…by being a total horse’s ass.
Update 16 February 2014: This is, sadly, still relevant.
Note: This was originally posted on my Google Plus account here. I’m re-posting it to my website because it’s relevant, and also because so there. Slightly edited.
My name is Christopher Brennan Wright. I’m a writer. More specifically, and this is important, at the moment I am an unsuccessful writer. I’m trying to struggle on, and get noticed, and “gain traction” just like every other writer in my position. There are no guarantees.
When you deal with something like that, it’s important that you don’t dwell on trivialities, but I think the truth is that everyone does. There are goals and achievements you want that have nothing to do with actually succeeding, and they can haunt you more than the real goals can. I could wake up tomorrow and discover that I sold a hundred eBooks overnight and I’d still find a way to get discouraged. If you’re reading this, and you have a level of success where a hundred sales in a night is no big deal, keep in mind that I’m an unsuccessful writer—a hundred books in 24 hours would be a pretty big win for me, and I wouldn’t be able to take the good news at face value. I’d be finding a way to undermine it somehow. I’m my own worst enemy. That’s just the way it is.
One of the ways I undermined myself was by feeling like an impostor.
I’m pretty sure this is a common feeling—I know I’ve heard successful writers talking about it, from time to time—but, like most irrational things, when I felt like an imposter I felt like I was the only one. I’d look at the writers I admired and I’d think “see? They’re legit.” And somewhere in the back of my head something would whisper “and you never will be” and I’d imagine one of those writers stumbling across one of my serials on my site, reading a few paragraphs, rolling his or her eyes and then dismissing me as a talentless hack for all eternity. However irrational and beside the point and a waste of time and energy that was, it could be crippling.
I would like to thank the community of Science Fiction and Fantasy professionals for making that a non-issue. I no longer care if I’m an imposter: I’m no longer interested in being accepted. I’ve seen what’s happened to the people who are accepted, and it’s not worth playing that fucking game. To put it another way: I graduated from High School in 1989. That part of my life is over and done with and I have zero interest in going back.
Seriously. Over the past month I’ve paid particular attention to writers I admire who are already where I want to be, and over the past month I’ve seen behavior that would get you fired from any other job I’ve ever held, and I’ve seen that behavior held up as virtuous and be lauded by other people in that community… and fuck all that noise. Hugo winners being chastised for being Hugo winners. Writers being attacked for talking about the parts of writing that are important to them simply because they’re not important to someone else, and then being attacked for having opinions about things that have nothing to do with writing. Long “serious-minded” monologues about who deserves to be considered a science fiction writer and who doesn’t. Long “serious-minded” monologues about the impertinence of Insert Author’s Name Here, and hey notice how Author’s Name seems like she might be a girl. Or black. Or a black girl. Or an asian, or an asian girl, or a liberal, or a liberal girl, or Hey Maybe You Might Be Noticing a Pattern Here and I wonder what exactly that pattern could be. Accusations of campaigning and politicizing books instead of writing them, of catering to specific demographic groups in order to increase popularity and sales. Racism, sexism, political division, gangs of people telling gangs of other people they don’t belong, or that their preferred genre doesn’t belong. People being snubbed for Reasons. A writer I respect was disqualified from a Hugo category and not told about it until after the Hugos were over. (And then not even told about it. It was just put on display for everyone to see.)
Folks, THESE ARE THE PROFESSIONALS. I’m not talking about the fans. Fandom can certainly be an ugly can of worms in its own right, but there are professionals who are gleefully doing the same thing, over and over again. The people who are making the money, not spending it. For some reason, very mysteriously, I’m just not interested in that world as much as I was. It’s almost as if my inner demons caught a glance of the idiocy over the past month and decided it might be better to work on my fears that my daughter will never be able to attend college instead.
I look at the back and forth and I wonder why. I would think that once you start telling stories people like you wouldn’t care if someone else told different stories, but apparently this is not the case. You step into that sphere and you’re expected to choose a team, immediately, and you’d better go to the home game or Billy will spread a rumor about you in the locker room and then there will be laughing and whispers in third period and will anyone let me sit with them at lunch?
Why do that? Why rebuild that in the adult world? Why turn your professional landscape into something so depressingly shallow and trivial?
I don’t want it. I’m not going back to high school. I’ll go for the GED instead.
I’m going to write stories. I’m going to try to get people to read those stories. I’m going to try to get people to enjoy those stories. I’m going to try to get people to buy those stories. Then I’m going to write more stories. I’m going to self-publish them. I’ll bear all the consequences of every decision I make, and many of those decisions will be bad. I will succeed or fail—and let’s be honest, the odds heavily favor failure here—based entirely on those decisions, the quality of my work, and on the random vagaries of market forces beyond my understanding. And that’s what I am going to do, over and over and over again, until I either start making money or until I die of (hopefully) old age. And if I start making money and start gathering an audience, I’m going to keep doing it until I die of (hopefully) old age.
What I’m not going to do is worry about whether or not I’m a fraud or whether I belong or whether I’ll be accepted in polite society, because I’ve seen a bit of that society and it’s not polite.
It’s not like I’m going to be making any real or substantive sacrifices to do this. As I said above, I’m an unsuccessful writer. I don’t have to give anything up. I won’t have to resign any memberships, because I don’t qualify for any memberships. I don’t have to refuse any awards, because I was never nominated for any awards. And I have chosen a model of publication that, while it doesn’t quite have the stigma it did a few years ago, is still regularly used as a disqualifying factor for stuff and things by people who have no ideological problems with it per se, they just find it a convenient way of screening out a large chunk of information. I’m already not in there. What has changed is that the little voice in the back of my head, the one that kept telling me that until I “got in there” I would always be a fraud, is now grudgingly admitting that maybe I dodged a bullet.
Meanwhile, and I think this is important, I’m going to continue to be a fan. I love reading stores. I admire writers who tell stories that I love. My admiration for writers, in the context of their writing, hasn’t died.. I want to go to cons and meet other writers, but I want to do it as a fan. I want to walk up to their tables, and shake their hands, and say “I love your work. I love your books. I just read your latest book and it was fantastic. Thank you for writing it. I hope you write another soon.” And then I want to walk away. I want to tell someone I admire that I admire them, and have it go no further than that. No introductions, no elevator pitches, just a hearty and genuine “thank you,” after which I will go away and write my own stories.
“Sometimes the only way to win is not to play.” I’ve just dated myself with that quote. If you recognize it then you’ve dated yourself as well. I’m sure that endears me to you greatly.