Sunday, February 3, 2013

Life of Writing

So. It's Friday. (Yes, I know it'll be Sunday when I post this, but it's Friday as I type. ) Agenda for today is edit/revise and original story I'm working on, write this column, complete an assignment for one of my MFA classes, and read some of the reference materials I've been gathering for an upcoming project. Also walk the dog. Not burdensome.

Mondays and Fridays my wife Valerie works from home. She's in pharmacovigilance, which means she spends hours comparing data from clinical trials on multiple monitors – something that would drive me crazy. We sit diagonally across from each other at the library table in our home office (my home office Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays). Working at her computer, Valerie's facing – over my shoulder – a TV in the closet. She likes the noise of nonsense TV while she's working ("You are the father!"). Typing at my laptop I face a wall of bookcases; whenever I Skype I sit on Valerie's side of the table so there are bookshelves – not a TV & boxes of office supplies – behind me on camera. My headphones are on and my mellow-with-energy shuffle is cranked just loud enough to block the voices on the TV. (Mw/E shuffle = 66% Angelique Kidjo, Dobet Gnahoré, Manou Gallo & 34% Ruthie Foster, Carole King, Lizz Wright, Phoebe Snow, KT Tunstall.) Except for the dearth of Edgar, Hugo, Shamus, and Nebula awards on my bookcases, my writing environment is pretty much all I'd ever hoped it would be.

How about my writing career? Well, I'm published. I date my life as a published writer from my first pro sale (as in not a literary quarterly or chapbook that paid in copies) thirteen years ago. From then until now my sold-and-published portfolio includes three novels (2 paperbacks set in the MechWarrior game universe, 1 set in the BattleTech universe released as two online serials due to licensing concerns); seven novellas (1 Doctor Who, 2 Star Trek, 4 BattleTech); and twenty-seven short stories (Star Trek, BattleTech, and Shadowrun, another role-playing game). I've been on the writing teams of a baker's dozen roleplaying game rule books, players' resource books, and scenario/adventure guides as well as three interactive websites – one linked to a movie, two linked to games. I've edited a half dozen volumes of reference/scenarios/guides/short fiction for role playing gamers. Most of the writing sales were before I went full time as a freelancer sixteen months ago; all of the editing has been since.

As I've said at least once a year, media tie-in writing, what I do, is analogous to playing an instrument in an orchestra – everything you do must be your best, but it must blend seamlessly with what everyone around you is doing and be done at the direction of someone else. While most would agree the oboist with the philharmonic is a musician, she's a different sort of musician than the solo artist. That perception of difference is not common among working writers, though those in the publishing industry who do see a difference usually have pretty strong opinions about it. (I probably don't need to mention academia does not regard tie-in writing as 'literature' – though I imagine we rate a mention in pop-culture sociology texts.) Being a media tie-in writer is to be pretty much a blue collar writer (though some, like Kevin J. Anderson, and out own Dayton Ward, have very nice blue collars). I don't intend to ever give up tie-in writing, but I do want to expand my solo career (hence the original stories I keep sending out). And, having been a public school teacher for many years, I want to teach creative writing at the college level (hence my pursuit of a Master of Fine Arts degree at National University).

I love my life as a writer. But, and this is something I'll convey to my students if-and-when, it is work. And much as I love writing, there are days I hate every keystroke. The completely random income isn't as much fun as you might think, either. I've had days when I felt, and I don't know a working writer who has not, that what I'm writing is dreck, that there's no way I can beat life into the dead words I'm typing. (I've been told by more than one writer that there's always a point when they absolutely hate their work in progress. I've never hated a work in progress, but there have been times when I hated the effort my work in progress demanded.)
What I had to learn (and relearn and own) before I was able to become a real writer and not a writer wannabe, is the relationship between the dream of what being a writer and the reality of being a writer is similar to the relationship between playing with dolls and raising children. It's astronomically, exponentially, unbelievably more difficult, time consuming, and frustrating than you ever imagined. But it is equally more satisfying, enthralling, and worthwhile than you can understand. I started submitting short stories when I was in my twenties, made my first sale when I was in my forties, and transitioned to full-time freelance writing when I was fifty-seven. I have good friends who've never done anything but write and others who have no intention of giving up full-time careers while pushing out a novel every year or so.

The truly great thing about becoming a writer is there's no one right way to do it. There's no schedule, no time that's too late; no absolutely essential milestones. And here's something I know for a fact: Even if you declare you've quit, even if you throw out every floppy disk, legal pad, notebook, journal, and box of typed pages you ever owned and swear to the world you're done with writing forever, never think you failed. Because when you're ready you can unquit. You can start again. And the words will be waiting.


Charles Gramlich said...

When you're ready you can Unquit! I like that. I also date my writing life from the first magazine that paid me pro rates. However, I sold plenty of things after that that didn't pay me pro rates.

William Doonan said...

I don't think you can really quit. Maybe you can say you quit, in a fit of pique. But if quitting writing were easy, virtually nobody would tolerate the torment, rejection, waiting, more torment, etc. Given that, I wouldn't mind taking some time off now and again.

Anonymous said...

I love it too and remind myself that when I'm in the midst of necessary social networking or tedious publication research. The reward of seeing something I wrote in print spurs me on.

Liane Spicer said...

"..there's no one right way to do it."

That's one of the great things about it. It's fully customizable.

Eugenia O'Neal said...

Lovely post, Kevin! A good reminder!