Career Leveling Up: What Jeffe Is Doing

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Room for Growth.” We’re discussing one aspect of our writing or publishing careers – that we can control! – that we’d like to improve this year.
This topic is apropos for me right now because I’m in the midst of a push to boost (wedge, shove, or squeeze) my career to a new level. Come on over to find out more!

The Myth of the Debut Year

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “If I could go back to my Debut Year…” You can tell I didn’t suggest this one because I don’t believe in the “Debut Year.”

See, the “Debut Year” is a bit of magical, sparkle-pony mythology of Author Land. Come on over to find out more. 

Planning for a Long-Term Writing Career

001 (2)Lunch with, Joyce, the winner of the Brenda Novak Auction prize that Carolyn Crane and I sponsored. We took her out to lunch at the RWA convention and gave her all the best advice we could come up with on planning the next stages of her career. It was very fun and we wish her well!

A theme that came up for me over and over at this convention was looking at the long-term career. It seemed we heard a lot of stories about writers who’d lasted through the ups and downs of the industry – and those who hadn’t. One gal I met had written for Kensington – my same publisher – back in the 1990s. She wrote nine books for them, in fact, then was dropped during one of the downturns. Her husband also divorced her at the same time. By the time she sorted out her life, she discovered her writing career had tanked without her noticing.

Quite the cautionary tale.

 Oh, sure, you can make judgments here. Having an agent would have helped. She likely missed signals, should have been paying better attention, but the fact remains that she “made it.” She had nine books with a very good publisher. And POOF. Gone.

During the same conference, I attended one of my favorite workshops, The Secrets of the Bestselling Sisterhood, put on by long-time career pals and friends, Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. They often put their long careers in terms of their longevity when so many other very good writers have not survived. From their discussion, I tweeted:

If you’re in this business any length of time, your genre will go out of style. Find your core story and be ready to change genres #RWA13
 
I was amazed at how many people picked up that tweet, saved it in favorites and passed it around.
 
Upon consideration, however, I realize I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s excellent advice. Their point is – and this is mainly from Krentz, who has reinvented herself as an author several times – that the core story is the key. Whether you tell the story framed in fantasy or romance, with vampires or with regency-era dukes, with spaceships or sailing ships – those things are all external trappings. The heart of the story is what we love and want to read. And write.
 
All of this bears thinking about, much as we might not want to. The way the industry is, a huge amount of our focus and struggle goes into the effort to just get on the playing field. Getting Published might not be the high bar it once was, with the many options available today, but it’s still the enormous first step. It’s easy to see all the effort on the front end and forget the ongoing work.
 
But, like with marriage, while it’s tempting to see the wedding as the culmination of the quest – the search, courtship, engagement and ceremony are complete – it’s truly only the gateway into the thing itself. A lifetime of marriage is a continuing, evolving effort. We can no more let our writing careers go than we can take our spouses for granted and assume they are a done deal.
 
Food for thought.

How Not to Be a Neurotic Writer

033I spent the last few days on “writers retreat” with my critique partners Laura Bickle and Marcella Burnard. Laura treated us to a cabin in the Hocking Hills and took us on her favorite hikes to these amazing nooks and grottoes. It was so lovely. There’s something about all that pure water springing through rock crevices that’s magical, too. It felt purifying and inspiring.

The reason I put “writers retreat” in quotation marks is because we are all writers and we did retreat – no cell service or internet – we didn’t actually write all that much.

We talked about it. A lot.

And normally I’m a proponent of the “don’t talk about it, just do it” school of Getting Your Writing Done, but this was a chance for us to hash out all our Thoughts on career, peers and gossip. It was more like a corporate retreat. What have we done and where are we going?

My favorite moment: when Laura referred to my career “strategy.” Yeah. Like I planned this.

Among our topics of gossip were the inevitable rehashes of the various colleagues who’ve flamed out for various reasons. The ones who inexplicably posted highly inadvisable rants to blogs. The ones who burned bridges with publishing houses for no apparently better reason than because they had a barrel of lighter fluid handy. The neurotic divas who threw fits in bookstores or at conventions. Talking about the Great Cautionary Tales is fun, especially while drinking wine in the hot tub while fireflies dart about, but it’s also useful. There’s an unfortunate tendency for writers to be nutbags. Almost like it goes with the job. But I just don’t believe that has to be the case.

Extract the lesson from these tales, please.

That’s often what stories do – they illustrate lessons for us. Often the message speaks to a deeper part of ourselves. In fact, the best stories work that way.

In thinking about the whole concept of “I’m an artist and therefore neurotic” concept, I started thinking about the hero’s journey. There’s the classic tale of journeying to another world to bring back the prize. This “other” place – the underworld, dreamworld, faerie, what have you – is equivalent to the subconscious. Wherever we believe our stories come from, it feels like a journey to get them. We metaphorically travel to this other landscape – not the world of traffic lights and alarm clocks – to connect to the creative principle.

(You can call it the muse or the subconscious or the Great Storyteller or whatever – I don’t think it matters.)

In the stories, the dreamworld follows different rules, but the hero who survives, who triumphs, is the one who is pure of heart. She’s the one who can face herself in the mirror and accept who she truly is. It takes discipline, self-knowledge and brutal clarity to journey to the dreamworld and bring back the prize.

When the hero triumphs, she travels the night-dark sea, returns with the magic elixir, neatly bottled and labeled, turns it into her editor ON TIME and saves the village. Much rejoicing.

The others? They can make it to the dreamworld all right, but return in a shambles. The vial of the elixir she went to obtain is half-full, the hero is drenched with the stuff, the label has fallen off. She’s weeks late and stumbles into the village that burned long ago, wondering what the hell happened.

I explained this idea to Laura and she nodded sagely. “This,” she said, “is why Douglas Adams said the most important tool is a towel. We need the towel to soak up all that extra subconscious water, so we don’t drown in it.”

Very wise, my writer friend.

She’s right. We balance our creative journeys with practicality. Being neurotic or crazy or an unbalanced diva is never okay. Yes – journey to the dreamworld. But keep your objectives in mind. Bottle the elixir, wipe off the bottle and get back to the village in time.

Be your own hero.