Welcome to Part 8 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.
Experienced writers who have been on the roller coaster for a while know the big secret: you never really “make it.” Just because you’ve sold one book doesn’t mean you’ll sell the next one, and just because you didn’t sell the last one doesn’t mean the next one won’t hit big. Our panel offers tips and strategies for maintaining the will to keep creating.
The titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 consisted of panelists Joshua Bilmes (as moderator), D.H. Aire, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Edelman, and L. Marie Wood
Of all the panels I hit at Virtual Balticon, this is literally the one I’ve been wrestling with the most. Especially this month, but honestly, everytime I get rejected. I want to look at my work and see what I can do better.
When we talk about momentum for writers, we’re talking about when things are going well, versus productivity grinding to a halt. We’re talking the long term, not the day-to-day grind.
7 Struggles Of Getting Work or Finishing Work
- If there’s a deadline, that can be a way to know you’re done
- Sometimes you can think you’re done, but your editor sends it back to you
- Work often comes in feast or famine — either more than you can handle or crickets
- Never give up, never surrender. As long as it’s something you find worth the effort.
- It took Scott Edelman 44 years to get a piece accepted by Asimov’s, but he kept trying (and getting many of those works published elsewhere).
- Or, in Joshua Bilmes’s words, “if I saw you trying to get a car unstuck from the ice like that, I’d tell you get get a tow truck.” If you’re stuck on something, maybe it’s time to try something new or get some help.
- Decide how much you want to prioritize your writing
- L. Marie Wood put off starting a family because her career was getting momentum
- Rule 1 – never give up your day job. Selling a short story for $25 isn’t gonna pay the bills, (even if you can always resell it when the rights revert.) You need benefits. (At least in the States)
- Don’t be a shark in the writing world — online or at conventions. Don’t see people as connections you can use to advance your career — people will always find out if you’re using them. Network — but to make friends. And be willing to help them as much as you ask for help from them.
8 Ways To Keep Your Momentum Up
- Allow the first draft to suck
- Instead of noodling over the first 3 chapters for the rest of your life, accept that the majority of the words are going to be the word “the” anyway.
- Have a variety of projects in a variety of stages
- If writing one story isn’t going well, try a different one — new characters, new settings, new worlds might help
- If fiction writer brain needs a break, maybe editor brain is good. You can do line edits if you want simple tasks, or revising and re-conceptualizing the whole piece if brainstorming is more where you’re at.
- Feed your creativity
- Read books (in and out of your genre)
- Watch shows
- Take a walk and drink in the world around you
- If you can’t write what you love, see if you have other stories in you
- L. Marie Wood writes psychological horror, but it was too close to home when she had kids. Cue writer’s block for 9 years. So, she wrote other things – mysteries and gardening and other articles.
- When life hits you, it’s okay to pivot
- For DH Aire, in one year his lease suddenly ended and his father was dying, so he couldn’t write book 5. Instead, he started a novella, so he didn’t have to use as much brain. It ended up at 75k words…
- When deadlines won’t move, try to create an outline and get the words out the best you can. Then pray you have time to edit.
- Give yourself permission to not be god-like. Stop telling yourself “I’m supposed to write something meaningful. Change the world. Better than anything I’ve ever written before.” — let it go. It’s a career. You’ll learn from that story how to write a better story. But you need to move on.
- As Scott Edelman says, he couldn’t have written his favorite story without having written the twenty before it.
- The pandemic has been HARD. Be kind to yourself.
- Joshua Bilmes couldn’t get edits done during March, so he did other stuff. When writing your own work, publishers will often extend a due date, if needed. Just don’t ask this if you don’t have to.
Making It Past Those Make-Or-Break Points
Writing is a tough field. Sharing your dreams and sweat and soul with strangers and hoping for a connection. But, we all have those make-or-break points — often dozens of times — where we have to decide if we’re gonna keep going, or if we’re gonna invest our time on something with maybe a more guaranteed return-on-investment.
For Scott Edelman – He’s still got a dayjob. After writing comics in the 70s, he wanted to write his own stuff and was tired of collaborating. He’ll quit jobs that get in the way of his writing.
For Keith – As a former editor, he saw what worked, what didn’t, and what was overdone. And it gave him connections. But knowing people, while helpful just for pitching, doesn’t mean you can get away with writing things that don’t suck. It can help you know the market and know opportunities coming.
For D.H. Aire, back in ’08/’09, he was unemployed and his marriage was ending. He wondered if he was writing stories good enough to get published. So, he entered one in a little writing.com contest. He won first place and got in an ezine. Then? One of his serialized stories from writing.com got picked up by a small press. Next, he got asked to contribute to an anthology. From writing.com, to the anthology, to the conventions he hits, he’s created his own creative network that encourages him, challenges him, and lets him know where new opportunities arise.
For L. Marie Wood – The convention world is her tribe, but she’s only been back for 2-3 years. During her 9 year drought, she wasn’t here. But? When people would compliment her local paper articles or her students would ask and she could answer everything… Not keeping it to herself helped. Hearing others say that she still had it gave her the confidence to go back to her writing. “You haven’t lost it all, it’s just sleeping”
Writing is one of those things that you can always come back to. Which is part of the attraction and part of the struggle. Only you can decide if the benefits outway the costs.