Monday, April 14, 2008

My Best Advice for Gonnabe Writers

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The promotional season for The Dragons of Babel is mercifully drawing to a close.  Sunday, I appeared with my good pals Judith Moffett (center) and Gregory Frost (right) at Robin's Books, one of the great holy places of Philadelphia.  Greg was promoting Shadowbridge and Judy her forthcoming novel The Bird Shaman (volume 3 of the Holy Ground Trilogy, after The Ragged World and Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream).

Sunday afternoon was bright and beautiful, which is a deadly combination for bookstore readings.  Plus, at the same time, the monthly masked anti-Scientologist protest was taking place only a few blocks away, thus drawing away (I believe) many people who are naturals for the sort of weirdness served up the the Three Amigos.  So the crowd was small but select.  

But this gives me the opportunity to repeat . . .

My Best Advice For Gonnabe Writers

While you're working toward getting published, take every opportunity you can to go to readings and public appearances by writers you know are good.   Pay close attention to how they're treated.

That way, when it happens to you, you won't slit your throat.

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8 comments:

HANNAH'S DAD said...

I'm touched by your use of 'gonnabe' instead of 'wannabe' - it shows respect rather than contempt for the dreams of strangers.

Most of those dreams will be deluded or doomed of course, but that's the natural state of humanity. So good on you.

As for paying close attention to how writers are treated, I think anyone who has read http://pats-quinade.livejournal.com/104142.html knows the heady seductions of writing genre fiction. I just hope you don't end up like poor Jay.

Michael Swanwick said...

New writers get all of the pain up front and all of the perks -- awards, praise from writers they admire, the occasional big advance -- after they've already proved themselves. So it would be cruel and petty to treat them dismissively.

It took me ten years from my decision to become a writer to the day when I finally managed to finish a story. Looking back, I can see no objective evidence that I had any talent whatsoever. None. That, combined with the observation that I'm only rarely able to predict which of my Clarion students are going to make it as writers, has taught me to treat not-yet-published writers with respect.

Except for the ones who talk about their writing all the time and never get around to actually DOING any. Them you can abuse any way you wish.

Roland said...

How about writers who did a lot of writing, then decided all of it was utter crap and then became so preoccupied with studying/work they could never find time enough to actually finish anything?

Michael Swanwick said...

The jury's still out on 'em. They might yet make it.

And in any case, they're not being condescending to working writers, based on the superior quality of stuff they haven't yet gotten around to writing. So we should all cut them some slack.

(Incidentally, "writing a lot of crap" is a necessary prerequisite towriting stuff which is not entirely crap. Nobody knows why this is so.)

Roland said...

Someone said every author has some 50 000 words of utter crap inside them that need to get written in order for the writer to start writing decent stuff.

Michael Swanwick said...

I've also heard it as a million words. Which, given how many writers there are with five or eight or ten unpublishable novels in the attic, is certainly true for at least some of us.

Oz said...

I know for a fact that at least two of the three amigos are good writers (I leave it to you to guess which of the three is the writer I haven't formed an opinion of). And I have few illusions, though I still bleed when this happens to good writers, to good friends. One would wish them a packed house full of folks hanging on their every word, one would.

Oz

Michael Swanwick said...

We're old hands at this, so it didn't come as a surprise. The weather was perfect, the week before had been cold, and there was an amusing event in town. Of course turnout was small.

But every little bit helps. And showing up and putting on as good a show as you can supports virtuous bookstore owners like Larry Robin. Who deserve all the support they can get.

Which is why, when I need a book, I order it either from Robin's or from Big Blue Marble. My small blow for independent bookstores! (You may consider this an unpaid commercial announcement.)