The last class session of every semester I teach is dedicated to the “business” of writing: how one finds places to send short stories and novels, how one sends them, how one does or does not get paid for them.
It’s usually a grim and depressing class, and the students are all comically amazed at how little writers make or how bookstores can just send back books they’ve already bought. They look pretty gloomy at the end and I usually just say, “Well, thanks for coming. Have a good life!”
This semester, I thought I’d try to be a little…you know…encouraging.
What I tried to say was this:
I became a writer as a kid because of a movie called Star Wars (1977). Twenty years before you were born, I was running around in the yard with spaceships yelling “pew pew pew!” and whispering vast conspiracies between my action figures. What I know about morality and the nobility of friends working together, I learned there. What I know about dialogue and plot, I learned from performing my own stories with little plastic people.
A few days ago, the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, and I watched it with all the glee and excitement of my childhood.
Here it is, so you can see it, too.
After the glee and excitement abated slightly, though, something awful occurred to me:
J.J. Abrams is making my fucking movie.
There are any number of reasons he’s getting to make my movie while I’m not. I’m guessing he might have had a more pleasant childhood, for one. He probably conducted himself better with other people, too. He also learned to work in longer concentrated bursts than thirty minutes somewhat sooner than I did. He had a clearer sense of what steps to take.
The real difference, though, is that he didn’t waste as much time wondering if he was “meant” to do it or if it was worth it or what he’d do as a back-up plan if he couldn’t like I did.
I’ve written some little stories that I’m proud of. I’ve gotten starred reviews and award nominations. I’ve entertained a few people, and I’m glad of it. But I wrote a lot of those stories because they were safe, because I could control them, because if I blew it, the consequences would be minor.
We live in a terrifying world at the mercy of oblivious or malevolent jackasses, many of them in publishing (though not as many per capita as in, say, Boko Haram). They want us to live small and be scared and buy things instead of making them.
You can work with them or against them. Maybe you’ll do that by writing, and maybe you’ll do that by doing something else. But what I hope for all of us is that we go down fighting big instead of fighting small.