Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[writing|process] Superpowers, psychotic persistence, and success in writing

At dinner last night, I told one of the Fireside writers that if I was going to have a superpower, being able to write fast isn't a bad one. Which of course got me thinking, as such things do. Then this morning I read James Gurney quoting Arnold Böcklin:
Nothing in art is created without effort, and the painter writer's ideas don't come to him on wings while he dreams, either. The one may be more talented than the other, of course; but without untiring diligence, single-mindedness and a combative spirit, there can't be any good result. All this talk about 'inspiration' is nonsense.

Böcklin was talking about what I call psychotic persistence. And I'm only slightly joking.

Superpowers help. Even now, when I'm drafting at 2/3 to 1/2 the clip I used to write at, I'm still fast by most people's standards. So does talent. For sheer, raw narrative talent, you can't beat kenscholes. There's a lot of bits and pieces to this game which are important, even critical. That's the point of the "hand of cards" theory. Or, as maticoquala calls it, "the box it came in."

But persistence, and discpline which underlies it, is critical. You can work at any speed. You can overcome deficits in talent or skill. But if you don't write and submit, a lot, none of that matters.

I first started thinking of myself as a pro (or at least a neopro) in the 2001/2002 time frame, when I first started selling pro. That was after more than ten years of fairly serious aspirations and a lot of work, but hundreds of rejections and zero sales. By 2004, others had started thinking of me as a pro as well. What I remember vividly from those early days of my career was watching and listening to those who'd come up not so long before me.

I don't mean the long-established writers whose work I'd been enjoying since childhood or young adutlhood. People like Robert Silverberg, Lois McMaster Bujold, Larry Niven, Anne McCaffrey, Harry Turtledove, Gene Wolfe. I've met all those authors and many more besides, am keenly interested in what they have to say, and am privileged even to call some of them friends today.

But the lessons for me lay in writers such as Elizabeth Bear, Tim Pratt, Jeff VanderMeer, Jeffrey Ford. The paths they followed, and continue to follow, aren't so different from my own, because we're nearly of a cohort in our literary generation. I have learned immense amounts from them, and owe debts of gratitude I can never repay.

Now I'm at a point where I can look at the path and watch the people who've broken in alongside me, or slightly after me. People I've seen go from a standing start or a modest, early track record to wonderful books from wonderful publishers. Ken Scholes, Lisa Mantchev, Daniel Abraham, Beth Bernobich (whose ARC I received in the mail yesterday). And many more besides.

What every one of those people has in common is not any particular superpower. What they have in common is psychotic persistence. Almost all successful writers exhibit behaviors which would be unhealthy perseveration in the everyday world, but are critical success factors in publishing.

We don't dream, we do.

At the beginning of the day, we write. At the end of the day, we write more.

What did you write today?

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: process, writing

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