Making Magic: On Sorcery vs. Wizardry

Years ago—before there was such a thing as Patreon or Kindle Desktop Publishing, or even such a thing as the Kindle—I made the decision to experiment with self-publishing. I had done extensive research into traditional publishing and decided that it just didn’t suit me.

I encountered a lot of resistance, whenever I spoke of or publicized my plans. This only emboldened me. It took a number of years before anything I did really caught fire, but when it did, it did in a big way… big enough that I was able to quit my day job.

There have been ups and downs since then, but one important thing is: I made my point. It works. I can do things my way.

Still, having done things my own way left me feeling like an outsider and intruder when I made my first in-roads into professional writing circles. Most writers (less so each year, but still most) who have a career in writing also in some way have a career in traditional publishing, even if it’s a definition of “traditional” that includes the short story e-zine model.

I’ll stress that in these changing times, it wasn’t that anyone made me feel like an intruder. Some people over the years have tried to, but as noted before, they just make me more determined. The people I bother to care about have been earnest and sincere in their welcome. If they care at all how I do what I do, they’re impressed at what I’ve managed.

It was just a feeling I had, a manifestation of Impostor Syndrome that fixated on the fact that I had no metric to measure my progress against the people with which I interact. That, of course, was my first mistake: measuring myself against others.

So basically over the years I’ve been going to WisCon, I have been shifting more and more of my focus to developing things for more traditional publication. I felt like that was the next logical step, the next thing I needed to do. I’d proven I could do things my way. Wasn’t it time to prove I could do it the other way?

And I’ve floundered. I’ve started writing novels and then lost all momentum on them, with their bulk dragging the rest of me down. I’ve finished short stories and poems such, but they take much longer because I can’t seem to let go of them when I send them out. There’s no “fire and forget” mechanism when I’m waiting on a reply. To me, a story’s not done until it’s published. It’s not done with me, and I’m not done with it. I’ve been submitting pretty regularly over the course of the last year and this hasn’t gotten better with time.

It’s not the project of rejection. My rejection rate has been much, much, much lower than what I’m given to expect is the norm. My first poem was published on the first try. About 50% of my subsequent submissions were, also. I have received enough rejections to know they don’t bother me. They just extend the period of time that a piece has a hold over me.

It hit me the other night, as I was twittering about the internets on the topic of the impostor syndrome, that my problem isn’t just comparing myself to other writers, it’s that I’m comparing apples and oranges. As I put it on Twitter, I’m a sorcerer surrounded by wizards. If you play or are familiar the right roleplaying games, then I probably don’t need to explain this any further. If you don’t, then it’s probably completely mystifying.

In D&D and derived media, a wizard is a magician whose power comes from books. You can expect a wizard to do copious research and study to learn magic. Wizards surround themselves with books and papers filled with notes. A wizard’s spells must be committed to paper and require elaborate preparations to put into effect.

A sorcerer is a magician whose power from within, from sheer force of personality. They waggle their fingers and magic comes out. It’s often a bit messier, a bit wilder, and a good deal less disciplined than what a wizard can do, but also more flexible.

And that’s pretty much how I write. I don’t do a lot of formal research or elaborate preparations. I don’t outline. Trying to write the story out before I’ve written it flips a switch in my brain saying that it’s been written, and then the drive is gone. I don’t often write character sketches or notes, because I often don’t even know who my characters are until I start writing. I don’t do a lot of drafts… but I’ve been told my first drafts are cleaner than a lot of people’s final ones.

As a writer, I’ve been trying to cast spells like a wizard for years now, trying to behave like a wizard.  Not only does this not work well, and not only does it take time and energy away from my sorcerous doings, but in a very pernicious fashion it causes to devalue the things I am good at.

Now, I’m not disparaging anyone who is a wizard. Truth be told, though I’m speaking in terms of dichotomy here, I suspect no one is all wizard or all sorcerer. It’s actually a rather untidy continuum between the two.

The truth is, my greatest strength has always been speed, and bogging myself down in a submissions process just gets in the way of that. Even if I was better at playing the waiting game, the number of suitable venues I am aware of and that are accepting submissions at any one time is small enough to act as a bottleneck when I’m at my best.

And in this day and age, self-publication through a blog or Patreon most affirmatively does count as publication for most awards I’d be interested in.

There is the problem of getting eyes on your work when you’re working on your own, but… I’ve got eyes on me. I know how to get more.

I’ve been trying to use my Patreon page as a place to develop the stories and poems that I’ll then sell, but that doesn’t really work with my sorcery style. From here on out, it’s going to primarily be a publication channel of its own.

I have a couple of very small stories in the hopper right now that I’ve been shopping around and/or looking for a home for. I have a longer story I’m very excited about that’s about 75-80% finished as of yesterday. (Also started, as of yesterday). I’m going to start doling them out in public, either here and publicized on my Patreon feed, or vice-versa. I dunno, maybe both.

I know there are still people—people whose opinions I respect on most matters, even—who will say things like, “Any story that’s good is good enough to find a publisher eventually.” Sure. But eventually is not my style. I don’t have time for eventually. I don’t have a need for eventually. What I crave—what I breathe, as a writer—is immediacy. I don’t do time and distance. I do up close and personal.

This isn’t to say I’m abandoning the idea of ever answering another call for submissions, or sending a poem off when I have one in me and I know a place that might like it. There are still a couple of sites where I would be very happy to see my name someday, but in my fixation on getting there I’ve spent a lot of time trying to shape stories I’m not feeling in preference to ones I don’t think they would feel, but which are definitely in me.

What I’m abandoning is the idea that this needs to be my career, that this is the next step, that this is something I have to do or something I need to prove.

I need things to prove.

I absolutely do.

But when one sets out to prove a thing, it helps if it’s true.