The Mountains

Writing a book is like climbing a mountain. A long, arduous trek, with ups and downs, flat easy bits, and hard nearly vertical portions that require all of your skills and tools. And there are moments when it feels like you’re never going to reach the top, like the book will never be done and you’re just endlessly ascending a slope for some purpose you’re not even sure of.

Now, once you get to the top? You bask in the view, take it in … and look at the next mountain in your path, because if there’s another book, there’s another mountain. A career in writing? Well, it’s kind of like making a commitment to hike each individual mountain in the Rockies.

And some of them will be great hikes, and some of them … are going to try their best to break you.

One of the hardest bits then, I think I’d add to this, is that these hikes are done, for the most part, completely solo and without much in the way of external input until the very end. Only in that final sprint to the top, when the editors and Alpha Readers begin looking over your work, do you interact with others. And then after the book comes out, when there’s a flurry of recognition that flashes by for a week or two … and then it’s gone. Just like the news stories of the first conquest of a mountain, it’s announced, but very quickly the world moves on, and it’s on to the next mountain for that author.

So, why am I talking about this? Well, a number of reasons. I’m in the last third of another mountain right now, and so far it’s been a far more arduous experience than was planned. Longer, too. I’m working to get it done, but the snow is deep and thick (this is actually a more accurate analogy than you might think) and it’s made things a bit of a slog most days.

I’m not stopping, mind. I’m going to finish this mountain and start the next. That’s how the job goes. But it can be (and right now, is) a slog.

Which makes the number of people who’ve gathered around just to tell me to give up, call it quits, or lambaste me about how it really isn’t all that hard all the more grating.

Are they idiots? In this context, yes. A number of them have never written much in their lives, much less a book. To them it’s just something someone does in an afternoon. Or they listened to a news interview with a some publisher and now they’re experts on the industry and know how to tell me how to do my job, zero experience in the industry now fully absolved and replaced by two year’s worth they absorbed in a twenty-minute interview talking about Donald Trump.

“It’s not a struggle,” they tell me. “It’s only a struggle because you’re doing it wrong. Why don’t you write a book about this? Obviously it’s my idea so everyone will buy it. You’re an idiot for not listening to my advice. I guess you’re not taking this so-called ‘job’ seriously.”

Meanwhile, I’m climbing up the mountain and juggling my part-time hours with my writing hours because yes, I want to get another book out.

Now, the obvious answer may seem to be “Well, cut anyone that’s that stupid out of your life.” Which would be nice sometimes, but it’s not quite that easy. In today’s modern world we’re more interconnected then ever. Anyone can hop onto my site, right here, or my facebook page, or any other of a number of ways to contact me and lambast me all they wish (at least, until I block them).

Granted, there’s probably something to be said about the ills of social media here. For all the good it brings us, it has an unwelcome tendency to see the least aware and intelligent parts of the mind rise to the forefront. But that’s getting a bit to off for what is, in part, my disorganized little piece here. So I’m cutting that one off here.

My point is it’s extremely easy these days to tear people down entirely out of ignorance as much as malice. And I say ignorance because yes, many of these voices I hear encouraging me to climb back down the mountain and quit altogether are ignorant. They’re the voices of folks who’ve never heard of things like The Hugo Awards or that bookstores are divided into genre and subject categories, but are all to happy and delighted to be an “expert” on the topic and tell you everything you’re doing “wrong.”

Armchair quarterbacks. Only worse. At least those folks watch football. Sometimes I wonder about the capacity to read from some of the folks throwing “advice” at me. Certainly comprehension sometimes seems to be in doubt.

I don’t know how unique my situation is. Those of you who’re publishing books, do you find the same is true in your life? Or do I just know some people with the sense of a wooden post?

Either way, here’s the ultimate takeaway and answer to all of them: I’m climbing this mountain. And when I’m done? I’m going to climb the next one. And no, your “advice” about how so-and-so you heard on the news in a two-minute snippet is not “new.” Here’s a news flash for you: There are degrees in English for creative writing. These are things people like myself get. Those degrees involve hundreds upon hundreds of hours spent studying the craft, the industry, and more. And then to top it off, we authors often like to go to cons like Life, The Universe, and Everything (shout-out, by the way; it’s in a month, and I’ll be there) where we talk even more about writing, the industry, etc etc etc. We’re talking several hundred industry professionals from all angles crammed into a con talking about the thing we love so much we all built livelihoods around it.

You think we don’t know the basics? Get real. We’re on the fifth or sixth mountain and you’re busily informing us about how “so and so you heard an interview with on the news just finished their first memoir, and they say such-and-such, so everything we’re doing is wrong?”

Yeah … I’ll just let that stand while I reign this back in. I think I’m drifting a bit here.

Bringing things back in, I’ve kind of got two things I want to conclude with now that I’ve said everything above.

First, the mountain is a lonely obstacle. If you know an author, consider that they’re probably battering themselves up a difficult story or cliff on almost any day. And would you sit on the sidelines and shout up at a rock climber to just give up and let go? Of course not. You’d be, as Sali would probably say, “the less-desirable part of a horse’s rear end” if you did something like that.

Alternatively instead of saying nothing, it is possible to encourage authors and congratulate them with genuine feeling, just like any other accomplishment out there. This is a thing you can consider doing. And it doesn’t hurt.

After all, like I said it’s lonely climbing that mountain sometimes.

Second, if we want your advice, we’ll ask for it (and we do often when we’re talking to someone with good advice to offer). Writing is a craft and a serious dedication of effort like any other job. But before you open your mouth and start tossing “suggestions” at an author, consider for a moment exactly how much experience you actually have to offer.

I mean, this really goes for all jobs. No one likes the jerk at a basketball game that keeps yelling bad play ideas in retrospect at the coach. No engineer likes the bystander who offers such stunning advice as “Well, why don’t you just make it work?” or “I saw this in a James Bond movie once, will that work?”

Do stuff like that to a writer, and you could find yourself on the unflattering end of a lot of written words you don’t like. Sands, maybe you’re snarling at this post because you think Sali’s words above were way off-base, or that clearly this post doesn’t apply to you because not only have you listened to that one interview, you also know a guy who might have had lunch with an author that one time …

Well tough.

And … I might as well tack a third on here: Just because you’ve never done the job doesn’t mean it’s easy or that it isn’t a job. I hear a lot of jokes at my (and all author’s really) expense about how writing books isn’t a job because it’s not real work, it’s just slapping a keyboard and making a quick tale to make a buck.

Believe me, if you’ve made those jokes before, you might want to reconsider lest you find your job absolutely mocked to the fullest extent of your native tongue if whatever author you were mocking decides to get revenge.

Writing is climbing the mountain. Over and over again. And we who hike it know how hard it can be. But we also know how rewarding it can be to reach the top and share the experience with the rest of the world.

We also know, restated for emphasis, how hard it can be. We’ve got the first-hand experience. We do it because it’s rewarding, and we love it, even if sometimes we’re stuck in a muddy pit that can seem inescapable. But since we know how hard it can be, loud-mouths shouting the opposite at us and trying to push us back down the mountainside can really get grating.

So if we happen to write characters that are very similar and let the story take its course with them, well … Let’s just say there’s a value to be had in having the last word, and writers aren’t known for being in short supply of those.

Right, I’ve got one last thing to say to end this little spiel, aimed at those of you who cheer all writers on while they’re climbing their mountains. The fans.

It helps. It really does. And we’re grateful. When we see a comment from an excited fan who can’t wait to see what we’re producing next, it’s a boost that makes it easier to finish climbing that sheer rock face we’re slowly ascending.

It’s nice to hear “You can do it” from a fan. We’re always glad to hear that. And every author, even if they don’t have time to say it for every occurrence, is grateful and glad that someone out there is enjoying their work, excited for more, and happy to see that author climbing their mountain.

Speaking of which, I need to get back to it and cap off the latest one. I’m almost at the top.

See you all Monday.

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