22 Jul

Mid Career Advice

I noticed Jay Lake pointing out discussions about the lack of mid career advice online. I think he does point out a good reason for the relative sparsity of that sort of advice:

 

…how can someone dispensing generic advice on the Internet address my issues as a mid-career writer? The further along I get in my career and my work, the more idiosyncratic those become. All new writers need to learn about manuscript format, submission processes, what editors really do, storytelling basics and intermediates, the whole process of “˜breaking in’, and so forth. Mid-career writers are like Dostoevsky’s unhappy families; each is developing in their own way.

 

This is a good point. I’d also add that there is the question of who an author’s blog is talking to.

At the start of an author’s career they are very concerned about the details a starting author has to focus on. Prepping manuscripts, writing, practicing, submitting, and so on. But come a certain amount of success, that point at which an author would begin to focus on those mid career sausage making, the authors themselves are in a different place.

Now the author is not just in a different place, internally and career-wise, but the audience reading their musings has also changed a bit as well. It’s not just other beginning authors who’re now primarily reading their musings. If the author has published a novel, chances are a significant, if not larger, chunk of their readers are now actual readers and not aspiring authors.

The audience changes. For one, the aspiring authors, whether they realize it or mean to do it, start pushing back. If you start thinking out loud about problems they wish they had, there gets to be a certain tension. I full on encountered this when I had just finished my first novel. At a con a dear friend (and to this day still a dear friend and someone I respect a great deal) had asked what the toughest part writing this novel was. I’d responded that I’d just become noticed enough that halfway through I got asked to write two short stories, and paused the book to do so. My friend responded, ‘wow, I wish I had that kind of problem.’ At the time it was a punch to the gut, because I really wanted to struggle through talking about the difficulty of saying ‘no’ to opportunities I’d never had before, but then how it had killed momentum on the book, and I wanted to talk about how hard it was to juggle what needed to be done, versus new chances. It’s a problem I still haven’t fully figured out. But it was clear that my privilege in having this tough choice mean I couldn’t clearly talk this out easily to those without this same privilege as I had when talking about beginner issues.

Then, what about my responsibility to general readers, not interested in the wonkish writing related stuff? Most of my readers once I hit mid career became readers who were not interested in becoming writers themselves. I saw this blow up when I tried to explain once why my books had a short shelf life. In my own mind it was a factual business discussion about the ins and outs of bookstores and how they stocked books. But it was read as a slam on a book chain, and I got a lot of confusion from readers, and then industry professionals who didn’t read the original post hearing I was ‘slamming bookchain X.’ In similar fashion, talking about lulls in your career might make people suddenly talk about how they’d heard your career had ‘failed.’

So yeah, talking mid career shop suddenly becomes something more interesting to do in person, or between groups of writers in roughly the same place as you are, less misinterpretations occur. So yeah, mid career advice fades because each person’s career is taking on a personality of its own, and it’s harder to toss out advice that everyone can grapple with. And its because the people listening are different, they’re more interested in what you’re going to write next or how you came to write it, or your take on X or Y, not necessarily your second guesses about the trajectory of your career.

I still carefully will talk about aspects of it, but with all that, I can understand why most stick to beginner advice and dodge that other messy stuff.