200 shots fired in my ongoing campaign to have you motherfuckers read one of my stories. Not many have hit: 14, to be precise, new sales*.

Good sales, most of them, to be sure – many professional, six to the excellent Interzone, one to Australia’s Grimdark mag, the venerable Asimov’s, a few others. But fuck-a-duck – this is what moderate success looks like early in a short fiction career: failure, 93 per cent of the time.

I’ve said it before, but writing is mostly about typing into the void. That vast chasm of indifference the universe has for your work. I don’t blame the universe, nearly everything out there is shit. But still.

I don’t know if I’ve learned any lessons, 200 stories on. Other than sitting down, every damn day, and producing words for the void. But this is obvious, and most writers will say the same. They’ll also tell you to write a lot and read a lot. Yeah, sure: I agree. And to start at the best markets and work your way down, and when a story is done, just send the fucker out and move on to the next piece. Yeah, all that, true.

So I’ll make four slightly less obvious observations:

Write shit down straight away, and use it as soon as possible. No ideas are so good they will inhere in your creative impulse, to be brought forth when inspiration requires. Nah, fuck that. Write good ideas down, use them in the story you’re currently writing. Maybe the idea is so good you reckon it is worth a short story of its own – fine, write it down, vomit whatever related inspiration follows onto the page, save it, then go back to the story you’re currently on.

Want to save a particularly good line for a novel? Use it twice, dickhead. Perfect it. Plagiarise your best stuff, especially when no-one is reading it yet.

Here’s the thing: if you’re really a writer, you’ll get good ideas all the time. Don’t save the bloody things: leave it all out there, all on the page, nothing held back.

Good people are hard to find. It is a ‘transactional’ environment – sometimes it feels like other writers only want to know what you can do for them. In that sense it reminds me of my days in Foreign Affairs, where I was surrounded by diplomats who wanted to know what aristocratic school you went to, who you knew in the diplomatic or political elite, and whether you could help them get posted to New York.

In publishing, people want to know if you went to Clarion, if you know any famous authors who can give them a book blurb, and whether you can recommend them to a New York agent.

I’m 0/6, if you’re wondering.

Which is to say: when you find someone who gives a shit about your writing, no strings attached, treat them well. They are a rare beast indeed. I’ve been lucky with my local writer’s group on this count.

This is, I know, a comment about the industry more broadly, rather than the specifics of 200 short story submissions. What I’m saying is: this an ultra-competitive business filled with semi-talented desperados, full-blown narcissists, and mealy-mouthed hustlers. Don’t be one of them. Don’t treat this calling as a transaction.

Learn the art of disagreeing with authors better than you. This is a tough one, and may seem to contradict my recommendation you cherish the few people in this game who genuinely want to help. Most of the time, better, more experienced writers will give you good advice. Until they don’t. Until the time a short story of mine was savaged by an experienced writer in my crit group. I thought about what he said seriously and at length, and did the following: not a goddamn thing. Kept the story as is, sold it to Interzone. Later, Neil Clarke selected it for his Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 2. All because I didn’t change a damn word.

Fuck the crowd. Don’t follow trends. Don’t base stories on the outrage of the moment on twitter, or what all the cool kids are writing about. Good lord, if you’re from outside of the US, like me, use that difference of perspective as an asset; use it to write things the mainstream has never seen before. If Americans are obsessing about on something on social media, or in their discourses, their art, let them obsesses. Write your own your stories, from your own passions – don’t borrow someone else’s.

 

Ah look, that’ll do, because what the fuck do I know? 200 submissions, and I’m a better writer than at #1. But that don’t matter a hill of beans unless I shoot another 200 out into the void. Then another 200 after that. You get the drift.

 

*There’s a few translations, reprints, and so forth I could add to the figure, but I don’t always record those submissions. So I’ve probably made a lot more than 200, but it’s a nice round. My agent is currently at 0 for 12 submissions on my novel, which I guess means I’m at 0-12, but that’s a whole other pit of teeth gnashing and despair. 

Categories: Fiction

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