Supposedly there’s an old saying that the bumblebee, an aerodynamic impossibility, doesn’t know it can’t fly, so it goes ahead and flies. (Which is not unlike the physics of Saturday morning cartoons, in which as long as you don’t know you’re standing on thin air, you don’t fall.)
To be a writer requires, I believe, a certain amount of forgetting that you can’t do stuff. You have to blot from your mind the awareness of all those zillions of people who are writing out there, competing for the same limited space in magazines’ inventories and in publishers’ project schedules. You have to forget that they’ve all read more than you, have better ideas, are more eloquent, and are way smarter than you. (Okay, okay, I’m speaking for myself–sorry!)
Another old saying asserts that God looks out for children and fools. That’s comforting–I fit quite snugly into that category. You do, too, if you’re determined to write–fool!
But seriously, there are times when ignorance pays off. Let me tell you how Dragonfly got published. Just about everything that I might have done wrong when submitting it, I did. First, I should say that Arkham House was about the 12th or 15th place I sent it to. I no longer remember the exact figure, but it was more than ten, less than twenty. I’d been getting some pretty good rejections, as rejections go–personal scrawls from editors saying, in so many words, “Almost.”
Well, when I’d written down a long list of places to try from the pages of Literary Marketplace in the library, Arkham House was near the top of the list, because it began with “A,” but I didn’t send the book there until I’d tried at just about every other place I’d written down. Why? Because I didn’t think it stood much of a chance there. I knew Arkham House as the venerable and legendary publisher that had brought the works of H.P. Lovecraft to the world in book form. What would they want with my novel?
Finally, nearing the end of my list, I tried sending the book to Arkham House. If I’d done just a bit of homework, I never would have done that. After I’d sent them the package, I started reading up on them (brilliant methodology, eh?), and I found out that, 1.) they generally considered only agented manuscripts [I had no agent]; 2.) they typically didn’t publish novels, but rather collections of stories; and 3.) they were not the place for unknown writers to try, since they published works by the old masters of the genre.
But somehow, when editor Mr. Peter Ruber fished Dragonfly out of his slush pile, he liked it enough to go to bat for it, to persuade the other decision-makers that the book was worth doing all sorts of things they didn’t normally do. (I met the internationally-acclaimed critic and Lovecraft scholar Mr. S.T. Joshi at the last World Fantasy Convention, and he remembered me as the guy who sent the unagented novel manuscript to Arkham House over the transom.) Interestingly, when the ”we’re-seriously-considering-it” letter came to my U.S. address, my mom glanced at the return address and supposed that “Peter Ruber” was one of my college friends–so she waited to forward the letter to me in Japan until she had some other stuff to send!
The point is, we can’t worry too terribly much about doing things right. The important thing is to do them. Out of the blue, my parents–some years after they were both retired–took a painting class. They told me what they’d learned, and for a couple years, we all had a great time painting pictures. We never stopped to consider the fact that we couldn’t paint–we just did it.
When I was a kid, it was my best friend’s mom who helped me over the last hurdle to riding a bicycle without training wheels. She started out running along behind me, holding onto the back of the seat so I wouldn’t tip over. At some point, without telling me, she let go. When I figured out she wasn’t there, I’d been riding the bike for some time, all over the yard.
I believe things happen that are meant to happen. I believe they happen when they’re supposed to happen. If you want to write, yes, learn all that you can–but in the end, just write. Don’t stop to consider how impossible or insane it is. Harrison Ford said something like that about acting. The guy who gets the part is the guy who’s there, who doesn’t go away.