Are You Ready?

Then I’ve got two words for ya…

Like sportsmen and women, a creative relies upon talent, skill and experience, but for these to be employed successfully they must be underpinned by confidence. A Premiership striker bristling with energy and vim scores goals, and a writer bolstered by confidence can feel free to express himself. I’m no different, and I believe that part of my creative struggle recently – or more precisely some dilemmas I have faced – can be put down to my confidence being at a lower ebb than usual.

Neill D. Hicks (whom I have mentioned previously) describes this well in Screenwriting 101 in a section called The Writer’s Life:

Every time you face the blank page, then, the potential for failure is enormously high, perhaps even inevitable. We’re not talking about popular or economic nonsuccess here, but real personal deficiency, the kind of naked truth that jerks you awake in a cold sweat at night. We’re talking about I’m-a-fraud-and-everybody-knows-it failure. That is what makes writing the most terrifying profession.

In terms of my BL career I’ve never known this sort of failure. Well, once, when my synopsis for a Necromunda short was rejected. If it had been my first short story I might have thought twice about doing any more, but it was more ‘hang on, I can do this, I’ve done it before’. Even that was a building experience because a good chat with Marc Gascoigne, then Cruel Overlord of BL, showed that there was nothing intractably wrong with the story itself, but the synopsis was appallingly bad for communicating what I was attempting to do. I decided not to bother with that particular story and moved on to other projects.

Now that I am embarking on a path that will take me far from the well-trodden bowers and glades of Black Library the old enemy starts to creep in: doubt. The “I’m a fraud” line will resonate with many out there, I’m sure, just as it does with me. In a career as unquantifiable as writing, by what benchmark do we judge ourselves?

I have also been reading The Career Novelist by Donald Maas, which is available for free download. Read it and think, that’s what I’ve been doing. In the book, Donald Maas describes many of the pitfalls a first-time author may fall into – or dig for himself or herself! The need for validation, as Haas describes it, can lead first-time authors to make poor choices – of project, publisher or agent. This need comes from wanting to know that someone else thinks you are good enough to print. Though money issues may enter the equation, this validation desire is Nemesis to the writer. Validation may become desperation, and that’s where problems begin. The only true method of combating Nemesis, as I see it, is through confidence.

Confidence that you can deliver, both artistically and practically. Confidence that you have the strength of character to take the rejection. Confidence to be patient. Confidence to turn down a bad offer and wait for a better one. Confidence to shelve a piece that you have laboured on with blood, weat and tears and open up a new blank page.

Reading about many of the potential dangers facing first-time career novelists, to be frank, scared the shit out of me. It was the same when I thought about buying a house, and driving a car, and so on. The unknown and unknowable scares us, and it is not often that we voluntarily step forward to be tested, and this is perhaps a test not only of skill and talent, but of perseverance and passion.

And I’m up for it!

I passed my driving test (okay, after three attempts…), I own a house (which I’ve managed to vaguely keep in one piece) and so now I’m going to be a full-time novel writer. The second-guessing about what I should write, or how I should go about it ends now and the writing begins.

I know how to write, and I know how to construct a good story. I now also have the confidence to put both of those into practice. Confidence comes from the act. Thinking about writing ties me in knots; sitting down and planning a story or typing at the keyboard leaves me with no hesitations. As I’ve been known to exhort others, now I exhort myself – just do it! Hear me roar!

Born-again Virgin

“But Gav,” I hear you cry. “You’ve written nine novels and more than a dozen short stories, it says so in your bio. What do you have to be worried about?”

As Mr Maas points out, writing as work-for-hire (which all tie-in writing is) is a different kettle of fish to writing your own stuff. The Career Novelist was written in the mid-90s and Donald Maas made an interesting prediction concerning work-for-hire, packagers and media tie-ins – that they were growing in size and power compared to traditional genre fiction. If one wants an example, albeit slightly anecdotal, have a look at Amazon’s bestselling lists. At the time of writing, in the Sci-fi Adventure category, 11 of the top 25 titles are Black Library books. 11! That’s just BL books. Eight of the other titles are other media tie-ins: Star Wars; Star Trek; Stargate. The overall Science Fiction bestsellers are a little more healthy in this regard but the preponderance of tie-in fiction through Fantasy and Science Fiction is clearly evident here and in every bookstore you walk into.

And the basic fact of the matter is that readers of work-for-hire don’t necessarily migrate with the authors. BL readers read Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 stories. For a publisher or agent, there isn’t any logic in believing that X,000 readers of tie-in fiction will automatically go out and buy your first non-tie-in novel… So, as a writer you’re starting from scratch again, building a portfolio and a reputation, and most importantly a readership.

The journey continues, I hope you’ll stay with me.

 

Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 5:34 pm  Comments (12)  

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Do you know what I do to ensure confidence? I listen to Guerilla Radio by Rage Against the Machine very f*cking loud.

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  2. I like to read writers’ biographies and see what a hard slogging road they all traveled. T.S. Eliot said, “It’s a mug’s game,” and Keat’s said he was living a “posthumous life.” Kafka only published a few stories during his lifetime and told his friend Max Brod to burn his manuscripts, when he died. Bertolt Brecht said, “Life’s a swindle, only swindlers succeed.” Stephen Crane had to publish his own stuff, as did Melville.

    The point of this is that the writer’s life is a tough one and the great ones have always had their doubts and fears. The key is to write and send it out in face of the bloody doubts.

    I have read your work and frankly you’ve got what it takes. So, write, write, WRITE. Free your mind and let your very fertile imagination soar. So what if you crash, you’re young, and you know in your heart that what you write will be about 99% better than most of the stuff on the shelf.

    Frankly, you, Abnett, and McNeil write circles around some of the current crop of SF and fantasy writers.

    So forgive an old man’s rant and, you guessed it, write–and send it out–because we are waiting for it and we ain’t getting any younger.

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  3. Y’know, when I get angsty I just jump in the car, turn up some rock on the ol’ iPod and ten minutes later I’m raring to go again…

    And thanks for the kind words, Keith. *When* my first indepedent novel comes out, there’ll definitely be a free one on its way to you!

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  4. Good luck and please keep us updated. You’ve chosen the harder path, but it’s definitely the most rewarding.

    It’s an interesting point brought up about validation. I’ve recently had some work purchased by a small press and I’m pretty excited about that, but I’m realizing that while I’m being published, I’m frankly unsure if it’s the audience I’m looking for.

    And don’t worry, you can always write erotica if sci-fi and fantasy don’t work.

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  5. Do you actually drive anywhere, Gav, or just sit rocking out on the red-brick?

    Not so much specific advice for yourself, Gav, as for others who might be reading this an pondering the same thoughts, but I think it’s worth remembering the following:

    We learn from our failures more than our successes.

    A lot of problems with confidence come from either fear of failure, or the belief that failure now somehow indicates we’ll never be good enough to succeed, which of course isn’t true. If you know you can take something from even your worst work – a lesson of what not to do in future, what you did wrong, and how you should have done it – then no failure is absolute.

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  6. “Do you actually drive anywhere, Gav, or just sit rocking out on the red-brick? ”

    I find that the sensation of movement adds to the experience…

    Oh, and just added Guerilla Radio to the iPod (to go alongside the other Rage classics like Bulls on Parade). The bassline and riff on Cochise does a pretty good job too. My top blood-pumping tune is still The Game by Motorhead – and not just because it’s Triple H’s entrance music.

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  7. I often liken writing to being in solitary confinement. You become prey to the unseen, unspoken fears that normally remain firmly suppressed. It is all too easy to talk yourself out something when your rational mind knows it is good.

    Getting a bit of perspective helps. That and ice cream. Phish Food preferably.

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  8. I’m partial to Cookie Dough myself…

    I tend to find that my head/ heart realtionship works the other way around. I have stuff that I believe and feel to be good, but intellectual over-analysis starts to spread doubts.

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  9. Tell any future publishers that you’d get one crossover sale from me, I’m a curious blighter and would take a gander at what ever non tie-in book you manage to release upon the poor unsuspecting masses.

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  10. Hi Schaf, nice to ‘see’ you.

    I was once a citizen of Lovely too, but I’ve been an ex-pat for a long time now…

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  11. Oh really, in that case don’t be surprised if I cheekily ask if you could provide a signed book or something at christmas, tend to have a charity auction thing at our Christmas do and I’d like to get something reasonably cool for once whilst giving money to school african goats or some such.

    You’re always welcome to return to Lovely it’s not what it was but the old corpse still twitches regularly.

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  12. Dear Gav:

    I don’t know where the appropriate place to report this is but yesterday I sauntered into my local Barnes & Noble in Dallas and discovered Gav Thorpe’s Angels of Darkness (new edition) piled high (high, my man-lot’s of copies high-best seller high) on the display that faces the door (you know where everyone passes) under the aegis of “new.”

    Congratulations!

    I have, of course,the original but after all this one has a new cover. A must have, of course.

    Best Regards,

    Keith

    Gav – That’s very good to hear, Keith. Pile ’em up and sell ’em out! Hopefully the pile will be at least a little lower on your next visit! I’m starting to get excited about the release of Malekith, but it isn’t out until January… Guess I’ll have to keep my mind on other things.

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