Forging ahead and looking back: it’s important

With one’s writing career – and artistic careers in general, I think, there’s a tendency to think about what we haven’t yet accomplished, as opposed to what we have accomplished. Film directors, musicians, script writers and video game designs are all privy to this pothole, but in my case writers especially.

You don’t look back on your sales and your publications that you’ve already earned, you dwell on how much you want to release this story, or finish that next project that just isn’t working out, or sell a proposal that no one’s buying. It happens to all of us. Just recently, David Fincher had Utopia cancelled at HBO. A Oscar-winning director who’s bought us Se7en, Fight Club, Gone Girl, The Social Network, and others, but now he’s had years of work flushed down the toilet. Ouch.

I’m not on Mr. Flincher’s playing field (in case you all weren’t aware of that already), but the same rules apply to everyone. We tend not to focus on what we have already accomplished.

As some of you good good people may know, I’m out o’ town for a holiday. Right of this moment I’m in a little Polish town somewhere outside of Wroclaw. Ensue many Anglos with tongues in knots after attempting to pronounce that correctly. I was here exactly two years ago. I was writing writing away, sending out over a dozen stories to all manner of venues, hoping to land a sale in some department. I was banging my head against the wall because no one was buying a damn word I wrote. Not a single one. Nada.

Sentences like will I ever sell anything and is my career over before it starts kept tumbling through my head. But sitting in this tiny room I kept conjuring up monsters and fantasy landscapes and rain-drenched cities. I kept plugging away without knowing if I’d ever make a sale.

Two years later and here I am. I’ve sold so many stories and articles I’ve lost count (I think the count is close to fifty now). I’ve sold to Nature twice, Strange Horizons six times, and scooped up a Finalist position at Writers of the Future. I’ve had an essay published in one of Lightspeed’s Destroy anthologies. I’ve had the opportunity to produce audio fiction by George R. R. Martin, William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson and Robin Hobb for a Hugo-winning podcast that I co-edit. And right now I’m working on a story for my first every fiction solicitation to an anthology that pays pro-rates.

I’ve done all that in two years at the starting age of 18.

It’s not meant as a boast (well, perhaps a little), but it’s more of a look at how much can be done in less than two years of writing.

And yet.

And yet…

I ask myself why I haven’t placed in Writers of the Future. Why I don’t have a pro sale that isn’t flash. Why I haven’t sold to F&SF, Asimovs or Analog yet. Why I don’t have an anthology sale. Why I haven’t appeared in the Best of Years. Why I don’t have an agent. Why I don’t have a book deal. Why I don’t….

Stop.

It can cave your head in just about the whys and how comes that inevitably crop up. I know people who have sold to venues I can only dream about, but then reach for another magazine only to fail. I’m very, very fortunate to be in the position where I am now. Pierce Brown wrote one novel a year for seven years before Red Rising sold. Brandon Sanderson wrote thirteen. I know someone who’s written fourteen novels and had none of them picked up. And I’m sure it’s taken others far longer with many more books.

I cannot even imagine what it would be like, collecting rejections for your tenth novel and wondering if you’d ever have a single word of your fiction published. I’m sitting here with multiple sales to Nature (published by Macmillan) and something inside me cracks whenever I see the latest book launches and wonder how long it’ll take before I get there myself. Thank you very much, brain.

So this is a message to anyone who’s struggling (including myself) that it’s healthy to look back from time to time and see how far you’ve come. Hell, most people don’t even finish a novel, let alone a story. Look at your virtual (or physical) shelf and see your accomplishments.

Two years ago in this very room I didn’t have a single one under my belt. And in two years time when I come to Europe again I want to look back on this blog post and realise how much I’ve achieved since. In the next two years I’m going to get that literary agent, that book deal, that Best of Years publication.

And the two years after that…who knows? Fincher directing a film adaptation of my novel would be nice (ain’t ever gonna happen, though).

Until then I’m going to keep forging ahead, but I’m also going to look back. If you’re struggling, maybe you should do the same. It’s a long long road and there ain’t many pit-stops along the way. Well done on getting this far.

But never stop walking.

 

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