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How my first novel nearly ended my career

Writing is a business. It’s a business that’s in trouble, or at least a business in dire transition, but it still follows the fundamental rules of capitalism. When you’re coming up in this job, when you’re still holding on to the warm fuzzies that you get from writers conferences and other supportive, aspirational environments, it’s easy to think that writing is somehow immune to the hard edged efficiency of the business world. But it’s not.

Here’s how I figured that out, and also how that discovery nearly ended my career as a writer before it really started.

Like most hopeful writers of my generation, I was a reader first. Actually, if you’re a hopeful writer and you’re not a reader, fuck off. Stop what you’re doing and spend ten years reading. I don’t care who you are, writers have to read.

Okay, anyway. I was a reader. And I formed a bond with other readers, and fell in love with the idea of writing. I started writing pretty young. I used to carry a pile of looseleaf paper in my coat pocket, and I would write these tremendously long stories about robots, that wad of paper getting bigger and bigger until I had to type a bunch of it into my dad’s Apple II, and then I would start over with another wad of looseleaf. So I spent a lot of my youth telling people I was a writer, and I was going to be a writer when I grew up.

That lasted through college, and then I got busy with being an adult. I got married to a woman I actually liked to spend time with, got a job that beat me into the ground each day, bought a house that needed maintenance on the weekends. And in my off time, as little of it as there was, I had hobbies that weren’t writing. Like drinking. And videogames. And I was only spending maybe one or two days a month actually writing, and nothing was coming of it. Obviously.

Then I turned thirty, and realized that if I was actually going to be a writer, I needed to get the fuck at it. I started making sacrifices with my time and health. I entered a phase where I was pretty much going to work, coming home, eating dinner and then shutting myself into my office to write. Everything else in my life suffered. But I was writing.

I made my first pro sale in six months, and within three years was selling pretty much everything I wrote. I started attending conventions. I met the man who would eventually be my agent and started the long, complicated dance of becoming one of his clients. But I was still in a pretty unbalanced place. I was desperate, as so many young writers are, absolutely desperate for that novel deal.

Along came this publisher named Solaris. They were an imprint of The Black Library, Games Workshop’s publishing arm. I’ve been playing GW games since I was a child, so this interested me. And then I noticed that they were willing to look at proposals from unagented authors. So I wrote a proposal and submitted it, along with my (in my mind) impressive resume of sales.

They took it. They asked for three chapters and a synopsis. So I wrote three chapters, googled how to write a synopsis, and hoped for the best.

They took that, too. So I called the man I was hoping would be my agent. We agreed to terms. He happened to be coming to town for a convention, so we met at a bar in a hotel at Windycon. We signed a contract. I didn’t have a final offer from Solaris yet, but it was just a matter of details.

That was December 2007, five years after I decided to get serious about writing. Almost to the day.

Anyone who knows how these things work will tell you that that’s a rapid ascent. I felt amazing. I felt like I was going to be the next big thing. Everyone who read my stuff agreed. Even thinking back on those days, I get a little kick in my heart. It was the best I had ever felt in my life.

The contract took some time. 2008 was spent actually writing the book I had contracted, attending conventions to try to get my name out there, and writing the proposal for the next book. At WFC in Calgary, my editors asked to see that proposal. I told them I would send to their offices in the new year. Flying high, man. I was flying SO high.

Communications faltered. Solaris was strangely unresponsive about the proposal. I started kicking other stuff around, actually started writing that second book. We were six months from the release of the novel.

March 3rd, 2009. I received a call from my agent, informing me that Solaris was putting itself up for sale. The imprint was profitable, but GW had decided to put all of their eggs in the Black Library basket. I was standing in my office, at the job I hated more than I’ve ever hated anything, listening to Joshua Bilmes explain why my career may be over.

We tried to negotiate away the contract. Other authors had better luck with this, but as a debut writer, I didn’t have a lot of pull. Let me just summarize the next six months: bad things happened. Solaris didn’t do anything in terms of marketing. They didn’t send out review copies. Their sellers had no motivation to push the book. Buyers at the various bookstores were leery of picking up a debut novel from an imprint that might not exist in a few months.

The book, Heart of Veridon, got to shelves. But it arrived out of the blue, it hit the shelves at terminal velocity, and it cratered. Sales were bad. Reviews were good. The book disappeared.

I was able to secure another contract with a different publisher for a book to appear the next year. I was extremely grateful for that contract, and I feel like I wrote a good book, and had good publisher support. Unfortunately, that one got caught up in the Borders sale. Nearly all the copies of it that sold were during Borders liquidation sales, and none of that money ended up at the publisher. Solaris found a buyer, and they eventually offered a contract for a second Veridon book. I wrote my best book to date, but the second novel in a series that no one has really read the first book is climbing up a very steep hill, and sales reflected that.

Sometimes, someone will come to my site looking for a third Veridon book. It warms my heart, and it makes me sad, and it reminds me that things can go very wrong, very quickly.

The Absolute Least I can say about the Hugos

I went back and forth as to whether I was going to say anything about this week’s Hugo drama, and finally decided that it would be weird to stay utterly silent. So. Here’s my post, in which I say absolutely as little about the Hugos as I possibly can.

First off, let me say that I’ve never had any respect for the award. The voting population is an extremely small, extremely self-selecting group of insiders. Yes, anyone can buy a supporting membership, but even then you end up with a very small group of ballots. Last year, the total number of votes cast for the award’s largest category was 3137. That’s actually high for the Hugos. The vote counts for the previous two years were around 1600. And the community of people committed to voting on these things is fairly insular. That’s been true since I first started paying attention to the publishing industry.

Three thousand people who happened to have the money to vote, and not only the money but also the time necessary to commit to reading the nominated works, that simply isn’t a valid voting pool. The results of such a poll aren’t something we, or anyone else interested in the genre, should really care about. Yes, it still has cache among the insiders. Yes, it can get you a better contract, and it might help generate a few sales. But we can’t honestly say that the award goes to the best book, and it certainly doesn’t go to the best selling. It’s a popularity contest that you pay for the right to participate in. And if what we value when we read and write is what will draw the attention of the Hugo voters, then it’s no wonder the industry is in trouble.

That’s the sum of my position. Stop caring about the Hugo.

The tyranny of choice

Last week I talked a little bit about the nature of the publishing business, and why your author of choice is probably poor. This week I want to expand a little on that, with some examples of the kind of reality the current publishing business model creates, and what that reality means to both readers and writers.

Let’s start with a list. As it does every month, SFSignal has been good enough to compile a list of all of the sf/f books that are coming out this month. You can find it here. Take a moment to go browse through it.

Just to summarize for you, there are 265 new titles coming out this month. That is so many books! So many! And while it’s great that all of these authors are getting a chance to see their books on shelves, there are some practical matters that determine how successful those authors can be in that environment. First, let’s go over some practical matters.

How many titles does your local bookstore stock? My local is good enough to put the new stuff on separate display, though I’ve noticed that not all of them make it. Many just end up on the stacks. But I don’t think the new display exceeds a dozen titles in each format, probably fewer. So you have *maybe* thirty or forty new titles at one time. The sheer difficulty in getting new books in a place that readers will notice it seems a little overwhelming, don’t you think?

Secondly, how many books do you read a month? Because of the peculiarities of reading and writing at the same time, and the fact that I’m naturally not a very fast reader (I savor words. No one who reads me should be surprised by this.) I don’t think I manage more than three books a month. I know that’s remarkably low, but it’s a reasonable number.

Finally, take a moment to go through that list at SFSignal that I linked earlier. How many of those books interest you? With nothing to go on but the cover, the author’s name, and maybe my familiarity with the genre and the buzz generated in the industry, I would say that there are maybe thirty-seven books in there that catch my eye. Maybe a couple more that I would at least read the first page. Mind you, that’s in a vacuum. That’s assuming that I didn’t already have a couple dozen books in my office waiting my attention, that I wasn’t expecting to see just as many interesting books next month, and that I hadn’t skipped buying any books for the last six months because of all the books I already have to read. Thirty-seven.

At my admittedly slow reading rate, that’s a year’s worth of books.

Now, the reality. I know for a fact that I am only going to buy two of those books. I won’t tell you which two, but I think you get my point. It’s simply not possible for most of these authors to succeed, especially when it comes to a second or third book. If I were in a considerably better financial situation, *might* buy some percentage of these books that interest me, but there’s no way I’d get around to reading most of them. And when the second book in a series comes out and I haven’t read the first one? Not going to pick it up. It’s entirely possible that I might love that book, and the first book, and every book that that author writes, but we’ll never know, will we? Because there are too many damned books.

And that’s what I mean by the tyranny of choice.

A bit of the business

Last summer, my wife and I went to the block party in our old neighborhood, just to hang out and see some of our friends. We’ve been gone four years, and while we don’t live that far away, we rarely see most of these people anymore. Their social structures are all churches and children. Ours are not.

Anyway, the point is that we spent the afternoon wandering from group to group, having pretty much the same conversation. It went something like this:

Them: And what are you up to now?
Me: Well, I just signed a three book contract with Titan, and (a bunch of details they don’t care about)
Them: Great! (turning to my wife) And are you still working?

There’s this fundamental misunderstanding about the financial metrics of writing. So in the interest of openness, I’d like to talk a little bit about how this business works, and why your favorite writers are probably either struggling to make ends meet, or have a day job, or, as in my case, are dependent on their spouse to pull the financial weight.

Just to start, the above conversation was really difficult for me to have. It had been a very trying few years for us. I made roughly $10000 over the course of that time, almost all of it in the form of a single check I had just cashed. I also knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make that much for the next few years, because my pay schedule for the three books was contractually established, and there was no single year during the course of that contract when I was guaranteed more than $6000. If the books do well, then the advance can be earned out and might start seeing more money, but none of my previous three books earned out. There were a variety of reasons those books didn’t make it, but the point is that I’m not willing to count on earn outs, at least not yet.

So when people turned to my wife and ask if she’s been able to quit her job yet, because obviously your husband just signed a three book contract so that must mean big money, it’s difficult to not laugh and cry and run screaming into the night. Obviously.

But let’s be clear; book selling is a business. Writing is only a part of that business, along with editing, agenting, cover design, marketing, distributorship, retail and wholesale… there are a lot of moving parts. And while you would think the core employee in that system would be the writer, that’s just not the case. To understand why that is, you need to understand how publishing works. This is a very broad overview, but I feel like it’s a pretty good nuts-and-bolts breakdown. Enjoy!

The first thing you need to understand is that publishers don’t know what books are going to sell well. In some case they can follow trends, in other cases they know a certain author has moved so many books in the past and will probably move that many in the future, but when they consider a new book from a new author, they really only have their own preferences and experience to depend on. And books are terribly subjective. Two very well read and experienced professionals can read the same book, and one of them might hate that book and one might love it.

The best and most gloriously capitalist way to decide which books will succeed is to publish a bunch of books and let the readers make that decision. I’m in favor of this, mostly because it means a wide variety of books, and a more diverse catalog of authors, genres, subject matter, protagonists and stories. But in order to do that, the publisher needs to watch the margins on those new authors with unproven profitability. That means lower advances, lower levels of support in marketing, less of a push with the distributors, etc, etc. Simple math.

And if any of those books do well, then they get more marketing, better advances, higher exposure in the critical world, etc, etc. And then maybe those authors can start thinking about possibly quitting their day jobs, maybe, if they have some way of getting insurance.

And for the rest of us? Well. We struggle on, taking other jobs and cutting our budgets, and putting a lot of our hope in the success of the next book. Because without hope, the math doesn’t look too good.

A Father, and Son, and a Book

How did you figure out what a writer is? How do we figure anything out? I have a bunch of really strange, probably telling memories of discovery. I remember realizing that cartoons were drawn, that Fred Flintstone wasn’t an actual person with very odd make-up. I remember coming to grips with differences in belief, differences in perception, differences in the way people treated each other. I remember reading a lot of books and, at some point,  realizing that someone created those books. Out of nothing. Out of their heads.

My father was the pathway for that discovery. He gave me the love of reading, and eventually the love of writing. My house was full of books, and silence, and the appreciation of the meditative word. I read a lot as a child. That’s the only way to feed a writer. When I discovered that writers were just people, putting words onto the page and forming the story in their minds, I felt like I had opened the door into a mad new world of possibility. That I could write. That I could create worlds. And the first writer I knew was my father.

What was glorious about that is that I was one of very few people who knew my father as a writer. He had many roles he played, in many people’s lives. He was (and is) a pastor, a professor, a scholar, a joker, a theologian, a businessman, an entertainer, and, ultimately, a teacher. And he’s good in all of those roles. In a few of them, he’s great. But for a few of us, those fortunate enough to see beyond his public face, my father was a writer. There are stacks and pages and decades of unpublished material in his office. He’s always felt that his job came first, that those other roles had to be served. When I started writing, I think I did it largely so that he could see what it was like. That it could be done. That an Akers could do well in that world. In some ways, I wanted to lead him to the thing he had always wanted. To give him the gift that he had given me. The love of writing.

Last Christmas, I bought my dad a ticket to Bouchercon. I’ll be going with him, to guide him through that world, to make what introductions I can, and to encourage him when his own modesty would lead him astray. I want to teach him to believe. In himself, and in me. My father gave me many things. This is all I can give back.

Gaming for Life

I’m a gamer. I get that that word has some pretty bad connotations these days, but I was calling myself a gamer before most of these people were born, so I’m going to stick with it. I started with board games, I moved to strategy games when I was in junior high, and I’ve been playing RPGs and tabletop war games since I bought my first d20 in high school.

Actually, longer than that. My parents were very strictly religious, and so I wasn’t allowed to play D&D. Instead I settled into a long stream of Cyberpunk, and then Cyberpunk 2020, and MERP, and then I just made my own systems for a long time. I didn’t join a long term D&D campaign until well after college, not because I was still following my parents’ injunction, but because I felt other games simply had better systems, and more interesting worlds. I guess I stand by that, even now. I only play Pathfinder because that’s what my group is used to.

But there’s a point to this. The point is that gaming taught me everything I needed to know about storytelling. If you look at the notes for the Pathfinder game I’m running currently, and then looked at the notes for the Wraithbound novel I’m plotting, you wouldn’t find a lot of differences. I create the worlds the same way, I sketch out the characters the same way, I look for vectors of conflict and alliance and motivation in pretty much the same way. The problem with this is that I run really, really complicated games. Most of our sessions involve the players just sitting around talking about what’s happening, and what might be happening, and slowly unwrapping the puzzle I’ve set before them. And then we roll some dice and someone dies, and then we schedule the next session.

In books, that doesn’t work as well. The Wraithbound novel has run into a lot of problems because my basic concept was this: I wanted two heroes, working toward the same goal, but in opposition. Do you know what that looks like on the page? A god damned mess. These are both good people, you want them both to succeed, but only one can win. And being the writer that I am, obviously neither of them actually win, they both just lose in particularly interesting ways. And you can’t sell a book like that. Not to readers, anyway.

But I think the underlying principle stands. I think games are the best story you can tell. Because not only are you hearing the story, you’re living it. When Aerith dies in FFVII, god that hurts, because you’ve worked with her for so long, you’ve done everything to protect her, and still she falls. And when a good session of D&D is done properly, the GM, the players, and the world are working together in tandem, in concert, to tell the best story that they can.

Maybe I run my games strange. Maybe I think too much about narrative structure, and the way characters align themselves to different structures. But when I present my players with problems, and watch them run wild with the possibilities, and then drop narrative beats into their path and watch them build off the world I’ve created… man.

Books don’t compare. It’s writing as rock band. It’s storytelling as fireworks. It’s a thing of fucking beauty.

So. The curtain falls away, the band is gone, the theater is full of an unearthly shrieking, and there on the stage is a god, a demon, a twisting, writhing, damnation-fanged beast of destruction.

Roll initiative.

Knowing what you write

I’m deep into edits on The Pagan Night. I have this problem that I’ve run into with each of my books, and that’s that I write it in the wrong order. Somehow when the first draft is complete and I go back and read it, I find that I’ve put a lot of rising action at the beginning of the book, and background information in the middle, and my points of climax are scattered throughout. So I have to go back and make corrections and generally rearrange things so it all makes sense. That’s where I am with this book right now. It’s a strange process to rearrange all of the chapters and then read slowly through, making sure you’ve got the continuity right, and trying to keep track of characters and where they are and what they’ve done and what they know. It’s tricky.

The point is that I’m so deeply embedded in The Pagan Night right now that it’s probably the last thing I want to talk about. I was planning to continue my series on the world of the book, but I don’t think I could muster an interesting paragraph on Tenebros, not when I’ve spent the last few days trying to remember who has Malcolm’s spear.

Instead I’m going to talk about religion. You may have noticed that all of my books feature religion pretty prominently. This is natural for me. I was raised in a religious family, and while I’ve given up that aspect of my life, my background has prepared me to take up the subject at the drop of a hat. I can deploy false theologies faster than Chicago weather can change, and usually with just as awesome results. It’s a skill that I’ve honed, and that I’ve learned to appreciate.

When I first started writing, though, I did not appreciate this at all. In fact, when I was struggling to finish my first short stories, and trying to produce characters that were believable or worlds that could hold the reader’s attention, I bemoaned my lack of broader knowledge. An enormous amount of my education as a child had gone into religious studies, and because of that I really didn’t know as much about other subjects as I would have liked. I grew up sheltered, both physically and socially, and so wasn’t that great at weaving believable environments. Pretty much everything I knew about the world came from books, and very select books, at that. It was a bad situation.

My early writing reflected this. I’ve often said that it took years for me to get the sound of William Gibson out of my voice. That’s part of the process of finding your own writing style, but it’s also an artifact of my upbringing. I knew more about The Sprawl than I did about the real world, and so even my non-SF/Fnal writing had a bit of Count Zero in it. (CZ was the first Gibson book I ever read, and remains one of my favorites) I simply didn’t have much experience to draw on.

I raged against this. I was really frustrated that so much of my knowledge base was worthless to me. I had no use for religion in my life, and therefore no use for it in my writing. And my writing was suffering for it.

The thing that broke that cycle was a little story called The Algorithm. By the time I wrote it, I had managed to sell a handful of short stories, and an agent was looking at a manuscript for a YA portal novel. Things were looking up, but I still didn’t feel like I had found anything distinctive in my own work. I was just a very good craftsman who was still fumbling around the edges of his own art.

When I wrote The Algorithm, I called it the best story I had ever written. While that’s probably not true, it was certainly the most important story to my development as a writer. Because in it, I approached my ideas about religion, and my feelings about belief and truth and understanding. It’s kind of a crude story, now that I look back on it.

The central idea of the story is that there’s this monastery built on the banks of a river. These barrels come down the river, filled with strange things, and the monks fish the barrels out and open them up and make things with the strange stuff they find inside. Most of it is clockwork, cogs and camshafts and various weighted pendulums, and the monks are trying to rebuild the machine that the clockwork came from, but they don’t have the plans or any clue what the machine originally did, so they’re just figuring it out as they go along. Whole schools of thought have been formed around these barrels, and each new delivery brings insight into what’s come before, or destroys notions of how the machine is supposed to work, and so forth. And sometimes things come down the river and they make no sense at all.

Like I said, it’s a pretty crude metaphor, but it opened up in my head a clear understanding of how I thought about my own life and the things that had been so terribly important to me when I was younger. And I really didn’t know I was doing that. I was just trying to write a cool story.

Ever since then, religion has been the thing I write about. I wrap it in the very real relationships of the people in the story, and try to dress it up in thrilling plot and beautiful world creation, but the core of each story is faith, belief, and understanding.

Or, more importantly, the strange things that happen that we don’t understand, and accepting that not knowing is okay, it’s normal, it’s right.

The point, gentle reader, is this: We must all find the thing that matters to us, no matter how difficult it is to talk about, no matter who else is already talking about it or in spite of the fact that no one else seems to care, and we need to write about that. It might not be relevant to all of the readers out there, but it will find the hearts of some of them. And those people? They’re your readers.

Don’t keep them waiting.

Two Gods, Light and Dark

I’m careful with religion. I’ve gone through various phases of belief and zealotry, various degrees of faithfulness, but what I’ve ultimately settled into is a state of deep thoughtfulness about religion. In my books I approach it very seriously. I want my readers to think about religion. But at the same time, I don’t want to make it seem like I want my readers to think about religion. I have no message I’m trying to push, other than a desire that we think about belief.

Thinking about religion is how Tenebros got started. I wanted to explore the idea of an evil god, but one that’s worthy of both our love and our worship. That was the seed idea for the Celestial Church. But I didn’t want to do something so simple as one good god and one evil, so I drew on what I know of mesoamerican religion, the concepts of duality that seem so strange to monotheists, and I created a couple of interesting gods.

The basic creation story of the Celestial Church is that there were once two suns. They circled the earth day and night, only there was no night, just one endless, burning day. The people hid beneath the ground, tore up the roots of blighted trees for food, and drank silt-thick water from the earth’s heart to survive. One of these suns looked down and saw the destruction he was causing, and had pity on the earth. So he fell, dropping from the sky to dip into one of the wounds in the earth, where harsh water boiled up out of the ground. He quenched himself in that water, extinguishing his flames, and rose back to the sky with skin as cold and hard as silver. He became the moon, and always after that there was a day and a night, and a summer and a winter. So while summer is the season of joy, it is also the season of war and fury, and while winter is the season of harrowing, it is also the season of mercy and reason.

Introducing Tenebros, land of the Pagan Night

Tenebros is a land of mad gods, ash-grimed paladins, pagan huntresses and honor-bound knights. It’s an island divided into two countries, a land split by generations of crusades, atrocities, and the lesser wars of reavers and thieves, bound together only by a common faith and their fear of the feral gods that roam the pagan night.

Welcome to the first in a series of articles that will introduce you to the world of The Books of the Winter Sun. I hope to give you a tour of Tenebros, its people, its religions, and the magics that bind the world together while also threatening to tear the people apart. More than that, I want to give you a look at how and why I made things the way they are. Tenebros has been forming in notebooks and in my mind for nearly a decade. I’m very happy with the final creation. I hope you get as much joy out of the place as I got in its formation.

One of the clever people associated with marketing the book has described The Pagan Night as “Game of Thrones meets Princess Mononoke.” I think that’s a good description, but not because I was trying to channel George Martin or tripping on Miyazaki. I like to believe that our source materials are similar, though. Where Martin is recreating the War of the Roses, I am drawn to the slow integration of Angles and Saxons following the conquest, as well as the absorption of pagan traditions into early Christianity. Couple this with my fascination with religion in all its forms, add a dash of shintoism, and you get Tenebros.

Once, the Tenerran tribes of the north worshiped the spirits of nature without interruption. They learned to channel and bend these gods through personal sacrifice, offering their bodies as hosts and their blood as food, bringing rain to their crops and living in harmony with the beasts they hunted and the land they harvested. They were at peace.

Along the southern coast of Tenebros, the Suhdrin lords ruled from stone castles and prayed in dark towers. They came from across the seas, bringing with them a druidic religion of season worship, their gods the twin lovers of Sun and Moon, their religion ruled over by a Celestriarch who had broken the royal line and assumed control of the Suhdrin people by force of faith.

These two nations lived in peace, trading when the crops were in, settling back into their homes when winter fell. But all of that changed when Suhdrin traders traveling deep in the north found what they believed to be the birthplace of the god of winter and night, the Gray Lord, Cinder. Word spread throughout the Suhdrin cities, and soon holy armies marched north to wrest the sanctified land from the pagan tribes.

Generations of crusades followed. The eventual result was the slow conversion of the Tenerran people and the establishment of a single rule of all of Tenebros. The two nations stayed apart, mistrust between them sown by generations of atrocity and war, but the banner of the Celestial Church spread across the island. The priests of Cinder and Strife (Bright Lady, goddess of summer and sun) raised altars in all the Tenerran tribes. Slowly the culture of Suhdra spread. The tribes gave up their wandering for settled fields, and their hunting grounds for castles of good stone and warm hearth.

The spirits remained. The gods of the forest, abandoned by their worshipers, went slowly mad. They rampaged through the forests, destroying fields and turning villages into broken timber and blood. The Church formed orders of knights and inquisitors to hunt down those who might keep the old ways, and to put the feral gods to the sword. The Order of the Winter Vow, taken by militan priests of Lady Strife, was created to keep the roads clear and the hearths of the faithful safe. The names of the gods were forgotten. They were called gheists now, and feared, and hunted.

This is where the story starts. A world of feral gods and vow-sworn knights awaits. But in the shadows of the pagan night, the blood that is spilled sometimes feeds those mad gods, and the battles that might change the world are not fought with sword and steel, but with faith, and fear, and silence.

The Era of Isolated Failure

I want to talk a little bit about rejection, perseverance, and the impossible weight of discipline. But first, I’m going to talk about sports.

I’m terrible at team sports. I don’t know what it is about my particular mental twist, but that thing that happens when you’re trying to do something, and everyone else gathers around and encourages you to do that thing… doesn’t work for me. It actually makes me want to quit. There’s some kind of scar on my emotional state, a twitch in my mental bits, that recoils from encouragement. I am literally only capable of succeeding in isolation, and only as a result of self-directed determination. I am a creature of isolated perseverance.

This is why I’m a writer. There is nothing more solitary, nothing more personal and isolated, than writing a book. You will spend day after day, year after year, bleeding onto a page, reeling narrative and false humans out into the darkness, with no one to tell you if what you’re doing is right. And when you do get feedback, it’s entirely subjective and quite possibly wrong. I have a dozen readers for my works-in-progress, and they come back with different perspectives on everything I give them. You have to learn to weigh their opinions. You have to cull. You have to evaluate.

But most of all, you have to learn to trust yourself. You’re your first reader. At the end of the book, you’re really your only reader. Because you have to write the book you want to read, as well as the book you want to write. Writers-in-forum, a species of writer that’s really nothing more than a negotiated opinion, spend a lot of time talking about what sort of book you should write, what sort of book will sell or not sell, what sort of book the genre needs or what sort of character the readers need. But the writers-in-forum don’t know shit about your book. They don’t know shit about you. All they know is the public forum. And writing is a solitary task.I’m asking you to write the book you need to write. And expect it to get rejected, because it’s probably a terrible book. And you’re probably a terrible writer. But if you buckle down, ignore the endless waves of negative help, the writers-in-forum and their negotiated opinions, and write the book you need to write? The book you want to write? You might stop being terrible.But probably not. So get used to isolation. And get used to determination. Because the only difference between you and the writers you admire is how much they’re willing to fail in hermitage, and how strong they are in the dark, alone, without praise and without attention. We all go through the era of isolated failure. People only notice you once you start to succeed. And after that?It’s all light. But we’re born to darkness.