I read an interesting series of interviews earlier today on the setbacks and stumbling blocks that some science fiction and fantasy writers had encountered during their careers. If you want to read the article, it’s on io9, here: Great SF authors share their biggest writing setbacks — and how they triumphed.
The science fiction authors (some of whom are friends of mine) were interviewed at the World Science Fiction Convention. I wish I could be there, but I’ve made a sort of promise to myself, which is that I won’t spend more on conventions than I actually make from writing. Last year I made significantly more from writing than I spent on conventions, but because I spent a lot of last year working on my dissertation and teaching, I won’t be earning as much this year. (Payments for writing typically come quite a bit after the work is done — usually when the work is published, which can be a year after.) I want to get to a place where I’m earning writing money regularly, which means producing novels regularly. And you know, I’ll get there. But I liked the answers, and liked learning about the various stumbling blocks that writers encounter. Here are a few from the article:
Connie Willis said: “I think my biggest stumbling block as a writer was my own self doubt. I constantly was feeling like, ‘I can’t do this, and nobody wants me to.’ And every single rejection slip seemed to come at that, you know. I was working by myself without any contacts with other writers or other people in the business. So I would just get so discouraged and I would sort of stand in my own way.”
Jo Walton said: “Mine was when my first husband told me that my writing totally sucked and wasn’t worth a damn. And I believed him, because I was 22 and I was in fact pretty bad. And I didn’t write anything for another seven years. So I stopped. People tell you that you’ve got to keep writing and you mustn’t stop. But I stopped writing, and then when I started again, I was better.”
Catherynne Valente said: “The economy crashed in 2008 — you might remember that — and I couldn’t sell a book for a good long time. Had novels, sending them out, nobody took them. I really thought it was over for me. I only had three books out, and I was pretty much ready to pack it in.”
Rachel Swirsky said: “Sometimes I have problems where I get into a mode where even just looking at a page on a screen makes me panic. And getting past that is a really intense thing to do.”
Of course they also talk about how they overcame these setbacks and stumbling blocks. If you want to see how, take a look at the interviews. Of course, the interviews made me think about my own setbacks and stumbling blocks. I think the biggest problem I’ve had as a writer is that, often in my life, I’ve tried to live the life I was told I should be living, rather than a life that supported by writing. The biggest example of that was law school — I was told I needed a stable profession, and that I could write on the side. Well, guess what? You can’t write on the side. (As a corporate lawyer, I barely had enough time to sleep, let alone write.) If you want to write and you have another job, that job has to support the writing. I’m so grateful now that I’m able to teach, and teach writing specifically. Through my teaching, I learn to become a better writer, and it leaves me enough time to do my writing — not as much time as I would like, of course, but enough.
I think it’s one of the most important things I learned — that if you want to do anything creative, you need to ignore how society, and often your family, tell you to live. The model of life they espouse is not the one that will allow you to do what you most want to. You need to create your own life, in a way that enables your art. That’s what I’m doing, now that the PhD is over. That’s the next step.