Thursday, April 26, 2012

Career "Roadbumps"

A couple of years ago, YA writer Janni Lee Simner put out a call for the sharing of writerly tribulations and triumphs: So I'm putting out a call for writers--at all stages of their careers--to talk about the roadbumps, the setbacks, the rough times. Because we all need to see that too, and too often we don't. And if we all do this at the same time, maybe admitting to having imperfect careers will be less daunting, too.

Here's what I wrote: I sold my first professional short story in 1982, when my first child was small. It went to an anthology, that turned into an annual event, and the editor really liked my work, so for the next chunk of years, I'd write 2 or 3 shorts and a novel, would sell most of the shorts to that same editor, zilch on the novels.

Then several things happened. I realized I was in danger of becoming a one-editor writer for a fairly specialized market. I joined a local writers group that had a bunch of Clarion grads and other critique-skillful people. I'd networked enough at cons to set a strategy for getting an agent: make up a dream list, get an offer, call the agent at the top of the list.

The critique group tore apart my current attempt at a novel. I went home, cried, screamed, set aside my pride, came back, asked for one-syllable-word explanations, worked my tail off on craft. Eventually, that book (the 6th or 7th I'd written, depending on how you count partials/rewrites) became my first sale. Got the offer (after a 2-year wait), called the agent of my dreams -- hooray! Seems my writer friends had been telling him about me and he'd been waiting for me to have a project he could represent. In the meanwhile, I started selling shorts to top markets like ASIMOV'S, F & SF, the second STAR WARS antho, and others. In other words, I'd broken out of the one-editor trap.

Fast forward through a poorly-selling 2nd novel, a decision to not change my byline for the third (this was in the prelude to a personal meltdown that lasted several years, so I was not exactly rational), then a long dark stretch. Sold a few shorts, some of them among my best work, kept slowly healing as I struggled with being a single working mom with a troubled teen.

Then came one of those amazing breaks that sometimes happen. The chance to work on a Darkover novel with Marion Zimmer Bradley, a dear friend who'd stood by me through the hard times. I don't have words for the gratitude for that boost back to writing novels. I would have eventually gotten there, but it would have been much, much harder.

Yes, there have been many frustrations since then, trying to work in my original novels, endless delays with editors (more 2-year waits, now on option books), no luck with several novels written in the "gap" time. But just knowing someone believed in me -- enough to ask me to come play in her world -- still shines as a beacon of hope in my life.

Now I edit as well as write, and occasionally get to be the beacon myself.


  1. I haven't finished a draft of anything in a year despite having numerous projects partially done. The ebook that came out last month went through three delays, three editors, two publishers, two major overhauls, and doesn't have any reviews or stars or anything after six weeks out. -sigh- I learned a lot from writing it, and I know my writing has gotten better, but it kind of feels like I put it out and it just died. It's a damn good book, though. I do believe that.

    But I'm going out of town today to a (non-writing) retreat back east, so hopefully that'll help get me out of this slump.

  2. Retreats can be sanity-savers. They can help us get out of hopeless ruts, re-charge our creative batteries, give us precious down time. I think we can get so focused on defining ourselves only as writers that we forget to lead balanced lives. I hope this one works its magic for you.