To the Stars

Astounding Science Fiction August 1940 cover for Lester Del Rey’s “The Stars Look Down”

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.

The sentence translates to “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.” It is line 437 of Seneca’s play Hercules Furens, and is spoken by Megara, the wife of Hercules, to Lycus, the tyrant who usurped her father’s throne.

The meaning is clear: there is no easy path to fame, to glory.

Recently Jackson Dean Chase posted a link to a blog article, “Stop ‘trying hard’ and produce more if you want to smash it as a writer”. The article could not have come at a more appropriate time for me.

In brief, the article notes that creative people have no concept of the quality or value of their own work. In fact, a creative’s own estimation is often at odds with that of the public.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hatred of Sherlock Holmes immediately comes to mind. He thought the great detective frivolous and the stories not at all great literature. Yet history has proven him wrong. Of the vast number of novels and stories that Doyle wrote, it is Holmes who is associated with Doyle’s name and by which he’s remembered.

George Frederic Handel loved Italian opera and continued to write and produce operas for a London audience that no longer wanted them. He ended up bankrupt and in ill health. Forced by circumstances, he turned to English oratorio and wrote Messiah. Which by the way was hated by the librettist because Handel produced the sacred drama in concert halls!

Handel did learn his lesson and milked Messiah for every shilling and pound he could get from it.

HG Wells thought his greatest work was the world history he wrote. Today, no one knows he wrote one.

I observe my fellow writers frantically following one success guru after another in the attempt to become bestselling authors. They look like sheep in search of a shepherd. Like parrots, they repeat the supposed mantras of success over and over. Usually without giving them any thoughtful consideration.

Every now and then, I find myself caught up in the stampede until a friend graciously pulls me back to reality. It’s easy to follow the crowd. After all that’s what lemmings do when they run over the cliff into the sea.

Seneca is right. The path to the stars is not an easy one. Why? Because there is no easy formula to follow. There is no one how-to manual that works for everyone.

No one knows how a bestseller is born. No one.

What does that mean for us writers? Quite simply, it means we must write. And write a lot. Write until that bestseller is discovered.

Margaret Mitchell is very much the exception and not the rule. In spite of us writers wanting to make her the rule.

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and probably had a hand in at least 10 others. But how many can we even name? Let alone the number that are regularly produced?

Because there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success, there is no external help for us writers. As Rainer Maria Rilke noted, there is no one outside of ourselves who can give us strength, encouragement, and support. It is all inside. We must look inside ourselves for what we need to succeed.

Of all that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote (and he wrote a lot), the one character that stands out is Tarzan. The same for Lester Dent. He wrote hundreds of books and stories. His name, however, is forever tied to Doc Savage.

Handel wrote 42 operas and 29 oratorios (amongst many other works). Mention his name and everyone says, Messiah.

Burroughs did not set out to become famous by writing Tarzan. Nor Dent, Doc Savage. Nor Handel, Messiah. It was the public who decided what would be their claim to fame.

Because we writers, and creatives in general, are very bad at predicting our own greatest work, our only recourse is to write lots and give it to the public and let them decide.

In my own case, I expected Festival Of Death, with my private detective Justinia Wright (who I dearly love), to be my “bestseller”. Imagine my surprise when The Morning Star, the initial book in my post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe series, has to date, outsold Festival of Death by an almost 5 to 1 margin.

Never in a million years would I have guessed that to have happened. So my writer friends, keep writing. The public will find your best book for you. That is one thing you don’t have to worry about. Just write and trust your public.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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What Type Of Writer Are You?

Not everyone is a writer, but every one of us has a book within. Of course, some of us have more than one book and even then there may not be enough for us to be professionals. But that is alright. Because in this wonderful day and age, we can get our books published and not worry about anything else other than sending them out into the world.

Every occupation has hobbyists, amateurs, and professionals and that includes writing. Let’s take a little deeper look into each of these categories and see what they mean.

Hobbyist

What is a hobbyist writer? A hobbyist is one who engages in an activity for the fun of it. I enjoy playing board games. They’re fun. They constitute one of my hobbies.

People can write for a hobby, as well. I think most fan fiction writers are hobbyists. They write for the fun of it. So too many writers who are on platforms such as Wattpad.

These folk enjoy writing. However, they have lots of other interests and little to no desire to make writing number one in their life. Perhaps like bike riding for me. I enjoy it, but I have no desire to go on a road trip or engage in racing or participate in a club. I just like to ride my bike every now and again.

Writing as a hobby twenty or more years ago was pretty much a solo activity. Perhaps you shared your poems and stories and novels with family and friends. Perhaps got the shorter works published in magazines or fanzines and got a couple contributor’s copies for payment. Anything beyond that was pretty difficult.

Not today, however. Today, it’s easy to share your work with the world. If you want to. And who knows? You might decide you like writing enough to move to the next level.

Amateur

I’m not referring to someone who’s a bad writer. As in Oh, my God. He’s such an amateur!

No, I’m referring to a dedicated person who loves writing, has to write, but chooses not to make a career of it.

Many vocations have people who make an interest an avocation instead of their vocation. Why? For any number of reasons. For one, unless you are a tech writer employed by a company, you will probably be self-employed as a writer. And not everyone wants the uncertainties of self-employment. Others may truly love their day jobs and don’t want to give them up for a career as an author. So writing may become a part-time job for them.

For many years the Victorian novelist, Anthony Trollope, was an amateur writer. Even after he started achieving critical acclaim and a sizable income from writing, he held onto his post office job. He liked working at the post office and he liked the security a regular paycheck gave him. It wasn’t until he was passed over for promotion that he became disgruntled and quit the post office. By that time, however, he was earning a very large income from writing and felt secure to make his living solely as a novelist.

Being an amateur isn’t a bad thing. It simply means you don’t want to write for your day job. Not that you aren’t good enough.

Professional

Many writers, however, dream of earning their living via the pen (or keyboard as the case may be). And many people do indeed support themselves by writing. But most do so by writing non-fiction, rather than fiction. And this has been the case for many, many years now.

I remember back in the ‘80s the sage advice, if you wanted to be a freelance writer, was to write articles for the women’s magazines. The market was large and the demand was high.

When Woman’s World was new, I recall an article on growing orchids. At the time I was a serious orchid grower, with hundreds of plants. What was quickly obvious was that the writer of the article didn’t really know anything about orchids. He made too many factual errors. I began tracking that particular writer’s articles and noted two things: he was good with a camera and he wrote lots of articles. He was a pro writer. Making his living selling to women’s and other non-fiction magazines.

Making a living from fiction is difficult. It isn’t impossible; there are, though, far easier ways to make a buck.

Recently, I’ve noticed more and more indie fiction writers moving over to non-fiction by offering lessons on how to write or market your books. Claiming Amazon or USA Today bestseller credentials, they offer to tell you (for a hefty price tag) how you can do it too.

Why are they doing this? Because it’s easier than writing and publishing and marketing 4 or 5 novels a year. All you do is create a course, video record it, and you’re done. Simply advertise said course, collect the fees, and press “play”. And then “repeat” for the next group and the next one after that.

Now I don’t mean to be cynical. I’m simply saying these writers have found it’s easier to make a living via non-fiction than fiction. Something pros have known for over half a century.

What Kind of Writer Are You?

I make no bones about it. I want to be a professional novelist. Hopefully, one day I’ll succeed.

However, I won’t be sad if I end up being a serious amateur. Why? Because, due to today’s technology and opportunities, even as an amateur, I can publish and market my books and make at least some money doing so. And which I’m doing right now. Every month I earn a few buck from Amazon and the outlets I’ve signed up for through Draft2Digital. And that is a nice feeling. A very nice feeling.

What about you? What kind of writer are you?

A hobbyist? Nothing wrong with that. Have fun and share your fun with the world.

An amateur? Good for you. Self-employment is not for everyone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be serious about your poetry, short stories, or novels. And who knows? You might end up just like Anthony Trollope.

Maybe you’ve scaled the mountain. You’re on the peak. You’re a pro. Congratulations! Your hard work paid off and you deserve your reward. I envy you and also am inspired by you. Onwards and upwards!

As always, I look forward to your comments. And until next time, happy reading!

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