Same As It Ever Was

I’ve lived in New England all my life, and at this point I’ll probably never live anywhere else. This is curious, in a way, given how much I dislike being cold; but places become habits, familiar and comfortable, and they can soothe us on a subconscious level. Drive two hours to the coast and everything begins to look strange and exotic: still beautiful, still welcoming, but not quite right. Drive south, and the flora changes slowly but inexorably until it’s full of alien trees and flowers, fascinating and mesmerizing, another universe. Nice places to visit, but I wouldn’t choose to live there.

Humans are adaptable, of course. If I ever moved, for any reason, it wouldn’t take long for the alien landscape to feel familiar. But I suspect there would always be something when I came back here, something in the percentage of pines or the types of bushes or the density of foliage along the highways that would resonate with the most fundamental, oldest part of me in a way that nothing else does. The harmonics of home.

On Friday, temperatures dropped below zero. Yesterday, we had about eight inches of snow. Today it’s nearly 50F (10C for you metric folks) and raining, and it’s a tossup whether the rain will get rid of all the snow or just add a beautiful and dangerous veneer of ice to everything. It’s a short drive from here to state highways, which are usually well cleared; the most hazardous part of any expedition is between my front door and the main road.

The climate is changing. Hiccups like -13F to 50F in two days don’t lead to that conclusion in a straight line; bobbles have always happened. But the climate is changing, and that’s the fact of it, and sometimes I recognize that the icy, hazardous driving that comes with living on a mountain isn’t such a bad thing to deal with, given the future of sea levels. I’ve sometimes, in service of fiction, googled maps of likely sea level rise, depending on the severity of the damage we’ve done and are still doing. I write the future; I want to know what land masses are most likely to stay habitable.

Humans are adaptable, but one of our biggest flaws is inertia. We may see change coming, but we’re slow to shift. We almost never shift in anticipation. We wait for the wave to hit before scrambling for higher ground, and by then it’s too late for most of us. We have faith in some larger System that has Rules that will somehow kick in and save us from disaster. Where the climate is concerned, this takes the form of the Technology Fairy: Someone will figure out how to fix it, so we don’t actually have to change. Someday, Someone will present us with the perfect type of renewable energy/solar-powered car/efficient replacement for fossil fuels, and we’ll all be saved.

Someone is always Someone Else.

Yesterday, when it snowed, I took some time to look around. (It was warmer than the previous day’s -13F, so this was a relatively pleasant exercise.) Around here, the snowy landscape looks almost like a black-and-white photograph, untouched white against the black and gray of bare branches. When the sun comes out, it all turns crystal, and it looks unreal, like one of those old department store winter displays. And it’s quiet, in a way it’s never quiet in the summer and fall: no rustling of leaves and grass, the snow absorbing the sounds of small animals moving through the woods. It feels still and quiet and strangely safe, despite the cold.

I’ve read some speculation that the reason the whole world seems to be falling into fascism – again – is in part because those who were adults during World War II – fighting it, and surviving it – are nearly all gone. There may be a grain of truth to that. Certainly as a species we have terrible institutional memory. I remember the Vietnam War, and being terrified at what I saw on television; now, as an adult, I can think about how much more terrifying it was for the actual people there: the civilians who, like me, like most of us, just wanted to get through an ordinary day, and had that taken from them for reasons that must have seemed astonishingly disconnected from their own lives; the soldiers sent into a fuzzy-edged and ill-considered war by men with little of their own skin in the game.

History rhymes, but we so rarely notice.

The United States is not this. The United States has always been this. Both of these things are true. To paraphrase an overused meme: today, we are feeding the wrong wolf. We have always, as a nation, said the right things, and some of us have meant them, and others have said “We mean this, but only for people like us.” As a species, we are deeply vulnerable to fear, and despair, and the promise of Someone Else fixing it all.

We are Someone Else. We have always been Someone Else.

I’ve probably already mentioned that I hate the telephone. I joke about it, but it’s on the level of a genuine phobia, and it’s debilitating sometimes. It’s also my first hurdle in the fight against inertia. We still have elections, and we still have representatives, and I can pick up the damn phone and thank them when I agree and suggest an alternative course of action for them when I don’t. It’s a teeny, tiny thing, and it may be useless.

But it may not. And it beats the hell out of inertia.

Pandora’s Box had it right: hope is the strongest thing of all. If it weren’t, the despots of the world wouldn’t be working so hard to take it away from us.

Here Be Dragons

I had an ultra-stereotypical suburban Mom day yesterday. The Kid had a dance recital, so I spent the morning googling how to put long hair in a bun. (Conclusion: Without hair spray you need roughly 8,000 hairpins.) On the way to the recital location, Spouse and I chatted about, among other things, future college costs and strategies. Then we sat in a hot, cramped room and watched kids dance to Christmas songs for two hours before heading home, The Kid in the back seat under her iPod.

It seemed so normal. But nothing is normal.

When we were talking about college and scholarships and loans, I wondered aloud if such things would even be around by the time she would be going. (Yes, given everything, that will likely be the least of our problems; but money is a quantifiable thing and is sometimes the easiest way to put worries into words.) And then we went back to the financial discussion, because life goes on and you still have to plan and as yet I have no idea how to plan for the sorts of contingencies that look more and more like they’re going to come true.

That’s what I struggle with the most, day after day, as the news keeps getting worse. Generally if I can see the road ahead I can strategize. But this is becoming a mish-mash of the worst possible imaginable scenario, and things I never thought could happen in this country. Without a clear path, paralysis begins to feel normal.

That’s the thing to guard against. Routine is good, and can be helpful. Continuing to make plans for the future can be helpful. And heaven knows it’s impossible to stay constantly engaged in the news. We have to take breaks, in the spirit of putting on our own oxygen masks first, if nothing else. If we don’t stay strong, we really will be paralyzed.

But allowing it all to fade into the background? That’s how normalization happens.

And right now, it’s a really rough balance.

Politicians know how to play this game: propose something hideous, take one smidge of hideousness out of it, and a relieved electorate accepts something that would otherwise have been unworkable. (Wait for the “modification” of the Social Security proposal, probably along the lines of exempting a percentage of the older population from the changes.) This is how the entire country has been hauled further and further to the right.

But that’s politics as usual. I know what that looks like. I know how to react to that (although not, apparently, how to stop it). What’s happening now isn’t politics as usual. Some politicians will be taking advantage of the same old methods, but there is nothing usual about any of this.

When life gets difficult, I turn to writing. This is a thing I’ve done my whole life. It’s reflexive. It allows me to survive. And I’m doing it now, although I’m finding some of the work I’ve been planning is changing. I had some thoughts on near-future stuff, and it seems both insufficiently post-apocalyptic and too depressing to think about. Among other things, I write to escape, and near-future isn’t looking escape-worthy. I’m toying with bumping the timeline out a few hundred years and working with a similar story. Anything that shows humans surviving that long is optimistic, after all.

Writing isn’t going to be enough. This isn’t going to be the kind of thing where we can put our heads down and have earnest discussions until the next election. The hardest thing to fight against is going to be the normalization, the complacency. The acceptance of the “merely” horrible.

Some time ago, I lived with an alcoholic. It was creeping cohabitation that started with me spending a few weeks at his place after I broke my foot and couldn’t drive. He was drunk every night. He was awful. And then he’d sober up and apologize and that apology felt so good, so soothing, and I got hooked, like any drug addict. I stayed with the source of the pain because I liked how it felt when that same source made the pain go away.

This is how it happens. The day-to-dayness of our lives stays more or less the same, because objects in motion stay in motion. We hang on to routine because we need to breathe, we need to regroup, we need strength to strategize. And routine becomes an opiate, and the worse things get the more we cling and the less capable we are of making necessary changes.

It’s doubly hard when we can’t see what those changes are going to be.

I always thought voting was the answer. Research your candidates. Support them. Vote. In this case, it didn’t matter. It’s possible it never would have mattered. This was a perfect storm of civic ignorance and foreign interference. If it was just the election, that would be one thing, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it’s the politicians themselves. Our government is not our own. This has probably been true for a while, but there have been enough people to hold the line. Now there’s no one, and it’s unclear how many of the usual tools will continue to be available to the rest of us.

So what do we do?

The only thing I’ve concluded is that compromise is exactly the wrong way to go. Most people–even those who identify as Republican–agree with the bulk of the policies championed by progressives. Now is not the time to view this as an election defeat requiring a change in strategy, because that’s not what it was. This was not an ordinary election defeat, and it’s not going to be an ordinary administration. Human compassion and civil rights have just become decentralized in this country, and we must each become a center of compassion.

Does that sound amorphous? It is. I live in a bluer-than-blue state, and it’s very easy here to get lost in the inertia of routine. And we’re still in the anticipatory stages. We’ve seen enough by now to know that it’s impossible to underestimate the perfidious nature of the next administration, but even so, we keep being shocked by the realities. We try to imagine the worst, and we find out the next day we had it wrong.

So for now? Maybe we do focus on routine, on self-care, on hugging our people and our animals and remembering why all of this matters. Maybe all we can do right now is make ourselves as strong as we can. And remember that we are not alone. We are not even few in number. We are the majority, and that matters.

Small Things

When the world falls apart, small things become huge.

It’s been over a month since we lost Editor Cat. A couple of weeks ago, we acquired kittens, who came with a cold that they gave to Laser Cat, who became quite ill. She spent a couple of days in the hospital getting a hydrating IV and more x-rays than any cat in the entire state. Now she’s home, and not eating much, and sleeping a lot, and sneezing, and I worry.

I have two friends who have lost people to suicide in the last few weeks.

Laser Cat is a strange creature. She showed up on our doorstep in 2008, the afternoon of an ice storm that took out our electricity for nine days. She was declawed, and covered in ticks, and weighed less than five and a half pounds. We took her to the vet, put up a couple of posters, and, when nobody claimed her, called her our own. She’s damaged, psychologically. She howls when she’s held, great long, low sounds that she sustains without perceptibly inhaling. She’ll bite and slap people with those clawless paws when she’s really had it. And she’ll climb up next to you if you’re upset, and purr for a while, and even let you pet her, until it becomes too much and she runs away.

I know a child who keeps asking if her family will be allowed to stay. Nobody can tell her. She was born here. They are legal immigrants. It shouldn’t be a question. She should be worrying about school dances and getting good enough grades to get into Algebra I. She should not have to think about any of this.

Laser Cat is on the mend, sort of. I bounce between optimism and deep anxiety. She is sleeping a lot, and she still has a cold. Sometimes it takes me a while before I can coax her to eat. Tonight I couldn’t get her to eat at all, but she had been up earlier, wandering around where the dry food is, and tonight she fought me off much harder than usual. So: She didn’t eat, but she seemed stronger. More pissed off. Much more Laser Cat than she has been. The vet prescribed her an appetite stimulant which will be delivered tomorrow–it was compounded, and there were no local pharmacies that would do it, so it had to be mailed–and I get to see how easily I can get her to take a pill. I hope she bites the hell out of me.

People I know, who claim to agree with me on substantive issues, are bouncing on the “identity politics are responsible” train, as if the entire history of this country hasn’t been identity politics, just not the kind they’re talking about. I get unspeakably angry, which isn’t an emotion I handle well.

The kittens are growing. One of them put on a pound in a week. He’s going to be massive. He has huge panther feet and a long nose, as if somewhere in his bloodline there is Abyssinian. The other is still tiny, a little black and white girl, picture-perfect kitten cute and tough as hell. She’s the instigator, the first one to pounce, the last one to curl up and settle down. She takes us utterly for granted. Neither of them has the kind of psychological injury that Laser Cat has. They are deeply curious about Laser Cat. It turns out Laser Cat’s formidable glare works pretty well on kittens.

I would like my Laser Cat back. I would like one thing to go well, to have one reason for optimism, to have one sign that there is a path forward–different, difficult perhaps, but forward.

Small things become huge.

Presidents are elected, every time, based on domestic policy. Sometimes it’s vitally important. Sometimes it’s bullshit. But every single president in my lifetime has been almost entirely absorbed, while in office, with international issues. Domestically, it’s pretty clear how this is going to go, and it’s a fucking shitshow and I’m glad they at least lost the popular vote because that does suggest there may be enough of us to hang on. Which won’t save everyone. It already hasn’t saved everyone. But it may save some.

But internationally? The domestic stuff depresses me deeply. The international stuff actually frightens me. And it’s not just the ignorance–it’s the deep incuriosity, and the facile idea that xenophobia will solve everything. This is Planet Earth 2016. There is no way to draw into your own borders and cover your ears and wait for the rest of the world to decide whether or not to blow itself up.

I realized, a while back, that you can tell a lot about people based on who they mean when they say “us” and “them.” The US has always had this romantic view of itself as a melting pot, a home for everyone. And no, it’s never been that, not for everyone, not easily for anyone who does not have white skin, white ancestors, a white name. But it’s a goal to strive for, and it’s hard to look at all of this and think that I am surrounded by people who have deliberately shoved that goal aside in the name of fear.

I have sympathy for fear. But real people have been hurt, are being hurt, will be hurt, because some people are amorphously afraid. I can have sympathy. But I cannot forgive.

We don’t know how old Laser Cat is. Our best guess is that she’s roughly ten. Not a young cat, but by no means an old one, not really. All of my cats live a long time. I’m counting on many more years of Laser Cat, and at the same time I am holding my breath for her to make it to tomorrow so I can try feeding her again. There has been too much loss lately. She is one cat, rescued on an unlikely day after having survived weeks in the woods with coyotes and no claws, and we love her and small things become huge.

The world changes and the pendulum swings. What is an annoyance for some is life and death for others. One step back for me, twenty steps back for someone else. I am lucky. Am I strong? What’s the definition? We all need strength. We cannot draw into our own borders and cover our ears. This is the world we are in. This is now, and this is us.

Ways to Cope

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say post-US election, but I find myself uncharacteristically short of words. So here are some words from others that have resonated with me:

And some actual, concrete things you can do to help:

  • Places to donate. There are more than this. Your home town undoubtedly has organizations and resources that could use some help right now. Google can help you.
  • If you write – whether or not you’re currently published – consider this.
  • If you see anyone being harassed, help however you can. (This seems like a reasonable strategy.) If you can’t intervene, find someone who can.
  • Be public about your position. Be counted.

And remember, we are all in the world every day. Some of us are going to be more vulnerable through all of this than others. We can reach out to people who are more at risk than we are. We can stand up and be proudly inclusive, and live by what we believe. This has always been important. It’s especially important now.

REMNANTS OF TRUST: or, What’s Revenge Got To Do With It?

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I didn’t know, when I started this book, that it was going to be about revenge.

Revenge is a funny thing. It seems to be a pretty strong human instinct. You hurt me; I hurt you. Scales get balanced and all is well, right?

Except it doesn’t work out that way. It should—eye for an eye, and all that—but it doesn’t. Because revenge fundamentally means becoming what we hate, and that in itself has consequences.

I’ve had the opportunity for revenge a few times in my life—emotional, not physical. I got in one good last shot at a cheating boyfriend, which changed absolutely nothing. I said one of those things you can’t ever take back to a family member once, in the middle of a fight—they stopped yelling at me, but my sense of triumph lasted about a millisecond before I realized what I’d done. I was able to verbally eviscerate a friend who had disappeared on me, months after she’d done it. And of course you know where people’s sympathies were after that.

I have a temper, an imagination, and a brain. Revenge should feel marvelous. And in reality, it’s a grain of sand tossed into the black hole of hurt and loss: all it does is suck more out of you, and change nothing.

Raman Çelik, in this book, is in about as good a position as a wronged person can be: he’s been assigned revenge. His ship is essentially destroyed, a quarter of his crew murdered, and his official orders involve getting the people who did it, whatever it takes. License to kill. Hooray! Except…all of his people are still dead. And his ship is still destroyed. And his professional future is still uncertain. And who is he supposed to kill? Who is behind this? Who is responsible?

Raman is the ship’s captain. He knows who is responsible. And so there is vengeance, the only thing he can bring himself to feel, only it’s not just the perpetrators that need to be dealt with, is it?

Raman is a pro when it comes to psychological manipulation. He’s the Steve Jobs guy who makes you cry in the elevator on his way to a meeting where he motivates people to create something brilliant. He’s an accomplished asshole. He knows himself really, really well. And he’s never been powerless before, and he has absolutely no idea how to cope with it.

Powerlessness is the seed of revenge. It’s a great hunger that tells you the only solution is to strike out as violently as you can. Intelligence and rationality are nothing in the face of it. It swallows everything. It’ll swallow your life if you let it.

And that’s part of Raman’s attraction to—and frustration with—Guanyin. More than anyone else he knows, she has a clear notion of exactly what in her life she does and does not have power over. She’s not always happy about it, but her anger never becomes fantasy or denial. (The fact that she’s pregnant in this story is not an accident: pregnancy is a primal way of being out of control.) She can be angry with Raman for the path he is choosing, but it never occurs to her that she can or should be able to change him.

Her clear-eyed acceptance of reality is soothing to him. And soothing is exactly what he doesn’t need.

The ultimate problem with revenge is that it doesn’t fix anything. The US prison system (to get political for a moment) is a real-world example of this: we can’t decide if we want revenge or rehabilitation, so we end up doing neither with any effectiveness, and the gaping black hole stays hungry. Revenge isn’t about justice or moving forward or letting go: it’s is about clinging to a past that is set for eternity. It’s hanging on to the rock while you sink to the bottom of the ocean.

That friend that I eviscerated so long ago. I can look back on our argument, on what destroyed our relationship, and recognize that she had culpability there. I can recognize that I did, too. I can see what led up to it, that it wasn’t a single moment of loss. I can see the people around us, some of whom bore far more of the blame than she did. I said awful things to her, and had my revenge, and I still carry the scar of losing her and knowing that I can’t go back and undo it. Ever. Because she died a few years ago, a young woman, after I had not spoken to her in twenty years, after our lives had been apart far longer than they had been together.

Without knowing I was doing it, I wrote her this book. I didn’t intend it as either an apology or an explanation, but perhaps, on some level, it is both.

And for me at least, it’s also a reminder of how important it is to let go of the rock, and swim like mad for the light.

The Romance Thing

I actually wrote this a while ago, and tabled it. But here, on the cusp of the release of REMNANTS OF TRUST–which is also not a romance novel–it seemed like a good one to resurrect.


WARNING: This post contains spoilers for THE COLD BETWEEN, although if you’ve read any reviews, they’re probably spoilers you’ve already seen. Still: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

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If you want to discuss genre, it’s probably closest to say that I write military SF (or possibly space opera).

But the first two chapters of THE COLD BETWEEN read very much like a romance novel. (You have to skip the prologue to get the full effect of that, which is part of why the prologue is there.) I always liked that about it. I like the idea of launching the story with an intimate and personal incident, something private between two people. Something nice.

Because boy, it runs off the rails pretty quickly. There’s not a ton of nice in this book, and I wanted to have a little bit of time when Elena could actually be happy and not angry and stressed out. I wanted to let people see the sort of person she was most of the time, the kind of person who could believably be someone’s best friend and trusted colleague.

And to me, it was very clear from the beginning that these two people weren’t going to have a life together.

Elena loves her career. Loves it. More than that, she loves living on a starship. She loves space and travel, and the sound of machines. It’s in her blood, and it gives her strength and comfort. Trey, on the other hand, loves his home planet. He has longed for home for decades. Even feeling ostracized by his fellow colonists, not to mention his own family, there’s a contentment he gets from being there that nothing else in his entire eventful, productive life has ever given him.

How can these people stay together? Spoiler: They can’t. And I wrote it that way on purpose.

Y’all know I’m no spring chicken. I’m 52 years old. I was nearly 38 when I got married. I have a couple of exes for whom I wish nothing but loneliness and unrelenting misery. (Pretty sure grudge-holding is my superpower.) And I have a couple with whom I would sit down for coffee, catch up, and listen with delight to what I hope are the lovely things that have happened to them since we parted.

Because for me, while love was not always Happily Ever After, it was also not always acrimony and bitterness. For me, as often as not, love was real, and nurturing, and not meant to last any longer than it did.

I wanted to write about that: the sort of truly loving relationship that ends not because of betrayal or foolishness, but because sometimes you’re not headed the same way as your partner, and that’s all right. You can be sad, and wish things were different, and still know that the best thing for both you and them is to part.

I love reading romance novels, but I didn’t write one. I enjoy happy endings, but sometimes the best choices life offers you don’t give you a Happily Ever After option, and it doesn’t mean your life is over or you have to be miserable. Or celibate. Or never fall in love again.

I wanted to write that kind of love story, because that kind of love has been part of my life, and I suspect I’m not alone.

There’s sadness in the ending. I love Elena and Trey together. They are so good for each other in so many ways. He helps her see shades of gray. She helps him choose happiness. I cried when I wrote their last scene together. It’s a sad thing, that their paths are so divergent.

But they do not belong together.

In its own way, this book does have a happy ending, despite the severing of Elena and Trey’s romance. The romance is a piece of the story, not the point of it. The point of it is a bunch of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. There’s mystery, and friendship, and mistrust, and misunderstanding, and lies, and explosions, and betrayal. Melodrama.

And if it’s enjoyed as such…that’s exactly what I intended.

Art vs. Commerce

There are two sides to this writing thing: the creative side, and the business side.

This is not news to anybody, right? It’s just that, based entirely on my own experience, I’m pretty sure not everybody knows what it means. sure as hell didn’t understand. Even now I’m only just beginning to see it. And it’s not a matter of missing facts. The facts are out there, and easy to find, and pretty basic, actually. But it’s not the same as living through it.

Two things happened this week that made me start thinking about this. The first was the #WhyIWrite tag that showed up on Twitter a few days back. I didn’t participate. Not because I don’t have an answer to that question — at this point in my life, it’s just a thing I do, like any other lifetime activity.

Not very profound, is it? Especially since there are some days when I’m really at a loss. Some days writing is hard, and uncomfortable, and it feels futile, and couldn’t I find something else to be just a thing I do?

Did you see that word futile in there? That suggests some discrete purpose that the writing is not fulfilling. So what does that mean? What am I not accomplishing that makes the word futile flit through my head? Why do I write? Never mind everything that came before — why do I write now?

It might be easier to ask what’s been making it a struggle. To that, I can only say…publishing is exposing. And yeah, that’s the point. But it’s sort of like rejection, in that I’m not sure it’s a thing anybody really understands until they experience it themselves.

Publishing a book is a commercial act. You’re putting something in front of the public, and hoping they’ll trade money for it (or take it out of the library, love it, and talk it up to their friends, who will then ask their own libraries to order it). You become like any other supplier in the capitalist system: you produce a Thing, which is worth what others are willing to pay for it. How much work you put into the Thing is entirely irrelevant. Markets are both dispassionate and mercurial. Whether the market is kind or not, you — if you want a career in Thing-making — need to create another Thing, and offer it up to the market again.

I did just that when I was in software. There were far more people between me and the market, but it was essentially the same idea: the development team produced software, and somebody on another team sold it. We all hoped it would sell well and demand would remain high, but in the meantime, it didn’t matter: we had to keep writing software, improving on what we’d already done, thinking of new software that would potentially sell, working to specs and schedules.

I’d never suggest that software can’t be art. But it isn’t art like writing is art. Software comes from problems that need solving. It can be elegant, beautiful, efficient, remarkable; but the precise implementation isn’t generally what gets exposed or critiqued.

By necessity, there is so much more of yourself made vulnerable with writing. In one sense, that’s the only thing that can make a story work: that core of personal truth in the center of the fiction. You’re holding up a part of yourself to the world, and saying, “You know?” And you’re hoping that there will be someone out there who reads it and says, “Oh, yes, I know.”

But whether or not you reach that person, you still have to sit down and write the next book. Because if you don’t, it won’t matter who you reach, because your writing career will be done. Whether or not you have that cosmic connection as motivation, you have to produce the next Thing.

And that is the intersection between commerce and art.

The other thing that happened this week was a conversation about query rejections. I remember query rejections, with all of the frustration and self-doubt they brought. My own querying experience was, in retrospect, not at all bad, but it was bad enough at one point for me to seriously consider just hanging it up and never writing again.

Today I can recognize the absurdity of that moment. Would I really have given up on writing if this one book could not find me an agent? Really? After writing all my life, with everything else bouncing around in my head waiting to get on the page? The failure of one manuscript would have killed my desire to do it?

I didn’t hang it up, but I came awfully close. And I suspect there are writers out there who do, indeed, give up.

There’s this myth with writing: that if you’re any good at all, you’ll produce a novel easily, you’ll find representation easily, you’ll sell it easily, it’ll be insanely popular and get only good reviews. Conversely, if it doesn’t work that way, it means you’re hopeless and should give up. It’s the talent means you don’t have to work at it myth. It’s not restricted to writing, and it’s utter bullshit.

Writing is a craft. This isn’t to say there’s no talent involved, but working with words requires thought and practice. It requires experimentation and failure, and it requires sticking with it when it’s not fun. And it’s something at which every writer, no matter how accomplished, can improve.

The talent myth leaves no room for craft, learning, or improvement.

I suspect there are far too many writers out there who gave up, despite what they might have produced in the future, because they were discouraged by the lack of instant success. I’m not talking about the people who cling to the idea that we’re all just too stupid to recognize their genius. (We all know these people, don’t we? They’re in pretty much every industry out there.) I’m talking about the people who take a rejection as more than what it is. Instead of seeing rejection as “I can’t sell this specific book,” they see it as “You will never be good enough, no matter how hard you work.”

Nobody in the business of writing is going to say that to anyone, because they can’t know that. When they reject, they’re not rejecting a body of work, or an entire writer, or that writer’s future. They are rejecting the work that’s offered. They don’t know the path the writer took to write it. They don’t know what the writer might produce tomorrow, or even what’s lurking on the laptop today. They don’t know anything about the writer at all. All they know is “I do not wish to buy this one piece of work.” And that’s it.

There is no one in the business of crushing ambitions. There are only people in the business of selling stuff. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that they fall in love with books just like any other reader. They have to focus on commerce, yes — but for the most part, they want to sell what they love to read. If they don’t love your current thing, they may very well love your next one, or the one after that. You don’t know, and you can’t have a career if you don’t keep writing. Even — especially — when you get rejections.

I always talk about how lucky I’ve been, and it’s true. But I also work hard. I put words on the page. I revise. I kill my darlings (*sob*). I study the edits I’m given and swallow my pride and listen and learn about the story I want to write by working to be open to the ways I’m still getting it wrong.

And do you know, I think that’s #WhyIWrite: to improve. I love the craft of writing. I love reading something that was torturous for me to write, but reads as smoothly as the bits that were easy. I love working out what needs changing, what needs removing, what needs to be added. I love learning how to tell stories I want to tell, and the only way to do that is to keep writing.

So it seems the best way — for me, at least — to do the business of writing is to keep the business part as distant from the actual writing as I can. Hit my deadlines, yes. Know what I’m doing when I agree to new ones, and fulfill all obligations. Answer emails, interact with people, be positive and professional at all times. All of those things, of course. But mostly: write. All the time, write. With or without a contract, or feedback, or even a story goal: write.