Here’s Ursula K. Le Guin’s Fiery Speech from Last Night’s National Book Awards

Give that woman an mic so she can drop it! Last Night the National Book Awards honored Ursula K. Le Guin with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. You can read more about it at NPR and Motherboard. It would be enough that one of my favorite feminist, science fiction authors won a prestigeous literary award, but then she gave a speech that encapsulates and articulates the zeitgeist of the world of letters right now.

She starts out by recognizing the importance of fantasy and science fiction in literature, and then wades into speak truth to the world of publishing. This vast and chaotic, somewhat broken machine that commodifies our art and letters for mass consumption. She uttered a battle cry that both gave no quarter and inspired hope – at least in this writer.   

According to NPR, at the after party, Le Guin said of her speech: “I hope it goes outside this room.”
 
Parker Higgins transcribed her entire speech. I’m reblogging most of it below. Check out his post for her speech in its entirety, and stick around to check out his super cool parker higgins dot net blog.

“I rejoice at accepting [this award] for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.
 
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s name is freedom.”

Neil Gaiman presents Ms Le Guin with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Creative Development is a Progression: Finishing Things and Letting Them Go

Neil Gaiman’s good advice

From Heinlein’s Rules of Writing to Gaiman’s advice (pictured above) to Chuck Wendig’s “finish your shit”; many writers agree, it’s not enough to simply write, you have to finish what you start. I also believe (like Heinlein) that after you finish a story, it is important to send it out into the world.

FINISHING THINGS
For me, writing is its own reward. This is what keeps me writing day in and day out, but once I commit to a character or set of characters and to their story, it’s important to see at least a draft of that story through to the end.
Simply writing all the way to the end – even if it’s the wrong ending and I end up replacing it – has taught me to emotionally commit to a story. Almost everything I write falls on tough times somewhere in the middle. Committing to finishing also forces me to come up with solutions that I wouldn’t have discovered if I’d given up.
After drafting it, resting it, revising it and giving it a final polish, I assess the story. I might see a soft spot in the logic, or a sentence that could maybe be tweaked one more time. But, if I feel that this is the best I can do with this story where I am today as a writer, then it’s time to let it go and move on to the next one.
LETTING THEM GO
You can only grow as a writer to a point if you never send your work out into the world. When I started writing, I would hold onto my stories working them over and over. I think I labored under the misconception that one day, in the future, my understanding of the craft would be complete. One day I would be a journeyman writer and the next day I would cross some invisible threshold to become a fully-fledged Writer. Of course in all truly creative pursuits, we are all always journeymen.
I know now that I have to put myself out there as I am with the full knowledge that tomorrow I might very well look back at today’s efforts and find them sophomoric. I’ve discovered that getting a story published is more than just a feather in my cap. It’s a kind of letting go that frees me to pursue the next level in my own development. 
PROGRESS
I am continually pursuing mastery, striving to become a better storyteller, and I can see now that any productive artist comes to understand their creative development as a progression.
Painters don’t slave over one canvas for years, sculptors don’t carve only one figure. Artists keep producing until they have enough photographs or drawings or sculptures to fill a coffee shop or gallery. Musicians don’t work on one song or album endlessly; they make song after song, album after album. They go on tour then it’s back to the studio to record the next set of songs. What filmmakers (that you’ve heard of) only made one “perfect” film?
People working in creative arts may focus intensely on a particular work for a discrete amount of time, but they know that they’re playing a long game. Look at any artist’s body of work, whether its pop songs, etchings, or television shows, and you can see them try out new ideas, you can trace their beliefs as they become solidified or change direction. You can watch them explore new techniques, master them, and find their idiom. Each piece or song or novel is a record of his or her creative progression as a human being.
I feel vulnerable putting work out there when I know that I’ll be a better writer tomorrow. I want the world to see a perfect artist, but I’ve found it’s better to let people see me as I am today. There’s no such thing as a perfect artist just as there is no perfect work of art. Each story, painting or album is simply another link in the chain of an artist’s creative life. It’s the autobiography we all write without knowing the ending.
I don’t know who I will become, but if I keep on writing, finishing things, and sending them out into the world, one day ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, future me will be able to look back and see the steps I took to arrive at that day.

Rule #4

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” ~ Wayne Gretzky
“Why are you making me hold this envelope?” ~ my daughter


Remember Heinlein’s rule number four?

“You must put the work on the market.”


I’ve been trying to keep it simple: Keep working, keep trying to get better, and keep sending stories out there. And now, all of a sudden, I have a spate of forthcoming stories! This is no overnight success story. I got serious about writing again in 2011 and have been writing and revising and sending stories out ever since. What has kept me going for nearly three years has been the process of constantly creating new work. Of course, acceptances and publications are the goal. I can’t wait to see these stories out in the world and to hear what people think of them – hot, cold, and lukewarm. But, I also feel that getting published is the frosting on the cake. The cake is the work. The work is the constant and truly it’s own reward.

The Horses will be appearing in Every Day Fiction in June. I like this webzine at least as much as Daily Science Fiction. Every Day Fiction is less genre bound, so there is always a good variety of stories, and they’re always under a thousand words.

Futile the Winds will be appearing in Interzone – tentatively slated for their July issue (247)! This, for all intents and purposes, is my first professional sale. It will be the first time my work will be in a non-on-demand print publication, available on newsstands and in bookstores! And what a gorgeous publication it is, as you can see by the cover of the current issue. I cannot wait to see the artwork for my story.

Cattle Futures is slated to appear in Stupefying Stories special Wild Weird West Anthology, tentatively scheduled for release in July.

Beata Beatrix will be appearing in Bourbon Penn (another gorgeous zine), hopefully in their next issue.

I’ll post with links as the individual stories become available. Until then, back to work restocking the inventory! I’ll leave you with the thought that’s been going through my head this week:

Doing It Their Way, Or Not

Illustration for Vasilia the Beautiful by Ivan Bilibian

There is something eternal about the way that we tell stories, the way we seek the emotional heart of an experience, the beauty of language and expression. The way we disseminate and receive those stories, on the other hand, is experiencing a sea change. Traditional publishing seems to be an ever-shrinking piece in a puzzle that now includes multiple e-publication methods and media outlets. And new creative venture revenue sources like Kickstarter are making things even more interesting. With so many choices, getting my work out into the world feels a little like venturing into a foreboding and enchanted forest.

While I scribble away, honing my craft, I’m also trying to take in the ever-shifting landscape that is the world of publishing. Lately, a couple movers and shakers on the scene have been making a big splash, and their stories have gotten me thinking. Before we go any further, the important thing to remember about me is that I don’t know jack! All I have are my opinions, but I do have plenty of those.


Hugh Howey and his breakout novel Wool have been popping up everywhere. Even The Wall Street Journal profiled him, describing how he hacked the traditional publishing model to get himself a sweet print-only book deal with Simon & Shuster. Like almost all “instant” successes, it turns out there’s years of hard work behind it. I first noticed him on Amazon for his excellent novella The Plagiarist, published in 2011. His love for spinning a great tale is apparent in everything he writes, and the hard work he’s put in mastering the craft shows in his direct and engaging prose style. Over the years, he’s amassed a large readership and leveraged that popularity into publishing success. 


Then there’s Amanda Palmer’s TED talk, which went viral and spawned lots of discussion about how one should go about making a living as an artist. 



Regardless of what you think of her, it’s hard not to admit that this isn’t an example of the perfect TED talk. She grounds a simple set of innovative ideas in a real emotional core. I don’t know much about Amanda Palmer. She strikes me as the kind of artist who is not only committed to her art, but to creating her own life as a work of art. For years she’s been putting herself out there both in performance and by connecting with people one at a time. Did she do it to become a millionaire? I can’t say, but it’s obvious she loves what she does.

I’m touched by her sincerity and convinced that she’s managed to put her finger on a truth. But what truth exactly? It took a while for me to puzzle out. There’s truth there, just not a universaltruth. 

So much of the discussion around individual success stories like Howey’s and Palmer’s are framed in terms of a new business model that everyone then scrambles to replicate. As if they’ve discovered thepath to success, when, in fact, they’ve discovered their path to success. There is a lot to learn from the paths they took, as long as you don’t get tripped up by looking for universal solutions from individual successes.

First, there’s the idea that a universal standard of success exists (often measured in dollars or views or followers). Not that those things aren’t great, but I think success is highly personal, and the path to it as individual as each of us. We do ourselves a disservice when we pursue an ideal of success without first examining what that really means to us. Stop and think, what is it that I want to achieve with my art and with the creative act that is my life?

From what I know of her life, Amanda Palmer has never been responsible for anyone but herself, which means that for years she could afford to commit to a lifestyle where she made very little money and traveled by couch surfing her way around the globe. Cool! I want to experience the art made by the Amanda Palmers of the world, but I also want to experience the art made by people who have mortgages to pay or children to raise or elder parents to support or any combination of the above.

Second, there is no one right way. The enchanted woods are vast, mutable and fraught with danger, but as most fairy tale characters discover, the way through isn’t exactly what they imagined when they went in. Hell, there’s never been a single path from the beginning to the end of any of my stories. More often than not, I make a turn and end up at a delightfully different destination. Once written, I can look back and see the single path that I took, but while I’m working, all I’ve got is the compass of my idea and a trail of breadcrumbs that was my outline. Like the unwritten story, I’ll enter the world of publishing armed with the accounts of the people who’ve made it through to arrive on the shining shore of their success. Their words may guide me, but, in the end, I’ll have to find my own way.

So, keep working. Getting your work out there can feel like venturing into the deep dark woods. Just remember, it won’t be the trail of breadcrumbs that will save you in the end, it will be your wits.

Or maybe a giant swan, but probably not.