In case anyone was wondering, this is why I love her. One of the many reasons. I love that we feel the same way about what we do: this urge to tell a story so well that it takes you, heart and mind and body, so that you are inside the story and it’s inside you, and you become each other for a while. And perhaps when you put the words away, some small scrap of the story lives on inside you.
I love that Nicola speaks so fiercely of her work, and I love that I am feeling so fierce about mine these days. That I have given myself to it in a whole new way. And even so, even with all that re-found passion and the tidal wave of change it has brought into my life, I have still been struggling with a thing….
Here’s a story. Last year, when Dangerous Space was released, I had occasion to spend time in a bar with one of SF’s pre-eminent critics, someone whose conversation I’ve enjoyed over the years and whose professional skills I have always respected. This person told me they were reading the collection and considering it for review, but had noticed that most of the stories had been published previously. That’s right, I said.
Well, said the critic, that’s not much to show for 20 years, is it?
I answered politely that I hoped quality counted for more than quantity. But I was hurt, and I was rattled. And ultimately there was no review from this critic, so perhaps I gave the wrong answer.
And since then I have been chewing on this, trying to understand the helplessness and the anger and defensiveness that I felt. Who cares what this person thinks? Well, clearly I cared. And what I have come to believe is that it’s not about this person specifically — it’s about my certain knowledge that a lot of people feel this way about writing, or any other creative and/or professional pursuit. Many people will believe that the worth of my collection is diminished by the ratio of old to new work, and that my worth as a writer is best measured by my churn rate. That quality is only important in concert with quantity.
This is a game that I can never win. Many writers can — they produce good work very quickly, and all props and happiness to them. I think it’s a good thing they can do that. But why does this have to be a zero-sum game? If it’s good they do that, why must it therefore be bad that I do not?
Eleanor Roosevelt said No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. And she was right. But withdrawing that consent is not as easy as stamping one’s foot and saying Stop diminishing me right now! It is a process, and I have been processing.
And today I read Nicola’s post, and I felt the cumulative rush of all the moments of good work I have done in 20 years. Every time I wrote a sentence and felt it ring true. Every time I felt a character come a little more to life within me and on the page. Every time I’ve read the stories or the novel and bam, I’m back in worlds and characters that I love, fictions that vibrate with some of the deepest real things within me, things that I’ve managed to transmute into stories that make other people vibrate in turn.
And you know what? This is where I want to play. Consider me gone from the other fucking game. I will do my best to write everything I want to write, as best I can, and I hope I make a boatload of money. But none of that is the measure of my worth. My worth as a writer is measured by what I write. End of story.
As I’ve said recently, it’s huge for me to be a writer, and I am in charge of how I feel about that. And here’s how I feel: in 20 years, I have said things that only I can say, and other people have heard them, felt them, shared them. I have burned, and I still do. I have done well, and I still do. I have found my own way here, in my own time, and it’s been a marvel. I’m looking forward to doing better and burning harder the next 20 years. I intend, as Nicola does, to reach so far inside you that you’ll have to dig me out with a spoon.
And anyone who doesn’t think that’s much to show for 20 years can go fuck themselves.