Recently, I did something I had not yet done as a writer: I placed first in a writing contest. I mean, yeah, I’ve gotten second and honorable mentions; I’ve placed “best in category x”, but never had I swept the whole show away. Last night I did though.
For my efforts, I got a $50 gift card that I quickly emptied by purchasing some self-congratulatory books (“The Difference Engine”, “Leviathan Wakes” and William Gibson’s newest collection of essays. They’re all fabulous. I suggest reading them). I also got something more valuable than money. I got a chance to speak one-on-one with young adult fiction author Melissa Marr. Now, I am not a fan of her books or anything. I have only read small excerpts. But from what I did read, I could tell she knew her craft. I got to ask her about publishing, what to do, what to avoid, you know the questions.
And you know what? She gave me the most sound and concise advice I have ever received in the history of asking about publishing. For that I thank you, Melissa Marr. I don’t want to quote her, but she made it very clear that if I wanted my sole occupation in life to be writing, I needed an agent.
That got me thinking. Do I want to be just a writer? Or am I happy with it being a side-gig?
The novels I usually write are popular with a very small, very loyal fanbase. Lesbian fiction of any kind won’t get you rich nine times out of ten, but I did not win the contest with lesbian fiction. I won it with steampunk.
So my writing career may branch out. I think I’m at the point where I’m thinking, ‘I’ll write whatever I damn well please,’ which is fine for now. In the victory haze of the contest, I spoke with a lot of friends and family members about being a writer. My grandmother commented to me that I was the only one in the family with the sheer willpower to sit down and write for extended periods of time. I told her that having that patience to sit down and write was all one needed to be a writer.
And it’s true. Writers need to be willing to invest lifetimes into this thing. They need to be desperate and hopeful enough to devote hours to a manuscript then doggedly pursue routes of publication. Writers hardly get the respect they deserve because of the romanticized image of a person sitting at the keyboard and typing out pages and turning them into bricks of gold. Well, writing is a lot messier and time-consuming than that. Writing as a career sort of has a catch-22 to it. On one end, people have the misconception that writers are born great; on the other, they think anyone can do it.
The real answer lies in the middle. Anyone who wants to be a writer desperately enough can do it. Not anyone who wants to get rich. Anyone who honestly, truly wants to write, to say something worthwhile will find a way to do it, and not all of those avenues may involve an immediate payout. A true writer puts pen to paper or fingertip to keyboard with the desire to convey an emotion, thought, event, whatever that has affected them in some way and will affect their readers. We don’t al have immaculate grammar. We don’t all have perfect Standard accents when we speak. We are just crazy enough to sit still and listen to the words in our heads.