___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

generosity, encouragement, and dreams and those who would have you avoid them

I read something on Twitter the other week that left the proverbial sour taste in my mouth. It wasn’t a tweet from someone I follow. I saw it because it had been retweeted by a writer I’ve normally a lot of time for, presumably because this writer approved of its message. Well, what struck me about this particularly sour missive was that it wasn’t particularly generous, or all that necessary.

(Of course, you could argue that there are very few tweets on Twitter that are necessary, and I couldn’t say you’re wrong.)

This tweet stuck with me because I’d just been reading Shadow Show, a collection of short stories written in honour of and as homage to Ray Bradbury. The collection carries story notes and thoughts about Bradbury by each contributor. What struck me was how generous Bradbury had been to those writers in the collection who had written to him or encountered him at some point in their lives. He was enthusiastic, he encouraged them to follow their dreams and to write, write, write. He warned against the nay-sayers, asking who were they to deny you your dream.

A good number of contributors to that collection say they became writers through Ray Bradbury and his example.

By contrast, the tweet I read was less than encouraging to new writers. I won’t reproduce it here, because I don’t particularly want to bring that tweeter any grief. (And hey, a tweet can be written in a thoughtless moment and regretted later.) But the tweet basically said that people who give their fiction away for free are doing so because it’s not good enough and no one would buy it.

That was the general gist of it.

Doesn’t seem so cruel, put like that, and maybe I was over-reacting when I saw it.

But underlying the tweet was the implication that such people should not be writing in the first place, let alone trying to build a dream from the ground up, in the face of whatever shifting plate tectonics and searing hurricanes make up their world.

There are, alas, plenty of people who believe – or fear – that their success comes at the expense of someone else’s. They’re probably very insecure about their position in one way or another, about their talent and all the rest. They’re quick to pull ladders up behind them, or take an axe to the rungs they’ve just climbed. To discourage others, they’ll come up with things like “They say everyone has a novel in them – and in most cases that’s where it should stay,” and sprout such phrases often and at every opportunity.

By contrast there are people like Ray Bradbury, who says do it, write, give your work to the world. Don’t let others deny you your dream.

I’ve given stories away for the payment of a contributor’s copy of the magazine in which I’ve appeared. Normally such magazines have been small-press publications. It was useful to see my work in print, to examine a tale that has been published and to see what worked and what didn’t. Often, but not always, the stories I gave away received good write-ups and some were cited as notable tales in Year’s Best summaries.

I’ve also been paid for my fiction in the traditional manner, and that certainly feels nicer. But the truth is that often the margin of quality between a piece that’s been bought for a couple hundred dollars and a piece that’s going to result in a contributor copy is negligible, if noticeable at all. Often it’s simply a question of market forces and the commercial viability of the magazine/anthology. If people buy the publication and enough of a market for the kind of fiction it’s publishing exists, then there’ll be money in it.

If not, then you’ll be doing it for the love of it. You could make yourself feel better about that by calling yourself an artist. But I wouldn’t, if I were you. You’ll just sound like an arsehole.

Better to keep writing, keep looking for places that’ll take your work, better to keep dreaming.

And you know, damn it, if when everyone in the world has said no to you about your story or your book, then do as Lee Child suggested in a radio interview with Jon Gaunt some years ago on talkSport radio here in the UK. Print it up yourself, give it away to friends as a Christmas present, put a new shelf up in the living room and fill it with your book, so that everyone who visits can see it. Because it was your dream, and you’ve done the work, and made it real. It’s yours to be proud of.

And all those who said you couldn’t do it, that you shouldn’t be doing it . . . well, you know, fuck em.

Listen to Ray Bradbury instead.

(As an aside, when I made my first sale overseas, I’d wondered how payment would work. This was in the days before the prevalence of PayPal and electronic banking. The answer came by way of a flush of ten dollar bills stuffed in my contributor copies coming through the post. This is, I’ve since learned, not the usual way these things are done, and it hasn’t happened to me since!)

And here’s a little STOP THE PRESSES for you.

The person who retweeted the message that inspired (or negatively inspired) this post is at the moment offering a book for free in a promotional offer.

Funny old world, isn’t it?

John H. Carroll –(13 February 2013 at 19:19)

We writers have enough doubts without listening to the doubts of others about our work. ;) Still, it's easier said than done.

I have a number of free books, but I also have many books for sale and they do quite well. :)

Also, I've had a few other writers ask me for help and I pay it forward whereever I can as others have done for me.

All my best.


Mark –(15 February 2013 at 18:06)

Hi John,

Yes, that’s it, isn’t it? At the very least it’s being courteous. Even if you’re not in a position to help someone, then at least be encouraging by wishing him or her well.

(By the way, feel free to post some links to your fiction here.)

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