Jay Lake’s Tub (and on being a newer writer)

jay lake tub

I finally have a scanner now! Which means I can show you this graphic that Jay Lake drew for me on a napkin at a restaurant something like five years ago, and that I’ve kept on my corkboard ever since. This, my friends, is Jay Lake’s tub.

I was reading a post on another forum about someone who felt down in their writing career right now, and goddamn, do I know what that feels like. Five years ago, before I’d even written Nightshifted, but after nine other books and hundreds of short stories and huuuundddreeeds of rejections, I was feeling down and out too. I’d gotten a few short stories sold, but no novels, and I wasn’t selling reliably. But I had the good luck to be out with Jay and he took out a pen and drew this tub for me.

The tub’s the tub, the dashed line across it is the Line of Publication, and the faucet is you — or, me. The faucet’s the only thing you really have control over, how many words you pour into the tub. When you’re just starting out filling up your tub, the publication line is sooo far up, there’s no way you can hit it for awhile. You just have to keep writing.

Once you get a little good, sometimes waves will crest the line — but just as often (or more often!) they won’t. And this is the Most Depressing Time as an author, for some inexplicable reason. There’s something about finally getting one or two acceptances that makes it feel like you’ve made it — like you’ve sprinted across some line, never to return to the other side. But unfortunately a writing career isn’t like that. You cross the line once, and then sometimes it’s silence and rejection for years. This is when you break down, because before that sale, you were simply just Not Good Enough. It sucked, but at least it made sense. Once you’ve made a sale or two and then can’t seem to replicate it again no matter how hard you try — that’s when you start to doubt your sanity. What metric should you be judging yourself by? You’re the same writer who made those sales, aren’t you? Do you suddenly suck now? Were those editors being nice? Was it luck? Are you a flash in the pan? Is your career over already?!!?!?

Of course you want to decode your situation, to try to understand it — when really there’s nothing to understand. Your water line just isn’t high enough yet. But when you’re splashing around in the depths of the tub, sometimes that’s hard to see.

Everyone’s tub is different (and yeah, being self-aware and growing as a writer is important, but that would be/will be a whole other series of posts) but in general, if you pour enough water in, things eventually work out.

Keep pouring, people :D (and I’m super happy to get to share this with y’all after all this time!)

(Tacked on journal progress note ;): 10% done with the 2nd draft for Bloodshifted, and OMG Shapeshifted is out in six days!!!)


4 thoughts on “Jay Lake’s Tub (and on being a newer writer)

  1. I’ve been thinking of this tub thing since I first read it on Jay Lake’s blog ages ago. I think one thing people miss when they talk about this, also, is you float on top of the water, too. So as you fill the tub, you rise up, and you can see your target better. If you can see your target better, you can splash the water in that direction a little more effectively. (At least, that’s been my experience.)

    I mean, success isn’t just one definitive line you have to cross. It’s a bunch of seemingly randomly placed targets at different heights in the tub. Not every wave will hit every target. And sometimes those little suckers move, too! Someone else’s wave hits the target just before yours would’ve, but their wave knocked the target a little higher, because their wave was huge.

    (You can probably tell that I like this metaphor. Haha.)

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