Friday, September 19, 2008


My daughter-in-law Jamie, whose first story will appear in the anthology The North Coast: 2034, has a tag line at the end of all her email. It's a quote from one Allan Rousselle: "Writing is a very weird profession: you have to do all the work long before you find out if you'll ever get paid." True enough, but not the only way that writing is a weird profession. Not by a long shot.

My YA fantasy novel, a thing I thought I would never write at all, is now at over 40,000 words. It has glided along easily, the words flowing smoothly as expensive chocolate. This is not necessarily a good thing. Does ease in writing a story mean that it's too facile, too derivative because not enough thought and invention has gone into characters or plot? Is it better to have a "shittin' rocks" story, that inelegant but accurate term for a story that you sweat over, grunt at, and finally get out? Does effort mean originality?

After thirty years of writing, I honestly don't know the answer to this question. I have had stories that flowed easily and needed little revision (two were "Out of All Them Bright Stars" and "The Erdmann Nexus," the latter in this month's ASIMOV'S.) I've also had stories that wrote very slowly, with endless revision, such as "The Flowers of Aulit Prison" and "Fountain of Age." There doesn't seem to be a pattern, at least not for me. So I have no way of knowing if my current effort is any good. I'm enjoying writing it, but I can attest with complete certainty to the fact that enjoyment is no guarantee of success. I've loved writing stories and novels that never sold at all.

A very weird profession.


Mark said...

In re the Rousselle quote: This phenomenon is true of many trades/professions. When I was in sales management I found the Pareto Principle true of many aspects of business: 80%+ of my income came from only 20% or less of my sales. The ones that net'd me the least required the most sweat. And in manufacturing too: There were custom fabrications that took an inordinate amount of effort for the little net profit made. These are often accepted for the advertising value; "look what we can do!"

Question: Which is more satisfying overall (not just financially), the "self creating" stories, or the "endodontic" stories?

cd said...

Maybe effort means you're doing something you've not practiced often before -- so it's a stretch for the author but not correlated with quality or originality. And sometimes don't you write yourself into a corner? For example, create a character that you value but can't quite figure out, and so you have to keep rewriting scenes to make her real?

Related to this: I'm always awed by Dickens, who had to crank stuff out on a monthly journal's schedule. Dear God, how do you write a novel piecemeal on such a deadline? And then another one. And then another one....

Nancy Kress said...

Those are good questions. But my answers are murky; both kinds of stories can be satisfying to me when finished, but the "easy" ones are more satisfying while I'm writing them. And you may be right, Craig -- the "hard" ones may be hard either because they're an artistic stretch for me or because they're just misconceived in the first place.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Where do the words come from? I've written 97 lyrics, and I find myself agreeing with many lyricists: you are an antenna for what is drifting in the atmosphere. Sometimes you have an on-spec job to write, and then you sit down with your melodist and =do it= on order.

Other times, though... You seem to be a medium. Waking up, "Where's me pen?"

At your straight job, an ah-deer hits, and, "Where's me pen?"

Even in a romantic moment with your dear one...

But let's not remember =those= disasters too much! Mercy!