Rejecting self-rejection

So… some good news. Not only am I eligible to receive the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, two of my stories are included in the reader anthology, Up and Coming: Stories from the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Writers.

But those stories would not have been included in the anthology if I’d been left to my own devices. More than that, I probably wouldn’t have been acknowledged as eligible if I not for a fortuitous push from my writing friends.

When I finish a story or an art project, I’m usually incredibly pleased it. I’m proud of the result.

… for like, 17 seconds.

After that, the narrative changes.

“I hate it.”

“It’s stupid.”

“The whole idea was kinda stupid to begin with.”

“Anyone who sees it will undoubtedly think that I’m stupid.”

“This new project I have in mind is way better, and I probably should have been working on it instead.”

I’m far more likely to trunk a story than I am to submit it for publication. And awards contention? That’s never even been on my radar. Awards are for the authors that I go out of my way to find and read.

So when the call went out for Campbell-eligible writers to submit their published works, I read the announcement and associated qualification criteria with a detachment that was too bland to be wistful. I thought, “Some day… some day.”

But according to the eligibility requirements, my clock was already ticking. ‘Some day’ had arrived.

A new writer is eligible for the Campbell for two years following her first qualifying sale in a professional market. That’s it. Then the window closes. And my first thought was, “I won’t submit. But maybe next year. Maybe. If I have some better stuff published.”

I took myself out of the running after barely even acknowledging my eligibility.

Luckily, a special guest sat in at my weekly writing group meeting. Mary Robinette Kowal is both a Campbell and multiple Hugo Award-winning writer. My writing group have all attended Mary’s seminar courses, and the Campbell anthology came up when she joined us for our online meeting.

As an aside, I’ve benefitted from several of Mary’s writing classes. If you’re quick enough with a computer to get in before they fill up, I highly recommend her as an instructor.

Go.

Go, now.

Find her online at maryrobinettekowal.com or @MaryRobinette on Twitter.

Aaaany who… I mentioned that I wasn’t going to submit for publication in the anthology and she slapped me around for being a dolt. The gist of the admonition being, “Don’t self-reject.”

Which seems obvious and true. I mean, if you never ask an editor to publish your work, the answer is by default a no. They don’t even get the choice if you’ve already drafted the rejection for them. The same is true for awards.

Submission, rejection and resubmission are elemental components of success as a writing professional. But I’m so good at giving myself reasons not to participate in final, commercial activities of a working artist.

Why is that?

For one thing, words on a page are a poor reflection of the iconic imaginings in a writer’s mind. I’ve found the same to be true of music, and perhaps this is something endemic to artist pursuits of all varieties.

I believe Guy Gavriel Kay had the right of it when he said, “I don‘t know a serious artist in any field who does not wrestle with the limitations of their own talent and energy, the space between the imagined work and what is produced.”

My own stories – irrespective of how well others appreciate them – always fall short of my expectations, even if only in some small measure. That they will always fall short is something I need to become better at accepting.

The harsh clarity of hindsight is another challenge.

I’m always learning some new piece of writing craft. It’s super easy to look back at completed works through the lens of whatever writing-nit I’m currently picking away at. The older the story, the more nits I have to pick.

Combine rear-view cynicism with a chronic excitement for each new, shiny idea and it’s easy to see how completed works struggle to compete against the vision of future accomplishments. I find it way too easy to write-off a good story as ‘just practice’ or ‘an interesting learning experience.’

But self-rejection is a miserable return for the investment of effort that the creative process demands. So rather than let my two-year window of Campbell Award eligibility swing shut, I’ve pulled aside the curtain and thrown the shutters wide.

Two of my stories appear in the Up and Coming anthology. I’m super excited to share those pages with friends I’ve made at writer conventions, classes and seminars.

Writers like Marin Cahill and Sunil Patel who attended the Writing Excuses Retreat with me in 2014. Jeanne Kramer-Smith who was in my first-ever writing class. Jamie Gilman Kress and Kim May who I met at my very first Worldcon in 2013.

I’m under no illusion that I’ll win the Campbell Award; that honor will be reserved for a writer better equipped to compress the gap between their imagined work and what manifests on the page.

But I’m part of a freshman class of blossoming science fiction and fantasy writers. I’m proud of that. And I’m very thankful that I didn’t pass on the opportunity to be included in the anthology or our debut works.

The Up and Coming anthology is free to download and available only for the month of March, 2016.

My short story The Doom of Sallee is a historical fiction about Barbary pirates and North African politics. It is set in Eric Flint’s 1632 universe and appeared in the November 2015 issue of the Grantville Gazette.

Brothers In Arms is a novella written for Star Citizen’s Jump Point Magazine. It is a tale of two ne’er-do-well brothers trying to go legit on the edges of colonized space. It was originally published in four parts starting May of 2015.

Best wishes to all the new writers out there, whatever your genre might be. And remember, don’t self-reject! I look forward to reading all of your work for many, many years to come!

 

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How much money does a writer make? – November 2015

My Writing Income posts are inspired by Jim C. Hines
and his willingness to help authors understand the personal finance side of writing.

November’s income post is somewhat belated, but that’s because the last couple months have been wonderfully eventful. As of December 4, 2015, I am self-employed as a full-time writer and artist.

I had hoped to put together a post that combines my move to full-time writer with November’s writing income, but I’m starting to run out of month.

November 2015
So… with out further embellishment or delay, here are the numbers for November.

 

Non-fiction revenue:        $1,477.50

Expenses:                              $559.00

Net:                                         $918.50

 

About my writing
For the record, I’m married with two young children and am very active with the family. My wife travels (often for extended periods of time), so I single parent when she’s away. I have a full-time job and we own a small business. My wife and I coach mountain biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter.

Writing for me is predominately constrained to evenings, with an occasional weekend-daytime sprint. Fiction is my passion, but I sell more non-fiction words.

How much money does a writer make? – October 2015

My writing income posts are inspired by Jim C. Hines
and his willingness to help authors understand the personal finance side of writing.

Oooooh yeah, buddy. October was a busy month!

I’m getting closer to stepping away from my advocacy work to write full-time. I’m still not entirely settled on a date, but that should become more clear this month.

New fiction!
But before I go into that, I have some great news to share. I teased last month that I had some good news coming on the fiction front. Well, I’m happy, proud and all kinds of excited to share that my first story for the Baen Books publication Grantville Gazette is published!

The Doom of Sallee went live on the first of November, so it won’t factor into the math for this post. But who cares about the numbers? It’s live. Hooray!

May you life in exciting times…
Okay, so meanwhile, back here on Earth, life karooms forward at a breakneck pace.

In addition to contract writing and prepping the day job for my imminent departure – October was filled with work travel, my wife’s work with the U.S. Ski Team and prep work for November and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

I’ve been writing for the personal productivity software producer, RescueTime, for a while now. In addition to helping people work an increasingly productive and quantified life, RescueTime is a returning sponsor for the 2015 NaNoWriMo program.

I’ve been working with RescueTime to help WriMos prepare for the exhilarating marathon of wordery required to hit the 50,000-word mark in the 30 days of November. If you’re tackling NaNoWriMo this year, you have all my best wishes. I truly hope you crush your goal and create a wonderful work of art, both for yourself and for readers.

October 2015
My paid work for October was all non-fiction. However, I did get some interest in another short story. I’m working on revisions now with hopes of selling it in November.

Fingers cross on that front, but for now… here are the October numbers.

Non-fiction revenue:        $2,116.50

Expenses:                             $37.10

Net:                                         $2,079.40

 About my writing
For the record, I’m married with two young children and am very active with the family. My wife travels (often for extended periods of time), so I single parent when she’s away. I have a full-time job and we own a small business. My wife and I coach mountain biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter.

Writing for me is predominately constrained to evenings, with an occasional weekend-daytime sprint. Fiction is my passion, but I sell more non-fiction words.

Writing Income – June 2015

My Writing Income posts are inspired by Jim C. Hines
and his willingness to help authors understand the personal finance side of writing.

June was a busy month for writing. I knew when I started the month that I was overcommitted on nonfiction projects. It wasn’t so much that the overall word count was too high, it was more the number of clients and variety of content types that combined to eat up a lot of time.

So as not to be cryptic and by way of example, I drafted two nonfiction eBooks last month. Each was distinctly different with regards to subject matter, but the writing for each draft had to be incredibly dense. The final products will be highly graphical in nature, so each word and line has to perform a lot of work to earn a place on the page. Again, cool projects… but they did soak up a chunk of time.

Even with the heavy nonfiction commitment in June, I was able to get back in the fiction saddle. After spending so much time editing fiction for Star Citizen, it took some effort to get back in the groove of drafting fiction.

But draft I did, and I am very pleased with the result.

Fiction writing has been slow going for me since I attended the Writing Excuses Retreat last fall. The instructors – Mary Robinette Kowal, in particular – warned me that might be the case. Sure enough, it was.

There’s a metric boatload of information to process after an intensive learning experience like the Writing Excuses Retreat. While absorbing it, I’ve been highly critical of things that I’ve historically done quite well and very discouraged about all that I have left to learn. I’m still navigating those waters, but it feels good to finish stories again.

On to the numbers!

June 2015
Although I wrote both fiction and nonfiction, I only have nonfiction billing for June. 

Revenue:        $2,310

Expenses:       $18

Net:                 $2,292 

About my writing
For the record, I’m married with two young children and am very active with the family. My wife travels (often for extended periods of time), so I single parent when she’s away. I have a full-time job and we own a small business. My wife and I coach mountain biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter.

Writing for me is predominately constrained to evenings, with an occasional weekend-daytime sprint. Fiction is my passion, but I sell more non-fiction words.

Writing Income – May 2015

The numbers are in! May is in the books, edits are complete and all the invoices are away.

May was a super busy writing month. The revenue numbers won’t show just how busy, because I can’t bill for everything yet, but I might have over committed myself just a wee little bit.

Late in April, I accepted two new non-fiction clients. As far as word count goes – May was shaping up to be a normal month, albeit slanted heavily away from fiction. Then I got some awesome news.

In the fall of 2013, at Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas, my buddy and fellow author Griffin Barber introduced me to editor David Ladyman. David was working on source material for Chris Roberts’ new, Kickstarter-funded game Star Citizen. We hit it off, and David asked me to pitch some story ideas for the game.

I read Griffin’s serial, “A Separate Law,” and everything else they had at the time and sent David a couple ideas. He liked one, we refined a couple things to keep the programmers from having fits and I drafted a 12-part serial for the game in early 2014.

… and then the waiting.

There’s a lot that goes in to making a game, so I wasn’t put out by the delay. Still, when David contacted me in April, I was excited to hear that my story, “Brothers In Arms,” was about to see print.

Brothers In Arms” is currently behind a pay wall.
I’ll update when it’s available to the public.

Several things changed about the story, not the least of which being that it is four parts instead of the original twelve serialized episodes. David is a fantastic editor. He’s firm about what needs to happen, yet both tactful and thoughtful about how he delivers his notes. The first episode was slated for print on May 15, and that meant my month jump from full to oh-holy-crap’n’stuff busy.

I had some late nights, and thank you to my wife for her patience and accommodation.

May 2015
I wrote both fiction and non-fiction in May. Revenue numbers for the month will only show non-fiction billing, as I won’t invoice for the Star Citizen novella until each of the episodes are approved and finalized.

So, no pie chart this month. It’d just be one big “non-fiction” disk. I’ll also do an end-of-year wrap up with a line graph that tracks earnings and expenses throughout the year. 

Revenue:        $2,133

Expenses:       $90

Net:                 $2,043

About my writing
For the record, I’m married with two young children and am very active with the family. My wife travels (often for extended periods of time), so I single parent when she’s away. I have a full-time job and we own a small business. My wife and I coach mountain biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter.

Writing for me is predominately constrained to evenings, with an occasional weekend-daytime sprint. Fiction is my passion, but I sell more non-fiction words.

Writing and Magic – The best of both worlds

So… I play a lot of Magic: The Gathering.

Gamers gonna game
I read about it. I watch other people play it. I paint art for it. I walk into parked cars and signposts because I’m preoccupied thinking about it.

It’s far to say that Magic consumes a decent percentage of my available mind share.

I also write.

Writers gonna write
I write for my day job. I write non-fiction work on contract. I torment unsuspecting and fictional characters in imagined worlds in the evening when my wife and kids are responsibly asleep. Usually, if I’m doing something work-related and it isn’t writing, I’d much rather be writing.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always shied away from writing about Magic. I don’t really have a good reason why that’s the case, but I’ve always kept a barrier between those two passions.

If I had to come up with a reason, perhaps it’s because writing about Magic seems like a luxurious way to spend writing time. Fiction is such a demanding taskmaster and the barrier of entry for publication is incredibly high. Maybe I’ve felt like taking time away from writing novels cheapens or threatens my interest in genre fiction.

Whatever…

It’s time to cross the streams
I’m over that. Fiction will always be my passion, and I’ll continue to create fantastical worlds while reasonable human beings are tucked in bed, asleep. But, I’m doin’ it, folks. I’m mixing my chocolate with my peanut butter. I’m having my cake and mixing my metaphors.

I’ve taken a long-standing idea for a column on Magic: The Gathering community building and education and drafted a couple articles. I’m going to shop them around to DailyMTG and some of the larger content producers to see if there’s a market for that type of content. Or, for that matter, an interest in me writing on some other aspect of the best game ever made.

Cross your fingers, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

April 2015 Writing Income

A few years ago, I stumbled onto an amazing blog post from Jim C. Hines. In it, Jim wrote very candidly about his writing and how much revenue it earned him. It’s incredibly difficult to find quantitative information on what a writer can legitimately expect to earn. That blog post was my first exposure to Jim. Although I’ve yet to meet him, I truly appreciate Jim’s willingness to write so openly about the mathematical realities facing professional writers.

While I’ve been voyeuristically following Jim’s earnings posts for years, I’ve yet to publish my own (modest) writing income. I’ve thought about it from time to time, but demurred. I suppose it’s easy to feel insignificant when compared to mainstream and high profile authors who set media and Twitter ablaze with big dollar deals. Regardless, I think it’s likely that my writing experience is a more probable representation of many writers’ experience.

To that end, I’m going to start publishing my writing income. I don’t know if it’ll be inspiring, discoursing or even useful for writers. Still, I do know that I have very much appreciated what Jim has done with his annual posts. I hope that mine provide some value, as well.

April 2015
I didn’t write any fiction in April. I got word back from an editor that I would be receiving copy edits for a four-episode serial I sold last year, and geared up to be very busy in May. My paid writing in April was all non-fiction.

In months where I have a legitimate breakdown of categorically different writing, I’ll include a pie chart similar to the one Jim builds for his annual posts.

Revenue:        $596

Expenses:       $18

Net:                 $578

About my writing
For the record, I’m married with two young children and am very active with the family. My wife travels (often for extended periods of time), so I single parent when she’s away. I have a full-time job and we own a small business. My wife and I coach mountain biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter.

Writing for me is predominately constrained to evenings, with an occasional weekend-daytime sprint. Fiction is my passion, but I sell more non-fiction words.

Random

If my life could have more of any one thing from the world of Harry Potter, it’s hard to say what it’d be.

Maybe I’d take the easy out and snap up the ability to Apparate. Because, hey… teleportation.

But if I’m honest, I think I’d really just like more meaningful opportunities in my remaining days to say the words, “Mischief managed.”

Treadmill desk. Rawr!

I’ve been talking about getting a treadmill desk for years. Many years, in fact. Well… I finally put action to words and did it. The jury is still out as to how I will like it. Regardless, it now exists and I am going to use it.

Treadmill Desk Pic1I can’t imagine that it will be directly responsible for an increase in my productivity or efficiency. I mean, how could it? The physical process of walking is disruptive for reading and typing. Fine motor control with a mouse or track pad are effected. There’s also a little more noise than I’d otherwise want in my working environment.

Regardless, I’m very hopeful for the indirect benefits of moving my body more during the workday. Historically, the more distance I get from an office chair, the better life is.

Some background:

Treadmill Desk Pic2

I got rid of my chair in either ’99 or 2000. For a couple years, I used a desk and theraball set up. That was good, I suppose. It was definitely better than sitting hunched in a chair all day. Back then I still did a lot of soup-to-nuts design work so it was easy to get sucked into a project and not move for hours and hours on end. The theraball kept me aware of my posture and I had to at very least participate in the process of defying gravity.


I haven’t had a chair since.
In ’04 I did away with sitting entirely and went to a standing desk. I was able to get one of the swanky, motorized ones. After a couple weeks of bwazooming it up and down, the novelty wore off and I unplugged it so it would be perpetually stuck in the standing position.

Treadmill Desk Pic3This did a couple things for me. First, and somewhat obviously, I wasn’t sitting on my ass all day. But I found that being on my feet encouraged me to do a lot of things away from my desk. Stuff that helped me to be better at my job. Sitting in a chair made it too easy to become stuck until the demands of food, biology or the homeward commute pried me free. With a standing desk, I found that I moved through my “at the desk” projects more quickly. I was also more likely to move away from desk, keyboard, and phone to tackle things that I may have thought about but not acted on from the confines of a chair.

I don’t know yet what to expect from my experience with the treadmill desk. To be honest, I haven’t done any reading on the subject. I just got sick of talking about getting one while not actually doing it.

So I did it.

And I’ll have to let you know how it turns out.

PS and for reference: There is a simple two-step process for having a $1300 dollar treadmill desk for sixty-five bucks. Step One: Buy a $1000 treadmill from your parents for $50. Step Two: Put a board on it.

I know. I know… you can thank me later.

Feels Right

I received the most wonderful text from my wife last week. She is traveling overseas and her text to me was that it “felt right” for her to be where she was. It may seem strange that “feeling right” about being away from home is a good thing. But it is. In this case it is, at least. In fact… it’s awesome.

I’ll tell you why.

My wife is a physical therapist and a thumpin’ good one. She’s good at a LOT of different aspects of her job. But what she loves most is hands-on sports therapy.

And that’s what she’s doing right now.

She’s the physical therapist for the US Nordic Ski Team and is traveling with them on the World Cup circuit. Her job right now is to keep the team competitive and healthy during the run-up to Sochi and the Winter Olympics.

When she sent that text, she was standing at the finish line in Oberhof. The team was absolutely killing it. The text read, “I’m in heaven here, feels right to be here.”

It is an amazing feeling to help your spouse and best friend find that one thing they love to do more than anything else. To help them chase that one thing. And then to engineer life such that it is attainable.

It’s a damn good feeling.

It’s been a long road. Two years apart for the masters degree. The risk and expense of owning a company. The clouded indecision of selling one. All-nighters and long weekends away from the family for the doctorate degree. It all adds up.

“Feels right to be here,” is the payoff for all of that effort. It’s worth it.

Somewhat selfishly, I take a fair bit of personal pride from having helped make this happen for her. And it’s also got me thinking.

So many of our decisions in life are based on the expectations of others. I mean, we tell our kids that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, right? At least we tell them this here in the U.S. And it’s probably true. Well… just so long as whatever they want to be includes an education financed on debt, mortgages, multiple car payments, insurance out the wazoo, and dual 8am–5pm incomes that provide both health and retirement plans. Sure. They can be whatever they want to be.

I think a much more heartening message is to let your kids see you do the things you love. And I’m not talking about things that are simply fun. I mean things that are truly and deeply rewarding. I believe that actively pursuing the things you find fulfilling will keep you happy and engaged around the home. They make you a better person to be and to be around.

Let your kids see the effort and dedication that it takes to accomplish meaningful work. Let them see the sacrifices that need to be made. And let them see that those things are worth it.

Hell. Let everyone see.

Sure… it might not be “proper” to forego the stereotypical American life. It might not be common to pass on the big salary or public sector benefits. Proper is fine. Common is safe. But when Zuzi comes home and I ask her how her day was, I don’t want her to sigh having slogged through one more weekend-obstructing day. But that’s the script, right? That’s what we’re supposed to do.

I’d much rather see her smile and hear her say that what she is doing feels right. How could you not want that for your spouse? Or for yourself for that matter?

I do.

And I most certainly want it for my wife and kids.