Tuesday, May 4, 2021

A Twelve-Step Program for Writers • Part 5



In 1997, in a few minutes of whimsy, I knocked off twelve lines of highly concentrated and somewhat snarky advice for writers seeking to develop or repair their writing careers. To my surprise these words of wisdom remain available on the SFWA web site. To my even greater surprise Guy Stewart has taken the time and trouble to explicate them in depth. Herewith, Guy’s Commentaries.

—Bruce Bethke

The fifth step:

We have proclaimed to God, to ourselves, and to anyone else who would listen the exact nature of the many failings of our former editors and publishers.

Before I go on here, I should say that I have a deep and abiding respect for Bruce as a writer, an editor, a teacher, and especially as a friend.

I hesitate to presume anything so rash as that I “know him”. Our lives have intersected a number of times, in several ways, and at more than a few venues. We’ve lunched together, worked together, and argued. But I cannot presume to know him because much of our relationship is mostly through the Internet these days.

On the other hand, I do know that he has a razor sharp sense of humor, a critical and perceptive eye, and I take anything he says seriously.

However, I do NOT take everything he says at face value!

When WORKING together, I interpret his comments to mean exactly what he says. In personal commentary, I ALWAYS take his comments to be carefully and clearly expressed. When we discuss the state of the world however, I take what he says as I would take a grain of sand (some would say “salt”, but I’ve learned his crystals aren’t that small, so I’ll say sand here and imply that it is a granite crystal): a possible irritant designed to elicit honest discussion or to simply make me think.

A bit of background before I go on: I am the oldest child in my family, first born male child and a son of privilege. I married into a family in which I was the last adult before the children were counted and figured sometimes I BELONGED at the children’s table at Thanksgiving.

As the usual oldest, I was always cast as the part of a parent, or the shoemaker or the princess’s father in high school. I had one friend who was older than me and mobs of friends who were younger. I was consistently cast in the role of “mentor” and have been my entire life. I had no older brother; I had no one to kick my metaphorical ass when I made stupid choices or decisions.

From the beginning, Bruce became my mentor. He’s not a lot older than me (I got to be a grandfather first!); but as far as writing and life experience, he is indeed my mentor. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer before mine was and as a result, he was able to pull me up beside him and be a shoulder on which I could lean. He was an “award-winning author” first; published first; created a genre-defining word first; and was an editor first.

All of this I say to point out that I don’t take EVERYTHING he says as serious and sometimes have to search a bit to find the meaning.

The meaning here, if I may be so bold as to speak it, is that we should refuse to burn our bridges no matter how awful our experience. By this I do NOT mean that we be doormats to whims of agents and editors, I mean that gossip, slander (even if it’s true), and bad-mouthing someone is NEVER appropriate; not because “today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner” (in case you were wondering, it’s a line from WORKING GIRL) but because nothing ever happens in a vacuum and everything is fodder for character building.

Bruce is a smart man; he has learned from experience. He takes what he has learned and passes it on. Sometimes he passes it on without embellishment and sometimes he makes me dig for meaning. This is a “dig for meaning” kind of wisdom.

And if it wasn’t meant that way? Meh. That’s how I’m going to take it!



Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp.


NEXT THURSDAY: Step 6, We are entirely ready to let someone else take the blame for the way our last book tanked.