It’s not enough to just write a blog or do some fan fiction. Eventually, we all need to stop, take a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror, and ask that inevitable question: “Am I a poser?”
I’ve been asking that inevitable question for about 25 years now, ever since I wrote my first Star Trek fan fiction story in 1987. It was silly, risqué, and more than a little funny. Now, like every good Trekkie, I’d been telling myself stories for years. But there’s a big difference between speculating on the latest Romulan intrigue at a party with friends (well, my friends speculated on Romulan intrigue at our parties…) and actually writing down a story with plot, narrative, dialogue and description.
Once I’d gotten off my butt and actually written a fan fiction story that didn’t embarrass me, I had to face the horrors of submitting. While I’ve heard nightmare tales of Napoleonesque fanzine editors with delusions of grandeur and their Evil Rejection Letters of Doom, the truth is, for me, submitting fan fiction was hardly a challenge. In all the years I’ve been writing the stuff (I’ve got hundreds of stories to my name), I have never been rejected by a fanzine editor. (Believe me, I tried. Funny story. Different post. Names changed to protect the ignorant.)
But Is It Really Writing?
But like most for-fun writers, the call of The Professional Career beckoned, and eventually I decided to move from fan stories to Real Fiction that Meant Something. For a grueling two years in Phoenix, I wrote original science fiction and fantasy stories, printed them out, and sent them tepidly to the Big Names in Publishing at the time. The folks at Marion Zimmer Bradley Magazine decided my New Orleans-based fantasy tale “horror.” Others sent kind rejections, some sent form letters. One publication sent a photocopy of a photocopy of a form rejection that didn’t even have my name on it.
Now, everybody knows that you can’t be a writer and be thin-skinned. Writing for a living is sort of the artistic equivalent of lion-taming or being an OSHA field agent supervising hazmat waste removal. It’s dangerous, grueling, nerve-wracking and yes, kinda of foolish when you think about it from a self-preservation standpoint.
After that initial two year stint, I gave up writing completely. Seriously, I just quit and focused on writing and arranging music. (Again, not professionally. Mercury forbid I actually get paid for my craft, right?) That was seven years of amazing fun, and I don’t regret a bit of it. Didn’t make a lot of dough, but I did make a legion of friends and got to travel and meet famous people (well, famous in science fiction circles, at least).
Eventually, though, my heart came back where it had always been–writing. Without meaning to, I rejoined the world of science fiction fan writing, this time eschewing the three in the morning trips to Kinko’s required when publishing fanzines and settling into the (horrors!) world of online fanfic. (It’s fanfic online. Heaven forbid you spell out two whole words.) To my amazement, I found a ready audience and something I’d never gotten in the fanzine years–almost immediate feedback. Amazing feedback. Squees of the most girlish variety, and all for my mere little words of fannish goodness.
I have to admit, it was gratifying. I still get wonderful comments on my fan fiction, still get emails from people who tell me my version of this character or that “changed the way they saw the character.”
Still, the siren’s song of professional writing called to me. You see, many of my fannish friends had graduated from Star Trek fanfic to actual, you know, writing. One by one, my fanfic were becoming full-time, paid, quit their day job authors.
Well, that sort of put me in my place. See, in fan fiction, I’ve always had a really easy time of it. I have a natural flow with dialogue, understand characterization, and if there’s a gun to my head, I can usually eke out a plot somewhere. But writing? Real writing? From scratch, invent the characters, invent the universe, etc. writing? No, that was not my thing.
Except I wanted it. Well, no. What I wanted was NOT to be left behind while all my friends went on to Do Things With Their Writing.
So I dredged out the computer and wrote a novel. And after I started trying to market that one, I wrote another novel. And another.
And guess what? I quit after two years again, never selling a thing.
By this time my pride and my patience were up. I knew that I was not going to write fiction professionally. Hell, I didn’t even want to read fiction most of the time (except for the occasional second-hand novel picked up at Half Price Books and Music).
How on Earth could I call myself a writer when I didn’t even care all that much for fiction anymore? All I wanted to read was nonfiction, the more esoteric the better. But a nonfiction writer needs better letters behind her name than I have (or probably ever will have). I’m not an authority on anything. So I created a blog (you’re reading it, hopefully) and decided just to carve a place on the Internet where I could ramble out loud in the hopes of finding an audience.
And I found I like it. I’m not an expert on quantum physics or the paranormal or liberal politics, but I’m interested in them. I’m an expert on me, my thoughts, and my opinions. And after a while, I found myself a little niche where I could be at home.
When You Least Expect It
The irony of this all? It wasn’t until I truly gave up the hope of writing for money that I actually began to earn money for my writing! See, what I never knew is, there is a way to generate income blogging. No, I’m not talking cheesy links and gimmicks, but actual companies that will contract you as a freelancer to generate content for their clients.
On a whim, I signed up with one of these services earlier this month. And on April 12, 2012, my first professional blog posts were published. Of course, they were by nature anonymous (I am ghost blogging). Still, there was money in my account for writing. And the amazing thing is that there’s lots of work there, more than the group of writers can handle. I get to learn about new industries, challenge myself, write interesting posts, and somebody thinks I deserve money for doing that!
So I’m going to fill you in on the moral of this little story. It’s not enough to be good at what you do. It’s not enough to be good at marketing. If you want to reach your goal, you have to love what you do. You have to be willing to do it, sometimes for years, without ever seeing a cent from it. We are creative people, whether it’s music or writing or children or oak furniture. We are never happier than when we are creating, productive, and being all-around exceptional.
It’s so easy to get mired in the trap of thinking that you’re not worthy if you’re not getting paid. Believe me, I’m thrilled to be getting paid now. But all the work I did before, the fan fictions, the unsold novels, the blog posts–that is me. That is who I am, and how I got here. I love to write. I fully intend to do so for the rest of my life. And I won’t apologize for what I produce, whether it’s a novel or a fanfic or a blog post for one of my client companies.
If you are interested in trying what I’m doing, if you’re interested in the challenge of learning to write for other people, please contact me. You may find this is right up your alley. And if you don’t want to do it, just send me the link to whatever it is you’re doing—writing, art, music, whatever. I’m always looking for something interesting to explore.