First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice.
— Octavia Butler
My oh my was there a kerfuffle over the recent bit of writerly advice from Pulitzer Prize winning author Stephen Hunter, published by BuzzFeed! I would find it hard not to laugh at the whole thing if it wasn't disturbing on a number of levels. As Foz Meadows points out, at the piece's core there is a solid message: good writing habits are more important than talent and inspiration. But man did that core get dented, dinged, and tarnished by the spacejunk around it.
For starters, this humdinger of an opener:
In a few days or weeks, I’ll start a new novel. I don’t know yet and won’t for years if it’s good, bad, dreary, enchanting, or merely adequate. Moreover, I don’t know if it’ll help or hurt my reputation, make me rich or a fool, or simply pass into oblivion without squeak or moan. [So far so good, but wait for it ...]
What is certain is that on that same day, whichever one it is, one thousand other people will start their novels. In order to publish mine, it has to be better than theirs. So, forgive me—I pretty much hate them.
Early in my writing career, I would sometimes feel miffed by the success of other writers. And sure, even at this point in my career it's hard not to wish for a small piece of the action some bestselling authors enjoy. But I am a GROWNUP. I get that there is no algorithm for writerly success. It's talent, luck, timing, and fairy dust, and it can rarely be predicted. And guess what else? Anyone's book sales equal good news for me: PEOPLE ARE STILL READING BOOKS YAY. And if it's in my genre? All the better. As co-blogger Laurie Green once said to me: A rising tide floats all boats.
There is no need for me to further smack down this piece, as Foz has done that already. I'll leave you with a few of her choicest words, and you can decide whether to read the rest for yourself.
Presented without Hunter’s caveats and curlicues, the core recommendation – make regular writing part of your routine, because you can’t ever publish a book you don’t finish – is a reasonable one. That Hunter has managed to turn such simple advice into a purple, self-congratulatory screed about the failings of other, lesser beings is, if nothing else, a cautionary example of hubris in action.
The piece is also riddled with insecurity and what I agree with Foz seems to be signs of a clinically depressed outlook. Almost as sad as that is there are actually a few nuggets of good advice mixed in with the other bits that I'd only give to someone I wished to discourage. But probably saddest of all is the fact this guy is 71 years old and it sounds like he's lived a rather miserable life. Some things ain't worth a Pulitzer.
So I leave you instead with the quote on the same topic, at the top of this post, by Octavia Butler, who did not win a Pulitzer, but WAS a multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. And here is a little bit about HER, whom I'd much rather talk about...
When I've told other women that I write sci-fi, several of them have asked whether I've read Butler. Sadly, because many of the top female writers of sci-fi are largely, mmmm, shall we say de-emphasized, I had never even heard of her. (And get this: She died the year my daughter was born, not five minutes from my house.)
I finally got around to reading one of her books this month, and here's a short review. KINDRED is the story of a young black woman who is somehow psychically linked to a white male ancestor of hers in the antebellum South. She travels back to his time at points when his life is in danger (he's rather accident-prone). It's a harrowing tale with high stakes and very complicated motives and emotions. The novel is written in first person, and I've never read a book that gave me such powerful glimpses into the psyche of a slave in the South—not to mention the many stark non-choices they faced in their brutal lives. I understand her other works are more traditionally sci-fi, and explore very similar themes. The story does feature a romantic relationship, but this is NOT a romance. I do recommend it highly, but don't read it when you're feeling down. Because this is a romance forum—SPOILER ALERT—I will tell you that neither the heroine nor her husband dies, and their relationship is a sustaining force in the story.
As for Hunter's piece, pfthpfthpfh I say. Butler's quote is much more succinct and kindly meant.