Benjamin Rosenbaum

Comments on "Sales and Translations"

Ben;

I wasn't reading this journal/blog back in 2001, but I did read the entire archives once. (And if I haven't scared you away with that admission, I'd like to ask a question (for you and any other writers lurking about)).

I think journals like this are invaluable, from the perspective of a novice writer especially, for helping to show how other folks balance writing and life, and how specific writers develop. I'm glad to hear, for instance, that you had to work on "A Siege of Cranes" for five years; I've been writing for almost six years, and decided to make a list of all the stories I've set aside for various reasons, thinking there would be four or five, and thinking to finish them now that I'm bigger and stronger. It turned out there were over twenty. (Still, I'm having fun finishing a story I started in 2004, a sequel to my ASZAS story that I had lost the will to write because of the generally depressing political climate).

Anyway, the question: I've heard writers like Paul Di Filippo and Jeff Ford mention ten years as the sort of chrysalis period it took them to "get good." Obviously these are not prescriptive statements, but I've been considering everything within my first ten years a sort of self-guided writer's school. I even spent the last year forcing myself to write in styles and genres where I am weakest in the hopes of coming out stronger, despite producing several sucky stories.

I think it's time to follow my passions again, though, and concentrate on my strengths. Sometimes I think a writer's only priority should be to write and submit as often as possible, and forget all the meta-cognitive crap.

So, cocoons: do they help or hinder, and do you consider yourself to still be in one?

P.S. Glad to hear the reading went well!

Posted by Robert Burke Richardson at February 26, 2006 03:48 PM

Hmm.... a very good question, Robert.

The thing is, it's relative. I can look back and pick various points at which I think a bunch of things clicked and date from then as "that's when I got it". But I do hope a future me will look upon my current state as equally benighted. That is to say, I *hope* I haven't "gotten good" yet.

I guess I have shifted gears somewhat, though, from feeling like I ought to try out lots of different styles and genres and tropes and so on, to noticing that I like perhaps altogether too much trying out different styles and tropes and genres, and perhaps I ought to settle on one sort of thing and go deeply into it, at least for a while. This is pretty theoretical at this point, mind you; I don't know which sort of thing to settle on. But I am less inclined than I was three years ago to try to tackle mysteries or westerns or sonnets or haiku or screenplays just for the hell of it.

I mean, if one comes along, I won't necessarily say no to it. But it would need to be pretty insistent in wanting to be written, since I now begin to know enough to be intimidated by the work of getting competent in a new form.

(Probably a new genre is less work than a new form; I might be more likely to try and write a mystery than a screenplay. In some future era when I have no day job I want to try to write historical fiction, or historical mysteries.)

In terms of a crysalis period, I think my "latent period", when I swore off writing between the ages of 19 and 27-ish, probably did me a lot of good. I think a lot was going on under the surface while I wasn't writing. Not, obviously, that this is prescriptive! Except in the sense that perhaps those who are blocked maybe shouldn't stress about it too much -- there's such a thing as lying fallow.

Once I got started again, I think everything I wrote for the first couple of years was absolute crap. Then a few lightning bolts like "The Ant King" and "The Orange" began to arrive, usually when I least expected them.

In some ways, actually, I sometimes think (or fear) that those are my best stories, at least along a certain axis. I had no idea how to reliably reproduce the conditions for their arrival, so most of what I was writing was still crap -- but I also didn't know enough to get in their way. I've since improved the mean and reduced the standard deviation -- but I may also have capped the maximum.

Anyway, after Clarion West I had more of an idea how to reliably write stuff that would at least get published.

Another way of looking at it is that probably as many of my ideas are crap as ever, but I tend to weed them out earlier in the process -- which has the downside of possible false positives, which might have been truly great...

I expect there will be some oscillation between getting good at things, but also "tight", constrained, and then breaking down the self-imposed rules, loosening up, and making a lot more mistakes again. I hope so, anyway.

It might be good to go into a cocoon every ten years.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at February 28, 2006 10:01 AM

Thanks for the thoughtful answer, Ben. I like the notion of successive cocoons and periods of development quite a bit.

Posted by Robert Burke Richardson at February 28, 2006 05:32 PM

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