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Jay Lake
Date: 2009-02-27 05:23
Subject: [personal|process] Reflecting on careers, mentorship and delivery dates
Security: Public
Tags:books, odms, personal, process, publishing, writing
Being in Austin has put me in a reflective mood. I lived here for eighteen years, longer than I've ever lived anywhere, and possibly longer than I ever will again, depending on what the future brings me. Though I did not start selling fiction until after I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2000, in some very important ways, my career began here. Specifically, in the hands of a particular writer.

I owe this person an immense debt of gratitude. She introduced me to such basics as manuscript formatting, cover letters, critique, and even the very existence of workshops. She mentored me from an unbelievably wet-behind-the-ears newbie, through the convinced-of-my-own-undiscovered-genius phase, through the I-resent-the-conspiracy-against-gifted-newcomers-that-is-publishing phase, and many of the other tiresome but apparently necessary evolutions in the process of my becoming an actual working author.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the bookshelf. When I started showing measurable success, instead of merely expending effort, my mentor found this challenging. When I started appearing in tables of contents, and on bookstore shelves, with a higher profile than she has ever achieved, this writer became one of my most savage critics — not only of my writing, but of my professionalism, my behavior, my blog presence, and even my fashion sense. She eventually drove me off a mailing list and out of a social circle with her profound and unrelenting unpleasantness.

I value friendship very highly, I am almost stupidly loyal, and I can be a slow learner, but in time I learned I had to shut this person out of my life and work. It only took several severe outbursts and a great deal of my own emotional distress to get me there. As a result, someone who's name should be in the dedications of all my books is instead someone I have not seen or spoken to in years, and probably never will again.

Coming to Austin has somewhat forcibly and sadly reminded me of this 15-year arc of friendship which ended so very badly. And it reminds me that we writers tend to be jealous creatures. Another friend of mine in this business asked me a while back how my friendship with kenscholes had survived his meteoric rise. The question surprised me, because in a very fundamental way, it would never have occurred to me that Ken's success had somehow come at a cost to me. This is not a zero sum game. Even if it were, he's my friend, and my friendship with him is not so cheap as to be damaged by a book contract. What kind of friend would I be if that were true?

Yet my first and greatest mentor turned out to be exactly that kind of friend to me. And oddly, my second great mentor, who was very important to me in the years after I moved to Oregon and first began publishing, hasn't spoken to me since 2005, except once or twice out of social necessity. Which of course, has me wondering if there is some aspect of my behavior which is to account for this.

Now there is the fubar going on in our little well-tempested teapot about when writers are "supposed" to deliver books. I know personally almost everyone who has weighed in, and respect them all. My only comment is that I'm supposed to deliver the book when the contract says to do, and so far I haven't missed one yet. Not even when I had cancer. There's one book I will never contract until after it is done, for precisely the kind of creative reasons that scalzi and others have cited (Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, for those keeping score at home); but otherwise, the whole issue of creative block is almost as much a mystery to me as the issue of the sort of professional jealousy that can shatter a friendship.

These are big words, I know, and I almost certainly will be called upon to eat them some day, but for now I will say this:

My friends are my friends, and their successes only magnify our friendships.

My books are due when they're due, and my own personal definition of my professionalism has me turning them in on time.

Maybe some day I'll learn differently, but I sure hope not.

Originally published at jlake.com.

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Laura Anne Gilman: madness toll
User: suricattus
Date: 2009-02-27 13:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:madness toll
My books are due when they're due, and my professionalism has me turning them in on time.

The only thing in your post I would take exception to -- and it's the wording, not the thought behind it -- is this, as it risks implying that writers who do not hand in on-time are somehow "less than professional." And I'm saying that both as a writer and as an editor.

Sometimes, Life Happens, and Joe or Jane Writer can't work through it. Handing in a book that's less than it should be, just to hit a deadline, isn't my idea of professional. Calling your editor and saying "this isn't going to happen, can I have some extra time?" is.

(I realize you were talking about your own approach, but there are a lot of writers who read this blog who measure themselves against your words, and in this instance, that could be unhealthy. You, as has oft been discussed, are Apparently Unstoppable.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-02-27 13:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You have a good point. Edited slightly for clarity, though I suspect some people may not like the point. Sigh.
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A large duck: books
User: burger_eater
Date: 2009-02-27 19:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Your comment--and the other posts that have been going up about deadlines and making sure the book is as good as it can be--has been a relief. I turned in a book last fall exactly on deadline (first book I ever wrote with a delivery date) and it was as good as I could make it.

But my editor wants substantial changes, and I've been going back and forth over what I should do and how I should do it. Everyone keeps telling me "There's time," but I'm a worrier.

Weirdly, the knowledge that asking for an extension when I absolutely have to is a relatively common thing is tremendously soothing, and will help me finish my revisions more quickly.
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User: jtdiii
Date: 2009-02-27 13:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You have more ideas in a night of bad dream than many others will have in a full year. :)
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Lawrence M. Schoen
User: klingonguy
Date: 2009-02-27 14:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, that's just it. From a marketing perspective, from a publishing perspective, one can very much argue that it is a zero sum game.

But that doesn't mean that your former mentor, yourself, or anyone else, has to look at it that way. And that's how you keep yourself healthy.

And yet, I can certainly relate. There's the whole distinction between jealousy and envy. It's easy to be envious, to want what someone else has (though presumably not at the cost of taking it from them). Jealousy though comes from one's own fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being found out that one isn't the flavor of the week any more, fear that past successes were just flukes, fear that time is passing you by.

I look at a lot of writers around me, people I like, people I think of as friends (and some as good friends), and I see many of them doing a lot better than I am in this biz. Sometimes this irks me. Most times I try to remember to be happy for them, and to use their own victories to inspire me to a few of my own.

But there are days when I can really understand how your mentor might feel, though I couldn't sustain it myself. It takes too much energy to keep up those kinds of negative emotions, and I need that juice for more constructive things.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2009-02-27 14:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Unfortunately, while I've not reached your level of success (and may never do so), I've encountered the phenomenon you describe. It's one reason I ended up being sidetracked to writing nonfiction, and discovering there that I really lacked the temperament to be the quality of nonfiction writer that I want to be as a fiction writer. Nonfiction writing is work to me--fiction writing is what I crave and what I love to do. These days, I do a lot of nonfiction writing in the course of my job, and I'd probably blow a lot of the published folks in the field out of the water if I chose to do so (but in that direction lies the madness of a doctorate and APA style, which I absolutely abhor--and yes, I'm cocky about my professional writing style, I do a good job of it and I've received enough encouragement to try publication but I really don't want to do it), and I don't choose to do that. At the moment. I'd sooner be published in the small press fiction world than go through the dance required to publish in the peer-reviewed professional journals common to my field.

If publication was really all I desired--well, yeah, I do have the pro cred in nonfiction, albeit in the world of small press publishing. The person who was mentoring me and shoving me toward nonfiction still tries to do that, although we've minimized a lot of contact, for various other reasons unrelated to writing.

My sense is that it's not so much your personality as it is your ability to keep producing good words of a high quality at a fast rate, Jay. People do find that threatening. I think it's silly, myself, to find it threatening, but those who do feel that way tend to look at writing as a competitive endeavor rather than an art, and are threatened by someone like you. One very useful point that's come out of the whole "when are writers supposed to deliver books" tempest is that readers--and fans--can take this time to explore and discover writers who are new to them.

I know that no writer--not even you!--can keep up with me as a reader when I'm enthralled by a new writer/new world. As someone who is a fast reader, I'm used to whipping through even long, complex series at a quick rate. As a writer, I can completely understand why someone would struggle with a growing and complex piece of worldbuilding. I really have a hard time understanding why people are so upset about all this.

But, then again, I'm a fast reader. And I figure that if I can't find enough of what I like to read, maybe I need to work on telling myself my own versions of what I like to read.
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User: barbhendee
Date: 2009-02-27 15:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, Jay, isn't it strange how "places" can bring back memories with a clarity we sometimes don't expect and are not emotionally ready to feel? That's happened to me a few times too.

But I truly believe that it is essential that we celebrate each other's successes with open joy and hugs and excitement. My friend Carrie's Vaughn's new paperback is on every best selling list in the country, and I have been dancing around the office for her. I'm so happy.

Within minutes of learning that one of our best friends, the beloved Mike Arnzen, had just won a Stoker award last year, we were in immediate contact to tell him how proud we were--and you know we are both just baffled by awards. But that doesn't matter. Awards are very important to him, so he deserved lots of praise.

We need to dance around the office for each other.

Post Script: As always, I'm clueless on the "tempest and teapot" discussions, but I have eight novels on the shelf with two more coming up for publication, and I haven't missed a deadline yet. I don't know what that says about me.

Edited at 2009-02-27 03:21 pm (UTC)
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User: renatus
Date: 2009-02-27 15:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
On the issue of creative block:

I very much hope it does remain a mystery to you, because it's a frustrating and dark place to be. I'm not talking about the "Oh woe is me, I don't feel like it/won't give up X leisure activity to make time" sort of 'block', but the sort where the creative parts of your brain have shut off or feel like they're missing entirely.

After four winters so far north, I've learned to identify just how winter darkness shuts off my creative centers--first the verbal and textual parts trickle away to the point I have trouble speaking in long sentences or writing intelligibly, then the hand-eye coordination and visual starts to go. By mid-January I can't so much as crochet a simple hat, much less draw or string more than a short blog comment together. I want to, but there isn't anything there to do it with until the days are considerably longer and I'm getting more natural light and sun.

I'm still coming to terms with the fact that even with a light therapy lamp and vitamin D pills, there's not much I can do about it short of moving to the southern hemisphere for the winter. It's maddening, and was truly dire when I my depression was still untreated (and depression is another thing that fades out the creative centers). That this comment is so long and makes any sense at all is a sign that I'm hitting the recovery point again. *g*
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it's a great life, if you don't weaken: comics invisibles king mob
User: matociquala
Date: 2009-02-27 16:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:comics invisibles king mob
There's a book delivery tempest? I missed that one, thank god.

The book is due when it's due. That's what deadlines are for. The production department will love me more if I give them time to work, after all.
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User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2009-02-27 17:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
> My friends are my friends, and their successes only magnify
> our friendships.

Amen to that.
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User: brent_kellmer
Date: 2009-02-27 17:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think part of the problem with friendship issues related to success is that there is a difference between envy and jealousy. I was at Ken Schole's reading at University Bookstore in Seattle and he was talking about how Lamentation came to be sold and published. I'll freely admit that I was envious -- I want that sort of thing for me. But that's a far cry from being jealous, which to me is "I want that thing for me alone." I think the difference is probably based less in the idea of publishing as a zero-sum game and more in the psychoses of writers. "I was publishing first and therefore I should be successful first" -- that sort of thing. All too often we try to get through the rejection letters based on self-justification, and that pushes us over from envy to jealousy, which is never good.

And ultimately, we also confuse publishing, which is a zero-sum game (to some extent, although we're not competing as much with each other as we are with the bad stuff out there), and success, which isn't a zero-sum game.

I'm sorry you were on the receiving end of that jealousy -- that's never a good place to be, especially if it destroys a friendship.
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User: ex_truepenn
Date: 2009-02-27 17:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:writing: fennec
Speaking as a professional writer who has booted a deadline, I'd like to testify here that it is THE LAST THING IN THE WORLD said professional writer wants to do. It's not a matter of cavalierly deciding you have better things to do or that your deadline somehow doesn't matter. In my case, I turned the book in on time, but the concerns expressed in the edit letter, and my own deep dissatisfaction, made it impossible for me to finish the revisions in the necessary amount of time. My choices were two:

1. publish a book that was not merely not-as-good-as-I-wanted but deeply flawed. Also a cheat.

2. ask for an extension

I did meet the new deadline, and have met every deadline involved with that book (which comes out in April) since. And I know that in future contract negotiations, I will not agree to write a book in a year. (This was the first book I'd ever tried to write to a deadline essentially from scratch, so I did not know going in just how much that wasn't going to work.) Failing to meet that deadline felt like exactly that: failure. But publishing a book I knew to be shallow and not thought through and a cheat would have been a greater failure, and a greater abrogation of my own professional standards.
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Twilight: WriteInspirationPen
User: twilight2000
Date: 2009-02-27 17:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
> My friends are my friends, and their successes only magnify
> our friendships.

Amen to that.

And more dancing around the office :>.

I have to admit that I can't even *imagine* hating someone for their success - and I'd have to be hit over the head multiple times for me to realize someone was doing that to me.

Oh - and your fashion sense? Hell. it was the crux of my first "writing for spec" story ever - I rather *like* your fashion sense ;>.

Edited at 2009-02-27 05:58 pm (UTC)
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Crystal erm Daisuki-chan
User: love_of_anime
Date: 2009-02-27 18:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
*hugs* I am sorry that your mentor was that shallow. Writers should be camrade-in-arms. Success for one of us, just bolsters the rest of us....
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User: muneraven
Date: 2009-02-27 18:12 (UTC)
Subject: Different people, different way of writing
I think writers should try to hit their deadlines.

However, I would rather get a great book late than a good book on-time.

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User: swan_tower
Date: 2009-02-27 18:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My books are due when they're due, and my own personal definition of my professionalism has me turning them in on time.

I think you're the only professional writer I've seen speaking up in defense of the deadline and meeting thereof. Me, I've been sitting here wondering what it's like to live in a world where being years overdue with a book doesn't spell the utter death of your sales figures.

That life or difficulties with the book can get in the way of meeting a deadline, I understand. But I also understand, as a reader, finding those kinds of delays worrisome, because what will it mean for the book when I eventually see it? It doesn't begin to excuse being an asshole to the writer in question -- even if you don't care about manners, it's not going to help the situation -- but it isn't a non-problem from the reader's perspective.
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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2009-02-27 21:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think you're the only professional writer I've seen speaking up in defense of the deadline and meeting thereof.

*is astonished*

I don't know a single professional writer who doesn't believe in meeting deadlines, and won't work as hard as humanly (or humanely) possible to meet them. Freelancers know what deadlines mean, oftentimes better than office workers, because that's the only time we get paid!

Mind you, we gripe and whinge about them endlessly, but I don't think that can be called speaking out _against_ them....

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User: swan_tower
Date: 2009-02-27 21:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I didn't mean to say people were speaking against them, per se. More that all the other responses I've seen have been on the theme of, stuff gets in the way, sometimes you have to take longer to make the book good, the writer doesn't get paid until they turn the book in, etc -- things that make it sound like blowing past your deadline by several years isn't a big deal, except possibly for the author's ability to pay the rent.

To some extent I think it really is situational: it might not be a problem for an author of Martin's stature, because his books are big enough cash cows that his publisher will accomodate this kind of slippage, and basically sit around in readiness for whenever he turns it in. But most authors I know would be in deep shit, in professional terms, if they were this far overdue. And yet Jay's the only person I've seen even begin to address that. (There are probably others, that just aren't on my radar.)
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KV Taylor
User: kvtaylor
Date: 2009-02-27 18:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I wonder if people realize what they're doing when they destroy friendships for envy, or if it's just this weird ingrained knee-jerk reaction that some will never be able to help (and some will never really get). Someone should take a poll.

Not that it needs my approval, but your definition of professionalism is rather inspiring.
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User: gaaneden
Date: 2009-02-27 20:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is a very interesting topic to me. I admit to feeling envious of my friends all around me who have novels out there or three book contracts with Tor and other such things. However, I don't feel -jealous- and that, to me, is an important distinction. I do not begrudge any one of my friends their success. Not at all. More power to them and good luck.

But, damn, sometimes I really want to be like them. I want an agent. I want novels on the shelf. I want all of those things.

At the same time, many of my friends, author and non-author alike, consider me a great success. A "real live author" is what one of them called me recently. I have contributed to a dozen RPG books and half a dozen anthologies. I've edited one anthology and I'm going to edit another.

Still... it's not enough for me.

But I would never hate any of my friends for getting out there and getting a novel published. I am envious of their success but not jealous.

Does that make sense?
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User: serendipita
Date: 2009-02-27 21:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This reminds me of years ago, when a friend announced, "I now know that anyone who says they can't lose weight is wrong, because I decided to lose weight and I did it." To which I replied, "Yeah, but you're the most driven person I've ever met."

Yes, it's professional to meet deadlines. For a lot of us, it's also bordering on impossible.

I recently (and I'm no spring chicken) discovered I have ADD. As I've learned what that means in a neurochemical sense, my life has made far more sense--most people DON'T spend hours trying to convince themselves to do something relatively trivial; they have the dopamine and norepinephrine that leads from intention to action.

It literally is that straightforward. When I tried a higher Ritalin dose, I discovered how the other half lives. For the first time EVER, I could do stuff without pushing against a brick wall in my head first. (The relevant concept is "executive functions" in the brain.) It was a revelation.

Appreciate your abilities--you already know that many of them are rare. They are also deeply precious.
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User: tsheehan
Date: 2009-02-27 23:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
On the last three points: Yes, yes, and yes.

Those points should be obvious but aren't. Thanks for pointing them out.
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Misty Marshall
User: mistymarshall
Date: 2009-02-27 23:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Maintaining good friendships even in the best of times can be difficult. But I am with you here, for all good friends in academia, many which are way more successful then me. I love them for their ability to do what I can't and would not consider ever trading their friendship for covering my own problems/issues. But i know so many people who do this same thing. But you are indeed prolific. Also there is another point here. ALthough I don't run across the work competition issue, I do often have people dislike me for my personal sense of worth and my confidence and this may be a factor to consider.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-02-28 04:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay--I understand the point, but writers miss deadlines all the time, get extensions, etc. There are also writers who really don't want to sell a book before it's finished, and that's perfectly acceptable; in fact, that's how some of the greatest books of all time were written--the majority of them, in my opinion.

In becoming a freelancer, I misjudged the extra time I'd have to work on a novel because it turns out there's a lot of thinking about a novel I have to do before I can actually start working on it. So I'm very hesitant now to agree to a deadline unless there's another 6 months of padding on it--for a novel. I missed my novel deadline twice on Finch, but if I'd forced it, it would've been a crappy book. And I was working 24-7 on it, I wasn't slacking off. It just needed more time to breathe.

You and I have had some variation of this conversation in person, I know, and it actually made you a little testy once. But I do think the time will come when you *won't* finish a book to deadline, and you will understand a little better the true why's behind the occurrence.

I guess my point is--you know what works for you. But it's not really correct to (perhaps unintentionally) present it as "this is what professionalism is". Professionalism should be writing the best possible book you can write. Which I know is your commitment to.

Much love from your actually really truly awake friend.

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