It took me a while to bring myself to write this one because it’s so personal. It exposes me; it leaves me vulnerable. It concerns motivations that keep me going, but they aren’t really my primary motivations at all. My real motivations erupt out of the core that constitutes my spirit, soul, or whatever you want to call it, and to give a good idea of what those are I have to go into much more detail. If you are interested, I suggest you read my memoir Writing as a Metaphysical Experience and you’ll get at least a rough outline.
When I first decided I had to be a writer, I didn’t really have any specific goals other than to discover my voice, write for the rest of my life, throw my words at the markets, see what stuck, and somehow become wealthy in the process. I thought, in the passion and strength of my youth, that this general direction would be enough; and it did, in fact, get me out of my rut and traveling around the world, and it helped me find my voice and write down a lot of sincere and well-expressed words that are all, alas, long lost. Then there was a break for a couple of decades during which I got married, had five sons, and struggled to survive in various countries. In the mid-1990s I came back to writing and resolved never to stop until they pried the keyboard out of my cold dead fingers. It’s around that time that I formulated my five goals.
Now, before I tell you of these goals, I have to emphasize that I am well aware that they are not really goals because none of them are within my power alone to achieve. A viable goal for a writer is to, say, write five hundred or a thousand words a day. That’s something a writer can do on his or her own. I can’t really set a personal goal of selling a story, because that’s not in my power. The decision is not mine, but an editor’s. So selling a story is more in the nature of a hope or a desire rather than a goal. The same goes for winning an award. It’s up to the voters, not me. I can resolve to write the best stories of which I am capable, and that’s about all I can do. Are we clear? Nevertheless, I will continue to call these hopes or desires goals because that’s how I thought of them when I first made them.
So: The goals that I formulated shortly after I began writing again a little over three decades ago were these:
First, to sell a story to a magazine or an anthology. Self-publishing was not an option at that time, and to count the story had to be sold and not given away for free.
Second, to get at least one professional sale so I could join Science Fiction Writers of America as an associate member. I understand that some writers value membership in writers’ organizations more than others, but to me this held great significance ever since I attended Clarion West Science Fiction Writing Workshop when I had just turned twenty in 1973.
Third, to get at least three professional sales so I could upgrade my membership in SFWA to active, which is the highest class of membership.
Fourth, to sell enough fiction and other writing professionally so I could make my full time living as a writer.
The fifth goal, I admit, is the most arbitrary and the one I have the least control over. I’m not going to tell you that one right now; it stays under my proverbial hat.
I sold my first story in 1999: “Clear Shining After Rain” to the Australian SF magazine Altair. I don’t count my first publication, which was “The Ghost of Halkidiki Past” to an English-language Greek magazine, because they never paid me for it – I had to wait to get paid for that story until it was reprinted in the US literary magazine Lynx Eye in 2001.
It turns out that my first sale was also my first professional sale, as Altair paid pro rates, but SFWA didn’t list it as a qualifying market for membership until 2007, which is when I joined as an associate member. So that was that.
In the next ten years, I sold quite a few stories and self-published many more, but I didn’t get the credentials to upgrade my SFWA membership to active until recently.
So there it is: three out of five. It’s taken a long time and a lot of work.
As far as goal four, I am in fact a full time writer, but many of the pieces I get paid to write are articles about which I have no personal interest. While I am researching and writing these articles, I often wonder how much more productive my fiction writing would be if I could pour all that energy and effort into that instead of those articles for which I get a one-time payment and then they are afterwards relegated to oblivion. So I won’t feel I have reached goal four until I am supported by my fiction and memoir work, not by that work for hire crap.
As for goal five, that one goes on the back burner. It’s not in my hands. Anyway, it’s not good to reach all your goals, is it? What then would you strive for? Just kidding. As soon as I reach these five, I’m sure I’ll come up with a new set.