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Letters from Proxima Thule

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Things I've Learned About Writing
Well, you knew I'd get to this meme eventually, but I'm bored with lists. Gacked from everyone with an LJ and the smallest writing resume. YMMV.

Everyone's Free to Self-Publish

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Blogosphere:
If I could offer you only one tip for the future,
the backspace key would be it.
The long term benefits of the backspace key have been proved by the internet,
whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your early career. Oh nevermind;
you will not understand the power and beauty of your early career until they have faded
and you can barely eke out a few three-act short stories a year
for semi-pro magazines who just want your D-list name on the cover.
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at jacket photos of yourself and
recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you
and how brilliant you really were.

You’re not as bad at this as you imagine.

Don’t worry about publication; or worry,
but know that worrying is as effective as trying to write the Great American Novel with your toes.
The real work is writing.  Publication is like getting hired for a low-paying office job;
the kind that finds you doing data entry at 4pm every single Tuesday.

Write one thing everyday that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s egos,
learn to be nice to people who are reckless with yours.

You are not going to write the Great American Novel. Even with your toes.

Read in public.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy;
sometimes you’re ahead,
sometimes you’re behind.
The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the good reviews you receive,
try to learn from the bad ones;
if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old manuscripts, throw away your old rejection letters.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what kind of writer you want to be.
The most interesting authors I know didn’t know at 22 what kind of writer they wanted to be,
some of the most interesting 40 year old authors I know still don’t.

Grow a thick skin.

Be kind to your wrists, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll publish, maybe you won’t,
maybe you’ll have win awards, maybe you won’t,
maybe you’ll get a six-figure deal in your 20s,
maybe you’ll still be trying to get an agent in your 50s.
What ever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either –
your career is half chance, so is everybody else’s.

Enjoy your prose, use it every way you can.
Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it,
it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Just write…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your local Starbucks.

Read the style guides, even if you don’t follow them.

Do NOT read other writers' blogs, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your peers, you never know when they'll be gone.

Be nice to your readers; they are the best link to your past
and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that editors come and go,
but for the precious few you should hold on.
Work hard to bridge the gaps between advances and bare survival,
because the older you get, the more you need the people
you knew when you were starry-eyed and unknown.

Live in New York City once, if you never, ever want to bridge those gaps;
live in Northern California once, but leave before it leads you into software and a real job.


Accept certain inalienable truths:
cover prices will rise, advances will fall, you too will get old.
And when you do, you’ll fantasize
that when you were young
the industry was reasonable,
authors were treated with love,
and newbies respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect writing to support you.
Maybe you have a trust fund or a wealthy spouse;
maybe you'll have a bestseller that keeps you in house, dog kibble, and coffee for five whole years,
but you never know when either one might be remaindered.

Don’t mess too much with your author photo, or by the time you're 40,
you'll still be trying to pass off that really good picture your mom took of you when you were 22.

Be careful whose books you buy,
but be patient with those who supply them.
Books are a form of nostalgia,
publishing them it is a way of fishing your heart from the disposal,
wiping it off, learning to call the ugly parts "postmodern,"
and selling it for less than it's worth.

But trust me on the backspace key.

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Well done. I like yours a lot better than most, mine included.

I liked everyone else's, actually. And considered telling jaylake that not only do I have a garret, but I've written a couple of books in one.

I just like writerfilk. ;)

Wow. Now I'm having flashbacks.

Nice ones, though. Good list.

Memes I will never do entry #488!!!

Figure I will simply link to yours. Yesh.


The only thing I can add is "If you're serious, go back and reread the material you wrote five, ten, fifteen, and fifty years ago. No matter how brilliant you thought it was at the time you were reading it, you'll look back on those stasis bottles desperate for the ability to travel in time, solely so you can go back and beat your previous self with a golf club."

I like the stuff I wrote five years ago...maybe not ten, but I was 16 then.

Do NOT read other writers' blogs, they will only make you feel ugly.

I must be doing well at this, since yours is the first time I recall seeing the meme. Although, now that I think about it, it's just the first time I bothered to read it. Which is ironic, but life is irony.

I entirely disagree with that particular line--I've learned a tremendous amount from reading writerblogs, and have never once felt down on myself because of what I read there--but I can understand it being true for some people.

It's actually not usually true for me, either. Sometimes, when I really feel I'm not doing enough. I think it depends on who you read. But it's a problem for a lot of people, and for the first time we can all size each other up in public, and I had to keep it in because that was the joke in conversation that sparked this whole thing.

It's funny... I come and go on the writer blogs. My LJ friends list is full of them. Sometimes, they're great. Sometimes, I just have to cut them out. It all depends on where I'm at. I love talking about writing as much as the next girl, but then there are times when it's time to shush and get down to business.

Them voices in my head, they need a lot of shushing.

I was just amused at the irony that the only time I've bothered to read one of these lists, it contains a point that basically says I shouldn't be reading the list. :D

In reality, I don't either seek out or actively avoid writers' blogs specifically. I read what I've gathered on my FL, some of whom happen to be professionally successful writers.

I wouldn't say it makes me feel ugly, but it does sometimes make me feel inadequate: "this person is published and hates his/her writing, guh, how can I ever come even close if I'm not even half as good as this hated writing that's so much better than mine?"

But I keep reading/writing, and it passes.

I found gigglish delight in the irony of that statement. :)

But trust me on the backspace key.

Couldn't agree more.


(Deleted comment)
Post as many times as you want! It's LJ!

Well, I haven't read the essay in question (I'm interested if you want to send it) but my bad reviews tend to come in two outfits, or sometimes they bundle up in both.

It makes no sense/it's self-indulgent. There's an Amazon review up right now to this effect. I try to be zen about it, to be realistic about my own work--my friends joke about making me a "not for everyone" t-shirt if I get one more review containing that phrase--to say "hey, it IS chaotic, and experimental, and difficult, and not everyone is going to dig that, but plenty of people do."

I try. More often I grouse for awhile and discuss it with other people until I feel better. Discussion almost always makes me feel better, even if I end up in the wrong. I'm constantly aware that it's a wonder I got published at all. I spent months after Yume came out waiting for the other shoe to drop, because it never got a single bad review. Sometimes it happens that way. Labyrinth got a few, and many, many backhanded compliments in good reviews. I'm feeling fairly balanced right now, so I can say that I try to be zen about it. Even in a bad review, if it's a professional review and not some schmoe on Amazon, there's usually some kernel of truth in it that you can either learn from or learn to accept about your own work, something you can own fully if you're willing to take the flak for it, or excise if you're not.

Honestly? Even before I wrote this, I thought about this song in relation to that kind of stuff, and it usually made me feel a little better.

But if the fairy tales start getting slammed? Look for me in the bar. ;)

Hi Yuki,

Wow - thanks for replying to my deleted comment! The essay was a part of the experimental writer feature at Mindfire Renewed. To be frank, I expected it - along with the accompanying fictions - to be completely ignored, so I was surprised when I discovered that two lit. bloggers found my definition sufficiently muddled/misleading to tear it apart publicly. In a sense the criticisms they aimed at the essay were valid - which is why it stings so badly - but in another sense I also feel that they both in fact missed the main point I was driving at: that is, that writers who do not write a particular way - i.e. who do not focus on linear narrative/characterization and who prefer to leave lots of loose ends - are (or may be) considered "experimental." Such "experimental" writing, I contend in the essay, should be (or, rather, is in practice) considered separate from mainstream "literary," which tends to be more conservative in its approach to narrative (this is certainly true of the lit. journals I've read that don't specifically list "experimental" in their guidelines, and even then they're often conservative!). I wrote the essay as part of the requirement for submission to the experimental wing of MR, and wanted to keep it to 1,500 wds; it was, for all "intents and purposes," meant as an introduction to the topic, not a definitive statement on what is/isn't/might-or-might-not be "experimental." But that's how it was read by others, apparently.

Predictably, no one had anything to say - positive or negative - about any of the three creative pieces that accompany the essay.

that phrase--to say "hey, it IS chaotic, and experimental, and difficult, and not everyone is going to dig that, but plenty of people do."

Absolutely. And of course never compromise your vision for those readers who - inevitably - won't get it. If we're hoping for "unconditional love" from our potential readers/reviewers, well, we're bound to feel wretched when those who don't like our work raise their collective voices...

Discussion almost always makes me feel better, even if I end up in the wrong. I'm constantly aware that it's a wonder I got published at all.

Yes, discussion can be helpful at times. I tend to take it hard and remain disconsolate, and it's because I'm at war with myself, basically. I wasn't a literature student (I spent most of my time at the B.A. level on language acquisition, and at the M.A. level on East Asian religion, which I ended up hating), and so I'll always feel as if I'm lagging behind the lit. bloggers and the MFA'ers (whose opinions I tend not to agree with more than I do, quite honestly).

"Getting published" is an amazing thing for sure, and you've now got the Orphan Tales deal, which is sweet. I wish you the very best of luck with both volumes!


Do you have any intention of mentioning that this is a "template" of Baz Luhrman's "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)" or are you assuming everyone knows it?

I just assumed everyone knew it...it never occurred to me someone might not.

Actually, if we're nitpicking, it's a 'template' of Mary Schmich's June 1, 1997 column in the Chicago Tribune. (The story here)

Here from metaquotes to tell you that this is fantastic!

(Deleted comment)
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