Today’s guest post is by Jesse Bullington, author of the novels The Sad Tales of the Brothers Grossbart and The Enterprise of Death, as well as numerous short stories. Jesse offers a surprising admission about his own writing career — and provides some encouragement to those of us who are still trying to figure things out…
I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, outside of working to be a better writer. Here as virtually everywhere else. I started this column with a step-by-step synopsis of my writing career, thinking that it might be encouraging to show that even the most clueless, flailing attempts can result in some measure of success, but 1300 words later I can see that it can all be distilled down to that simple admission: beyond the actual writing itself, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.
I never have, and still don’t. I have two novels out through Orbit, with a third being released later this year, but yeah: I got nuthin’ in the way of a gameplan. I don’t have any savvy career advice. I’m awkward at best when it comes to self-promotion. I’ve gotten by on the strength of my writing, but even that isn’t enough—I’ve required, and, thank all the happenstances of chance, received numerous injections of luck to reach the shaky prominence in my career where I currently crouch, trembling, waiting to topple back down.
I’m okay with that, though. There are plenty of people out there who do know what they’re about, or at least fake it well enough, that you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to picking up useful information. Off the top of my head, Nick Mamatas and Jeff VanderMeer are a couple of fonts that I’ve drunk from and found mostly giardia-free, so if you’re looking for horse-sense from old hands you could do worse than hearing them out. It’s okay to spit out whatever you find distasteful, though, so long as you swish it around long enough to make sure you’re not just unaccustomed to the taste of something new.
I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, other than writing exactly what I want to and somehow managing to sell it. Sometimes. Six years passed between my first pro sale and my second. The first sale was a short story I wrote expressly for an anthology, the second was a novel I wrote expressly for the enjoyment of my friends that was eventually picked up by a major publisher. I still get rejected much more often than I get accepted, even when invited for projects, even when I’m friends with the editor, even when I think the story is a surefire bull’s eye. The only constant is that with every single project I work on I try to write something that I would love to read, rather than what I think an editor or reader might want. The notion of “building a brand” strikes me as incredibly icky and insincere.
I may not know what the hell I’m doing outside of the actual writing, but yeah, when I’m deep in it, head down, fingers sore, all that uncertainty melts away…at least until revision time. But is that really surprising or fresh? That a writer is most comfortable writing, rather than worrying about where to submit it, how to market it, etc? Do we really need another blog post acknowledging that there’s no wrong or right way to write, so long as the results speak for themselves?
I don’t know about that, either. What I do know, then, outside of the obvious “write moar/angst less” school of writerly advice: don’t be a bitter asshole in the face of rejection and failure, and don’t be a smug asshole when you succeed. I’ve been both varieties in my day, and nothing much good comes of it. Hell, just don’t be an asshole, period…or at least, try not to, even when you feel justified. Things are hard enough without your compounding things by being a dickbag, so drop the drama and get back to writing.
Sage advice? Maybe not, but like I’ve been saying: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, beyond trying to improve as a writer. It’s okay if you don’t, either.
Jesse Bullington is the author of the novels The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, The Enterprise of Death, and the forthcoming The Folly of the World. His short fiction, articles, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, and he can be found online at www.jessebullington.com.