Kameron Hurley: What I’ve Learned About Being a Writer

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyYou will fail more than you succeed. You will remember the failures more often than the successes.

The people who believe in you now will believe in you always. Get rid of everyone else.

Readers will love your work. They will think this means they love you. They will be wrong, but do not correct them. You will no longer be yourself when you’re among readers, but an amalgamation of their perceptions of you based on your work and the pixels that make up your face. After a while, even your oldest friends will see you this way.

Pick one person you can be yourself with. It will be the person who doesn’t live-tweet your breakdown.

If you’re very, very lucky, people will hate you. They will hate you for the same reason others love you. You will realize this is preferable to indifference.

You will never get as much attention from the industry as you will during your debut, or when you sign your first six-figure advance. These events do not usually happen simultaneously. That’s a good thing. It means you get at least two chances.

You will spend your entire career wondering if it’s already over but no one has told you yet.

You will not sell a lot of books. You will not earn out your advance. You will be passed over for awards. You won’t be a Campbell nominee. You will be convinced you’re not a real writer.

You will write another book.

You will experience the very best publishing has to offer. Your editors will be thoughtful. Your agent will be a shark. Your publisher will hire PR agencies to promote your book. Your book will be listed among a dozen year’s best lists. The local library will display your work proudly. Dozens of people will attend your events. You will get reasonable advances. The checks will arrive on time.

You will experience the very worst publishing has to offer. Your editors won’t answer calls or emails for months. You will begin to suspect they are dead. Your publisher will go bankrupt. Your book will get dumped into a bookstore without fanfare and disappear just as quickly. The checks will be late. The checks will never arrive. You will spend a lot of time talking to lawyers and crying over your bank account. You will get offered insultingly low figures for years of work. You will see boilerplate contracts.

There will never be enough money. You will dump a lot of money back into your career, far more than you ever anticipated. You will not see a measurable return on this spend. You will affirm never to run up credit card debt between royalty payments and advances.

You will run up credit card debt.

At least once, you will receive a check so large that it will profoundly change your life.

You will come to resent the way your country of residence taxes writers.

You will find yourself anxious and fearful about health insurance your entire adult life.

Fans of your work will clap and cheer at your arrival at events and then sob when they meet you and gush about how your work has touched and inspired them. It will be overwhelming. You will never know what to say. You will be celebrated, wined and dined. You won’t be able to meet with everyone who wants to see you.

Outside of those spaces, you will be treated with all the respect this society owes someone of your race, class, gender presentation, and/or orientation. If you’re a middle-aged white woman who doesn’t know how to dress herself, you will simply blend in. You will not be seen. This will be both a great relief and a big comedown.

Readers and colleagues will forget about you. The market will move on. Your debut or deal or award-winning work will be superseded by the Next Big Thing. No one will invite you to lunch. There will be no seat saved for you. You will order your own drink at the bar and you will pretend not to notice that you are drinking alone. It will take a great effort, but you will put on your big kid pants and make your own way. You will buy drinks for others. You will organize the lunches. You will move with the market. You will pretend you are a Very Famous Author. It will help.

You will get very drunk.

You will travel. You will say YES! to opportunities. You will meet dynamic, amazing, talented, influential people. You will be so tired and jetlagged and anxious about money that you won’t remember any of their names. This will lead to many awkward conversations, later.

You will forget to introduce yourself to George R.R. Martin at the Hugo Loser’s Party.

You will regret being a writer. You will quit, often. Sometimes you will quit for long stretches of time.

You will let people down.

You will let down your fans. You will let down your editor. You will let down your agent.

You will let down yourself.

You will be angry, when the words won’t come. You will be angry, when your peers create better work, garner bigger advances, and secure grander opportunities.

More than once, you will hit a wall. You will swear off writing. You will take up some other pursuit, like painting, or rescuing dogs, or climbing the corporate ladder.

It won’t be enough.

You will write again.

You will be a bestseller, somewhere, even if it’s just on Amazon. You will hit a list. You will be an award winner. Hollywood will talk a lot about movies that probably won’t get made, but the free money will be nice.

You will be jealous of writers who don’t have day jobs. You will celebrate the full-time writing status of at least half a dozen colleagues who end up going back to their day jobs within five years of quitting.

You will never quit your day job.

You will dabble with scripts and comics and tie-ins. You will get invited to so many anthologies and special projects that you will have to say no to a lot of them. You will say no to Marvel, and yes to a book packager project whose team ultimately doesn’t want you.

You will give up writing again.

You will remember every word aspiring writers have said against you and your work. You will blurb their books and support their careers anyway. You do this because you know what they don’t. You know how hard this is. You know the chances of them being in the field a decade from now are slim. You love them for everything they aspire to, and for everything you know they will need to overcome. You love them because they remind you that there’s a future that will come after you.

You will give up reading. You will hate all words.

You will do nothing but read.

You will read 25 Sue Grafton novels in a row and cry when she dies before writing her 26th.

You will think a lot about what you’re going to leave behind.

You will stare at a shelf full of your books and awards and be absolutely convinced that you have achieved nothing in your life.

You will finish a book and send it to your editor and be absolutely convinced you are a genius.

You are not a genius.

You will die in obscurity. You will die famous.

You will die.

But in the time between now and then, that ultimate end we all share, you will write.

You will write.

You will write.

You will write.

And that is how you will live.

Kameron Hurley is the author of The Stars are Legion and the award-winning essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, Locus Award, BFA Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and many anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Bitch Magazine, The Village Voice, and Entertainment Weekly. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com.

This review and more like it in the February 2018 issue of Locus.Locus Magazine, Science Fiction Fantasy

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One thought on “Kameron Hurley: What I’ve Learned About Being a Writer

  • February 6, 2018 at 10:23 am

    It seems grim that there isn’t a viable, happy medium between having a day job (stability) and writing enough (ie with time and energy carved out from daily life). Yet, this rings very true. At the point my writing career is at, I feel I’ve bought a ticket to this roller-coaster but it’s a hell of a thing to hear someone narrate it.

    FWIW — and I realize the author may never read the comments! — I would never want a writer to sacrifice their health or well-being for the sake of my reading. I loved Mirror Empire and Empire Ascendant. I “can’t wait” for the next one to be out.*

    But as someone who felt severe writing and reading burnout, to the point where I hated reading because everything was “research” and hated writing because everything I wrote came out wrong and ridiculous and awful — let me just say that one of the books I turned to to read something “for fun” was Mirror Empire. Loved it, started to love reading again, and when I was ready, I jumped back into working on the short story I was stalled on. Writing was fun again, and that story got published.

    So: in light of posts like this one, I can’t say with a straight face to any author: “WHEN IS THE NEXT BOOK COMING OUT ZOMG I CAN’T WAIT!” There’s enough pressure on writers already; readers can do them a favour and not add to it.

    *I can wait.


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