Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

A Signpost Along the Road…

We All Have Them…

Just like driving on any road, sometimes you notice the sign telling you where on the road you are at, sometimes not. For the last number of decades, I have paid little attention to the signs on my writing road.

But my first decade or two, I sure watched the signposts, tried to figure out if I was even still on the correct road at times for where I wanted to go with my writing and publishing.

And over the years, stretching this sad metaphor a little more, I fell off the road and took some bad turns that just took longer to get back on the main road.

Like any real road, I knew where I wanted to go (the shining city at the end of the road). I wanted to be a full-time professional fiction writer working in publishing.

That was the city.

How to travel the road to the city I tried to learn from other major professional writers who were already living in the city. And after 7 long years wondering on back roads because I took advice from those not in the city (you know, rewriting, write slow, polish, don’t send out until perfect), I decided to never take any more advice from anyone who wasn’t living in the city already.

So from that point forward, I never trusted just one professional’s advice. I often asked the same question of many of them. All of them living in the full-time writer city I wanted to live in.

So one day in 1987 (after 13 years), I arrived at the edge of the full-time fiction-writer city. I was full-time freelance, working in publishing, with my first novel sold, and a bunch of short fiction sold. (I lived in a $200 a month junky apartment, but I was at least a full-time fiction writer.)

But just like anyone with a few bucks in their pocket arriving in a big city, staying and living in the city turned out to be difficult. I reset my goals, my road in essence, to stay in the full-time fiction-writer city.

And I kept asking questions and studying top professionals, learning what they wanted to teach, to see if I could do what they were doing, live the way they were living.

Some lived very comfortably, some scraped by.

But that didn’t matter that much, I really liked the city and really, really wanted to stay.

After a while I stopped paying attention to where I was on the road of staying in the city. But there were still signs I noticed as to where I was.

When Kris and I bought a tree farm outside of Eugene, I stood on the top of that hill and realized that we were in a certain place, we had cleaned up the mistake of Pulphouse Corporation and our writing had gotten us a beautiful piece of property and all we were doing was writing.

Then a few years later we bought a number of homes on the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean where we settled in for a few decades. That compound was a great sign-post.

Then life tossed us a curve with Kris getting sick, and we ended up in a nifty penthouse in Las Vegas. I realized that was another sign-post on the writing road. We had advanced far enough, were solid enough that we had built a publishing company and were both writing full time, even after years of Kris being sick.

Then a fews weeks back, out of the blue, we got a chance at another penthouse condo in this same building. Nicer, bigger, and with views to die for. I didn’t think we could get it, but somehow we managed and this afternoon we were mapping out where shelves and furniture would go in the new place.

I took a moment to look around and realized the views of the Strip, the Mountains, and the entire downtown Las Vegas was another sign post along the road. We both had gone from tiny apartments with ceilings falling in and $200 rents to a massive penthouse overlooking a city we both love beyond words.

It told me clearly where Kris and I were at as writers.

A really fun realization.

I sold some poems and my first two short stories in 1974.

47 years on the road. I hope to do another thirty or so years on the road.

I hope a few of you out there have the drive, the ability to keep going, and the enjoyment of telling stories. I hope a few of you are not in so much of a hurry to feel sick at 47 years. The penthouse signpost is nice, I must admit. But that hasn’t been the important part. It’s traveling the road that has been the real value.

So right now as this sign on my road flashes past, I noticed it, and then tonight I went back to playing in my current novel and continuing to learn and enjoy publishing.


  • Michèle+Laframboise

    So happy for both of you!
    I’m celebrating 25 years on that road ( counting since 1996 when I decided to write full time). A good sign post this spring was my third story sale to a pro market after 16 years of rejections.

  • JM6

    A home and office overlooking Las Vegas with the woman you love.

    Poker Boy. You’ve actually become Poker Boy. Sort of.

    Are you keeping your superpowers secret from us?


    • dwsmith

      Yeah, this new condo sort of feels like Poker Boy’s office. I still suck at teleporting, though.

  • Philip

    Dean, you’re an inspiration. Your work ethic and lack of fear took you a long way. You’re a refreshing voice in the indie community in so many ways, especially the fact that you’re not someone who lucked out on kindle unlimited 3 years ago and acted like you’re a publishing god.

    Side note: the one time I went to Vegas, I loved the view from the restaurant at the top of Stratosphere– the desert canyons made me feel like I was on Mars. It was very Bradbury.

  • Suzanne LaGrande

    It seems to me you looked at the outter sign posts but you measured them against what mattered to you and that enjoyment and learning were central to that. I think where I have gotten lost is thinking that achieving other people’s measure of success — being “good” on other peoples terms — will give me a feeling of inner contentment. Beautiful houses is a nice confirmation of inner fulfillment, but its the inner fulfillment that matters most. What a gift to feel every part of the journey was worth it, even the parts were you got off track for awhile.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, going after what other people think of as success is a losing game.

      One reason for me this condo is a sign on the road, and the home overlooking the Pacific is a sign, is that I grew up lower, lower, lower middle-class, in other words, eight hour jobs to not make enough to pay the bills. And my goal of staying a professional full-time fiction writer depended on how much money I could make from my writing, which was a way of keeping score along the way. So that $200 crap tiny apartment that I paid for with my writing was a win. The home we paid for with writing was a win and a sign we were solidly on the road just fine. Now this penthouse condo is another solid sign we are on the road still, doing fine.

      In other words, I don’t have a day job. I just sit alone in a room and make stuff up and in the process make enough money to live nice and enjoy life. And the workshops I get to help people find their roads. And honestly, that feels damn good as well.

  • Ryan M. Williams

    I’ve been bumping along those back country roads, stuck in the ruts, but it looks like I might be on track to get back to the main road and find my way to the city. Thanks for the directions! It helps so much.

  • Desikan

    Thanks Dean for another wonderful post. Happy for you.

    A good reminder to keep checking with the “inner compass” on what gives fulfillment and get moving in the direction pointed by it. It is not easy and scary with multiple factors like comfort zone of the current “city” and worries about unknowns in the journey keeps coming up especially with other responsibilities. It takes a bit of attitude and fearlessness as you say in your workshops to keep moving.

    For now I am taking a few day trips to get comfortable in getting down that path.
    You are an inspiration.