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Jay Lake
Date: 2007-07-17 06:23
Subject: [process] Brute persistence
Security: Public
Tags:personal, process, writing
kenscholes and I were chatting briefly in IM this morning. He's working on the sequel to his profoundly excellent novel Lamentation, and the discussion was about process. We agree on the success formula:

Brute persistence

kenscholes:naturally, there must be talent and skill in appropriate doses. But the production engine is persistence.
jaylake:people seem to have a hard time with that
jaylake:as if writing were some mystical, magical act
kenscholes:yeah, because they're lazy and want a magic bullet.
kenscholes:or because they're scared and want a magic bullet.

It's amazing how often I get asked "How did you break in?" My answer is almost always some variation on "I write a lot, and I fail a lot." People really do want something more (or less) than that, it seems.

Write. Fail. Write more. Fail less. (See "brute persistence" above.)
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User: theresamather
Date: 2007-07-17 13:33 (UTC)
Subject: Interesting
It's the same for art. I'm always amazed how many people want the magic bullet- the "connections" or easy nonexistent "secrets"...I've even been asked by artists what the "trick" is to being prolific. There isn't a trick...it's persistence and years and years of hard work. I can always tell who is going to make it and who isn't by their response.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-07-17 13:36 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Interesting
Very much agreed.

I think what really trips people up is that every now and then somebody in the writing world does win the "standing in the right place at the right time lottery" and get published without apparent effort to astounding success. Zoe Trope, for example, or Christopher Paolini. Much like PowerBall winners, that gives everyone else the idea that's it's possible. After all, most writers start out secretly knowing they are undiscovered geniuses.

Winning that lottery? Possible, yes. Probable, no.
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-07-17 14:50 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Interesting
But so many people seem to think that's how it happens for EVERY writer. I've had people who are momentarily impressed to learn I'm a "published author", but on finding out the details, they clearly put me into a very different category from their idea of a "real" author (someone who gets six-figure advances and movie deals). Thus, because they edit out the vast majority of actual authors, they are able to retain their sparkly-eyed belief that "real authors" are bright stars awaiting the right editor/agent to discover their innate brilliance.

It's kind of depressing. Every time I vaguely think I'm taking another step on the road to being a "real author", I get reminded that for most people, "real author" is a tiny and unrepresentative subset of the people who keep B&N full of pages.
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S. Boyd Taylor
User: sboydtaylor
Date: 2007-07-17 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sheer freaking hard work. :) And writing doesn't fit itself into your life; you've got to fit writing into your life.
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User: ex_truepenn
Date: 2007-07-17 15:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:mfu: ik-jacket

It's being too stupid to fall down when you're hit, is what it is.
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User: muneraven
Date: 2007-07-18 15:38 (UTC)
Subject: LOL!
I'm putting a slightly altered version of comment on the wall by my desk:

"Be too stupid to fall down when you're hit."
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User: manmela
Date: 2007-07-17 16:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think that it's always that people want a magic bullet. People who know me would say I was a successful and confident guy. Yet it comes to my fiction writing, and I lose all confidence. It's the biggest thing that slows down my fiction.

Part of it is trying to find some form of metric by which to gauge yourself; to know that this piece you wrote is better than the last or at least as good. But how can you measure talent or potential? Another part is not wanting to make a fool of yourself; Everyone and their mother says they're going to write a book, so you don't want to go into 'serious writing' and make a fool of yourself by blundering around in the dark. Of course you accept that you're not going to come into the writing community and be the best writer ever, but you want to come in and at least show some potential or talent. We've all seen people in our time with such over-confidence that they can never see they'll never achieve their goal (either due to lack of talent or skill), and nobody wants to be one of those people. And all those feelings overwhelm people to an extent that it scares some people rigid, or has others looking for the quick fix.

I see a lot of established authors talk about times when they thought all their writing was crap, in the dark days before their external validation fairy came to visit. Yes, I think... that's me. I know it's stupid and I should just get over it and just write, but I don't know how. It's like being blind and knowing the answer is to open your eyes, except you just don't know how. And so you ask the author, and they tell you that they just did. It's frustrating because the answer is probably so simple it doesn't warrant a real explanation, yet for many wannabe writers it's the ultimate question.

It's trying to find a balance between being overconfident and thinking you'll be one of the miracle stories, and suffering a lack of confidence or fear of failure and needing some form of external validation.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-07-17 18:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I agree. Bloodymindedness and talent in correct proportion seems to be working for me.
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Jon Christian Allison
User: sly_magpie
Date: 2007-07-17 18:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks. That's exactly the sort of thing I needed to hear this week.
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Mari Adkins: harlan vampires series
User: mariadkins
Date: 2007-07-17 18:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:harlan vampires series
Lather, rinse, repeat.
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David Moles
User: scarypudding
Date: 2007-07-17 20:03 (UTC)
Subject: Magic bullets
I'm a fan of the old deal with the Devil, myself.

Think you can take them bullets or leave 'em, do you? Just save a few, for your bad days? Well, now, we all have those bad days when you can't shoot for shit. The more of them magics you use, the more bad days you have without them; so it comes down finally to all your days being bad without the bullets. It's magics or nothing. Time to stop chippying around and kidding yourself, kid, you're hooked, heavy as lead.
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sheelangig: bench
User: sheelangig
Date: 2007-07-17 20:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's a lovely corollary, in my life anyhow.

Relentless Politeness.

This is where you choose to operate under the presumption that the nice people you are dealing with really do want to help you, and that any problems are obviously just problems in communication or approach, not of will or (don't even THINK it very loudly) ability. And so you Nod and Smile and, very politely, Refuse To Go Away without whatever it is you are after. Eventually, they will usually give it to you, if only just to make you actually go away so they can get back to their normal life of saying no to other people.

I am NOT cynical. I do consider myself to be somewhat curmudgeonly.
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