There's a fairly common perception that I sprang as a writer full blown from the forehead of Zeus. I've had people ask me, "So is it true you sold the first thing you ever wrote?"
I have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words in the trunk, including several novels that will never be seen by human eyes, and probably two to three hundred dead short stories. I started writing short stories with serious intent in 1980, when I was 16. I wrote in a vacuum until 1990, when I joined my first workshop at 26. I wrote and sent out and was rejected regularly all through the 1990s, until I made my first professional sale in 2001, shortly before my 37 birthday.
That's twenty one years of writing short stories, twelve of them with a workshop, before I sold a single story.
Likewise novel publishing. I wrote The January Machine in 1994. Rocket Science was published in 2005. That's an eleven year effort to an independent press appearance. Mainspring was published in 2007. That's a thirteen year effort for a New York trade novel.
During that time, I learned my way around the field and made myself known and created my name recognition by following the same process anyone else is free to follow. I have been to more conventions than I can count. I have spent thousands of hours reviewing, editing, blogging. I wrote for twenty years.
I know it's easy to look at my productivity or my name recognition and say, "He didn't have to work for it. He's one of the lucky ones." Except what almost no one sees is two decades of working in utter obscurity. In that time I gave up television (1994), computer gaming (1998), and tabletop gaming (2002). Frankly, I've mostly given up recreational reading, live theatre and movie going as well, though I'm working pretty hard to keep those in my life.
It's the time commitment of years, and it's the time commitment every day, in and out.
If you think I'm successful, if you wonder how I've managed to have career like I've had so far, look at the time investment, the dedication, and all the things I gave up. I'll wager that most working pros will tell you a similar story.
For the visually inclined, I geeked out and made a chart. (Sue me, I work in marketing.)
|Jay Lake born|
|Poetry published in kid's corner of local paper|
|First short story written ("The Last Standard")|
|Joined first work shop, first fanzine credit ("Living on the Edge")|
|First convention attended (Armadillocon)|
|First novel written (The January Machine)|
|First non-fiction credit ("Letters to the Child Within")|
|First professional short story credit ("The Courtesy of Guests")|
|First editing project (Polyphony 1, with Deborah Layne)|
|First independent press novel (Rocket Science [ Powell's | Amazon ])|
|First trade press novel (Mainspring [ Powell's | Amazon | Audible ])|