What I’ve Learned (2016 Edition)

Six years ago today (sort of), I sent my first story to a professional science fiction market.

Nebula Nominee

Today I am a Nebula Award loser. And losing has never felt so good.

Of course, I can take comfort that I’m also an AnLab winner.

AnLab - Racing to Mars

And that Nebula-nominated story, “Today I Am Paul”, has been or will be translated into French, Hebrew, Italian, German, Czech, Chinese, and Polish:

Nowa Fantastyka - Today I Am Paul

And it has been selected for Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 1, Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016 Edition, Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection, and Allen Kaster’s Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction 8.

BSFotY1YBSFF2016YBSFV33

But the title of this post isn’t “What I Accomplished”, it’s “What I Learned”. So here are some of the things I’ve learned about writing (and the business thereof) in the past year.

  • Friends are better than any award. I can’t emphasize this enough. Stand by them. They’ll be there long after awards are forgotten.
  • Readers are also better than any award. The reader response to “Today I Am Paul” has overwhelmed me.
  • But awards are pretty cool, too! Even when you lose. And especially when you make new friends along the way. (Hello, Nebula class of 2015!)
  • I learned an amazing amount of astronomy in five long days at the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. I’ve already written one story based on what I learned there, and more are in the works. Bonus: I made a bunch of new friends!WIRO
  • Under the tutelage of Mike Resnick, I’m learning to identify international markets for my work. I need to keep at this, but it’s a start!
  • I learned that the people at Writers and Illustrators of the Future really mean it! They care about the careers of their winners. That was even more clear as a returning winner than I ever realized as a new winner. The judges and the Galaxy Press staff welcomed us back as family.
  • I learned (again) to listen to Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Lessons that they taught me five years ago keep bearing fruit today: trusting yourself and your sense of story; making writing a habit as a way to encourage your brain to write; getting out of your way; persistence; engaging the senses; putting a character in a setting with a problem in the very first paragraphs (and then keeping them there!); and so much more.
  • I also (re)learned to listen to Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson on the topic of professionalism. Treat every reader, every writer, every editor and publisher and worker well, because it’s the right thing to do. There are many benefits that come from this, but even if there weren’t: It’s the right thing to do.
  • I learned the power of Cyberoptix Tie Lab. Their ties have become my trademark. (Me, a guy who hates ties!) They’re amusing, and they also serve as ice breakers. People ask me what tie I’m wearing today, and why. (And there’s always a why.)Laser KittyCommand ModuleRobot Rampage
  • And perhaps most important for my writing, I’ve learned the power of dictation. Oh, I’ve dictated stories for a while now, including “Today I Am Paul”. That story was a single, fifty-minute dictation session; and what you see in print is pretty close to what I dictated. But eventually I realized: Every story that I sold in the last three years was a dictated story. Dictation works for me, so I decided to do more of it. So now when I climb into the Aldrin (my Jeep), if I’m not listening to traffic reports, I dictate into my hands-free app on my phone. As Dean and Kris teach, it’s both a habit and a way to get out of my way and let story happen.

So there it is. It has been a fantastic year, no doubt. Now I have to get back to work and make this year even better!

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