July 17, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Accurate Measurements in Writing

GOOGLE “give up writing” and you get a quarter of a billion results. It’s a popular theme whose response ranges from when you should hang it up to exhortations that real writers never give up.

I’m not talking about giving up writing today – or any day for that matter. What I want to talk about is success and measurement, or I suppose I could say I’m talking about measuring success – but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about either.

First of all, measures. Many if not most writers, measure success by publication. That measure has grown increasingly inaccurate with the advent of ebooks and Create Space. Anyone with a novel can format, price and place it on Amazon.com, Smashwords or any of dozens of places where for some amount of credit transfer, you can read their words. The ones who do that feel that they are published and therefore successful.

While I haven’t put my stuff out there yet in that way, I have read a couple of books that have been. Both have been deeply disappointing. I’ve even tried to read a couple put out by “indie presses” or independent presses, specialized publishers whose editors accept work based on their strict criteria who then contract and work with writers. Unfortunately, I haven’t read one of the indie novels that I really liked yet, either (and FYI, one was paper the other electronic).

Books I’ve read by “small press” publishers – which range somewhere between the indie presses and the megacorps – have (in my experience) been uneven. Of course, every novel I read published by TOR, DAW, VOYAGER et al has been fabulous, right? No, they haven’t. But I have found them consistently freer of grammatical and formatting errors; easier to find; more reliably reviewed; typically more smoothly edited and almost always more pleasingly jacketed.

All of the above then I’ve written to say that publication alone is no longer a measure of success for a writer of ANYTHING.

So what do I measure success by now in my own writing? Production? Harrumph – everyone knows the “infinite monkey theorem” that states, “…a monkey hitting keys at random on a computer keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.”

Quality? Possibly, but how so? I CAN say that my work has been edited and published in magazines that still exist and are recognizable to the authorities in the field: ANALOG is generally recognized in the science fiction field and CRICKET is generally recognized in the children’s fiction field. So are THE WRITER and TURTLE MAGAZINE. The problem there is that it has been some time since I sold anything to any of them despite a consistent (if not frequent) flow of submissions. I sold my most recent publication in FUN FOR KIDZ magazine over two years ago. Checking my records, I see clearly that I have not sold anything since then, except for a teacher’s guide for a story collection for which I received a kill fee when the project was cancelled. So if I exclude the “time thing”, I can say, based on those criteria that I am successful.

My question though is this: Though by the above criteria I am “successful” – why don’t I FEEL successful?

Thoughts and comments are ALWAYS welcome!

Image: http://quksaceagjke.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/poppins.png

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