Thursday, August 31, 2006


In looking back over this blog, I see that It's now been months since I last made an entry. That seems about proper, since for six months I was posting every day. I'm still not planning to post every day -- I have far, far too many things on my plate right now, most of them, fortunately, writing-related. Recording observations and things I've learned in a blog is good, but the temptation to write an essay every day is quite strong -- and essays are not the kind of writing I want to do just now. So, instead of a daily commentary on writing, I'm just going to use this blog to record any insights I've had that I don't want to lose. Many of these will simply go into the pocket journal I carry around with me everywhere, but when I happen to be near a computer, I'll see if I can't preserve them here instead.

As the title of this entry indicates, I just got back from the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, popularly known as Worldcon. Now, I'm not really much of the convention type. I attended a few comic book conventions in college (and was bored out of my mind) and have been to a number of gaming conventions (where the point is to play and run games, not to attend panels). This was my first real exposure to "fandom," however. I found it interesting that while the con is basically a chance for fans of science fiction to get together and have fun, there is a parallel, almost secret track for writers of science fiction going on at the same time. Very few of the fans I met were interested in the writing panels or in meeting "famous writers." Most of fandom was centered on the movies and television shows, and rightfully so. There were some fans of written fiction, of course, quite a respectable number, in fact. But for the most part, the writing panels were attended by neo-professional writers and those that would like to be. What impressed me was how well the two groups got along, like a pair of favored cousins. There was a mutual respect that was evident, even if there was a rather strong separation of interest. It was a really interesting dynamic.

Worldcon was an absolute blast, though, mostly because the friend who convinced me to come is friends with a couple who have been on both sides of the house (fan and writer) for over ten years now. Everyone knows them. I had no idea that the real con takes place in the parties, not in the panels (although the panels were interesting and incredibly valuable). As far as I know, this couple attended none of the actual panels. Why should they? Most of the panelists were coming up to them to have lunch and hang out. A case in point: I joined the writer of the couple for breakfast with Connie Willis, master of ceremonies for the Hugo Awards and winner of multiple Hugos herself. She's a delightful and encouraging person. The main thing that I took away from Worldcon, though, was a burning desire to write. To immerse myself in this world, to finally be able to "fellowship with my peers," as the saying goes.

I also came out with a resolve to win a Hugo two years from now, or at least a Campbell award (for best new science fiction writer). I met the current Campbell recipient (before he knew he had won) and a couple of past recipients. Their stories are a lot like mine. They are much further along in their craft than I am, as much as two or three years further along. I also realized something I probably already knew, but hadn't let come to a conscious level: Every writer goes through a long (usually three or more year) struggle in which they have no idea if they are any good or not. Nor do they have any idea if they have potential to be good. It is in this latter bit that I find my motivation. Right now, I suck. While it's a notch above amateur, from a professional perspective, my writing sucks (if you'd like to see just how badly I suck, join the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror -- I'm starting to post some pieces there, though nothing I've yet been serious about). On the other hand, I have received two personal rejection letters, one hand-written from the editor of a magazine on par with the New Yorker and one from Stanley Schimdt of Analog (who said my writing was "quite good at times"), and have been told by a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America (she was my instructor in a writing course I took) that I've got a lot of talent. So while I do, in fact, suck, at least I know I've got the potential to be better. Whether or not I realize that potential entirely depends on whether or not I'm willing to sit in my chair every day until my writing finally comes into its own. You see, no one can teach you to write, not really. In the end, you have to teach yourself, and that only comes by, well, writing. I just finished a great book on the writing life by Heather Sellers called Page After Page. Read the book, but the best advice in the entire book is simply this:

Give yourself permission to suck.

That's it. You're in training, why should you expect to do anything else but suck? I do believe that anyone who writes -- and reads -- every single day for three years will write something good at the end of that time, assuming you have the slightest bit of talent (and most everyone does to some degree). I set a two-year goal for myself for three reasons: 1) I won't be going to Worldcon in Japan next year, but I will go to the 2008 Worldcon in Denver, 2) I am convinced that I have a modicum of (as yet undeveloped) talent and I think I can write something good in less time than the average person, and 3) I firmly believe that in order to succeed you have to shoot high, not with the mindset of "Oh, I'll aim high, but I know I probably won't get quite that close" but instead with the bullheaded drive to achieve that goal. Realistically, some of the best writers who have ever lived have not won a Hugo. What makes me think I can get that well known in that short period of time? Ah, the challenge! I love a challenge. Nothing spurs me on better!

So here I am, finally back in training. I spent all summer teaching, all spring working on my Ph.D. thesis proposal. I'll have a baby coming on October 30th. But I've got a priority. I'll be teaching more than full-time after the baby comes, since I'll be teaching my wife's classes in addition to my own. But by that time, I'll be in the habit once again of "running a mile" every day in my writing. Once you get in training, it's a hell of a lot easier to just keep going. I'm counting on that. After all, babies have a habit of not sleeping, so I'll have plenty of time to think about writing!

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