I have been writing with varying degrees of seriousness of intent for the last ten years.  Much like grief (perhaps too much), writing for me comes in waves, and when one of those waves hits, I feel as though I have always been and will always be immersed in it.  And then, inevitably, it passes; life distracts, circumstances change, the muse falls silent for a time.

Still, I always seem to come back to it.  Over the course of the last decade, I’ve written about three hundred thousand words of fiction:  two 80,000 word novels that I still maintain are worthy ideas, but in which the writing is, um, not quite up to par, a novella (which I’m currently shopping), and fifteen or so short stories, six of which have seen the light of day (and some of which I still believe will).   And of course I’ve  taken writing courses, joined critique groups, gone to workshops and conventions, read books on writing, and so on and so forth.

Maybe none of that is much to show for ten years, but I’m proud that I haven’t given up.  And this time around – I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because I have less free time than ever, but somehow am writing more.  Perhaps it’s the arrival of my daughter that has crystallized my focus, or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and am no longer so content to wait for somedays that won’t ever come if I don’t wrestle them into existence by sheer force of will.  Whatever the reason, I’m writing a lot these days (by my standards), and it feels different somehow.  Like I’m surfing the wave for once, instead of drowning in it.

But enough of all that.  The goal here is to, if not educate, then at least entertain, and to that end I shall take it upon myself to share what I’ve learned about writing thus far, in the fashion God intended.

With PowerPoint.


Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.11.17 AM

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.11.25 AM

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.11.33 AM

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.11.40 AM

Talking points:
We begin with a standard 2×2 dimensionalization, with Writerly Skill on the X-axis and Writerly Fame on the Y-axis.  This yields four quadrants:  I) The Beginner, where we all start, since no one pens Hugo-award winning novels at the age of eight, II) The Marginally Competent, which is where your humble author believes he currently resides, III) The Wrongfully Successful, which is no one so stop worrying about it; successful writers get that way for a reason, and IV) Famous Authors.

The path by which one traverses the problem space is shown by the tan arrows.  There are two key thresholds along the way:  1) The Threshold of Competence, at which point it is reasonable to hope you might get something published, and 2) The Threshold of Making a Living At It, which I’ve heard exists but know nothing about.  I should like to point out, however, that it is possible to be spectacularly successful by all objective standards, to publish multiple novels, win awards, gain fame and recognition, and all of those things, without in fact ever quitting one’s day job.  I find this simultaneously depressing and incredibly hopeful.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.11.47 AM

Talking points:
Here are ten pro Science Fiction short story markets, chosen from a search on www.duotrope.com (a fantastic resource I whole-heartedly recommend signing up for.  They do charge now, but that seems eminently fair to me for the value delivered).  Duotrope lists the acceptance rates and response times; what I have done is to derive from that basic information an expected rate at which stories can be sold to those markets on average, and what that translates to in dollar terms to the author.

The numbers speak for themselves:  if your story is of average quality (more on that in a minute), and you start submitting right now, and keep submitting ever time you get a rejection back, Tor.com can be expected to buy something from you right around the year 2145.

Along the way, you will have made approximately enough money to pay for your coffee habit.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.11.55 AM

Talking points:
Same analysis as above, repeated on five semi-pro markets chosen at random.  The point is this:  moving from, say, eight cents a word down to two cents a word is no panacea.  Every publisher wants the awesome, as well they should.  Which brings us to:

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.12.03 AM

Talking points:
The one saving grace in all of this is that there really is no such thing as the average story.  Having read a fair bit of slush in my day, I can tell you that really good stories do in fact stand out.  Call me a pollyanna, but I believe the marketplace is reasonably efficient when it comes to identifying truly awesome stories.  If you write them, they will find the light of day eventually.

On the subject of fame:  think of it like a tie-breaking vote, and then stop thinking about it altogether.  I do believe the presence of a recognized name can make a story seem better than it is (to an editor or a reader), but I also think those recognized names on balance spend their days writing stories way to the right of the all important Threshold of Publishability.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 11.12.08 AM

Talking points:
This is my process.  Yours may vary.  The main thing:  don’t labor in a vacuum, whatever you do.  It takes honest, professional feedback to get better – and the ability to hear it.  The best advice I can give is this:  the critiquer, as long as they are being honest (and not, say, being mean or making personal attacks out of pettiness or jealousy or something equally awful, which can happen) is always right.  Meaning, it is their job to give you their impressions, and your job to figure out what to do about them.  You don’t have to agree with their root cause analysis or suggestions, but if they react negatively to some part of your story, ignore that fact at your own peril.

That’s it:  my eight slides are up.  Honestly, I have no sweeping conclusions beyond what I’ve already said.  Writing is hard.  The process is hard.  Getting better is hard.

But it’s also just about my favorite thing in the world.