Today continues the set of two articles on my own writing experience that began on Wednesday. If people like these (and possibly even if they don’t, I’ll likely continue them in the future).
At the risk of seeming like a complete jerk (and yes, I’m aware that many of you feel that that ship sailed long ago) I will tell you a story about how I got started as a writer.
I sat down and wrote a story over a couple of days. I fixed some typos and I sent it out on submission. I sent it out to three markets that rejected it. The fourth bought it. That story, entitled “Tenth Orbit” not only gave its title to my first collection, but has been reprinted in seven languages and still sells as a reprint now and then. Also, the news sparked what was probably the ugliest celebration dance in history, but you really, really don’t want to know the details.
The point of this isn’t to make you hate me. I’ve had the same amount of rejection and heartbreak as every other writer, but the fact that my road into print was comparatively easy meant that I never had to listen to that nagging voice in my mind that said “nothing you write will ever be good enough to sell.”
Nevertheless, I often get the feeling that nothing I write from now on will ever be as good as what came before, and that the prose I’ve produced over the past six months is simultaneously infantile, pompous, pretentious and shallow. Being all four might seem impossible, but I often feel that way, especially when a dry spell comes along.
I’ve found that a good way to break through this is to go to your favorite marketplace report (I use The Grinder and Ralan for genre projects) and select a themed anthology looking for submissions – make sure you choose one with a deadline far enough off to give you a chance to write a story.
I’ve found this approach to have several benefits. The first is that the guidelines and theme will tell you exactly what you need to write. If you can’t follow instructions telling you to send over a 2500 word story about alcoholic koala bears in space, then, sadly, you’re never going to be a writer. Reading comprehension is a good part of writing, after all.
The good part of the above is that for many projects you will only be competing against other stories written specifically for that antho. While a place like Asimov’s might get thousands of subs in a month, an antho of this type might get only a few hundred. Many of those will be by illiterates or people who don’t know what a koala bear actually is. Yes, the odds are still long – that’s part of being a writer – but they are better than at other places.
The second benefit is that you probably don’t have an alcoholic koala story lying around, which means that you will have to stop and create something completely new, break out of a rut. I’ve always found this to be a cool way to refresh the writing spirit.
A third benefit (assuming you write a good story and they buy it) is that at the end of it, apart from the money, you’ll have a shiny contributor’s copy filled with the work of a bunch of amazingly talented authors who love alcoholic koalas as much as you do. It will feel amazing to be surrounded by these people, and you’ll also ask yourself what the editors were thinking when they bought yours as well… but don’t worry, every author thinks that.
This is often the best part. I recently read a couple of anthos with my work in them, and I thought it would be fun to use them to exemplify the range of what’s possible here. They’re both from 2014 (my TBR pile needs a new type of mathematics to describe it and it takes me a looong time to get to any book mired therein) and I place them here for your perusal.
The first is a pro-rate-paying antho (as defined by SFWA) entitled Strange Bedfellows, Edited by Hayden Trenholm. The guidelines for this one were pretty open: the story had to be about politics.
So I sent them a tale called “Gloop”, which, though not espousing any particular political leaning, clearly showed the effects of politics on the lives of the characters and their society. The other stories were well-written, mostly left-leaning, but with a couple of more conservative stories to balance it out, and overtly political. As one expects with this theme, philosophy and thought-out ideas (as well as a certain amount of pontification) were everywhere, but there was plenty of action and entertainment as well.
The second seems, at first glance, to be the polar opposite. Undead and Unbound, edited by Brian M. Sammons and David Conyers, does exactly what it says on the tin. Anything walking around after someone killed it was fair game.
Honesty compels me to admit that I was invited to this one, but it still made me sweat. My problem was that I didn’t want to write a story that was just like everyone else’s. I didn’t want to be a zombie in a sea of zombies, or just another vampire.
So I decided that a wight might do the trick, especially if that wight came alive during the Blitz and called it “Thunder in Old Kilpatrick” To my relief, they accepted it…
The most interesting thing about this one, however, is that when I came to read it, it defied all my expectations about what an “undead” theme would include. The writers went to great lengths to make their stories memorable, and the antho is extremely well written. Definitely not just a piece of fluff for people with short attention spans. So you can toss those prejudices out the window – your average call for zombie stories is going to require a lot of talent and imagination to get into.
And speaking of throwing out those prejudices, here’s another one that contains one of my stories. I think you’ll agree that there’s an antho out there for everyone. It’s just a question of finding the right call for submissions and writing the right story.