October 28, 2012


Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. Bruce was there, along with a couple of other writers. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer writes. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, an irregular anthology of new speculative fiction, he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/a-12-step-program-for-writers/. They are used with the author’s permission.

  1. We admit that we are powerless over publishers, and that our careers have become completely unmanageable.

This has a peculiar sharpness right now as I have a story that has been received at ANALOG since June. I’m at 129 days since that reception – beyond the number at which they recommend we inquire. I did THAT several days ago and I haven’t heard since. DUOTROPE gives the range of response times between 5 minutes and 231 days – though the average for a rejection is 23 days and the average for an acceptance is 95 days.

As I know I am powerless to sway editors, it makes it all the more difficult that former editor Stan Schmidt (who accepted the three stories I’ve had published in ANALOG) retired a few weeks ago and managing editor Trevor Qachri has ascended the throne. The question now is: does he like my writing enough to buy the piece or not? It helps when I remember that its premise is likely to be controversial.

I’d submitted HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: EMERALD OF EARTH to Andrew Hartwell, editor at HarperCollins Children’s Book in October of 2011. Not having heard anything by March 27 the following year, I sent a query at which time he said he’d get to it soon. I heard from him on July 20, 2012 – FOUR DAYS after my new agent, Karen Grencik (Red Fox Literary) emailed him about it.

It’s a good thing for me that my writing has not become a career. My career is teaching with a slight change of venue recently to become a school counselor. But I’d like my career to be as a writer. At least my second career as I contemplate retirement.

All right, I know now that I am helpless when it comes to editors. So what does the Twelve Step plan say for writers?

The “real 12 steps” of AA (which have been adapted to help people addicted to dozens of evils) reads “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.”
In terms of the Writer’s 12 Steps?

This means that the first step is the biggest step. The intent here is to break through a writer’s denial that editors have anything to do with their writing. It’s a decision to make a change, to see if the compulsion to have a writing career is detrimental.

“We admitted” is a declaration, an acceptance of our condition as writers. It’s a realization that we need help, and it implies that we are now pursuing a solution, a life-changing surrender, our biggest admission to the world. And surprisingly enough, this step can keep us in reality all by itself. A writer who fully internalizes the first step is well protected against that consistent belief that THEY are in control.

This is an argument against a writer’s typical line of insane thinking: that all I have to do is write a really fabulous book and it will get published. Once we DO get published despite the odds, our devious minds can be planning a full scale return to the belief that all we have to do is write…It’s this line of thinking that shows us the unmanageability in our lives that even if we are clean for a period of time, both our obsessive and our compulsive nature leave us no way to manipulate or wiggle our way out of a relapse.

The first step is our greatest defense against relapse, because it clearly reminds us of what we are inviting back into our lives if we choose to think we are in control again.

While I may be reading WAY more into Bruce’s humorous piece, there is more than a grain of truth here as I continue to write and continue to send my stuff to editors.

Does any of this resonate with your condition?

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