Charles Stross apparently started an interesting meme in an f-locked post, taken up by jaylake (here) and burger_eater (here). The idea is for interested pro-writers to answer the questions concisely, giving the reader a quick timeline of their career.
“If I were a professional writer,” I thought, “I would do that, even though–”
I interrupted myself to point out, “You are now a professional writer, according to SFWA’s rather odd standards. You’re even an SFWA member: your first issue of the Bulletin came two weeks ago, or have you forgotten already?”
“I had forgotten,” I admitted. “I was going to blog about it so that I wouldn’t forget, but then I forgot to blog.”
“Go, and sin no more.”
“Hey, who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’ve forgotten by now. But wasn’t there something you were going to do?”
* Age when I decided I wanted to be a writer: 12
* Age when I got my hands on a typewriter and taught myself to use it: 15
* Age when I wrote my first short story: 13
* Age when I wrote my first novel: 17
* Age when I first submitted a short story to a magazine: 26
* Number of rejections prior to first story sale: More than 200, I guess
* Lifetime number of rejections: Probably between 200 and 300–possibly more
* Age when I sold my first short story: 43
* Age when I wrote a saleable novel: 45
* Age when I sold that novel: 48
* Novels written between age 17 and age 45: 5
* Novels written since age 45: parts of 3
* Age now: 48
* Age when the writing money coming in exceeded my day-job: not yet
* Number of books sold: 2 (novels)
* Number of short stories sold: 12
* Number of titles in print: none yet
* Number of titles in production or pre-production: 2 novels
I was going to say, before I was so rudely interrupted, that I don’t think my numbers are necessarily predictive of other people’s success. I was slow off the mark submitting anything for publication, and I finally settled down to the task of writing adventure fantasy for the magazines well after the American magazine market turned against such stories. (I’d put the end-point around the death of Fantastic, in 1980 or so.) And through the plague of Tolkien imitators, a.k.a. the 1980s, I was resolved to not write anything that resembled a trilogy about the Final Conflict Between Good and Evil. I did not resolve to write unreadable semi-gibberish; it just worked out that way.
The purpose of the meme is apparently to warn and frighten, not advise in the usual sense. But I did learn two things from my long career of failure which may be useful for those who want to write professionally (if what I do is professional): know your markets (especially pay attention to emerging markets) and get an agent for booklength work.
For people who just want to spend their life writing, I have only one piece of advice, but you know it already. Write what you want to write. That kind of work can sustain you when no one else likes it, when no one else even gets it. Like I say, I know you know this, but the ghost of Austin Tappan Wright is glaring at me through a nearby window, making me say it again. And we’ve all been there.