I have returned from the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, but I’m relatively certain I left my brain under one of the presentation tables somewhere.
As always, the conference was awesome. In the classes taught by the fantastic speakers I learned several new skills to drop into my ever expanding writer’s tool-box. In the bar I had several meaningful, occasionally enlightening, conversations, and had plenty of opportunity to mingle among friends, old and new, and rejuvenate my love for the craft. I drank more than was wise, and ate more than was healthy, but enjoyed myself from the time I arrived to the time I left.
As much as I learned – and the amount is significant – the new knowledge I gained pales in comparison to one thing I was lacking: Perspective. And I got that in spades.
As I’ve discussed before, I am not a patient person. I want too much, too soon, and am inclined to pull a snit out of my closet when the mood strikes me…which is often. I easily grow discouraged by my own perceived lack of success, and I’ve been known to stamp my foot like a child who has been denied a lollipop. In speaking with other writers (most of them far better, and far smarter than me) I gained some valuable insight into what their lives are like.
A storyteller I admire a great deal, is CC (Chris) Humphreys, whose most recent book, A Place Called Armageddon, sits among my favorites. Chris describes himself as a mid-list Author (he makes a living from his writing, but doesn’t drive a Ferrarri or buy and sell people like heads of lettuce), and is much further along in his career and his craft than I am likely to ever be.
I had an opportunity to speak with Chris, and talk about his most recent book tour(which he also discusses in his blog, here) in which he traveled several hundred miles for a book signing and have not one person show up. Not one. At all. And he’s famous.
During a keynote speech, notable science fiction author, Robert J Sawyer, who has won every science fiction award known to man, told us that it takes only 5000 copies of a book to be sold in Canada for it to be considered a bestseller. Despite the fact the requirements for bestseller status are so low, very few books ever make it that far. If you, as a Canadian Author, he said, sell 7000 copies of a book, you are exceptional. If you’re published with a small house (like me), and you sell 300 copies of your book, then you have something to be very proud of.
When I heard such tiny numbers I felt myself absolutely deflated. I do not write for money (and if I did I would be living in a cardboard box and eating out of dumpsters), but I still have hopes of one day being able to retire from my day job and make a living from my craft. If these authors, who are so much better than me, are struggling with book signings that no one comes to and dismal sales numbers, then what can I, an uneducated goon, really expect from this writing life.
The answer: Nothing.
I can expect Nothing at all. But I can strive for much.
Instead of allowing what I’d heard to pull me down, I forced it to push me up, which is what they intended anyway. Even though Chris had a vacant signing, he is still telling the story with a laugh and making a good living doing what he loves. Even though it only takes 5000 copies of a book to make a bestseller in Canada, Robert J Sawyer is winning awards across the world, and giving up his time to try and help us do the same.
What I learned from these men is that the numbers don’t matter. They don’t matter one little freaking bit. What matters is the writing. What really matters is the story. What really matters is that we hustle, and strive, and keep working on our craft.
“Your story might not matter to everyone,” Robert Sawyer said. “But it is going to matter, very much, to someone.”
With these words in mind I am making a commitment, to both you, my friends, and myself, that I am going to work more and worry less. I am going to produce more stories and less excuses. I am going to focus on what is important, and forget what doesn’t matter.
With the conference done, a new year of writing is upon us. It is time to put down the pouts and pick up the pen, and get some shit done.
Let me know if you want to tag along.