The Genie

by Kevin Lauderdale

After decades of trying I’ve sold four short stories in three years to professional venues, and so far this year I’ve sold two. So, while I am now someone from whom an unpublished writer might be willing to take advice, I’m still close enough to having no credits to list on my cover letter that I remember what it’s like. 

The Question is, How Do I Become A Writer? And The Answer (indeed, the only answer) is, You Write. Seems simple. Almost flippant. And yet you would be surprised at how many people are unwilling to take even that first step. 

“Oh, I just don’t have the time,” they say. “I want to be a writer. If only I weren’t so busy with the kids and school and . . .” 

“Do you ever watch television?” I ask. 

“Oh, sure.” 

Well, there you have it. If you watch even one hour of television a week, that’s an hour you could free up for writing. Fifty-two hours in a year equals an entire work week plus the next Monday plus Tuesday before lunch that you could be writing. Carve out two hours a week, and that’s the equivalent of spending your vacation plus the days you called in sick to go to ballgames working on what is supposedly your labor of love, your chosen craft. I focus on television because, while I love it as much as any red-blooded American, it is, frankly, something you can turn off. If you are looking for the one thing you can give up in order to find time to write, don’t make it your family and don’t make it your work around the house. Make it TV. 

And that’s just one hour a week. What if you wrote for an hour a day? 

Rex Stout, the creator of portly, orchid-loving private investigator Nero Wolfe (perhaps you caught the TV adaptation on A&E a few years ago), became determined to apply himself to writing when he ran the numbers and found that if he wrote just one page a day, every day, in one year he would have a 100,000 word novel.

Granted, if your goal is to write Dr. Who novels, then you should be watching Dr. Who. That’s research.   

But there are no American Idol novels. 

“But I never miss American Idol!” 

And that brings us to the genie. 

If a genie were to appear to you and say, “I will hand you a complete short story written in your chosen genre, all nice and neat and ready to be sent to a publisher, and all you have to do is not watch American Idol this year,” would you take it? 

There is an old motivational trope: “What would you be doing now if you knew you could not fail? Do that.” In other words, pretend that there is a publisher in New York eagerly awaiting your next work. She has a check in hand, just waiting to give it to you.  All you need to do is write the piece. You have already “won.” You just need to do the actual work. Would you sit around watching Big Brother, or would you somehow find the time? 

What are you willing to give up? What if the genie were to say to you, “Are you willing to trade the memories and experience of watching a television program for the memories and experience of holding a magazine or book in your hands with your story in it?”   

If the genie were to appear to Philippa Gregory or Dean Koontz and offer to trade them all the books they have written in exchange for having watched more TV, would they take it?

 Now, having cleared out a chunk of time, you sit down to write. 

But you aren’t writing.   

Procrastination is just another form of fear. You fear that you won’t be able to start. You fear that you won’t have anything to say once you do. But most of all, you fear that what you do write won’t be any good, and you will be rejected. 

It may help to know that a dozen publishers rejected the first Harry Potter book before Bloomsbury accepted it. Yet before anything can be accepted or rejected it still has to be written and then sent out. There is nothing to fear from rejection, except what you might tell yourself it means. All a rejection letter ever means is that someone wanted something other than what you could give them. I guarantee you that editors will not telephone you late at night and mock you unmercifully, and the beautiful thing about rejection form letters is that they are impersonal. No one I know has ever received a rejection letter reading something like: 

Andrew, this is abysmal tripe. You are an embarrassment to writers everywhere, Andrew. Not only should you not quit your day job, Andrew, you should get a second one. 

In fact, if you are lucky enough to receive a note from an editor detailing what she didn’t like about the story, then you should immediately rewrite it, fixing those elements, and resubmit it.

You are the writer, not the editor. It is not your job to decide if a magazine should run your story or a publisher print your book. If you write something (or worse, just think about it, but don’t actually write it) and then think, “Eh, they won’t like this; I’m not going to send it in,” then, hey, you’re right. Any story you don’t send in has a 100% chance of not being accepted. Any story you do send in has some chance.   

If the genie were to offer you a publishing contract in exchange for putting some pages in an envelope and walking to a mailbox, would you take that offer? (And you don’t even have to do that. Most editors prefer electronic submissions. What would you like in exchange for typing an e-mail address and pressing ENTER?) 

That is, ultimately The Secret. Ask yourself what you are trading in exchange for not doing what you want to do. Ask yourself what you would be willing to give away in exchange for doing what you want to do. 

Now . . . pretend you’ve never heard of me. 

You are the genie.

Upcoming from Kevin Lauderdale are "James and the Dark Grimoire," which will appear in Cthulhu Unbound, a cross-genre Lovecraftian collection from Permuted Press, and "The Laughing C'rell" will be published in Neo-opsis magazine.

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