When I was 17 or so, I told my parents, very tentatively, that I wanted to be a journalist. It wasn’t that I actually liked the idea of being a journalist: it was that I loved writing, and at 17 I couldn’t really imagine any other career that might be acceptable to the parental units that would also incorporate writing. On hindsight, this didn’t really make any logical sense: after all, I’d just grown up in a country with state-controlled media. My parents thought this over for a heartbeat, and then my mom said, “If you like writing, why don’t you become a lawyer?”
Fast forward over ten years and a quarter-life crisis. Now that I’m one year into another career that’s far more fun (though, I admit, most things are probably more fun than a law degree – at least in my case), you might be wondering… why the hell didn’t I just try to get published on the side? Why spend over a decade in fandom, only churning out the occasional original fiction for local writing competitions? The truth is, it not only completely didn’t occur to me that I could get published, I didn’t actually think that any of my stuff was worth publishing.
Fandom and Bad Writing Habits
Converting from almost 100% writing fanwork for friends into trying to write original, publishable fiction has been more difficult than I thought it would be. Neil Gaiman’s training wheels analogy applies here, at least for me. Fandom’s generally really forgiving of any writing quirks, as long as you manage spelling, grammar, and characterisation. I picked up this terrible tendency to ramble and/or write polemic stuff, which turns out to be exactly the kind of thing short story publishers don’t like. Not to mention my unfortunate tendency to either over-describe or under-describe settings and characters.
Fandom and Good Writing Habits
There’s nothing like the sheer positivity of fandom for confidence. Like a lot of new writers out there, most of the stuff I submit gets rejected. Reading rejection mail isn’t so bad in between all the other sorts of mail that I get. You should definitely write what you enjoy and feel passionate about, but sometimes writing short stories does feel like a bit of a grimdark process (to quote Grimdark Magazine). Feeling like you’re not looking into an endless void does help sometimes.
Confession: I try not to look at my duotrope console. I think it’s the Asian kid in me. That’s a complete F. It’s been an interesting process. The designer in me finds that the most painful part is having to submit everything in Times New Roman or Courier New. And in Microsoft Word. That hurts.
How Does Anyone Make a Living Out of Writing?
Two years ago I thought that designers had it bad where getting paid for their work was concerned. Clearly I knew nothing. Apparently, almost no one does make a living from writing. There are precious few mags that pay, while rejection is high and stories often seem to get stuck in limbo. But I don’t mind. The day job’s entertaining, and it’s almost even traditional: adland people writing books, lawyers writing books… for me, writing’s always been a great way to wind down after a day. Here’s to more stories to come.