Finding Your Seat

27 06 2010
man ray chair

Broken Chair with Stump and Ballet Shoes. Man Ray, 1942

Being a successful writer is easy. As long as it’s the only thing you want.

Whatever profession you want to succeed at, it isn’t enough to be bright and talented and to love your work. You must be willing to invest all your time and money, focus on that narrow band of success and let everything else go.

The fact is, there are far, far more people who want to be writers than there are markets for their work. Even if they write great stuff. The competition is numbingly intense. It’s like playing musical chairs in a packed football stadium with only one seat.

You must love writing passionately. But that’s not enough. You can’t let yourself be distracted by domestic obligations. If you’re a man, you’re in luck. Just let the female significant other take care of the kids and the laundry so you can concentrate on revisions, marketing and promotion. If you’re a woman, you either need to be married to an unusually enlightened man, or be a member of the class that can afford servants.  Preferably both.

You must have money because if you aspire to write fiction, there’s no way you can live on what you earn while you claw your way to that coveted professional level. If you aren’t blessed with independent wealth, then you need to work a day job. And see previous paragraph about domestic obligations once you get home from said job.

You can choose to eschew the whole family thing altogether. That will save you money and free you from the burden of being a loving, caring parent, which requires a huge sacrifice of time and energy. Are you protesting that one shouldn’t have to sacrifice family for success? Keep in mind that football stadium vying for the single seat. Somebody more dedicated and ruthless is going to snatch that seat while you are at the Little League game.

So you aren’t rich, you don’t have servants–spousal or otherwise–and you aren’t willing to shut out the obligations and rewards of family, friends, and community. Maybe when faced with spending $5,000 dollars on the Clarion Workshop (or a similar passport into the inner circle of professionals) you instead prioritize your kid’s impacted wisdom teeth. Flying out to San Diego for the next World Fantasy Convention isn’t a decision made casually, because you’re shopping at Goodwill and haven’t eaten out at a restaurant in months (and the last time was pizza).

Hey, you’d find a way to manage it if it was the only thing you wanted.

Or you’ll resign yourself to the likelihood that the ones who have the best shot at getting to that stadium seat are the single, the affluent, the ones with servants and spouses, the ones who take the workshops and study the market then write to it, who are able to develop the savvy or are lucky enough to be born with it, who are free to go to the right events, make the right connections, be in the right place and do lunch with the right people. To devote the immense amount of time and effort it takes to succeed.

You’ll just have to settle for the life you’ve made for yourself, the priorities you’ve chosen. You didn’t marry somebody rich, you decided you wanted to have kids, you want to write the stories that come from your heart, not the latest tip on what publishers are looking for. You’ve decided there are better things in life than to battle those crowds for that seat at the top, knowing that even your best efforts won’t guarantee success.

Chances are you’ve made the right choice.

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One response

10 07 2010
Jeremy

I agree without pause!

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