For those of us who subscribe to the Gregorian calendar, tomorrow is the last day of the year, and the day after brings us into 2012. Many of us made resolutions at the beginning of this year, and this is the time when we look at how we did, and adjust for greater success in the new year.
Well, I don’t know about you, but my goals are pretty much the same.
My resolutions in the past have been firm things I’ve been able to stick to (read fifty books), some have been nebulous things I’ve still managed to stick to (eat healthier). Some have been nebulous things I haven’t been able to stick to (exercise more). Some have been firm things that, holy shit, how did I ever think I could stick to that (swear less).
But when it comes to writing, my goals were set in January of 2008, when I finally broke free of a massive bout of writer’s block and got back to it. I’m the kind of person that, when I go into anything, I research the hell out of it, and publishing was no different. And after a bit of research, I came to my goals for the year, and for my career, and even now, on the edge of finishing my fourth year at this (holy shit) my goals remain the same.
Goal 1: Figure out what’s in your control, and what’s not in your control. That which you can control, do so to the best of your ability. That which you cannot control, let go, and let it handle itself.
Publishing is, if we’re all being honest here, a bit of a game of luck. Yes, there’s skill involved. You have to understand how to follow instructions and that no, you are not a Super Special Snowflake, those instructions apply to you just like everyone else. Grammar maters, and you have to learn the rules to know how to break them. Spelling counts. The ability to write a sentence, string sentences into a paragraph, and then string paragraphs into a story with a beginning, middle, and end, are an absolute must.
However, the rest of it is out of your hands. You could write the most heartbreaking novel ever put to paper, but sadly that’s not enough. Because an editor may have already bought a similar work. Or it’s not what the market wants right now, but maybe in a few years, just keep at it. Or you happen to be part of a wave of similar ideas coming into the editor’s/agent’s inbox, and your fresh concept and beautiful prose is a representation of the current cultural unconscious.
So worry about what you can control, and ignore the rest. For your own sanity.
Goal 2: Getting published is not a goal.
This seems less of a goal and more of an un-goal, but bear with me. It’s easy to get swept up in the thought that being published means you matter. That at the big conventions there are two lines: one for the published, which leads to the VIP party room with bottle service and the best snacks you’ve ever had; and one for the unpublished, which leads out by the dumpsters where you’ll all shiver in the cold and share one shitty bottle of whiskey between the lot of you.
There are two major negative things that fall out of this, as far as I can see.
One big one is how you’ll perceive yourself, and every rejection that comes your way. Every letter that comes from the slush pile submissions, from form rejections to multi-paragraph “I love this but it’s just not right for us,” will be another papercut on your soul. Each one will hurt longer than it should, and make you question your ability. And under this constant onslaught of self-doubt and negativity, even the most persistent spirit can wither. Don’t let this happen to you.
And two is it’ll skew how you see people. There’s a certain attitude I’ve seen, not universal, but frequently enough to bother me, where people don’t give someone time of day until they find out if they’re actually someone. And this just plain sucks. You are not your bibliography. Assume everybody is worth a damn until they demonstrate otherwise. Because being published should not be what makes you stand out. It should be your writing and work ethic, plain and simple.
Goal 3: Write the best damn thing you can. And when you’re done with that, write the best damn thing you can. And enjoy it, the whole damn way.
Don’t worry about selling to the top markets, don’t worry about landing the best agent, don’t fret about talking to so-and-so at the next World Fantasy. The only stress should come from if you’re writing the best damn thing you can. If you’re not, change that. If you are, keep at it.
And have fun the entire way. Life has so many stressors in it. Bills and family and kids and the day job and tiffs with your SO and taking your cat to the vet. Car wrecks and leaky roofs. Broken appliances. Why add writing to the list? Enjoy your craft. Be passionate about the words you put down. Delight in this part. Have fun. Because the rest of it’s going to be stressful enough.
And if you wonder how this has worked out for me, well, I made my first sales this year, after three years of taking this shit seriously. But more importantly, I’ve made some really good friends through my love of stories and writing, and putting words down on paper is still one of the things that brings me joy, even when everything else is a stressbag of stress. So, I think it’s worked out pretty well.
What are your goals, both for 2012 and your career? I hope they are things you can reach, and things that bring you joy.
All images via FreeDigitalPhotos.net