Sunday, May 13, 2012

When Not Giving Up Needs a Kick in the Posterior

If you watch a lot of anime or play a lot of JRPGs, there's a common scene where the male hero comes to doubt himself and sell himself short.  He's giving up.  Then a friend comes along and smacks some sense into him.  Sometimes it's just a verbal thing, other times it might be physical.

The other day, I got to be that friend.

For a little history, my friend and I have never met in person.  I have no idea what he even looks like.  But we met about fifteen years ago on the internet while we were both teenagers.  We had a couple things in common, mainly that we liked RPGs and we both wanted to become professional writers writing fantasy and science fiction.

Fast forward all these years and we're in our 30s.  Amazingly enough, we're still in contact.  Neither of us have book contracts, but we're both still writing.  Perhaps not as regularly as we should be, but we still are.

I've merrily passed on any nuggets of information I've gleaned from my time at Writers of the Future or the Superstars seminar to him.  When Angry Robot had their open call this year, I sent him the information, because I knew he had an epic fantasy novel he'd been trying to get published sitting in his back pocket.  It was too good an opportunity to miss.

But it's been fifteen years.

I've found some success in my short fiction, winning WotF and making a few sales since then.  My friend is a Brandon Sanderson type.  He couldn't write short fiction if his life depended on it.  So it's been a long discouraging slog for him without getting a sale.

The other day, he announced that he had self-published a book on Amazon.  That's a perfectly viable thing to do with a book that has done the agent and publisher rounds and not gotten a bite.  But what got me, what made me angry, was that he said this was his fleeting chance to be more than an amateur.  Those were not his exact words, but I could read between the lines.

This was his swansong.  He was giving up.  He was throwing the book out there to sink or swim for that vague chance that someone might want to buy his work.

I was peeved.

And I was a little surprised by how much it bothered me.  I guess it's because we've known each other so long, and I expected that we'd both keep trying.

I chewed him out.  I warned him that I was going to be cranky and blunt, and I was.

Feeling sorry for yourself doesn't get a writer anywhere.  I have my doubts and stuff, but ultimately I'm writing for myself, so even if no one likes my work enough to buy it, I know I would still be writing.  My friend is that way too.  He writes because he enjoys it.  He's written millions of words (and I'm sure that's no exaggeration) he can never publish due to being fanfics, and some of them for a limited audience of perhaps a half dozen people.

So for him to deflate and go out with a whimper, to talk about his dream as if it's some vague future that might never come to pass, I wasn't buying it.  I knew that wasn't what he wanted.  It's what he was convincing himself to settle for.

It might be because we both like anime and RPGs, so he knew where I was coming from, but he took the beatdown surprisingly well.  I did think that I might be tearing a rift in our friendship by yelling at him, but they were words that I think he needed to hear.

Turns out my suppositions were pretty much on the mark.  He admitted as much.

It's not enough to say "I'm not giving up" or "I still want to be a pro writer."  It's just lip service unless he does something about it, and I told him that.  And that goes for anyone who wants to try becoming a professional.  I had 372 rejections across all my stories before winning Writers of the Future (and how!).  He can't talk to me about rejection.  I keep track of that number for a reason, so that I can tell people like him that it can be done, that dogged persistence can work!

I made him an offer to invest in his career.  The details are between the two of us, but he perked up at my faith in him and agreed it was generous.  I think something may have been rekindled, and he got the kick in the pants he needed.  That's what old friends are for, right?