Business Musings: Beginner’s Luck

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One of the most astonishing moments I had as the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction occurred at the Hugo award ceremony. A writer won a Hugo with a short story I had rejected. He got in my face—literally inches away from me—and said,

“I bet you’re sorry you rejected me, aren’t you?”

Then he bounced away from me before I had a chance to answer him. How would I have answered him?

I would have said, “Congratulations on your win,” and I would have meant it.

But had he obnoxiously pressed the point, I would have added, “I still don’t like your story.”

Editing is about taste. We reinforce that lesson every year at our anthology workshop. The writing quality in the workshop is incredibly high. We open the workshop to professional writers only—folks who’ve published a lot, whether fiction or nonfiction, indie or traditional. Some writers come back every year, partly to test their abilities to write six stories to order in six weeks, partly to see old friends, and partly to see the editors bicker.

And the editors do bicker. A lot.

Mostly, we bicker over our points of view. What happens is this: Generally one of us will think Story A is brilliant, and some other editor will think it tragically flawed. We’re editors and writers and opinionated as hell, so we argue our positions. But we respect each other, and we know that some of us have an affinity for stories that the rest of us don’t like.

When it comes down to choosing between two stories that are not to our taste, we six editors have learned to rely on each other.

In fact, we always agree on one thing: the editor who purchases the story is the final judge of its quality. That editor has to love the story to buy it.

Which I’m sure the editor who bought that Hugo-winner loved the story. I didn’t. But even then, I knew that editing was about taste.

The writer didn’t.

He also thought his shit didn’t stink.

Is he still writing? I don’t know. Is he still publishing? I don’t know. But I do know this: He’s not being published in science fiction. In fact in science fiction, his career didn’t last beyond a few years of short stories. (I’m not sure if there was a novel or not: I didn’t pay attention.)

Over the years, I’ve run into a lot of writers like this guy. One of those writers wrote one of most unintentionally funny letters I’d ever read to Dean. As editor of Pulphouse: A Fiction Magazine, Dean had rejected one of the writer’s short stories. The writer wrote back to say that he had just sold his first novel and that Dean didn’t recognize the quality of this writer’s work. In fact, the writer added, Dean should eat that writer’s manuscript for the “only words of substance” Dean would ever have inside him.

I do remember that writer’s name because Dean tells that story with great delight (as an example of writer ego/idiocy). The writer’s book appeared and vanished that year with no follow-up. I just Googled the writer’s name, and discovered that for about 2 years, he self-published a few other short stories. Nothing since 2012, though, which does not surprise me.

Why doesn’t it surprise me? Because I think this guy is a bad writer? He’s not. He’s eloquent, particularly when he’s pissed off. But his I’m-better-than-anyone-else attitude ensured that he will never have a long-term career in the arts.

These egotistical writers still exist. One book sale to New York, one major traditional honor, and the writers will believe they’re better than every other writer.

But there’s a new twist to the old breed. It’s an indie twist. I’ve seen it at some conferences and workshops in the past few years. It’s the indie writer who, after receiving constructive advice which the writer asked for, dismisses that advice by saying, “Well, I sell thousands of books per month.”

The writer usually is selling thousands of books per month. Obviously, the writer is doing something very, very right. Readers like the books and buy more.

When such writers come to me for advice on craft, I always think they’re asking about future projects, what they can do to improve their craft. When I tell them what I think they need to work on (remember, the advice was solicited), they respond with that sales thing.

So why did they come to me if they’re already doing well? These writers come to me (and others with traditional publishing experience) to be validated. They want us to tell them how very brilliant they are. In fact, they want us to understand that brilliance can happen outside of the traditional framework.

I know it can. I read a lot of writers who are indie published. I love their work. I watch a lot of my friends do exceptionally well with sales, often at thousands per month, while publishing their own books.

Those writers continue to learn. In fact, several of them came to the anthology workshop (and have come to past workshops). I’ve seen these indie writers continue to grow in ability each and every year. These writers are improving. They’re augmenting what they do well, and working hard to improve their weaknesses.

They’re succeeding.

If I already know that writers can have thousands of sales per month outside of the traditional framework, why do I say that the writers who ask for advice and then dismiss it with their sales figures are like the guy who wanted me to admit I was wrong when I rejected his one short story?

Because—honestly—I worry about those indie writers who only cite their sales numbers. All writers can improve, even those of us who’ve been in the business for thirty years.

Generally speaking, writers who have such great sales figures early on have one skill that’s very hard to teach. They know how to tell a good story. Even if there are other problems in the writing—clichéd characters, non-existent setting, poor grammar—the writer’s superior storytelling skills shine through.

It’s almost like looking through a dirty window at a badly decorated house. Yes, you’ll be comfortable there, but the house could use a good cleaning, some paint, and new furniture. If the home owner made those improvements, the house wouldn’t be a good house: it would be the best house in town.

Here’s the attitude that those writers—from the award-winner to the word-eater to the sales-figure folks—don’t have. They don’t understand that if they want to grow as writers, they need to look at those awards, traditional book sales, or high volume of indie book sales as a starting platform, and improve from there.

John Grisham did that. He felt like he had a lot to learn as a writer, even as The Firm hit every bestseller list in the world, and he set out to learn even more. His craft has improved tremendously. His latest novels are amazing. His short stories are breathtaking.

Yes, the storytelling chops are still there, but they’re even stronger. Grisham always had a can’t-put-it-down quality, but the books were “thin” and not always memorable. Now, the books are not only memorable, but achingly so. Look at the storytelling chops from A Time To Kill (his first written novel) to Sycamore Row (using the same characters). In A Time To Kill, you can see the furniture move as Grisham sets the bits of his plot into motion.

In Sycamore Row, the furniture is part of the story, and when the furniture moves, we don’t see it until the author wants us to. A completely different level of skill. Both books are readable, but one is masterful—and it ain’t the first one.

J.K. Rowling also grew as a writer after her first novel sale. The first chapter of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone has no setting except a cupboard and a street (and maybe a street lamp). Look it up if you don’t believe me.

She continued to learn her craft even though she had already sold millions of copies of her books.

Looking back over what I just wrote, I realize you can misunderstand what I mean by the writers’ attitudes. Do I mean that because writers diss gatekeepers that the writers will fail?

Not at all.

I mean that writers who believe that one publication, one award, or some other kind of early success means that they’re God’s Gift to Literature will always vanish.

Early success is a minefield. I write this as someone who had a lot of early success. I won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1990. That’s hard to do, not because of the talent involved, but because a writer has to be noticed in a two-year time frame to win that award. My rise as an sf short story writer was meteoric as are the careers of most Campbell winners.

Unlike many of them, though, I survived that early success. So I’m speaking from experience here when I talk about the perils of early success. I’ve watched more writers who had success right off the bat vanish than writers who struggled for years to achieve success.

Like the beginners who win a lot of money at a poker table or hit a home run their first time at bat, writers have beginners luck as well. And it can be just as harmful.

These writers end up believing that writing is easy, and learning business is unnecessary. Writing is easy compared to, say, fighting fires or a myriad of other jobs that require dedication, intelligence, and courage. But continually telling stories and going back to the desk each and every day can be difficult.

And not everything a writer writes—I don’t care who she is—will work. Sometimes a writer has to try again and again before a story bends to her will.

I’ve written a lot about the way that a lack of business knowledge can ruin a writing career. Quite frankly, the writers who get destroyed fastest from a lack of business knowledge are the Gods-Gift writers.

Or it used to be that way.

Indie publishing has allowed a lot of business-minded people to enter the publishing industry in a way that traditional publishing discouraged. I suspect these folks will make it through the business ups and downs.

But there’s a craft up-and-down cycle as well that will eventually trip these writers up, and they won’t know why.

Readers tire of the same thing from the same writer over and over again. I know, I know. A bunch of you are getting ready to tell me that your favorite writer tells the same story over and over again, and you’re not tired of it.

And I’ll bet you cash money that writer continues to study his craft and strives to improve.

There’s a career arc for writers who don’t improve their storytelling skills. They publish many good-enough books in a few years (fewer years now than before, thanks to the short-publication time for indie books). After a while, the readers can see everything that the writer does, and after starting a novel, will see exactly how that book will end. (Or, worse, the ending will come out of left field with no warning, pissing the reader off.)

Once a reader figures out everything in a writer’s bag of tricks, the reader will move on to other writers, often without thinking about it. The reader might buy a few more of the writer’s novels, but will eventually realize he’s not reading those novels. The sales will taper off, even of the new work.

And the writer will have no idea why.

Careers in the arts are cyclical. Writers are popular for a while. Then they’re less popular. Trends are hot for a few years, and then they are out-of-date and considered stale.

Genres rise in popularity, and then the popularity falls.

Now that traditional publishing has less involvement in trend-making and genre popularity, I suspect that the downs won’t be troughs.

What I mean by that is this: once a genre becomes popular, it will gain more readers. When the popularity drops off, some of those new readers will remain. So the low part of the cycle will be higher than a previous low part of the cycle.

(In the past, traditional publishing just plain old stopped publishing the “unpopular” genre except for a few bestsellers, guaranteeing that the genre would die off. Right now, trad pub is trying to do that to urban fantasy. More and more writers tell me that they can’t sell the next book in their series or a book in their new UF series because trad pub says “urban fantasy doesn’t sell.” Yet indie writers are seeing urban fantasy sales grow.

(What trad pub is saying is that UF doesn’t sell at blockbuster levels any more, so trad pub is no longer interested. Indie is picking up the slack, and UF indie writers are doing very well indeed.)

The cyclical nature of the arts isn’t just in business and genre, but also in interest over a writer. A new writer has a brand-new, never-before-heard voice, and readers flock to that. Once the voice becomes familiar, some readers will abandon that voice for other new voices.

Surviving that familiarity trap requires more than writing the same old thing. It requires the writer to step up his game.

And the Gods-Gift writers don’t believe they need to step up their game. After all, they’ve been winning. They’re like the poker players who watch poker on TV, sit at a table, and make thousands of dollars during their first week.

Poker is a game of skill, as I’ve learned watching the career of my professional poker player husband. Like any game, there is chance involved, but the true professionals mitigate the luck factor and try to take it out of the equation as much as possible.

Beginners who don’t understand much more than what hand of cards defeats another rely on the luck factor.

And we all know—every single one of us—that luck runs out.

Gods-Gift writers are often lucky bastards, with the right book at the right time. Or with a competent short story on a topic that excites readers. Or with a series of indie books with a compelling narrative told by someone with enough skill to hold the reader’s attention—for now.

But what keeps a writer in the game over the long haul—what keeps an artist in the game over the long haul—is a genuine humbleness combined with a willingness to learn.

This very idea actually showed up on The Voice last week, when Anthony Riley, one of the contestants, said there wasn’t a song he couldn’t sing. He told this to Pharrell Williams and Lionel Richie (!). Both Richie and Williams jumped on Riley, telling him that he had to be humble.

Lionel Richie took it one step further, saying, ““If you’re great, let [the audience] tell you. Never tell them.” 

Richie seems to live this philosophy. In video that accompanies his album Tuskegee, he talks about all he learned from re-imagining his hit pop songs as country songs and singing those old hits as duets with country artists, some of whom had not been born when the hits came out. 

It takes courage—creative courage—to reinvent your hits. So many professional musicians of Richie’s age tour the casino circuit, playing the same old tired renditions of their past glories. Richie not only reinvented his, but he also learned from artists younger than he is.

(If you want to see what I mean, watch this duet with Jennifer Nettles. I’ve never been a big fan of the song “Hello,” but this performance of it is quite memorable, and takes it to a new level, imho.)[youtube][/youtube]

Let’s go back to Richie’s words. What happens when the audience tells you that you’re great? Are you done? Can you rest on your laurels?

So many writers, so many artists, do. They’ve climbed the mountain. They’ve achieved greatness.

The problem is, that greatness is fleeting.

Enjoy it when it happens, but realize that ten years from now, the Hugo win or the megaselling pop hit will seem dated to a new generation.

Do you need to reinvent yourself?

No, but you do need to look at your craft—continually—and figure out ways to grow. That way, you don’t get left behind as tastes change. You don’t become Whatever-Happened-To or Didn’t-She-Write-A-Book-Once or (God forbid) Who?-I’ve-Never-Heard-Of-Her.

You’ll never appeal to all readers all the time. And, quite honestly, even when you’re at your most popular, not every reader will have heard of you. 

Appealing to everyone should never be your goal.

Your goal should be to become the best writer you can be. And this year’s best-writer-you should be better than last-year’s-best-writer-you but not as good as next-year’s-best-writer-you, because, in theory, you should keep learning and improving.

Does that mean you should take classes or go to workshops, hire editors or get a million critiques? Not necessarily. You need to figure out what works for you, and how you learn. Critiques are often destructive to writers, especially peer critiques between beginners or with professors who don’t make their living as writers. In fact, on The Voice, the superstar musicians often talk to the contestants about unlearning everything they picked up in their graduate music studies. If you watch, look at the sadness on the faces of the coaches when they realize someone has (or is about to) graduate from a major music school. Often as not, those artists never make it past the third round, because they’re too technically perfect and their work lacks heart and emotion.

I learn a lot from artists in other disciplines, like music. I’ve learned a lot as I watched Lionel Richie explore the roots of his own music. I learn from artists like The Roots, who seem to know every genre of music and play them all well.

I ask a lot of questions, and when I don’t know the answer, I go to someone who does. I also have a lot of students because students are always asking new questions, questions I’ve never considered. If I’ve never considered it, then I haven’t learned it yet.

I watch things like The Voice. I read all the time. I listen to the new writers coming in, and watch what’s working for them. I still read for enjoyment. I follow trends and I stretch my craft, trying things and sometimes failing spectacularly.

One of the things I do, as a series editor for Fiction River, is read a lot of stories in genres I’m not personally fond of. When Dean and I decided to return to editing short fiction, we decided ours wouldn’t be the only voices in Fiction River.

We have a lot of different guest editors on different volumes. Those editors provide different voices and points of view. They often have very different taste than I do, and sometimes buy stories I don’t like. I think that’s a good thing—not just for Fiction River, but also for me.

Because those stories are in Fiction River and because I line edit each volume (for clarity only), I have to go deep into stories I would never normally read. I learn a lot about other forms of storytelling, about plot, about craft.

I also learn from the way that the other editors work.

I also know my limitations. Every now and then, as the supremely confused line editor, I send a story back to the volume’s editor, saying the story makes no sense to me and here’s why. I ask the editor to have the writer make a few revisions. Sometimes the editor says the story is fine and I’m clueless Sometimes the editor asks for tweaks from the author that I would never think of in a million years because I don’t “get” the story. I learn from both of those instances.

Sometimes I think Fiction River is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing.

I learn from doing. It’s taken me years to find new ways to learn. I’m sure five years from now, I’ll find yet another way of improving my craft.

The key, though, is that I’ll still be looking five years from now.

I am not yet the best writer I can be. I’m not sure I’ll ever be the best writer I can be.

But no matter how many awards I win, how many books I publish, or how many copies of those books I sell, I will always know I have a lot to learn as a writer.

Chasing excellence—and knowing it is ever elusive—keeps me in my writing chair. I seriously can’t imagine playing the same old hits to ever-smaller audiences. I would much rather try something new and fail spectacularly, than receive applause for something I did twenty years ago.

Somehow I’ve managed to reinvent my nonfiction career while I was busy doing other things. It constantly surprises me when someone asks for more nonfiction from me. (I would have killed for that reaction thirty years ago, as a full-time nonfiction writer.)

I’m pleased I talked to friends younger than me who convinced me that writing on my website was a good idea. I’m listening to other friends who are urging me to try other things.

I’m thinking about it all, and I’ll bring what interests me to these blog posts.

Thank you all for coming as well.

If you learned something or find benefit in this blog, please leave a tip on the way out.

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“Business Musings: Beginner’s Luck,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

17 thoughts on “Business Musings: Beginner’s Luck

  1. Totally with ya on the taste thing. I’ve learned of my own stuff, readers either love it or hate it. If they get past the first chapter, they’ll suck down the whole thing and stay up all night doing it. If they don’t, it sucks and every word needs to be changed. How should I expect any different from editors, who not only have to satisfy their own tastes, but also guess what their readers will like well enough to buy??

  2. Thank you for this great article, Kris. I’m almost hesitant to say, ‘I love it’, because it’s said so often that it almost becomes a cliché. Yet, that’s how I feel about it.

    I see it from a total different angle because I’m not a writer but a freelance copy editor and line editor. However, the rules are practically the same. We always have to enhance our skills. We cannot afford to stagnate. The style of telling a story changes, and so does the spoken language. We need to be current and that means a never ending learning, even for us. 🙂

    Our profession is easier when it comes to non-fiction manuscripts, but the moment I have a novel in front of me, I’m automatically in the writer’s chair. I need to go in his or her head, and submerge in the story. There is no other way to edit a story, improve it, and keep the writer’s voice authentic at the same time. Yet, you know this already. I just wanted to bring this up from the perspective of an editor, since [so far] all comments come from writers. 🙂

  3. Thank you, Kris, for revealing more about what an editor actually does! Writing either indie or for a small press, I get editorial input I don’t always trust, and Dean’s been pulling his hair out with my questions of “Well, Kris got a Hugo for it so she must have been doing *something*, right?”

    About learning and mixing it up and taking risks, yes, all that. It’s hard to push outside one’s comfort zone, but if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

  4. My aha moment with writing came in a yoga class. I’d been doing yoga for a year, starting from a beginner, and one day in class, holding a pose somewhere between beginner and intermediate, I realized I was doing something I hadn’t been able to do when I started. I wasn’t holding the pose particularly well, but I was holding it. After taking three classes a week for a year, I’d gotten better. I still wasn’t any good at yoga, but I was less bad than when I started.

    And it hit me that writing works the same way. If I keep doing it, keep practicing, I’ll get better. I might never get great, but I’ll get better. Which I have.

    I had a writing instructor in college (back in the days when genre writers could get tenured university teaching jobs–my two best teachers wrote sci fi and detective fiction) who said that writers needed to learn the difference between process and product. Too many of us were focused on the product–a finished story–rather than the process involved in writing it. The process, he said, was what ultimately mattered more–if you focused only on the product, you might get published, if you were very lucky, but you’d never get better. There’s no finish line. You’re never done–you just keep doing it until you stop. If you focus on the product only, you’ll probably stop a lot sooner.

    1. Process vs. Product. Thank you, that’s a good concept to keep in mind. I’ve been so focused on writing faster and more regularly, I know I haven’t been applying all I’ve learned in the workshops. It’s frustrating. It’s as though I sometimes forget that writing is an art form and not merely a means to an end.

      1. I learned this via sewing (although it’s a work in progress and I still have to continually remind myself). I used to be so focused on the outcome of a project that I’d try to rush through it, resulting in dumb mistakes, like the time I sewed a sleeve into the armhole inside out. Then I’d have to unpick the seam and do it over, wasting more time. I think in any art/craft, and in life in general, you have to enjoy and even relish the process of doing and being, or else you make yourself miserable. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I’m getting impatient. 😉

  5. Also, people who really Know Their Stuff can come in places you didn’t imagine.

    Like Dr. Demento. He’s the wacky parody song guy, right? Well, sure, and I went to his sing-along panel at Reno Worldcon of fun science fiction songs (Hadn’t sung “Banned From Argo” in years!). But at that same Worldcon, he also gave an SRO talk about Frank Zappa’s music (they were close friends), and one morning at breakfast, I overheard him discussing hip-hop artists and he was very eloquent about that too (he shares Kris’ appreciation of The Roots, but also knows his old school gangsta rap and the new stuff. I do not know if he has an opinion on Biggie vs. Tupac).

    So, sure. Wacky music guy. But I’ll bet you could have an erudite conversation about any kind of music, and he probably knows something you don’t.

    Don’t judge a book by its cover, is what I’m saying (Except, occasionally on Amazon b/c holy cow, people).

  6. As always, Kris, thank you for such great advice. I ran into the ‘beginner’s luck’ problem when my first book got favorable recognition from a major magazine. It was awesome – and incredibly distracting. I also mentioned to Dean it might have been the worst thing to happen to me since my plan had been to crank out five years of work, honing skills, before I got busy doing any marketing or outreach. Refocusing took a lot of mental effort.

    Now I’m working on a couple of new books, including one that’s a complete change in genre and my first editing project. As I do, I find that I’m reaching out to new sources almost as though I can feel the gaps between what I can imagine and what I see hitting the page.

    The other thing I’ve done recently is send material out (short stories) with the expectation that I will get rejection notices. If I sell instead, great, but I suspect I can learn more from that rejection process to build not just craft, but the mental skills I’ll need as a writer.

    Again, thanks!

  7. This post really resonates with me. I have been trying to write a story for 15 years. Each time it failed and I tried something different. I wrote a mystery and learned about the genre expectations and formula. I wrote a second mystery in limited third person and learned about pacing and tension and juggling information for the reader. I wrote a post-apocalyptic story and learned another slew of things. I wrote a sequel and learned about all the things I’d cast in stone in the 1st book. I just might be ready to tackle the monster. And if not, I’ll write something else to improve my craft until I can get it right.

    It’s so good to read this right now. An affirmation of sorts that my plodding journey is headed in the right direction.

  8. This ties in so well with an article I came across by James Clear. He quoted a Japanese proverb: “Tighten the string of the kabuto after winning the war”. His explanation tied into writing and entrepeneurship in particular, in that the struggle is not over until the writer loses the vigilance needed to improve her craft, and the businesswoman becomes cocky and complacent. I’d also add the Klingon proverb “komerex tel khesterex” (the structure that grows or the structure that dies). If you’re not moving forward, you’re starting to slide back. Improving–getting better, even if it’s a little bit–is a goal that keeps the writing mind fresh and challenged, no matter how long the writer has been at the craft. Thanks for adding more insight into this facet of writing!

  9. Wonderful post and lots to learn here. I will have to reread this again and let it absorb in more.
    I agree that you need to keep learning. I think you can apply that to anything. I have always strived to raise the bar with each project and write what I love even if it’s a niche. That is hard.
    One of the genres I write in is romance and recently I tried to read a Nora Roberts novel. I couldn’t get through it. It was way too sweet for me. I don’t know how she has done it all these years. I have enjoyed her past stories but it seems that it’s the same old thing over and over again. I know I will be told otherwise but I guess because I like the darker side, it wasn’t to my taste. You’re tastes do change over time and I see that as I explore reading things that I never thought I would read. That’s why I chose to be a multiple genre writer. I can write in these genres and explore another side of my writing.
    Great post!

  10. I’ve been working on a second book for a year now and I’ve experienced much disappointment and frustration with it. I kept expecting it to be a similar experience to the writing of my first book. I started to feel pouty and unhappy when the second book just refused to be as satisfying in the same way. I thought “well, this book must suck because it’s not as much fun as the first.”

    I wrote the second book, chucked it, started over again a second time from the beginning and then wrote it a third time, changing the time period to present day. I’ve finished it now and I’m mostly sorta happy with it.

    The point I’m making is it took me the better part of a year or so to realize that each book is different. I will learn something different with each book. Each book will present a new challenge and new surprises. It is a bit disheartening to be honest when I think of that year of feeling frustrated but I learned some valuable lessons and I’m going to be grateful for them because it’s the smart thing to do and what choice do I have, really? Might as well be happy I learned some things.

    I am writing books to learn. I want to learn to be a better writer and I’m sure there will be other lessons, life lessons, along the way. I tell myself this almost every day.

  11. Kris, I found this article helpful. I don’t like if people seem to browbeat me about continuing education, like, “If you don’t take my course, no one will ever read you, hahahahaha.” But this was an exploration of how a long term career is built on the pursuit of personal excellence. Not money, not fame, not necessarily awards, but an internal drive toward continual improvement.

    You also helped explain how early success can spoil you. I remember at the Writers of the Future, two authors were laughing and saying, “Lots of first place winners disappear. Us third place winners? We have careers.” Of course, this made me wonder what would happen to me as a second place winner. I recently asked Dave Wolverton/Farland, the coordinating judge, if he’d noticed a difference for long-term success. He said that that in general, the ones who last are the ones who write their tails off.

    I’m surprised you didn’t like “Hello”! As a kid, I thought it was terribly romantic, and I love their enthusiasm and how they look at each other instead of the audience when they sing. But we agree that it’s definitely a good thing to take risks. I’ve always taken risks in my writing and even in my medical career, but I’m starting to apply it to other parts of my life, like (intelligent) investing. Thanks.

  12. Great, great post! This post opened up the floodgates for me.

    A friend of mine once rode the rodeo circuit for calf-roping. One year, fist time out of the gate he tied the calf in 3.9 seconds. Nobody else had a time less than 7 seconds. Tim said to himself, “Hey, I got this licked. I don’t have to practice anymore.” That was his last win. Two years later he was renting out roping horses and training roping horses for other riders. Moral:

    Don’t get cocky.

    A woman I knew got fired by her piano teacher. Her teacher said she was technically perfect. There was nothing more the teacher could teach her (get it: teacher, teach her). But, she said, her playing was mechanical. Her music lacked soul, because she played without emotion.

    Moral: Play with passion.

    I wrote an experiment for my writers’ group that was heavily influenced by Ian McDonald’s short stories. (My writers’ group included two professional editors and three published writers, all members of SFWA). Both editors panned the writing and the story. But one writer said she like the sing-song style and the imagery and the story worked for her. (At the time, she had a story nominated for best fantasy short story of the year.) The group split two-to-one against my story, but the minority defended their choice vehemently.

    That taught me a lot. It taught me that some would not buy my writing. It taught me that some would. Enough that I could make a go of it.

    Moral: You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself. (Ricky Nelson)

    This is preface to say I understand why you did not buy that writer’s story. You did not like it. Evidently a different editor did. The fact that the story won an award makes that editor’s choice ‘right’. But it does not make your choice ‘wrong’. (To this day, I do not understand why an editor read beyond the first paragraph of “Flowers for Algernon”. I mean, come on, words are misspelled and the word choice is childish and the grammar is wrong.)

    I hate fantasy, but I got one fantasy story in me. By my own judgment, my writing is not yet strong enough to do the story. Some day it will be.

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