20 Years of Pro Writing

It entirely escaped my attention until just about an hour ago that today marks the 20th anniversary of me starting my job as the film critic at the Fresno Bee, which means that today is also the 20th anniversary of me being a professional, full-time writer. The Fresno Bee gig was my first job out of college, which means that for my entire professional life to date, writing has been my job (or my primary job; I did some editing and consulting in there as well). Considering how magnificently unqualified I am for any other sort of work, this is a lucky thing for me.

If I had remembered this milestone in my personal history earlier than about 8pm on a Saturday night, I would probably have done more with this post — perhaps dredged up something from my Fresno Bee days, or done a series of observations about the writing life, or, well, something. But instead what you get is me going wow, twenty years. That’s a long time to get away with what I’m getting away with. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, of course, but it was; why, when I started at the Fresno Bee, The first George Bush was in office, Nirvana’s Nevermind was two weeks away from being released, Crystal Pepsi had yet to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public, and the Internet was nothing but a bunch of computer nerds fingering each other. A different world, it was.

I have no deep thoughts for you about all of this at this time. What I do have is a deep gratitude that I’ve been about to do what I love doing now for almost half of my lifespan. A lot of the reason I get to do that is because of you guys, who buy the books and follow the other writing I do. For that, all I can say is: Thank you. Thank you a whole bunch. I’ll keep at it as long as I can.


46 Comments on “20 Years of Pro Writing”

  1. I think I may be the only person in this hemisphere who liked Crystal Pepsi. “Unleashed on an unsuspecting public”, indeed.


    Anyhow, congrats on being a jin-yoo-wine Famous Person now!

  2. Please let me extend a thank you! The world would be a little bit dimmer without your wit …. Oh it would still go around, but we would be the poorer if you were an actuary somewhere.

  3. Congratulations! You’ve managed, against all odds, to be successful and productive at something you love. You’re an inspiration to many. I’ve never enjoyed another writer’s success more. I would continue gushing but I’ll save it for another milestone :).

  4. Congratulations John, very happy that you’ve been getting away with it. “Old Man’s War” turned my sf reading around. This is my 10 years as a technical writer. If only I could get the hang of making stuff up instead.

  5. Crystal Pepsi was awesome….! Except it really wasn’t. If memory serves, it was transparent like Sprite, but tasted just like regular Pepsi. Which made you really wonder what the purpose of the brown coloring was for in the first place? Now, throwback Pepsi, that’s a winner. I’m trying to cut back on soda, and am nominally a Coke man, or RC Cola if I can get it. But if they made throwback Pepsi a regular item at the store, I’d totally buy it. The real sugar genuinely improved the taste, vs. corn syrup.

    And big congrats, John. 20 years.

    Which form of writing do you find more enjoyable? Short fiction, long fiction, or non-fiction?

  6. Wow.


    That’s amazing. Congratulations. That’s awesome.

    hey, wait, arent’ you supposed to be cleaning your basement?

  7. Greg’s comment was the one I was looking for so that I didn’t have make it myself. 20 years doing what you like is awesome Everytime I get a job I like something comes along and destroys it for me, alas,I take joy in cleaning out my basement as a consolation.

  8. Happy anniversary, John. Isn’t it great when you can do something you enjoy so much you don’t notice how much time has passed?

    Brad Torgerson@8: If you can find it, Coca-Cola made for sale in Mexico is made with cane sugar. One of the supermarket chains here in upstate NY sells it in the ethnic/Hispanic section of the store.

  9. Congratulations! And thank you, I really enjoy reading your work.

    I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. :o/

  10. John,

    Congratulations on the writing career. I am thrilled you found it, and at your success, after all, I read your writings, not only here, but I do buy your books. When I bought Old Man’s War, it was entirely on impulse, and I even got around to reading it promptly – and loved it. Keep writing, I wish lots of Hugos and Nebula awards on you.

  11. Great Writers spend time in other fields than writing before they get into writing.

    Just “sayin'”

  12. Hopefully you don’t forget that other, oh so important, anniversary, because you probably won’t escape with a “meh”.

    Here hoping for another 20 years and a thank you for writing!

  13. @Scorpius #22

    I don’t recall our esteemed host ever stating he was, or had the ambition/hubris to be, a “Great Writer”.

    Just “saying”….

    imho, his body of work (fiction, non-fiction, blogs, and articles) are entertaining, enjoyable, and I look forward to reading whatever* he produces – he may not be “Great”, but he’s pretty damn good in my estimation.

    *see what I did there? ;-)

  14. Scorpius:

    Yes, like Hemingway, who became a reporter months out of high school. Or Mark Twain, who was writing articles while still apprenticed to a printer. Or Sinclair Lewis, who went from writing job to writing job after Yale. Or Charles Dickens, who became a freelance journalist whilst still a teen. Or James Joyce, who was writing reviews and plays while still a student. Or George Bernard Shaw, whose transition from itinerant student (and sponge on his family) to writer began by ghostwriting music reviews. Or, in more modern times, Michael Chabon, whose first novel was his MFA thesis.

    Wow, you sure nailed that bit of snark, Scorpius!

    Beyond that, generally speaking the great writers — and most of the merely good writers — were always writers whatever else they were doing. That’s what made them good and great when they finally achieved notability. So your snark doesn’t really work on any level. What we’re left is you just trying to be a dick. Well done, you.

    Your fatuous and obnoxious attempt at pissing on me aside, I do agree that when it comes to fiction, life experience outside the experience of writing fiction is valuable and I encourage writers to get some. If they can get it while still making a living as a writer, as I did for the thirteen and a half years between when I started working professionally as a writer and when my first novel was published, so much the better.

  15. I followed the Wayback machine to your post on the 10th anniversary of launching your writing career, and I found this quote.

    …but they’ll think it’s even more cool if you can afford to take them on a date to a place where the food can’t be “Super Sized.”

    Ten years later, “Super Sizing” is no longer on the menu at McDonald’s.

  16. I don’t think any substantial number of people would buy your books (or even read your free blog) if they didn’t think that what you wrote was worth it, so we seem to have a good balance going.

    Incidentally… I can’t say that I consider you A Great Writer — let’s get back on this in a hundred years, okay?

    I can say that I consider you most fortunate in being able to earn a reasonably-good living at what you most love to do. Congratulations!

    Oh, yes… as Harlan Ellison once (or possibly many times) put it, “Some people are doomed to be Writers”. He seems to have taken that (and himself) more seriously than you do, but substitute more neutral “fated” for “doomed” and it works out pretty well.

  17. Congrats! I enjoy your writing, like that you give credit to others when due, love Whatever, and my only complaint is the same I have all my favorite writers……write faster dang it!! I just finished Fuzzy Nation and will now most likely be buying all the Piper books. Thanks for showing me another great universe to read. I believe if OMW does get made into a movie you will become a HUGE star and darling of Hollywood. I just hope it won’t change you too much. I don’t think it will.

  18. I’d rather be a working writer than having to work for a living :)

    I wish I could remember Heinlein’s description of “work” from his explanation of how he became a writer. It was something about how work was something you did standing up, outdoors in the weather with a pick or a shovel or in a small office, hunched over a desk under the orders of someone else.

    Congratulations, thanks for the entertainment (you have given me several hours of joyful escapism) and good luck doing again for the next forty.

  19. RE: Scorpius’s comment — some of us do “other things” while plowing through our requisite First Million Words. Some of us get to write for a living right out of the box. If offered a choice between being “great” or being well-paid I am afraid I have to choose the latter. Not sure what Scalzi’s choice would be, though I suspect it might be similar?

  20. Brad:

    “Not sure what Scalzi’s choice would be, though I suspect it might be similar?”

    It’s not an either/or situation. And of course even if one were great, it’s not an assurance one will be remembered. Plenty of great stuff gets buried by history with the mediocre and poor stuff. Worrying about how posterity will view you is a fine way to fret about something you have no control over. My choice is to write what I want and do what I’d like to do. The rest of it will take care of itself.


    He’s here because I haven’t told him he has to go away.

  21. In seriousness, I think that’s the big industry unveil that’s happened for me in the last 2 years. Everybody seems to be writing what they want, however they want. Whether or not something goes big with the public and makes them money (Stephanie Meyer) or whether or not it puts them into the “great” category (Orson Scott Card?) is 100% beyond an author’s control. It’s a mixture of critical response, audience response, and managing to remain enthusiastically read across successive generations.

  22. He’s here because I haven’t told him he has to go away.

    Well, of course; that goes without saying (at least to me). I was just finding it rather curious that you haven’t, and wondering why.

    I guess I don’t really expect you to tell me.

  23. Heard loud and clear.

    I wish I had any hope of being a full-time professional writer for 20 years…or ever. I don’t have the kind of discipline you have.

  24. I like your writing style and enjoy reading your stories, so I buy your books.

    You get to avoid a lot of manual labor and make a good living doing something you love.


  25. There are few feelings better than cashing a substantial check one has received from writing; proud to say this from personal experience, though not with your regularity, John. I’ve so far bought five of your books (2 in hardcover, including HATE MAIL), am officially addicted to Whatever, and look forward to the next 20 years.

  26. Congratulations on having your dream job for 20 years and making a great living from it. Now that I’ve essentially becomes a full time freelance writer, I can appreciate the amount of discipline, assertiveness, self-promotion, hard-work, and talent it has taken to get where you are. I’m nowhere even close to your lofty spot, but I’ve already realized the paramount importance of all the traits I mentioned when it comes to a successful writing career. I definitely resepct you, and I love your writings. Congratulations again, and here to 20 more years (at least).