Returning to science fiction after a 15-year pause

Last Monday I turned forty and resolved to start writing science fiction again, for the first time in 15 years. I gave up creative writing in 1996, when I was utterly broke in my mid 20s. I resolved not to return to creative writing until I could pay my way through life. I haven’t quite reached the financial goals that I set years ago, but close enough.

I am awfully tired of waiting. Who knows how much life is left? Three weeks ago, an old friend died suddenly and badly. In the aftermath of this unusually harsh reminder of mortality, my wife and I are overflowing with the urge to make the most of our lives, and without further delay. I would be irritated to die now, with almost all my dreams still in storage.

Death provokes life.

Cocky little art punk ignores sound advice

I had a precocious start as writer, getting “serious” about freelancing by the age of 16. I sold a couple things. In my first creative writing class at university, my dilettante classmates didn’t own dog-eared copies of the 1989 Writer’s Market or even know what it was. I had been collecting rejection notes from editors for years at that point. Some were so delightfully harsh that I fancied they would make fine comedy when I was famous, which I regarded as inevitable. My creative writing professor at UVic W.D. Valgardson, seemed impressed. My ego swelled out of control, as it often did in those days.

Unfortunately, after that I seemed to have a talent only for distraction and melodrama.

Valgardson strongly urged me to stay in school — an unforgettable meeting — but I was a cocky little art punk, and I ignored him and quit. Although I went on to produce a few readable short stories and poems, I never sold another thing, and the economy quickly beat the snot out of me and my ambitions. I took some early stabs at entrepreneurship to shake off the yoke of The Man, but washed out of that too, and ended up on Mom and Dad’s doorstep just before the Borg invaded the big screen in Star Trek: First Contact, and Roland Emmerich gave us a taste of his craptastic directorial future with Independence Day.

Emmerich has been making shitty blockbusters ever since, while I licked my wounds.

Mission: Impossible?

For 15 years, I have watched as many good friends have struggled with the balance between art and rent. Most have retreated, as I did, to the economic safety of more profitable day jobs and careers. None have any form of passive income, and their children and mortgages have locked them in. Most are resigned to the fact that what little remains of their creative work is just a hobby while, somehow, a few of our hardier peers actually became “real” artists, by one measure or another.

What distinguishes them is persistence. Those few continued to write novels and make films, with or without any income from it, and I salute them. I have regarded them with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew my plans to rejoin their ranks — but only if supported by the right kind of income, because I realized long ago that I simply cannot abide semi-poverty. It was my plan all along to generate a passive income by means I could live with, to solve the income problem or literally die trying.

Tall order.

Mission: Sort of Accomplished

I have more or less cracked the code. For a couple years now I’ve been generating enough income to live on by writing and selling genuinely useful and interesting self-help books to people struggling with common pain problems. It is not my dream to write and sell books of that sort, but I do like it, and it pays, and — the holy grail of passive income — it keeps paying while I do other things.

It’s not a great deal of income so far, about the equivalent of getting a decent union wage working at a mill, but much less sweaty. One buck earned passively is worth about five earned actively. So I have earned the freedom to write science fiction with relative impunity, and I’ve done it by means I can live with.

And it only took 15 years! Not too shabby.

It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Update, mid-2013

Failure … caused by success in other domain. My business selling self-help e-books has been so successful that it has kind of taken over my life. Rather than just paying the way, it has become all-consuming, in a good way, for now.