Sometimes when I talk about things that have happened in my writing career, such as selling a high profile story, or being featured in a very nice market, people will say, “Well, yes, but you’re Jay Lake.” As if the condition of being Jay Lake is some kind of hall pass or rolling exemption from the rules by which mere mortals are constrained. It’s almost always well meant, and usually intended to be funny, but that thought discounts both you and me.
It discounts you (if you’ve said it or thought it) because it excuses you from your own agency in whatever mythic feat of mine is under discussion. If writing a million words or making more than $10,000 a year from short fiction or selling 250 short stories is something only Jay Lake can do, then you don’t have to worry about whether or not you did it. Not that I think you should be worrying. We’re all different writers, with different processes, different goals, and different paths. But what you shouldn’t be doing is fencing yourself off from some forms of achievement because they’re reserved for special people.
It discounts me (when you’ve said it or thought it) because it assigns my successes and triumphs to the category of unusual events for which no one is responsible, like winning lottery tickets or finding buried treasure. That does a profound disservice to all my hard work and effort. I got serious about writing, as in regular workshop attendance and story submittals, in 1990. I sold my first short story in 2001. That’s eleven years of wandering in the wilderness that all aspiring writers emerge from, working my tail off, collecting my rejections and trying, trying, trying to get better. Add to that my first small press novel sale in 2004, my first trade press novel sale in 2005, and you can see my arc is years-long.
Yes, I’ve taken an eccentric path into my career. Yes, I’ve been unusually lucky in some respects. But any rules you might think don’t apply to me now only look that way because I’ve spent two decades mastering them, and learning how to turn those rules in my preferred direction where possible. I wasn’t born being Jay Lake the author. I had to earn it, just like everybody else.
To my mind, “you’re Jay Lake” ought to be an inspirational statement. It is for me, and I’m damned proud of it. And I don’t work any less hard today, or gnaw any less thoroughly at “the rules” than ever I did in the years before I sold a word. Want to be like me? Sit down and write. That’s what I do.
Even better, be like yourself.