So, a new writer wrote to me on Goodreads, back, I dunno, a month or more ago, perfectly polite, asking how to emulate our success, because he wished, not unreasonably, to rise from selling dozens of books to hundreds, or even thousands. My reply was to give him the Short Forty Year History Of My Career, which I felt was fair, because That’s How We Did It, and he might not *actually* want to emulate our process, because, honestly, it was Pretty Damn Scary sometimes.
I mention this because apparently this fellow is the tip of an iceberg of young-in-age writers who are freaking out because they’re Running Out Of Time! To Publish All The Things! Win All the Awards! Achieve All the Fame AND All the Riches!
There are. . .oh, so Many Problems with this. Allow me to sum up.
Beyond the fact that living in a State of Constant Freak-Out is No Good At All for your creative flow — a Very Small number of writers ever win any awards, much less the Really Important To Your Career Awards, whichever ones those happen to be this week. It’s not because the game is fixed; it’s because there are Many Many MANY more writers than awards. Do the math, and you’ll figure out that not everybody can have one. Just like not everybody in your office can get Employee of the Year? And, yes, that’s an apt simile. Most of us just show up every day and do the job, year after year. Writing as a job really suffers from the Perceived! Glamour! of the work in a way bookkeeping never will.
In much the same way, no one can Achieve All the Fame. Steve and I have been showing up every day for forty years or so, and we still meet people at conventions or online, who say, But, Why Have I Never Heard Of You? To which the answer I most often give is, Damned If I Know. The Real Answer, though, is, There Are A Lot of Books Out There, and A Lot of Authors. Even if you just stick to one genre (hah!), nobody can keep up.
I’m not even going to address Achieving All The Riches. If you see being a writer as an Instant Path to Riches — you’re in the wrong business, my child.
Now, the Running Out Of Time thing. . .Yes, it’s very true that no one knows how long their thread is. We have the time we have, no longer. Statistically, though, most of us in First World Countries have more than 30 years. So, you’re not Running Out of Time at 24. It may feel like it because at 24 you’re still running hot, but honest — statistically, you’ve got time.
People start writing and publishing at many ages. At the extremes: Some wait til they retire from the day-job; some start writing in high school. It’s part of the sickness of our culture that we tend to value the 14-year-old over the 65-year-old debut novelist.
Being a writer is, on a certain level, about being unique, so when you start writing is unique to you. There is no Have to Have Published To Acclaim by 24.5 Years or You’ll Never Make It Rule. Really, there’s not.
There’s also no rule about when you Should Quit and Make Room for New Writers. Ideally, you start writing when you have a story worth telling, and you stop writing the day you put your pen down and say, I’ve Said Everything I Wanted To Say. That can be at the end of a short story, or at the end of three dozen novels. That’s unique to you, too.
So, wrapping this up, because I need to go open a story file and get the heck to work for the day —
My name is Sharon Lee. I published my first short story when I was 26 years old. I published my first novel at 36. I will see my thirtieth novel, Neogenesis, and my one hundred fourteenth short story, “Block Party,” published during my 65th year.
Not king yet. Not done yet, either.