Mark Terry

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Uncertain Footing

April 7, 2011
I'm currently reading several books simultaneously, but one of them is The Freelancer's Survival Guide: How to Be Your Own Best Boss by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I recommend it for everyone who's self-employed. I may not agree 100% with everything she says, but that may be because I haven't had every situation she discusses come crashing into my life. I was reading the chapter on Goals and Dreams, which you can read entirely on her website if you're so inclined. (You can read the entire thing on her website if you want to, or buy it for about $10 on Amazon as an e-book).

In part she says:

I don’t think a freelancer can survive long without a dream. I think the more impossible the dream the better. See those posts on success. If you don’t set that impossible dream high enough, you’ll achieve your dream, and stop striving.

When students apply for the Master Class that Dean and I teach (along with four other established professional writers), we ask those students what their goals are and what their secret, most impossible dream is. The only students we take for the Master Class are those with either a professional career that has stalled (for some reason) or those with a strong work ethic who are having trouble breaking into publishing (and have excellent, professional level skills).

We look at the goals and the secret dream more than any other part of the application. Because if the goals and the secret dream are non-existent, we have learned that the writers often don’t have the capability to survive the Master Class, let alone the business of writing itself.

What does an impossible dream add to a career? Purpose. Plain and simple. That dream is like the shining city on a hill, the one you can see in the distance, and you might never reach. But until your dying day, you’ll head for that hill.

I wasn't sure I was going to write about this today. I'm trying to do less navel-gazing and stay away from writing about writing and publishing (and oh boy, I was thinking about writing a rant-like letter to the publishing industry), but this maybe is more about life. Also, this particular chapter got into my head in a way few areas of the book did and I can honestly say, Gee, Kris, I'm not sure I appreciate you in my head like this.


Well, I think that if you'd asked me 5 years ago or 10 years ago, or 15 or even 20 or 25 years ago, that the impossible dream might have been fairly straightforward: the awesome #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Dream, the one where my career was like James Patterson's or Stephen King, the brand name author with the movie deals and the big money.

Kris has a lot of interesting things to say about this. One of the ones I found fairly interesting was how when she was younger in her career she wanted a career like Nora Roberts, but now she realizes she'd go nuts if she had to write just romance, even with all its variations - romantic suspense, etc. Kris writes mysteries and SF and romance and nonfiction and damn near everything else. Sure, she'd take the money (who wouldn't?), but that Nora's career wouldn't suit her.

I've come to the conclusion that being so famous that you can't walk around town or eat in a restaurant without someone recognizing you and coming to talk to you (and suing you for stealing their ideas and asking you to read their manuscripts and...) would be like living in hell for me. And one of the things she mentions is how people like King or Patterson ... well, publishers and all their respective employees live or die by the success of some of those books. I've often wondered what JK Rowling's publishers feel about the fact she no longer seems to be publishing. A new book in that world, maybe even if it didn't involve Harry, say going back to write about a young Dumbledore or Moody, Wormtail, etc., would assure the publishing company - and a lot of bookstores - had a really good year or two. Bonuses, raises, stock going up, you name it. Are these writers oblivious to that? I doubt it. I have a friend who runs his own company with 5 or 6 employees and I know that there can be a lot of pressure being responsible for others' livelihoods and lives.

I realized I didn't know what my wildest dreams were any more. That had changed. In fact, where I am today, I'm not even sure of the attainable goals, which ones I want to make, what direction exactly I want to go in. That wasn't true a year ago. Things have changed. Things have changed in the publishing industry, things have changed in my life, things have changed in my career, and apparently things have changed in my head.

Some of it may have to do with last year I set out a financial goal and I hit it. So this year I thought I'll leave it the same, because I have yet to make the same amount of money twice in a row, so maybe that should be the goal. And I've got some other goals, areas I want to explore, but it's not clear to me exactly where I want to go within my career. Odd. Also, some of the realities of publishing have kicked me around so much the last ten years or so - differently than the trying-to-get-published realities - that I'm struggling with the "suspension of disbelief" that having a wildass dream requires.

Which is fine, really. It's interesting. And reading Kris's chapter did make me realize I should probably spend some time thinking about what I want so I can work toward it.


p.s. This was a worthwhile exercise. By really thinking about it over the day, I think I figured out what it was. A variation on the first one, but taking into consideration new publishing paradigms.


Blogger rkfinnell said...

At the present, even the mundane seems impossible. I suppose having my novel made into a movie would be that impossible dream. I'd rather people just read the book, but sometimes you get your sales where you find them.
My goal right now is a house. I've been trying that positive thinking angle. So far I'm positively sure I'm after improbable odds, but who knows.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I don't know if I have an impossible dream...well, aside from bearing the unbearable sorrow and beating the unbeatable foe and going where the brave dare not go and all that.

When I was a kid -- and I mean young, like twelve, I dreamed about spending my life doing nothing but writing and people would pay me for it. Actually at that age I fully expected to do that and I was dying to be able to stop wasting my time going to school where they didn't let me write much.

At my age, I'm not going to be making a career writing. A retirement maybe.

But, okay, I do have one big dream: being published by a BIG publisher and being able to walk into any bookstore and see my book on the shelf, or better in a paid display rack.

The money part isn't of that much consequence at this point and I would not want any fame, but just the fact of being published by a big publisher, even once, getting one at bat in the major leagues. Yeah, that's still my dream.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

RK--Kris suggests that the impossible dream should probably have a bit of luck involved. She makes the comparison that it's like a football player's impossible dream might be not only to win the Super Bowl, but to win it 10 times. And that a lot of enormously successful pro football players are never in the Super Bowl, let alone win it or win it multiple times.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I realized that the publishing industry has shifted around on me so much that the old paradigm of a bestselling author might be tricky, whereas the new paradigm of somebody like Joe Konrath or Amanda Hocking making tons of money, writing fulltime fiction, but not having to tour or spend all their time promoting might be an awesome dream for me, one that I can work towards.

Or I can shift towards other nonfiction things that I do fairly well, but this post has to do about maybe unattainable dreams that get you out the door (or into the chair) each day, and that has changed some for me.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Now that you mention it, making lots of money via electronic publishing and not having to tour or any such thing might suit me better than a book from a big publisher. Still, if I had just one from a big publisher then they could fire me when I refused to do what they wanted.

7:38 PM  

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