Last week I had the pleasure of proofing the print layout of Honor, my 2005 Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers e-book, for the upcoming Out of the Cocoon omnibus. I've developed a bit as a writer in the six years since writing Honor, so it's no surprise I found several things I would do a bit differently today (I'm a bit less fond of telegraphic sentences than I once was.), but as a storyteller I was glad to see the tale still holds up.
I began my career writing with Star Trek; my first sale was "Personal Log," a short story that appeared in Strange New Worlds IV. I once defined myself as a Trek writer and envisioned expanding the Trek universe through novels and stories for decades. As it happened, Honor was my last sale to Pocket Books. There was a change in editors and, though I pitched short stories and novels for a few years, nothing clicked with the new leadership. (And no, there was nothing wrong with the editor's taste – he shepherded some of Star Trek's best fiction into print.) That editor is no longer with Pocket – I don't recognize the name of the editor I'm corresponding with now – and I'd be lying if the idea of pitching for Trek didn't cross my mind. As in: I spent an afternoon and evening with my old Trek reference books and thumbing through novels and anthologies I've collected over the years but hadn't gotten around to reading.
Today I sorted my Trek novels into those I liked and/or looked interesting and/or had been written by friends of mine and filled a 10-ream box with the ones I didn't care for or didn't capture my imagination; I'll be taking those to the Salvation Army store in the morning. I'd love to write for the Vanguard series and I have a half-dozen ideas for TNG and DS9 stories and I really wish the Corps of Engineers were still flying on a regular basis. But …
I'm working to expand my career beyond write for hire. Much as I appreciate the (slightly more) regular income and comfort of contracts going in, I need fewer ties to media tie-in, not more.
One treasure I found among the Trek reference books (and yes, I kept those) was my notebook from a media tie-in writing workshop with Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch back in 2003. If you can find a way to get to the coast of Oregon, these workshops are worth every effort to attend. They have more than paid for themselves in my career – and the careers of a dozen other writers I can name. Though I had published a few (Trek) short stories, I owe my transition from guy hoping to become an author to professional writer to what I learned from Dean and Kris. (And if you can't afford to get to them, as I haven't these last five years, do what I do: Click on those names and read their websites.)
A few of the notes I jotted that week in early August, 2003:
Read the trades (Publishers' Weekly, Romantic Times, Mystery Scene, etc.) cover to cover. 95% of the information will be useless to you; 4% will be eventually useful; 1% will be immediately vital – but you won't recognize it unless you've learned the market. Study the industry, learn the market.
Choose something to master. Cliffhangers. Time shifts. Viewpoint changes. With every book, every story, find a challenge and practice something new. Perfect your technique.
Do not spend the money until after the cheque clears.
Your writing career is a very large brick building. You build it one brick at a time. Every contact you make is a brick. Every piece you write is a brick. Learn your craft; make your foundation as wide and deep as you can. Then place your bricks. What you build is up to you.