Yesterday I achieved the necessary emotional focus to recharge my Nook, wherein I discovered that the March Asimov’s had arrived. I was hoping to see at last, in print, the poem they bought from me last year. It isn’t there, so I’ll have to wait. I guess the lead time on such things is longer than I had anticipated.
What I did find was another great novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I didn’t really like the ending–it felt more like a novel fragment than a complete story to me–but I really liked the way she detailed every character’s motivation. They felt real to me, and I think I’ve learned something about writing from it. I also learned something about myself.
I am Antonio Salieri.
Not the real, talented 18th-century composer, who wrote many fine operas, held the respect of the Hapsburg crown, and taught music to such greats as Schubert, Beethoven, and Liszt. I refer instead to the character from Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, who, though talented in his own right, was crushed by the greater brilliance of the young Amadeus Mozart. The film may not be historically accurate, but it’s a poignant piece of tragedy.
If I’m honest with myself, comparing myself even to the fictional Salieri is hubris at its finest. As a writer, I’m not good enough to appear in a literary competition with the Mozarts of my day. Still, I do have some talent, and when I stay focused, I can produce work that gets published at the semi-pro level.
It’s not a living–it doesn’t even cover my costs–but it somewhat salves my damaged pride.
Fifteen-plus years ago, I remember reading a late-90’s copy of Asimov’s, learning about the SFWA, and thinking, “I can do this.” Maybe the writing in Asimov’s has improved, or maybe I’ve learned what it really takes to write a decent SF story since then, but I don’t think it’s so easy any more. I have tried, and failed, and I have a decade of rejection slips from professional-grade publications to prove it.
I have dreamed that someday I could sell a short story to Asimov’s, or Analog, or IGMS, or F&SF. Perhaps I might someday hold in my hands a novel from Tor with my name on the byline. I still hold that dream, because Rusch has given us the secret to success as a writer:
Work hard, write a lot, and don’t quit.
But when my energy isn’t so high, when a story I love leaves prospective editors confused, when I wonder if I’ll ever get published again, I see the price I pay to write, and I wonder if it’s worth it.
Because there is a cost.
When I pick up a book these days, my writerly brain hovers in the background, critiquing it. I can’t just enjoy a good book any more. I can’t even enjoy a movie with my family without questioning its plot, its characters, its theme.
If I find a flaw, it spoils my enjoyment, and robs me of the joy I might have had celebrating a work for what it is. And if I don’t, I’m left like Salieri, watching Mozart do casually what I can only do with great effort. I want those writers to succeed, because their stories really are better than mine. But at the same time, it’s no fun to fall short.
It’s what make Amadeus a tragedy, and Salieri its lead character.
 It is a sobering thought to realize that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for thirteen years.