Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writing, Blogging, Despair, and Becoming a Writer


New writer Adam Claxton posted a couple of intelligent questions to this blog on Monday.  The  second of which is:

Also, do you find it disheartening when, for instance, you post to your blog and you receive no comments?
 I do.

The answer to which is:  not at all.  I am a writer and therefore all my insecurities are tied up in my novels and short stories and occasionally, to a far lesser degree, my non-fiction.  The blog?  It's a pleasant way to keep in touch with friends, both those I've met and those I haven't, a way of making myself commit a fraction of my life to words in a sort-of diary, and little more.  

If you want your blog to have lots of responses, there are tricks for achieving this:  Ask questions ("Which genre writer pens the worst sex scenes?") or make lists ("The Ten Worst Lists Any Genre Writer Has Made This Year"), for example.  Use lots of flashy illustrations (see above).  Make controversial statements ("Robert Heinlein was the worst thing ever to happen to science fiction").  And on and on and on.  I'm sure there are hundreds of articles out there on this very subject.

But why?  Phil Foglio, in a statement I gather he now rather regrets having made, once famously wrote that "Winning a Hugo for fan art is the doorway to winning more Hugos for fan art."  The chief thing having a popular blog does is bring more people to your blog.  If you are, like John Scalzi, also a prolific creator of fiction then, yes, this does ultimately result in more sales.  But if you're at the beginning of your career, struggling to find time to write, struggling to improve your writing, struggling to sell what you write... why add another level of pain to your workload?  It's not going to bring you any closer to where you need to be.

So, were I you, I wouldn't bother with social media at all, except to the degree that it gives you pleasure or that the contact eases the sense of isolation all writers face at the beginnings of their career.  All your serious attention should be focused on writing and writing and writing.

The first question was (and here I paraphrase) how do I cope with the despair endemic upon being an unpublished or little-published writer?  And here nobody has a good answer.  You simply have to tough it out.  Jack Woodford (the onetime king of soft-core porn and author of writing advice books that are half brilliant and half abhorrent) once observed that learning to write was extraordinarily hard -- but that you should be grateful for this because it weeds out the competition.  Everyone wants to write.  But only real writers are willing to put up with the pain.  Or, rather, those who can't put up with it never do become real writers.

That's bleak, I know.  But until you succeed, there's no way of knowing for sure that you will.  All you can do is write, hope, and write some more.

Above:  The Flame Nebula in visible and infrared light.  From NASA, of course.



Edward said...

Wonderful post.

One problem is that people are now told by publishing professionals, I guess, that they _should_ have a big social media platform to help sell their stuff when they do finally break through; given the timescales involved, as it can take years for books to wind through the system, one could conceivably capitalize on the speed of social media; I think in a way they want writers to get their 'indypub' fix, that quick back and forth adrenal feed-back loop, with social media, and leave the books and book publishing to the experts…the guys being driven out of business by Amazon and its unstoppable shit volcano. It's a two edged sword of course, as either your social media experiments fail, depressing you, or succeed, making you wonder how much the traditional publisher brings to the table. Oh, there are huge servings of misery for everyone when it comes to writing and publishing.

TN-Tanuki said...

I don't often comment on yours or anyone's blog, frankly. (My RSS reader doesn't allow for it.) That said: this was mighty damn good advice, Mr. S! I, too, have felt both kinds of despair--still feel the yet-to-be-published variety--and thanks to this post will cease worrying about my blog and concentrate more on the writing I really want to do!


Bruce said...

I think the trick, when you're never published or seldom published, is to try and write, not just more, but better. Since I started writing fiction again in late 2012, after about a six-year gap, my primary pleasure has been in finding myself able to write things at a higher level than I used to. I'm writing with deeper characterization, more complex plots, and using stylistic techniques I've never used before.

(My latest effort was to try and write a story that, if published in a mystery publication, could be read as a straight contemporary mystery, but if published in a SF/F market, could be read as a fantasy. Contextual fiction, I guess it could be called.)

I -think- I'm doing a pretty good job at it. I just need to find those editors who agree. (And be more diligent about actually sending the stories out to markets. That, too.)

As for my blogging, yeah. sometimes the low page-views are discouraging, but I tend to think of the blog as primarily an informal journal, autobiographical notes, and letting my inner grump out.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Michael, for answering those questions. It's encouraging to know I'm not alone in being alone; that it is part of the journey, the struggle. I guess I had arrived at the same conclusion myself -- that writing has a steep learning curve; it's nice to hear from someone who has already reached the summit though -- to know as I gaze up at the daunting climb ahead that it isn't entirely impossible.

Maybe I'll see you up there someday.

Unknown said...

Great dialog. I also would like to add that I am climbing and Delany's ABOUT WRITING is the best book I have ever found on the craft.

Michael Swanwick said...

John Gardner's books on writing are also excellent.

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