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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-09-09 14:11
Subject: [process] Being Jay Lake, or not
Security: Public
Tags:personal, process, publishing, writing
Sometimes when I talk about things that have happened in my writing career, such as selling a high profile story, or being featured in a very nice market, people will say, "Well, yes, but you're Jay Lake." As if the condition of being Jay Lake is some kind of hall pass or rolling exemption from the rules by which mere mortals are constrained. It's almost always well meant, and usually intended to be funny, but that thought discounts both you and me.

It discounts you (if you've said it or thought it) because it excuses you from your own agency in whatever mythic feat of mine is under discussion. If writing a million words or making more than $10,000 a year from short fiction or selling 250 short stories is something only Jay Lake can do, then you don't have to worry about whether or not you did it. Not that I think you should be worrying. We're all different writers, with different processes, different goals, and different paths. But what you shouldn't be doing is fencing yourself off from some forms of achievement because they're reserved for special people.

It discounts me (when you've said it or thought it) because it assigns my successes and triumphs to the category of unusual events for which no one is responsible, like winning lottery tickets or finding buried treasure. That does a profound disservice to all my hard work and effort. I got serious about writing, as in regular workshop attendance and story submittals, in 1990. I sold my first short story in 2001. That's eleven years of wandering in the wilderness that all aspiring writers emerge from, working my tail off, collecting my rejections and trying, trying, trying to get better. Add to that my first small press novel sale in 2004, my first trade press novel sale in 2005, and you can see my arc is years-long.

Yes, I've taken an eccentric path into my career. Yes, I've been unusually lucky in some respects. But any rules you might think don't apply to me now only look that way because I've spent two decades mastering them, and learning how to turn those rules in my preferred direction where possible. I wasn't born being Jay Lake the author. I had to earn it, just like everybody else.

To my mind, "you're Jay Lake" ought to be an inspirational statement. It is for me, and I'm damned proud of it. And I don't work any less hard today, or gnaw any less thoroughly at "the rules" than ever I did in the years before I sold a word. Want to be like me? Sit down and write. That's what I do.

Even better, be like yourself.

Originally published at jlake.com.

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Willis Couvillier
User: will_couvillier
Date: 2009-09-09 22:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I read this and right away wanted to post about why I, for one, would say this regarding any writing subject you talk about. I thought about it, and really the one thing that makes you so much the wonder to me is your productivity - this ANY writer would drool to have. Then I began to remember my humble beginnings in reading and how my favorite authors were originally pulp writers, and could in some cases pump out a short novel a week. It was then that I realized that ANY writer could have this...what makes it special for you is exactly what you just mentioned - the years of development, of mastering the craft. And of refining your skill level so that your output is close to the saleable point from the first draft.

I mean, for me saying "you're Jay Lake" is on a par with saying "you're Lester Dent" (how many will get THAT reference, I wonder?), only with higher quality H2O coming out the tap!
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
Deborah Biancotti
User: deborahb
Date: 2009-09-09 22:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Maybe it's not 'You're Jay Lake! You get the Jay Lake hall pass!'

Maybe it's, 'You're Jay Lake! OF COURSE people want to read your work or know a little something about you from a feature! Jay Lake ROCKS!'

:)

Or something.
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2009-09-10 14:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, if I said "well, that's because you're Jay Lake" I would pretty much mean that.
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Rafe
User: etcet
Date: 2009-09-09 22:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am contractually obligated at this juncture to stand atop the nearest table and proclaim:

"I'M RICK JAMES, BITCH!"

*climbs down from table*


I think They Might Be Giants had some sage words on the "Be like yourself" tip, as it were.
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Crystal erm Daisuki-chan
User: love_of_anime
Date: 2009-09-09 23:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I never thought that way only because I found you on here and didn't who Jay Lake was. I just saw some guy interested in writing in Portland. Don't kill me...I do love that you share your thoughts on the process. :D
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fledgist
User: fledgist
Date: 2009-09-09 23:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"But you're Jay Lake" discounts, as you point out, the process of "becoming Jay Lake." That is the essential thing. Long before you were "JAY LAKE," when you were just plain "Jay Lake," you were developing the qualities that made the name a stopping point on bookshop shelves or Amazon pages. It is the becoming that matters, I think, not the being; the striving as much as the achievement.
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2009-09-10 14:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There was a Terry Pratchett panel where he talked about his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. Somebody asked if there was going to be a sequel, and he admitted they had discussed it, but never really found the time or the energy. And then he said,

"You see, when we wrote that, he wasn't Neil Gaiman and I wasn't Terry Pratchett."
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J.K.Richárd: raptor junk
User: neutronjockey
Date: 2009-09-10 01:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:raptor junk
But dude, you're Jay Lake...

Then after a few beers, we add an adjective:

But dude, you're #$%&ing Jay Lake...

Then after a few more beers, our adjective becomes a verb, and we get sloppy with our pronouns:

Dude, I'm #$%&ing Jay Lake!

...and now we have a comedy scene straight out of a Kevin Smith movie.

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catsparx
User: catsparx
Date: 2009-09-10 02:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
But Jay, you do have one particular superpower - the ability to ignore television. The mere concept of not watching TV is too difficult for most people to comprehend.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-09-10 02:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, and it always touches a nerve when I mention that...
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spencimusprime
User: spencimusprime
Date: 2009-09-10 02:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think that ten years of banging your head against the wall was "unusually lucky," I think it was "unusually cussed stubborn" and it paid off.
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User: lonfiction
Date: 2009-09-10 03:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I definitely see your point, Jay, and I know you are still fresh enough to your success that you're not victim to the out of date paradigms of yesterwriters.

But I wonder: do you have a plan to keep your helpful information to writers from becoming stagnant, the way some fantastic past masters seem unaware of the differences between breaking in to fiction then and now? Do you ever stop to wonder whether even the new-fangled mores of publishing in our genres will one day be dated?

Or do you think there will be a point when you become content that the concerns of new writers are significantly different from your own?

(Please note that I don't see your helpful information as any kind of entitlement--I am very grateful for the things you've offered up over the past few years, but realize that there comes a time in many people's lives/careers when the urge to pay it forward is supplanted by other concerns.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-09-10 03:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, to a significant degree, that's already happened. I talk about markets and marketing a lot less than I used to, simply because my own experience as an established pro has diverged significantly from the breaking in and neopro experience. It's already true that much of what I have to say about breaking in, from the markets/marketing side, is obsolete, or at least dated.

So I suppose I'm content that the concerns of new writers are becoming more different than my own, but I still share the concerns of writers in general. Every step on the path is ahead of one writer and following another. I do the best I can, and work to maintain perspective.
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Larina Warnock
User: larinawarnock
Date: 2009-09-10 04:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was thinking about this, or something like this, last week after a conversation with friends about the amount of money--and more importantly time--they are spending on/in workshops and conferences. Doesn't there come a time when the emphasis on learning (reading books about writing, attending readings and lectures about writing, taking classes about writing, signing up for workshops, dishing out the dough on another three-day conference, etc, etc) actually harms the emerging writer? How can anyone possibly find the time to WRITE and learn anything if all they ever do is listen/read others' views about writing? At one point did you say, "My time is more effectively spent working on this story than sitting in that workshop"?

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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-09-10 13:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm all for workshops, but there's definitely a "workshop junkie" aesthetic out there. It's hard to say how much is too much, as that varies tremendously by the individual and their circumstances.

But yes, there was a point about three years ago where I did say, "My time is more effectively spent working on this story than sitting in that workshop." Actually, a trusted mentor of mine told me this, too, and kicked me out of a workshop to go home and write, though we'd arrived at the same conclusion at about the same time.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-09-10 17:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you.
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