Thinking Big

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From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Writers are curious creatures. We’re a mix of insecurity and ego. The ego is there whether we admit it or not. Why else would we write stories and put them out into the world? Deep down, we believe that other people want to read these stories. For some of us (all of us?), we believe that our stories will be read by millions of people and that we will become the most famous author of our generation.

That ego keeps us going through the rough early years. It keeps us writing even through the discouragement that we all receive, sometimes from well-meaning folks and sometimes from malicious “friends.”

But…the insecurity is there as well. Are we good enough? Are we delusional? Are we trying for something that hardly anyone ever achieves? Are we crazy? Are we wasting our time?

The longer we strive, the more the insecurity grows. We have failures and setbacks. Once we publish, professional critics chime in with their professional negativity. Those words get stuck in our heads, and we haul them out when we’re feeling down.

Sometimes we even heed the negative, taking it all in. Some writers stop writing because of that. The rest of us soldier on, sometimes changing our behavior to silence the critics (never works) and sometimes letting anger fuel us to help us move forward.

The ego remains, but it’s been tempered by years of negativity. Or by social conditioning. When a writer—an artist—heck, anybody with a dream—talks about that dream, other people feel that it is their duty to warn.

Most writers never achieve that.

Make sure you guard your heart so that you don’t get hurt.

Maybe your expectations are too high. Maybe you should temper them back a little.

And on. And on.

What makes this worse is that writers, in particular, never hear the praise. When I teach craft workshops, I admonish writers to write down everything someone says about their work, the good and the bad. Most writers still pause over their notes as I say something like, This story is marvelous. I loved reading it. They don’t write that down. They think those comments are irrelevant, and yet the positive comments are the truly important ones.

Because they’re the ones that show us the pathway to success. Not to make us write another work exactly like the one we just finished, but to show us that yes, indeed, there are people who love what we do.

No one will love everything that we do. It’s just not in the human DNA. If we were alike, then we wouldn’t have variety. Some of us like sf and some of us hate it. Some of us like to windsurf and some of us are afraid to try. Some of us love cities and some of us would rather live in a remote place.

. . . .

You’d think that someone with a large enough ego to start writing in the first place would have planned for great financial and/or critical acclaim.

But writers never do.

Sometimes it’s superstition: If I plan for it, it will never happen.

Sometimes it’s embarrassment: I’ll look stupid if I constantly say I’m going to be a Big Name Writer.

And sometimes it’s just that old insecurity, winning again.

But you as a writer can prepare for success without dealing with the insecurity at all. It’s easier now than it ever was, because writers can publish their own work and keep it in print for decades.

How do you plan for success?

Mostly you leave the door open. Every possible door, in fact. You look at every contract, every terms of service, every deal, every possibility with an eye to the future.

You ask: How would I feel if the best possible thing happens? Would this contract enable me to profit from that thing? Or even participate in it?

There were two great examples of this. The Kate Bush example, as I mentioned above. She kept the door open by handling her own songs for the past thirty some years when most musicians sell damn near everything. That means she gets to profit from the success, not some major corporation.

Sure, she still would have had the ego boost of a song that was central to a TV show that was also a cultural phenomenon, but you can’t eat ego boost. Still, you can capitalize on it.

Imagine for a moment that she had sold most of the rights to that song decades ago. Her name was still in the news and there was a revival of her work. If the worst had happened and she didn’t make a dime off the song, she still could have made future money on selling new songs or performing live or leveraging the momentary fame into something else.

Most writers/artists never do that either. Sadly.

Instead they whine about how unfair it all is.

Which is exactly what happened with the second example which was in the news at roughly the same time.

In an article titled “Marvel’s Movie Math: Comic Creators Claim It’s ‘Bait and Switch’ on Payments,” The Hollywood Reporter showed how little most of the creators of the most famous comic book characters in the Marvel universe made, particularly those who developed some of the newer characters.

Seems those writers signed something called a Special Character Agreement which purported to give the writers money when a character they originated was used in media other than the comic book itself. Buried deep in the contractual language, though, was this: Marvel had the right to dramatically lower any promised payment based (it seems) on its own discretion.

And then there’s this paragraph, which is the kicker, I think:

Some who spoke to THR say it is more beneficial for a creator to avoid signing any paperwork with Marvel, noting Special Character Agreements give the company wiggle room to pay essentially whatever they want and include an NDA clause that muzzles creators from speaking out. One source, who reps the creators behind several A-list Marvel characters, notes one client who never signed paperwork is better off than those who did. “He has a lawyer that doesn’t listen to Marvel,” says the source.

He has a lawyer. Who probably read and understood the document and explained it to the client, who then planned for the future.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to K. for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

2 thoughts on “Thinking Big”

  1. LOVE KKR’s blog! The Monday short stories are a treat, the advice about copyright, business, and licensing have been an eyeopener, and the books she writes are intriguing. Especially loved the Charmed Trilogy.

    • I agree that she does a good job, L. There is no doubt in my mind that she works hard to convey her thoughts clearly.

      I probably see more blog posts than the average netizen and KKR’s are right up at the top.

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