Almost thirteen years ago, I signed up for a class taught at BYU: Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. It was taught by Dave Wolverton, a man I’d never heard of before. But it was creative writing, it was fantasy, and I wanted to try my hand at it. I was on my mission in Germany when I signed up. It sounded like fun.
I remember the first day of class, when Dave sat us all down and said he wanted to emphasize one thing right off: doing this was difficult, but it was possible. You could get published. You could succeed. He said it just took determination and hard work. Having just come back from a Mormon mission, I was chock full of determination, and I knew all about hard work.
I loved that class. I learned a ton. The text was Scott Card’s book I linked to at the top of this post. I looked forward to going every day, and I had a blast. Then I got a B+. For a guy used to getting only As, that seemed to be a sign. If I couldn’t even get an A in a beginning creative writing class, who was I kidding that I’d be able to be published. All that determination flew out the window. I thought I couldn’t cut it. I doubted myself. I set aside the books I’d been working on, and decided to just give up. (Inspiring, isn’t it?)
And yet I’d had so much fun writing. A year later, I took another creative writing class (from Doug Thayer, in case you were wondering). Just for fun. Because even if I couldn’t get published (I reasoned), I could still have a good time. I enjoyed the class, did well, and took another–this time from Louise Plummer. The focus was writing for children and young adults. It was my favorite class yet. She liked my writing, and I had even more fun doing it.
I remember sitting down in her office one day and tentatively asking her if she thought I might get published one day. She didn’t even hesitate. “Of course you will. You’ve got it.” I have no idea if this is what she tells everyone who sits in that chair and asks her that question. (It ought to be. There’s already a ton of self-doubt in writing. You don’t need people stomping on what little confidence you have left.) But it stuck with me. I could do this.
One of the other tricks with writing is that it’s very hard to determine how well you’re doing–especially in these days of self-publishing and vanity presses. “Getting published” isn’t necessarily a sign of “succeeding.” But there’s an organization that’s out there: SFWA. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Membership is reserved for only those people who have published in SFWA approved venues. I looked at that membership as a badge of honor–something to shoot for. If I could get to the point where I could join SFWA, then that would Mean Something. (Yes, maybe it’s a bit schmaltzy, but I’m a writer. Sometimes we schmalz.)
When I got the deal for Vodnik, I was beyond excited (to say the least). One of the first things I did was go to apply to SFWA. That’s when I discovered that Tu Books–because it was so new (I was only the fourth book published by them)–wasn’t yet on the approved venue list. I had a book getting published, but I couldn’t join SFWA. I wrote my editor, and she assured me they were working on becoming an approved venue. (What does this take? It takes establishing that the publishing house is “for real.” They pay a good advance. They don’t require the author to pay to print his/her book. They print more than 1000 copies of the book. That sort of stuff. Oh yeah–and they’ve been doing this for more than a year. That’s where Tu had trouble. Too new.)
Late last week, I got word that Tu Books had become SFWA approved. I’ve now applied for membership. I know it doesn’t really mean anything from a big picture standpoint. But it means something to me. It means I’ve reached a mile marker that I’d set for myself a long time ago. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, it’s that you need to celebrate those mile markers. Finishing a draft. Signing a contract. Getting an agent. Sending submissions out. Those are signs of progress. Of success.
And today, I feel very successful.