How Do You Build a Career?

So it’s 2013. I’m at my second Dragon*Con, still quite wee. This time, I’m trying to get around to more panels, so I’m at a late-night talk on LGBTQA+ characters in YA. Mercedes Lackey strolls in, takes her place at the table, and then peers into the water jug. She sighs. Very quietly, she says, “I was hoping for vodka.”

And being quite wee, I think, That’s what I want when I grow up. I want to do a midnight panel at Dragon*Con and bemoan the lack of vodka. I want my books to be part of someone’s childhood. I want a huge freaking corpus under my belt…

…but how do you build a career like that?

The answer floated up, sure and clear.

The same way you write a book. Word by word.

Liz Hand's advice: always applicable.

Advice from Liz Hand. Always applicable.

I’m glad I remembered this particular insight. Building a career feels like climbing a mountain, sometimes. A very steep, very slippery mountain. You push yourself for ages—you push so that you’re exhausted, you push so that your hands are bleeding, you push so that it feels you’ve been climbing forever—

But then you look back. Just for a moment—if you spend all your time looking down, you’ll never move forward. But you look back. And you see that the ground looks a bit further away than it used to. You’ve made progress.

Step by step. Word by word.

There’s still a lot of mountain ahead. (Spoiler: it will always feel like there’s a lot of mountain ahead. I don’t think the summit actually exists: we’re always striving to climb further.) Only sometimes you realize you’ve passed some marker on the climb. I did this recently. The realization had been building for a time, but then it broke on me all at once: I can no longer do things for free. It wasn’t a proud, self-aggrandizing kind of realization. It was quite matter-of-fact: that same little voice speaking clearly and quietly.

I can’t do things for free anymore. I don’t have the time.

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So that’s a useful thing to know, as I sit gasping on this ledge, still fairly low on the mountain. Word by word, I’ve gotten this far. Since that late-night panel, I have made progress. Maybe you’ve had similar insights about your own climb. They’re almost silly, aren’t they? Little things, arbitrary things. But hey, whatever helps us along.

Of course, there’s still a lot of mountain ahead. But this is why I’m glad I remembered about that night at Dragon*Con:

Thinking word by word takes the pressure off each individual work. Some people shoot up the mountain on one story. It’s not common, but it happens. But I want a corpus. Which means that any one story, any one book, or play, isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s a single word in the piece; one step on the road; one stone in the cathedral.

That’s not to devalue your work. After all, each word in the story is important. Without them, you don’t have terribly much.

Besides, breaking it down to the most basic level: that’s what writing is, isn’t it? It’s putting words on a page, one after the next. Is it really any surprise that a writing career should be the same thing?

Step by step. Word by word.

That’s all it is.

You got this.

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

It’s spring, so I’ve been cleaning the garret, rejoicing in the sunlight, and generally feeling much lighter and freer. I’ve got a wonderful album of classic Parisien-café-type songs. I’m not quite sure what it is about this style. It makes me happy; it makes me feel secure and recharged, ready to out and do the things.

Really, I’ve had them all on repeat. But this one makes me smile particularly broadly. Enjoy.🙂

 

Posted on April 18, 2016, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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