The Stuff of Legends

Flickr_-_Michael_Gwyther-Jones_-_DandelionHey there! Did you miss me! I know I’ve been MIA for quite a while now. But I have a good excuse…I’ve been in London! (London, England, not London, KY as so many of my co-workers seemed to think when I told them…not making the leap to leaving the country.) There will be more on that later when I have time to go through all my convention notes…and breathe. For today I just wanted to share something with you that I’ve been learning, slowly, for the last several years that’s really come into focus over the summer.

Everything starts out as a seed.

Have you ever seen a seed? They’re tiny. (Unless you’re planting a palm tree.) And you sow about ten times as many as you need. Ever seen a dandelion? A dandelion has between 40-100 seeds. As annoying as they can be when they crop up in the front yard, imagine how much worse it would be if every seed became a flower!

Life is like that too. Every book you write, every blog you start, every event you go to, every person you meet is a seed. Some of them will take root and grow strong and tall, but many, many of them won’t. And that’s okay. That’s life. Success will come in its time.

Everything starts as somebody’s crazy, impossible idea.

A few weeks ago I attended the Hugo Award Ceremony in person and had the privilege of seeing Cory Doctorow dress in a red cape and goggles. The Hugos are one of the biggest awards in the science fiction and fantasy community, and one of the longest running, dating back to the fifties. The original winners were writers like Robery A. Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury. Now they go to writers like Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman. Winning a Hugo is kind of a big deal.

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Do you think that, when Randall Munroe decided to make Doctorow a character in his comic strip, he ever thought that this would happen?

Asimov talks about winning his first Hugo in his autobiography “I, Asimov.” He was touched and honored, but his description of the ceremony makes it sound like a bunch of mutual friends invented the award as an excuse to pat each other’s backs. He didn’t expect it to ever become a big deal, and he openly expressed his skepticism that the world would ever catch on to scifi.

I think he would be very surprised today to get up on stage and see the 7-10 thousand people who appear in person to watch the Hugos, and countless others who view remotely (as I did last year).

Everybody starts out as nobody.

We were talking the other day at dinner about all the great scientists and inventors who were born to poor parents, couldn’t afford a proper education, and skyrocketed to success by sheer chance–or died in poverty and obscurity only to rise to success after their deaths. Nobody knows where geniuses come from, how to create them, or who the next one will be. Education doesn’t make a difference. Social status doesn’t make a difference. Financial stability doesn’t make a difference. It could be anyone. It could be you.

Everything has potential.

Potential is like kinetic energy. It’s in everything–just waiting to be released. All it takes is a lot of hard work and a little luck. It takes dedication, perseverance, and a desire to succeed. It’s like magic–drifting around in the aether, waiting for you to reach out and seize the day. It’s there, in everything, just waiting for you to unlock it.

But it takes time. It takes a lot of time. Listening to Neil Gaiman speak one year I heard him talk about how determined he was to be a writer, and making a living writing–and how surprised he was when it actually happened. And he pointed out that it took years and years of writing and doing stuff he didn’t want to do and working towards his goal before he reached, and then exceeded, his wildest expectations.

Look at all the successful authors around you. With a few notable exceptions they’re all middle aged, or older. They’re old with their success. It wasn’t an overnight thing–but that’s good. If success only came overnight we’d all be doomed to food service jobs forever. But it comes slowly. It comes like everything in life comes–through hard work and perseverance. During my week at WorldCon I met some of my favorite authors–Cory Doctorow, David Wingrove, Simon Morden. They’re none of them famous, but they’re all successful. But they weren’t legends either. They had time to meet me, talk to me, grant me interviews, give me advice.

I look at them, and I say to myself–in ten or twenty years, that’s where I want to be.

I’m not there yet. So obviously I’m not an expert and I can’t guarantee that this is true. But it’s a strong hunch–one that I believe in and am willing to stake my life’s career on.

Sequoia_sempervirens_Big_Basin_Redwoods_State_Park_7Everything starts as a seed.

Not all seeds germinate. Once germinated, not all of them survive to adulthood. Once grown, not all of them stand out and become something unique. But a few become trees–noble of stature, and admired by the world. But all of them–duds, bad ideas, good crops, and bestsellers start out in the same ignoble, insignificant way. They all look the same–and who can tell which one is which?

The stuff of legends is born in a stable, raised by a carpenter, and hanged as a criminal.

It is rarely given the prophecy-filled and destiny-promised history we authors so often give our heroes.

The stuff of legends often doesn’t know it’s happening until it’s over, and sometimes, perhaps, it never knows at all.

Everything starts out as a seed. Plant yours–it could be the next redwood.


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