Monday night I had dinner with (among other good people) Robert Reed. Unsurprisingly, we had some substantial conversation about literary matters. At one point, I started talking about new, young writers. Both people with only a few published books under their belt and those who aren't yet published but will be eventually, I mean.
I told Bob that I'd had many discussions with these folks about their plans to self-publish their ways to glory, about all the work they put into building a brand, creating a community of followers (or readers, for those already published), making blog tours, hiring editors and illustrators, and so on and on and on. My point was that they were putting ferocious amounts of energy into non-writing activities without having first made up a business plan. One that would define success and map out how many hours per week would go into each activity and how long they could expect to be holding down four jobs (writer, self-publisher, self-publicist, and whatever puts food on the table) before they could support themselves writing.
But Bob interrupted me. "Do they ever talk about improving their craft?"
"Um . . . no."
"Then they're just wasting their time."
He was right, of course. The single most important a writer can be doing is improving his or her writing. Everything else is just . . . everything else.
Decades ago, when the Cyberpunk-Humanist Wars were in full swing and my generation was really tearing up the tracks, David Hartwell said to me, "You're competing with John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly and Bruce Sterling. But if you want to get anywhere, you've got to start competing with Gene Wolfe and Ursula K. Le Guin."
It was a shocking thing to hear. But it was something I needed to be told.
So if you're a new writer, here's the question you've got to ask yourself: Are you working as hard as you possibly can to make yourself a better writer?
Because if you're not, you're just wasting your time.
Above: The Saturnian ice moon Enceladus, with a major water-vapor plume, the result of as-yet undescribed cryovulcanism. Isn't that glorious? If you're going to be a science fiction writer, you also have to learn to do your research. But that's another rant for another day.