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The End Game

December 21, 2009

Besides writing, I also like to draw, though it’s a hobby that I devote almost no time to, these days.  As with my writing, I prefer to draw things that are, by nature, either fantasy or science fiction.  Several years ago, somewhere in the early part of the decade, I posted several of my fantasy pictures to a website devoted to fantasy art called “Elfwood“.

A couple years ago, I was perusing my old elfwood page (which I hadn’t updated in ages, because of the aforementioned neglect of my drawing hobby) when I noticed that someone who had left a comment on one of my pages had passed away.  The person was a writer who had uploaded some of his written work onto the elfwood site.  When I read his biography, it told how he was a career businessman who retired and had started a new career as a fantasy writer.  The year he passed away he was expecting to get his first novel published.

I realized then that this is my fear: that I will work hard throughout my life at a career that ultimately does little to satisfy, and when I am finally freed from the shackles of the corporate world, I pass away before seeing the publication of any of my real work.  A story like the one from the writer who commented on my elfwood page reminds me that this is not an idle fear.  It is a reminder to “carpe diem”, as they say, and to do now what you can do to succeed and make something positive of life.

But if your goal in life is to get published, it’s not that easy.

When I was an undergraduate in college, I decided to pursue a degree in Business Administration.  It was not a subject for which I had any great passion.  But I made that choice with a purpose in mind.  I knew that one day I would be a husband and father and that, as such, I would have a responsibility to provide for the needs of my family.  To fulfill that responsibility, I would need a career with some reasonable amount of certainty, a job with some security and I knew the vagaries of a writer’s life were filled with uncertainties.  Or at least, I had read as much, in advice written by other writers, already successful and of some renown in their field.  And if they, being successful writers, had cause to offer such warnings on the uncertainties of success as a writer, I reasoned, what cause had I to suppose that my own fate in that line of work would be any more certain?

I choice a career in Business because it should prove a sure path to relatively secure and certain employment.

And it has been relatively secure, despite a few hiccups along the way.  But what it has not been is a sure path to self-fulfillment.  For that, I have my family, and I have my writing.

I personally know of three people, not counting myself, who have aspirations to become fantasy novelists.  Of course, I know many more who just enjoy reading fantasy or consuming fantasy and science fiction in various other media.  But I have to wonder: is this an anomaly, or is this normal?  Are there untold numbers of aspiring fantasy and science-fiction novelists, or do I just happen to know an unusual few?  Does such a high percentage of us, comparatively speaking, desire to write?  My gut tells me that this is normal, this is a trend, that there is an unusually high number of people who would be writers, if only they could be.  I’ve seen other evidence of this assertion, as well (the fact “how to write science-fiction and fantasy” books continue to sell – surely I cannot be the only one who reads these – or the number who post sample works online, and still other evidence beyond that).  And that’s a sobering thought.  The fact is, statistically speaking, of the three I know and myself, not a one of us is likely to actually be successful in seeing our work published by a major publishing firm.  Of the countless number of those who would be published, some will fail because they lack the motivation to keep trying.  Some will fail because, frankly, they lack the talent and skill (and I pray that I am not among them!).  But there are many who will have the motivation to keep trying, who have the talent and have honed their skill, and yet will still fall short of that goal.

If they have the talent and the perseverance, then why do they fail?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2009 1:48 pm

    My opinion is that you are missing a critical quality the aspiring writer needs: the willingness to adjust and change. A writer can be massively talented and still make mistakes sometimes grievous enough to be a deal breaker. And they can persevere and submit the manuscript to agent after agent, 100, 200 times without landing that contract. But to be successful, a writer needs to be able listen and take critique and abandon characters or plot points that they may find brilliant but work to detract from other, stronger aspects of the story. When a scene isn’t working, move on. When a manuscript isn’t working, know when to move on when you’ve given it your all for a reasonable amount of time. And the writer needs to be willing to adjust how they define themselves, their work, and their pitch. It happens sometimes that a piece written for one genre may in fact evolve into something more appropriate for another. For instance, an author who perhaps thinks of themselves as a romance writer, may not see that they have the foundations of an urban fantasy if they go back and rework a few things.

    • December 22, 2009 7:41 am

      I agree with you that adaptability and the ability to accept and apply criticism and feedback are fairly essential skills for a successful writer to have. These go a long way in helping a writer refine and improve his or her work. But I’m not so sure that the posssession of this skill necessarily makes a writer a shoe-in for eventual publishing success, though I’d wager it’s a bit of a prerequisite for it. I think there’s an element of chance to the problem over which we, as writers, don’t have quite as much control as we’d like to imagine. I’ll be talking a little more about that today.
      And sorry for the long moderation time. I only have direct access to my blog somewhat infrequently right now. I think, for now, I’m going to change the settings for comments to allow posts to show up immediately until and unless that becomes a problem.

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