Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. His debut novel, No Hero, is out now and involves the phrase "What would Kurt Russell do?", which makes us very happy. His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Chizine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, as well as anthologies such as The Book of Cthulhu 2.
Today's Friday Five is categorised under "practical writing advice", as he describes the best way of handling things when they go horribly, horribly wrong...
Every so often, I try to examine why it's important to me to be a writer. I've never managed to figure it out. Telling stories, and above all writing them down, is simply something I've always wanted to do. I remember when I was seven and my class sat down to tell a group story. Each child was given a chance to contribute. When it got to my turn I launched into a ten minute monologue describing the entire second half of the story through narrative peaks and valleys all the way to a thrilling conclusion. The details are hazy but I'm pretty sure a flying rabbit was involved. Tragically my teacher didn't wholly appreciate the towering genius of my creation and we took several steps back, but it's fair to say that by that point the storytelling bug had already taken a deep hold.
The urge persisted. I kept on writing. And then, many years later, I was the proud owner of an actual honest-to-goodness contract for my debut novel, No Hero. The publisher involved went by the name Night Shade Books. Yeah, this story doesn't go quite as smoothly as I'd hoped. Because some time between the publication of my debut novel and the scheduled launch of the second book in the series, shit went Antarctically south.
Long story short, money was no longer in abundance for Night Shade and it certainly wasn't coming my way.* On top of that, the primary reason for the cash flow crisis was that book distribution had been somewhat lacking. That meant my shiny debut novel hadn't gotten to bookstores to get into the hands of readers, and so sales were... yeah. All in all, things weren't looking fabulous for the whole life dream thing.
That was a rough time. But it's a couple of years down the road now. I am still here. And while I really hope no one else ever goes through the process, I've heard enough horror stories that I thought a rough survival guide might be helpful. So here's the step-by-step:
Seriously, it's OK. This was your whole life dream thing. Someone just took a sizable dump on it. There's really no way to just roll with that punch. So pour yourself a drink. Keep pouring. Shout and rail against the world. There's just one caveat...
Step away from Facebook
We live in a connected age. We whirl from social circle to social circle so quickly it's surprising we don't get whiplash. There are so many people there to offer us comfort in our time of need. But never forget that Facebook is a giant public forum. So is Twitter. And what is said in anger may not look quite so bright in the morning. Nobody comes out of a shit-slinging match not needing a shower. Sure, air your grievances, but do it privately. Especially because...
The writing community is awesome
The writing community is huge, and it's friendly. The people in it realize that isn't a zero-sum game. You are not a competitor, you are a collaborator.
Along the way to publishing a book, you're going to meet kindred spirits, people whose writing blows your mind, and who somehow seem to like what you write too. The economy of favors and friendship is incredibly strong online, and the support of the other writers I know has really been thing that's helped me keep pushing with my fiction. Now I'm doing the publicity dance once more, it's been amazing how many people have offered to help out. I'm sort of blown away. Which is why it's important to remember:
The people you meet on the way up you meet on the way down, and then on the way back up again, and then on the way down, and up, and down, and...
No matter where you are in your career, it's always OK to try to help someone else with theirs. The time for freaking out is over. Don't wallow in your own misery; celebrate the joys of others. Post about how much you enjoyed reading that book. Plug their book giveaway. Live vicariously through other authors. Celebrate their triumphs with them. Let their joy infect you. That way it will be easier to do the most important thing:
Never stop trying
In the end, this is what it all comes down to. Never let one mishap, no matter how large it may seem at the time, define your career. Writing is a long haul. I'm in my thirties. If I can, I want to be writing books in my sixties, hell my eighties. There have been victories and defeats in the past few years, but there's not one of them alone that will define where my career is in ten years' time. Everything seemed to have been shit-canned, and now I have a four book deal. And if disaster ever strikes again, it'll be good to know that as long as I keep writing through it, I'm likely to find my way to the next career peak.
What about you - writer, reader, publisher, agent, whatever-you-are - any advice you can share about what to do when things go wrong?
*Editor's note - Long story long.