Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

Notes on Time

When you start out as a writer, other writers tell you about rejection, the low pay rates, the luck required in your break, and the virtue of persistence, but no one tells you just how long things take, how time digs into your skin and bones, and how you a year can pass in false starts and wait times.

When I began selling short fiction, there was a joke going round, a kind of self deprecating bit of humour, that stated that Gordon Van Gelder would reject you within two weeks. You had to laugh. Someone in the States running a professional magazine could turn you down 12 times before some of the people running magazines in Australia could get back to you. It took a while for me to realise that Van Gelder was more the exception than the rule, though there are a few people who come quickly to mind now for a quick turn around (Sean Wallace at Fantasy Magazine, for example). It always struck me as surprising that more people weren't like Gelder, a point that's been driven into me moreso after running my own business for the last three to four years. Split it whatever way you want, but it's good business to be quick with your replies: it keeps you on top of your workload, reduces stress, and encourages good will.

Of course, part of the problem and why that's not always the case, is that everyone wants to be a writer. Why wouldn't you? I know I enjoy the glamour of scraping by, being read by small audiences, being involved in bad deals, and thinking in terms of months and years. About ten years ago, I found myself thinking, early in one particular year, that I ought to make sure I have things lined up for the next year, so I can keep my name out there. Insane, isn't it? But there you go. The worse part is, I must enjoy this lifestyle, because I've made sacrifice after sacrifice to keep writing, and I don't regret it. No doubt some time in a sanitarium will be coming up for me, but it won't be before the people who envy what I have are there first. Yeah, that's right: some people actually envy what I have. That's how desperate you can get as a writer. You want to get your start, your voice out there, so badly, that anyone who is doing anything is a few rungs up you, and you want to be them. It starts very simple: you envy the person who can publish a short story. Then, once you've done that, you envy the person who can do it regularly, and after that, the person who can do it in regular markets, and then, after that, it's the person with a collection, or a book coming out. After you've done the book, the process starts again, and you envy those with regular publishing schedules, agents who work for them, and finally, holidays. There are thousands and thousands of people, each of them at a different level, and that's what causes the wait in publishing.

So, you wait.

You submit, you query, you call, and you wait. Sometimes, you wait a night, sometimes a week, but more often than not, you wait a month, two, three, sometimes a year. Mostly, you give up by the time you reach that, but a part of you is willing to knock on, to keep going, to have a thin sliver of hope that something will come out of it. After a while you become so bred on rejection and starvation that the vaguest hint of hope will fuel you.

Time, it's the thing no one tells you about. In the time it takes you to get a start, you can have a birthday, you can get married, you can have a child. You can change careers. You can get divorced. You can lose someone you cared for. Waiting for someone to respond, waiting for your stuff to get published, life happens. Time ticks by. You work through it and try not to think about it, too much, because it's the best thing to do. You query people, but you don't want to be one of those annoying people, so you do it slowly. You just keep working. Once stuff is published, you wait for money. You learn patience, but only the hard way. You go through moments when you're frustrated, when you want to give it all up, when you want to take someone by the shoulders and shake them and tell them that the reason there is no fortune five hundred publisher of novels is because things are run by a bunch of bad high school students who don't want to do their homework. Or so it seems. When you calm down, you realise it is just people. A lot of people want to be writers. The system is soaked with them. You're just another, and unless you're a name, you're subject to time, to waiting, to watching as things stretch by, and you try not to let it rip away your love for what you do.

Which is always the risk.

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