Ever since Louise (Darklight, known her for a few years and I’m a big fan BTW) brought up Dan Simmons I’ve been reading his comments on writing over at his web site. He certainly has a different attitude about amateur writing than OSC does. He points out, that of 300 million Americans “a surprisingly large percentage of whom who think they can write fiction” only about 400 to 500 make their living through the writing of fiction. You have a far better chance of being a major league baseball player he later adds.
He speaks of the shocking disparity between the Wannabes and the Can-do’s and the fact that only 2% of Americans read fiction to any serious degree. He says “the first thing a would-be professional writer has to learn is how huge – how depressingly near-infinitely colossally horrifyingly hugely huge – the gap is between good amateur writing and real professional writing. Again, not to belabor a metaphor, but it’s roughly the distance between very good Little League baseball and playing for the Yankees. It looks like the same game being played, but in a real way it’s not.”
He goes on to say basically, that young people have no hope because nobody is going to read a novel by an 18 year old. He not entirely right there of course because a recent exception comes to mind with the young man, Christopher Paolini who wrote and self published the “Eragon” books. He sold 8 million copies… on his own… no big publisher. Still I don’t entirely disagree with Dan on the point. Writing is at least greatly enhanced by plenty of life experience.
I think he is trying to bring home how much effort is required if you are really going to pursue this path. Although he doesn’t say it, his comments lean toward the idea that writing is something that can and has to be learned since there has never been a child prodigy writer unlike musicians or painters. It has crossed my mind on more than a few occasions that some here are on their way because they are just hopelessly gifted and maybe I just don’t have it. But considering Dan opinion, maybe there is hope for me if they are just further along the learning curve than me. (Although I am still certain there are a few dozen really gifted people floating around here).
There's genius, there's luck, and then there's hard work. Serious hard work which -- in my opinion -- means studying other successful authors. What are the ones "I" admire doing right that I'm not doing down there in my text?
I think there are two levels of writing. Writing itself -- stringing the words together in a forceful/poetic/interesting way AND storytelling. Not so many people, even among the published writers, do both well.
A good story can sometimes survive poor writing. Superb writing has a better chance of making a mediocre story interesting.
The odds of becoming a professional writer use to overwhelm me and make me want to stop. I had to realize there is more to writing than making it. I love writing, just like I love art. I love the expression of a single word and the craftiness of a sentence.
I’m not concerned about making it as a writer, if I don’t then I will probably teach it, but I will write till the end of my days, or till I go blind. Writing as my dream so far has lead me on a journey I could of never imagined.
But now I’m getting off subject, and to answer your question I feel Dan is a realist. Everyone can write, play music, act and paint, and most people do. I feel someone trying to make a career in writing must study other authors, know their punctuation, live and breath writing to make it. I feel to be a writer a person must truly be passionate about it, and truly love the use of the english language, or any other language they choose to write in.
quote:He goes on to say basically, that young people have no hope because nobody is going to read a novel by an 18 year old.
I'm going to say that Dan Simmons is just jealous that a younger, possibly more talented writer is going to steel his spot. Saying that has no justification in any case and proves he's just a sore loser.
I'm 20 and take offence to that. I may be young but I have lived through a lot of traumatic experiences, some would just say it was all a learning curve, but does everyone almost commit suicide?
It doesn't matter if a writer is 15 or 50, as long as a publisher and editor feel the work is very well done then they'll be read. A writers age has nothing to do over the level of skill a person has, it's just a matter of experience is all tha is different.
Although I must say Olympus is far from his best, there are few that come more talented than Dan Simmons. In terms of SF, he was to the nineties what Orson Scott Card was to the eighties.
From what little blurbs I've read from him in the past, I'd say he's a perfectionist. He demands perfection not only from himself, but everyone else. This seemed the whole subtext of Illium. Personally, perfectionists grate me, but that's due to the magnitude of my imperfections. I'm only human born with both common and personalized limitations.
When it comes to fiction, for me, words are a vehicle to get to the story, not an end to itself, and while I like the sound of words and a clever phrase, it's all about the story.
That's not to say I can endure terrible writing. If the vehicle is in disrepair I'll never get there, that is, the story. But, whether it's a Pinto or a BMW, as long as I get there, that's the important thing.
Look, all professional writers talk about writing in such a way that it justifies their own views, experience, and writing habits.
Do you like what Dan says?
If not, move on and don't worry about it. There are too many professional writers who have gone about the task of learning the craft in different ways to worry which one is right. There's only one rule of writing, as far as I'm concerned: YOU MUST FIND YOUR OWN WAY.
Personally, I'm not a Dan Simmons fan. I've read two of his books, and wasn't very impressed. I've also read all of his writing well columns, and though they started off well, I think they've descended into pretentious trash.
I'm sorry, but the difference between a good amateur and a professional is nothing at all like the difference between a good little league team and the Yankees. For one thing, there are plenty of professional writers who can't write very well at all. Some of them have good stories to make up for their writing, some of them have connections, and some of them are just plain lucky.
On the other hand, there are plenty of writers who haven't made it yet who are wonderful writers. Some of them are shy about sending out their work, some of them are unlucky, most of them have no connections, and many of them probably don't know how to maneuver through the world of publishing and promoting books.
But of course, most people fall somewhere in-between.
Don't get me wrong. I've seen plenty of amateurs who only want to be coddled rather than put any real effort into their craft. I can't count the number of times people tell me, when I say I've got a book coming out, "Oh, I've always wanted to write poetry or a children's book or something..." Come to find out, most of them are just dreaming and not doing. I don't take them seriously.
I don't know how many Americans are *really* trying to write...taking classes, practicing often, studying the craft, and sharing their stories for critique...but I guarantee it's FAR less than 300 million.
I admit the odds aren't great, but there is no reason to sell ourselves on self-defeating crap so we have an excuse not to try.
I've only just begun reading Dan Simmons. I've completed my first Simmons novel though have a number of others to read.
Not to criticism the man (I know this isn't the point of this thread and will come to that in a minute) but it seems that even a writer as successful as he makes just the same mistakes (not sure that's the word I'm really after because I'm not sure if they are actually mistakes) as any of us can and probably do make. I've just finished reading Self-editing for Fition Writers - which is why I'm suddnely picking up on certain thing in my own and others writing. I don't know if this is true to all his work, but in the one novel (Hyperion) I read he had his characters smiling words, forgot somewhere during the story whose POV the story was from and seemed to change it from thrid to omni because he told us things the oringial POV character couldn't possibily know. It bothered me a tad but not to the point that I would put the book down.
So what I'm really saying is that even though a talented writer makes these 'mistakes' they are still published - I guess I'm saying that if you can tell a story, as long as the writing style isn't terrible, you CAN be published. I beleive if you have the ability to tell a good story, you're half way there.
I do in some respect agree that you need life experiences, not to write because many people can write, but to write with meaning and emotion, to write about things that matter, but even a young person can do (and have) done this if they have many life experiences.
As for the gap between being a professional writer and a good amature being THAT huge - I don't beleive that. Anyone of us could be publsihed at any time. If you catch the publishers eye, have the right story at the right time, it can happen to anyone.
I agree with Christine. Ok, so the Yankees are the top of the rung along with other major league Teams. There are still the minor leagues and those players do get paid for it.
Just what is a "professional writer" Someone can (and has) crank out bilge and make a pile of money. Is he a "professional" writer? Don't get caught up in thinking that everything published is well written or even deserved to be published. There are great writers and a then a much larger group of competent writers. The same is true of any other field.
In college I once had a snooty writing instructor who seemed to believe that writing was a private domain only populated by intellectuals with advanced degrees. He would rattle on about how someone had to work their way up and that a beginner had exactly zero chance of landing a story in a major magazine. Around that same time a person I knew who was a beginner at writing, wrote a story and sent it off to the now defunct magazine Omni - at the time a top level market for fiction. The story was snapped up and published. So much for "zero chance" for a newby. This is unusual, but it does happen.
I don't think I've ever read anything by Dan Simmons...
I look at some published stuff, and despair...but, then, I look at some other published stuff---and this includes a few award winners---and I wonder how this garbage could ever have been accepted.
Then I also look at the stuff I ran across during my Internet Fan Fiction phase. Some of it moved me more than any contemporary fiction in professional publication. A lot of it was "amateurish"---but tremendously exciting nonetheless.
Watch your back, Mr. Simmons. The difference between Wannabes and Can-Dos you celebrate is about to be erased.
There are lots of books and opinions out there on writing, with tons of contradictory advice. Balthasar is right - you must find your own way. It's good to read as much as you can, but take from it what helps and discard the rest.
The chances of making a living at this are pretty small, and even though some of us fantasize about making it professionally (at least I do - sometimes), that's not what keeps us writing. We are all different in our approaches, our motivations, our thinking, but we are all here because we love/like/hate/are addicted to it. arriki has it right, too: you don't have to be perfect in all aspects of writing to succeed. Just keep doing it.
About the age thing, I don't know how true this is, but have heard more than once that Hollywood wants screenwriters as close as possible to their teens. A few years ago there was a lot of fuss about a 26-year-old woman posing as 19 because no one wanted to hire an "old bag" of a writer. As soon as anyone has lived long enough to have wisdom or life experience, they're treated like they have the plague and shown the back door. Guess the only thing that would work well for an older screenwriter is to hope to have an attractive young grandchild to pose as the writer.
Hollywood tries to sell its stuff to people up to age thirty...feeling that those over thirty won't go to the movies as much. That's the movies themselves; the DVD market seems to tailor a lot to us older types (I think the last movie I saw in a theater was the last "Lord of the Rings," or maybe the last "Star Wars," I forget which came out last. Nothing's pencilled in on my schedule in the upcoming months.)
As near as I can tell, traditional publishing seems more age-friendly, an open market to people from nine to ninety. But I can't be sure...a lot of the editors I see mentioned lately are, I believe, younger than I am. A lot of writers got their first stuff published a lot younger than I am. (I was tryin' but they weren't buyin'.)
Of course it works both ways. I like a lot of what I liked when I was a kid...I'm less enchanted by the new stuff that (younger) others are putting out. It may be a character flaw, but as far as writing goes, I'm stuck with it. I'll have to write what I would like to read and hope for the best.
(I get this way at work, too (the USPS). I can't take seriously a supervisor who (a) hasn't worked there very long, and (b) is substantially younger than I am. (Would you believe not long ago they made a guy a temporary supervisor after he'd only worked there two weeks?))
Just putting this out there, is it automatically assumed that everyone who wants to get published wants to make their living doing so? I take my writing seriously, and I try to perfect my craft, and I believe I have some good stories to tell (mostly one big story, ie fantasy series) but even in my wildest publication top-seller daydreams... I don't actually aspire to write for a *living*.
I'm in the middle of a Phd program in astrophysics. I'm a scientist first and foremost, an astronomer. All I really want out of my writing is for my stories to be heard (ok read). Even if my fantasy novel(s) did turn out to be the next Harry Potter or whatever (ie make lots of money so I could focus on only them) it wouldn't make me quit my "day job."
Is this unusual? Are 99% of writers who take their craft seriously and do all the hard work they can in attempt to get published wishing to write as their sole income, in their ideal scenario?
Well, I wanted to make a living at it, but that never worked out. (No sales.) Even to this day, if it looked like I could make enough to beat my current income, I'd be gone from my job in a split second. (I also fantasize about winning the lottery and quitting my job, but I think I've got a better shot with writing.)
Other than that, I take the craft of it seriously...though I have rarely done exercises and such. I just write.
I should also say that "wanting to write" and the associated issues was one of the reasons I never took my education further. (There were others, though---it's not all because of this desire to write.)
Making a living at writing used to be my goal. It was one of the reasons I quit writing for a year. And I DID quit. I didn't expect to return to it. The problem is this: It's a goal you can't control, and it took me a year to finally ACCEPT that.
Now, my goals are different -- still lofty, but different. I want to be a great writer. I can do that by writing a lot, reading a lot, studying the craft. So I do those things, too. I've been writing for about 2 months again, so I have a couple of stories almost ready to be sent out. I can control that, too, sending stuff out.
And because I'm about to start sending stuff out, I'm guaranteed to get responses from editors.
Whether or not they'll accept my stories -- whether or not I'll get paid for them -- that's out of my control. So I don't worry about that anymore.