I've been thinking, in the last couple of days, about how a writer builds a presence and keeps it alive. Nine years back, when I sold my first story, I thought it'd simply be a matter of getting published, but the truth is, it's not hard to publish your work. What is hard is to publish your work with publishers (of a magazine, anthology, book, whatever) that have a good reputation and, even with that, have someone notice, care, and follow your work once it is in print. That's the difficult part. But it's not the end. You have to maintain it somehow. A quick tour through bookshelves will reveal an endless supply of authors who appeared in respected publications or with respected publishers who pushed them and who simply don't exist now.
Ernest C. was the old man in the hospital bed across my sister. He had a thick white goatee and wild white hair and he sat up and said, "Somtimes life can just get so tedious."
Turns out he has dementia.
To survive, what do you need? Branding? A pretty little niche? A bit of the cult of individual? The ability to write quickly? Slowly? Awards? To consistently appear in markets that gain notice? To know the right people? To not piss off the right people? Maybe it's as simple as tenacity: write and keep writing. Most authors don't have writing as a day to day full time job, and the daily job of life with the meals and the fucking and the kids, that takes up a lot of time. I've met a few who simply couldn't sustain both.
The wheelchair in the hospital was great, though I rather wished I convinced Ernest to push me around. I'm pretty sure that when it comes to trust, people would believe me over the guy with dementia.
You need something to say, something original. A lot of authors just repeating the same old shit that they've seen before. I like to think that, in some cases, they wake up one day and think, "Fuck."
I can't think of anything worse than being aware of my own crumbling mental state and unable to stop it. To wake up each morning and know that in each succeeding morning another bit of you would flake away. To think of your brain as a dried husk that has been lifted from your skull and set on the hot desert sand and left there to be eroded away by the wind and heat and whatever vermin pass.
Perhaps there is no real way to assure yourself longevity with writing. By this I mean that there is no sure plan where if you do A and then B, you will, without a doubt, have the entire alphabet. I'm really in no position to say, though it does appear that a bit of luck doesn't go astray, when all is said and done. Despite this, however, there does appear to be a finite amount of time for an author in any scene, and in that time, you have to establish yourself and reach the point where you can step out of it and exist independently. The way I view any scene is that there is always new blood coming in through the front door: angry, happy, sad, talented, shit, it's just a whole mess of new blood coming in and looking for place to sit and work. In a small press scene, I think it's even fair to say that the new blood makes their own publications, turning into a part of the small press to give voice to work that they think doesn't exist and also to replace older publishers as they, through the stress and demands of what can be a financially unrewarding job, drop off. View it like a scab: the old writers are the sore, and the new writers are the flesh, healing over it, until, with their dirty fingers and broken teeth that are new publications and new work, they dig into the flesh and become the sore. Then more new blood comes along.
To survive this, you have to become an independent disease, and move beyond the wound that birthed you. You have to travel the whole host.
In hospitals, you always seem people in their blue gowns walking around with tall silver stands that have clear packs with tubes running into their arms. At night, they're never accompanied by hospital staff.
I don't know what the answer is, but if I had to pick one (and I'd rather say it was a mix of everything), I'd probably go with tenacity.
That and drowning your children in brown sacks like unwanted puppies.