Bewildering Stories

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On Writing or How Not To Make a Living as a Writer

by Eric S. Brown

Writing... Now there is a tough topic to write about. I wish I could tell you how to go out there and become the next Stephen King and maybe buy yourself your own country with your income but alas, it not for such as I. I can however, tell you the tale of one struggling author, why you should write if you into it, and a bit about getting published.

When I was in the 2nd grade, my school had a thing kind like of a career day where all the kids got to come in dressed up as what they wanted to be later on in life. Needless to say that my teacher disagree with me being the next Victor Von Doom. I suppose she had a thing against Monarch, sorcerer, brilliant villains intent on conquering the world to make it a better place. So I was forced to ask myself what I really wanted to do. I went in that day dressed in a Green Lantern T-shirt and jeans. I managed to get an A on the project though, because I said simply “I am an Sci-Fi author.” It was either that or an astro-physicist and let’s face it, I stink at math.

English classes were always a joke for me all the way through college. There was no challenge to it. On the first day of classes in college my professors would hand out a list of all the papers due in the term including the “big” one and I would always turn them all in two days later and “goof” the rest of the class, usually sneaking in some “quality” reading while he or she lectured and they were cool with that. I made a lot more professor friends than other students and often hung in the teachers’ lounge talking about mythology or comic books as literature rather than smoking with the cool kids. But I never really believed I could really be a writer and so never tried until I was 26. Oh those same professors and even my elementary teachers had tried to get me to submit stuff but I didn’t listen.

Then one day, I guess, I figured I was getting too old to try and at the start of 2001, at 26, fired off my first submission out of the current Writer’s Short Story and Market guide to print magazines called Black Petals and Burning Sky. Yep, it was a “sim. sub.” About two or three weeks later, I got response letters from both on the same day. I prayed and tore open the one from Burning Sky. Lo and behold, it was acceptance!! I called everyone I knew and afterward calmed down enough to open the 2nd letter. To my utter shock it was an acceptance too. I called everyone again and had a signing in a local book shop before I knew it. My head spinning, I felt my whole world change during that time. I set forth like a man possessed and decided then and there I would go out and make my market. It was my destiny besides what else could a pseudo-intellectual, comic collector do with his life.

Since that time, I have had a legion of short stories published or accepted, published a chapbook, sold another, worked as an editor ( for pay and for free) at places like The Swamp, Alternate Realities, the Smoky Mountain News, served as reviewer for The Haunted, ran my own print magazine called Night Shopping which did really well and if I had the time to stick with it would still be going now but I have turned it over to the control of my friend C.G. Davis and it now a webzine. I have made the local papers 5 times in 2002, been on the radio, got listed in Short Story and Novel Market guide three times (!!, So I can walk into a Barnes and Noble and look myself up), been recommended for best Sci-Fi short, horror short, and author of the year in Preditors and Editors awards, and best of all, sold two full length books due out this summer!! I have done book signings, have local fans, taught workshops on writing and got paid for it, a lot things I never thought I would do. I actually have a self of my own print appearances and a stack of newspapers with my articles. In a way, I have done what I wanted to do and in a way I am still light years from reaching my goal. Some days I feel very blessed and others days I curse and mope and pray for a big break. I am about to turn 28 and I ain’t gettin’ any younger, ya know?

Today it is nearly impossible to make a living from fiction alone. Why? Because reading is dying out and being replaced by things like TV and movies and SO many people want to write with all their heart that selling anything is difficult. Only a hundred or two hundred people in the whole country can honestly say that they make a living from fiction alone like Mr. King. I am not one of them but I do get paid and published. So keeping that in mind, knowing what you do know, here’s the way (at least for me) to get your work out there and read.

Step one of course is to read. As a life long comic/Sci-Fi/Horror, I have a lot of info and past ideas to draw on. And reading others helps you refine your own style and find your own voice. We all start by emulating others until we grow enough to find our own path. Sure I have read King, Lovecraft, Drake, Zahn, Wells, McCammon, Simmons, and Jordan but I have also read Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Poe, Stan Lee, Bryne, and others too. Even people like Chappell and Sparks. One needs to read a bit of everything and not just enjoy it but look at it and learn too.

Step two is finding an idea. An easy thing to do. Ideas are everywhere. They can come from other authors, TV, movies, the news, dreams, or even a simple trip to Wal-mart (the social Mecca of my hometown.) One doesn’t need to look far or try too hard. Once you have an idea, just grab a notebook and write your soul out. But that isn’t in itself all of step three. No, that involves rewriting, proofing, etc. too. Often I commit the sin of sending a brand new tale straight out the door to an editor and my writing suffers from that. One really needs to give a tale time to breath and then go over it again and again until it as fun and/or deep as it can be. Then take move on to step four and send it out. It’s hard to be published if you never try to get it there.

But perhaps most of all, you need to keep writing. Don’t write a single tale and watch the mailbox like a hawk waiting to see what happens. Keep writing and pay attention to your craft above all else. Try to make each tale better than the last. Don’t let rejection get you down either. I once had a tale that it took me like 5 months to find a home for even though my very first one was accepted twice back in the day. But when that tale finally sold, it went for 2 cents a word which is something to be proud of in today’s market. And don’t get caught up the “art” or being an “artist” either. When I write it is for me, not a market or money. I write to escape life around, it’s as simple as that. I make no claims to be an “artist.” I am just a guy having fun with paper and a pen and if I sometimes get paid for it or have someone tell me it was well-written then hey great and if I don’t well that’s ok too on most days. Worry about bettering yourself and doing what you want not how the world sees you.

I wish I could tell you how to go out be the next Stephen King but I can’t. I do however think if you just write and try, one day you will at least have someone reading your work and it can be really rewarding even without 38 million dollars a year. So go forth and write. Send off those subs and be merry. “E’nuff Said” to quote a certain Mr. Lee.

Hope that helped and thanks for reading.

The Wanna be writer and egotistical mad-man,

Eric S. Brown

Copyright © 2003 by Eric S. Brown