the wake of others by no fault of my own. And I do not know if I can take the wheel of my own future in my hands and steer myself into new waters, into something fresh and exciting, bigger and better.

    But I do know that in some arcane way, our beliefs shape and steer and guide and power us. And so, knowing that, I have to change my self beliefs. I have to rework my own brain if I want to make it in this fast-changing business. My neurons have to be rewired for success. So, I peer into depths of my own psyche and say, “Hey, you! What do you believe? Can you do it? Can you be a real writer? Can you envision a future of great things for yourself? Can you be a success?”

    So far? A soft, hesitant…”Um..yeah? Um..Maybe?”  


    21 comments to Self Determination

    • Christina

      Thanks for posting that, Faith. It’s good to know that even the pros have some doubts. But, I do believe there is something to this self-belief you talk about above. I think we do set our targets to what we think we can do, not what we really want, sometimes. I’ve been reading Jack Canfield’s Success Principles. I recommend it. I’m floundering with the part about knowing what your purpose in the world is. It is a foundation piece to getting where you want to be. Because I can’t see to answer it for myself, I’ve just been floating along the flotsam. I defintely need to put some more thought into that piece.

    • If I answer those questions myself now (as opposed to even 15 years ago) I guess it does almost sound like conceit, but I think I’m much like that best seller buddy of yours. I’ve always felt that, in the end, no matter what else I do with my life, writing is what I was meant to do. It’s my calling. It’s what I’m best at and I know it. To my bones, I know it. To the very core of my being, I know it. And I believe that now is that time to push to get to where I want to be. I think this is what Heron has been trying to tell me (he’s the reason I asked if you knew anything about totems, but he’s mine, no doubt now). That now is the time to focus on achieving my goal to become a successful writer. I need to focus on getting things done. The six-million dollar budget an acquaintance is getting for production would not have happened if not for the writing I did on the script he asked me to fix. That’s massive confirmation of my ability to write something of quality, in my opinion. I firmly believe that I have the chops to become a successful writer and novelist. The time is now. Even if the road is rocky along the way, I’ll do what my Papaw always said to do. You just have to kick the rock out of the way and move on.

    • Christina, I am often too busy to stop and think about any big picture. Between books is the only time. I have 2 weeks between Blood Cross and starting the next book. I am using it cleaning house, literally and figuratively. I need a new brain to make it all work. I need to not just float along.

    • Daniel, *Kick the rock out of the way and move on* sounds like an old plowman’s adage. A good one.

    • Christina

      Faith, don’t forget the RM setting file that needs you! 🙂

    • Well, he and my Dad did grow up in a holler in West Virginia. 😉

    • This is a great post, Faith. It touches on all the emotions with which I grapple these days as I sort through my professional expectations and the realities of my career path thus far. Wonderful stuff.

      And yet, I’m troubled by your last paragraph. “Can you be a real writer?” “Can you be a success?” How do we define what either of those things is? In order to be a “real writer” do you have to be a bestseller with six figure advances? I reject that notion entirely. Do we define “being a success” solely in terms of money earned? I’m not sure I accept that, either. I’ve yet to have a bestseller or a six-figure advance. I know few writers who have had either. But I think that publishing a novel is success. I think that selling a short story is, too. The market is fickle. It values some books that I think are crap and dismisses others that I believe are brilliant. Is that the yardstick I want to use to gauge my own successes and failures? I understand ambition; I’m ambitious myself. I understand wanting the big contracts and the huge sales numbers. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive for those things. But I’ve read your work. I’ve seen Gwen and Faith Hunter filling shelf space in every corner of America. You are a terrific writer; a critically acclaimed writer; an award-winning writer; the author of how many books? Twenty? More? That’s success. That should be a source of pride. Not complacency, of course, but pride nevertheless. There are so many ways to measure success; I’d hate to think that money would be the one that you settle on as most important.

    • Christina

      You are right to point that out to Faith, David. I KNOW she’s a SUCCESS! 🙂

    • David it is success. I’m not really denying that. (Okay, I am, but it’s one of those days where I am questioning myself, you know?) What I am gnawning on is more along the lines of,

      “Have I ham-stringed my own success by applying mental and spiritual reins?” Heck yes. I have to admit that. I have to face it head on. (Can one face anything head back? {Sorry.})

      And, “What could I be writing that is better, stronger, faster than a speeding bullet?”

      And, “Do I want more? Am I capable of more?”

      Not more books, I’m writing as fast as I can. But more… Something…

      Can I step it up? And if I step it up and I let go of the reins, can I, will I, see a change in my book status? And most importantly: Do I care enough to let all that happen? How much do I want it? Did I ever want it at all?

    • Thank y’all. I am not drepressed about this. I *am* soul searching, however. Which usually results in a great book in about 6 months BTW. (laughing)

    • Melanie

      So I’m really quiet here, lurking and rarely posting. I’m sure there are a whole lot of other folks like me. But this one, Faith, makes me think of two related things as an aspiring author as well as a writer.

      When I was about four, I was sitting, splay-legged, on our screened-in porch, midsummer. Before me was one of those metal, lined boards (chalk board, and I think pegboard on the other two sides of the thing), and a pile of magnetic plastic letters. I was trying really hard to make a sentence or two out of the few words I knew how to spell. To tell a story.

      My elderly neighbor came through the backyard and called to me, asking to talk to my mom. Well versed in this, I told her she wasn’t available (in the shower), and could I give her a message?

      Which was to call the woman, it turns out. Then she asked, “What are you doing?” “Writing a book,” I told her. And she *laughed*. I am sure she meant it in only a kids-say-the-darnedest-things kind of way, but I remember feeling hurt. And *angry*. One does not mock the honesty or aspirations of a child; they never forget. And so I sit here typing, writing a book many decades later, not forgetting.

      Which leads me to the second thing. I would never have sat down to write a novel about a vamp. Never, never. But it came and found me and bit deep. (grin) I was seduced into understanding a world I wouldn’t have created and explored. One thing I’ve learned from writing vampires is about intensity of desire. Which, for me, is “I *want* that.” So, when I think about what I knew at age four combined with this, I feel that somehow, somewhere, this will come true. At least, I hope so. In the meanwhile I’ll keep chasing it – even if I stumble, or get shy, and need experienced writing warriors to point out the way, or kick me in the butt. 😉

    • Soul-searching is totally natural and I think it’s great that you’re doing it. I know that I could be doing more for myself. I don’t know if I could write differently or better or in a more marketable style, but I know that I shy away from some of the self-promotion that would probably further my career. I have limited time and energy and choose to spend it on the actual writing and on my family. Not the best decision from a sales perspective, but right for me. I just wanted to make certain that you see what the rest of us see, which is a talented, accomplished, prolific writer of some truly kick-ass books.

    • Christina, I haven’t forgotten the RPG! It *will* be done!

      Melanie, that is a great story of seeing your future and the accidental, unintentional cruelty of the world. I didn’t find my own *magical moment* of knowing what I wanted to do until I was much older.

      David — yeah. That. All that. And and thank you about the Kickass books. But now it is time to step it up. And I am not sure how I want to do that. Or how *to* do it. Or even *if* I want to do it… So, the soul searching. But thanks!

    • Beatriz

      I just wanted to make certain that you see what the rest of us see, which is a talented, accomplished, prolific writer of some truly kick-ass books.

      Having just finished Skinwalker t’other day, I have to agree. Truly kick-ass book.

    • Speaking of the RPG; regardless of the rule set used makes sure the designer has a look at GURPS Magic and GURPS Thaumatology. Especially Thaumatology, you can find guidelines for recreating the magic of the Rogue Mage trilogy if you know what to look for.

      For the Gale family a study of GURPS Powers is called for, for the Gales are more innate talents than anything else. This advice offered in the hopes it helps produce a better RPG.

      Unless,that is, we’re talking about a Faith Hunter RPG where you play Faith as she writes, globe trots, battles evil, takes the dog for walks, explores exotic lands, and has wild monkey sex with the gate guards at Mordor, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the graduating class of St. Agonistes of Perpetual Face Palming during the Gale Family Spring rut. In which case you’re on your own.

    • Faith,

      You’re right, I am an idiot. Tanya Huff is responsible for the Gale family.

    • Miz M — thanks and hugs.
      Please understand I am *not* depressed about my life or talent or books. I am just doing that soul searching that every writer does. Some get drunk to do it, some travel, some cry. I clean house. And ponder. Last time I went through this, I sat on my bathroom floor and cleaned every bit of grout with Chlorox and an old toothbrush. Seriously. Speaking of which, it needs it again. But this time it is carpet cleaning and going every evening to the lake and trying to learn to roll my kayak on command.

      Alan, I have no idea what method Christina Stiles and Raven Blackwell are using to transform my Rogue Mage novels into an RPG. But whenthey explain it, it sounds real good! The Gale family on the other hand sound … interesting. (laughing)

    • This sounds an awful lot like the 2/3 Wall that you guys have talked about. Where you are 2/3 the way through your book and the inner voices creep up and you start to question your motivation, writing skills, and career choice. To take some of your own advice, BIC (butt in chair). Keep writing and keep doing the best you can. I think if you sell one story in this business you are a success so that you have already achieved. Now to get to that next plateau, sit down and make it happen. BIC.

    • Hi Mark. The time between books is, for a lot of writers (me!), like New Years. Time to look inward, outward and onward. Time to take stock. Time to look at goals and plans and hopes for the future and to look at failures to learn from them. Yep — my first short story award and sale made me a success. Yet, those goals keep getting higher and bigger and better.

    • Faith, like any career there should be times when one askes themselves similar questions. I think if you close your mind to reaching the highest pinnacles of your profession you make not reaching it far more likely.

      To jump to a sports analogy for a moment, I’m a New York Rangers fan (hockey). The Rangers were considered to be under a curse and after so many years of being an average team, on those rare occassions when they could stand up as being as good as the best in the league, something invariably went awry and they failed to win the Stanley Cup. Then, in 1992, the Rangers traded for Mark Messier, already one of the sport’s greatest players.

      And the first thing he taught the Rangers was to change their mind set. He stripped away the fear that believing they could be champions would ensure failure. He taught them they had to embrace being the best, being champions in order for them to be mentally ready when the opportunity came.

      And Messier led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994. I remember during that playoff run even their own announcers being shocked when Alexie Kovalev declared: <i."Of course we can win the Cup." Even the broadcasters had that fear of winning.

      Anyway, it’s important to take stock of where you are and where you want to go. My goal right now is to get published, which will probably start with landing an Agent. And I have ideas for what kind of writing career I would like.

      In the end, how can you get there if you don’t know where “there” is?