Cheers, writers

Writing is a lonely passion, isn’t it? We lock ourselves away physically or isolate ourselves mentally (I’m talking to you, Panera people), spend hoursweeksmonthsyears in a heated internal debate about which word should go next, and then chop, rewrite, revise, and bludgeon until we end up revolted by our own creations.

We are Victor Frankenstein.

"Puuuuubliiiiish meeeeee..."

“Puuuuubliiiiish meeeeee…”

To be honest, most of us are a bit cracked in the head. Take me for example: Between work and home, I spend about 60 hours a week pushing words around, and I’ve been at it for years. When it comes to my personal writing, you’d think I would have come up with something I’m satisfied with by now. But no. I detest everything I’ve ever written. That includes every single blog post, all my weekly arts-and-entertainment pieces for PFC going back almost three years, dozens of short stories, and both full-length novel manuscripts. I hate ‘em all.

A metaphor for my writing process: Going to a bar, pounding way too many drinks, meeting the most gorgeous girl I’ve ever seen, and feeling all puffed up when she asks me to go back to her place! Then I wake up the next morning with a shattering hangover and realize her name is actually Steve and he’s the drummer from a Twister Sister cover band.

Perhaps the biggest cause of my mental derangement is that I fancy myself a fiction writer. With blogging and art reviews and such, we’re our own publishers, or at least we are contributing writers on a schedule. There’s little in the way of high and low emotion. Fiction, on the other hand, is simply masochism without the welts.

My experience with the world of fiction publication – and I suspect at least some of you can relate – is that of shoving one’s children into a thick-as-soup fog bank and wondering if they will come back, find someplace better to live, or vanish into oblivion. Most of the time they come back, unharmed but unwanted by anyone else. Others vanish and you shrug. Every once in a while they miraculously knock on the right door and are invited in. The head-scratcher is that you put the same amount of heart, agony, and passion into perfecting each one… so how come no one wants most of them but you?

Before I started blogging a few years ago (this is my second blog), I used to wonder what was wrong with my fiction. Why weren’t agents and publishers snapping it up? I did all the right things: Open with an attention-grabbing line, invent motivated, flawed characters who speak snappy dialog and experience meaningful arcs, and keep the action moving and the stakes high. Sometimes I’d imagine that no one was actually reading my submissions, because you secretly had to know somebody at the publisher if you wanted to avoid the recycling bin. Publishers are just like HR recruiters, damn it!

Then I started exploring the writing blogs on WordPress and got a pretty satisfying explanation of why it’s so hard to place a story. You guys are legion, and you guys are good! Real good.

Off line, I don’t know too many writers outside of my business connections. A few dabblers, perhaps, but no one near my skill level. Now that I’ve seen the amazing things you lot can do, though, the ferocity of my competition has become explicitly evident.

I followed a few of your publication links today (including this one that I particularly liked) and encountered prose that was tight as a drum head, layered with vivid imagery, and as professional as anything I’ve read in a book. I also regularly read your essays that are funny, evocative, moving, stark, bittersweet, and any other adjective one can think of to describe essays worth reading. And every day I soak up writing advice that is witty and insightful and full of ideas and suggestions I’d never considered.

You might think I’d feel threatened or depressed to discover the amount of writing talent I am up against, but it’s strangely validating. If I’m going to lose out on those few precious pages in a literary magazine, at least I know I’m losing out to someone good and to someone who puts as much work into this writing affliction as I do. I can take losing just fine when I lose fair and square to someone better.

Cheers, writers. It’s my pleasure to keep your company.


18 responses to “Cheers, writers

  • Rob Ford

    I’ve yet to read this,but I have the overwhelming need to say “the Tall Man”.

    Sent from my iPad

  • Doug Brown

    Sweet post Eric. Most memorable thing I read today.

  • feminineocean

    Eric – I find your blogs, inciteful, informative, and interesting. I’m with you on the fiction note. I’ve only completed one short story I really like. So much good fiction, and so little time to read it all – let alone think I can compete!

  • Janna G. Noelle

    Nice post, Eric. I too try not to think of other writers as competitors, as we all bring different interpretations/techniques to story topics we might otherwise have in common. Mind you, I haven’t tried publishing anything, so my rosy outlook might come to be tarnished yet. Regardless, I think your blog is great as well, and I’m keeping my fingered cross for you that you’ll a) learn to like your own work, and b) you’ll achieve your publication goals in due course.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for the well wishes. I think of my fellow writing bloggers as friends and colleagues, but there are more of us than there are destinations for publication. So we are competitors in that sense.

      That said, my personality is such that I’d rather share what I know and, perhaps, help other writers than compete against them. I only consciously compete against myself to be better. If I am good enough, I’ll be successful. If someone else is better, I won’t. Considering how giving and encouraging you and my other blogging friends are, many of you probably feel the same way.

  • Bryan Edmondson

    This was a great post Eric. However I really do not think you appreciate my time. Considering that the world will end at the stroke of midnight ( In exactly 5 hours and 43 minutes),
    it was a bit self-absorbed not to reduce your total word count of this post. If you had it would have given me to call my mother, instead of spending that same amount of time reading something that makes you the center of attention..

    But it is always, “all about you,” is it not? This is a lot like the time your kept your eyes open at grandmothers funeral, and those five times, when else was praying, you kept your eyes open and proofread a first draft of that horror novel you were so excited about–something you obviously felt was more important than talking to God.

    So do me a huge favor if you reply to this comment, Just cut to the chase. Here’s a tip Hemingway, don’t peck away at the keyboard furiously, gluttonously ejaculating so many unnecessary vowels, and superfluous punctuation symbols. Contractions are not literary lepers, and everyone loves an acronym you S.O.B.

    Lastly, only a pompous college graduate uses Shakespearean Rubik’s cube phrases such as

    “… experience meaningful arcs, and keep the action moving and the stakes high…”

    I spent 20 minutes trying to figure that out before I gave up. I could have masturbated with that twenty minutes,Why in God’s name would you do that to me?

    Don’t worry about it Narcissus, I will just draw a line through several items on my “list of things to do before the world ends at midnight.”

    I just wanted to let you know everything, in full detail, giving you a piece of my mind. I have said all there is to say..

    God damn it now I only have 4 hours and 17 minutes..

    • ericjbaker

      Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately, I listened to music tonight in my left ear that was too loud, and I’m feeling a bit shell shocked about it. In light of that, my reply might make even less sense than the post above:

      I’ve been trying to write 200-word posts so I can provide less substantial content more frequently. But they always balloon into manifestos that no sane person would read to the end. That’s why the second half of all my posts are in cuneiform these days. Bless the ancient Babylonians and their dinosaur-foot alphabet.

      As great as the Babylonians were, the Mayans were a bunch of drunks. It’s been the 21st over most of the world and nothing has ended but episodes of Top Chef. Only drunken temple builders would make defective calendars and not account for time zones in their unintentional end-of-the-world predictions. What’s so great about the central time zone anyway?

      I fully agree that my posts have become self-absorbed of late. Next time, I will try my best to avoid the words “I” and “me.”

      I hope my words soothed you on your journey into the apocalypse.

  • nrhatch

    I like some of what I write . . . some of the time. 😉

    As for the rest, yup. What you said. There are lots of talented and dedicated writers out there perfecting their way with words. Stiff competition, indeed.

  • ChristineZ

    Thank you so much for the shout-out, @ericjbaker. 🙂 We writers need each others’ support to get through our manuscripts, and you are certainly putting your good energy out there. You will be rewarded.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    I’ve struggled with consistent self-criticism. I feel as though everything I write isn’t worthy for anyone to read. That might explain why I’ve never had a critique partner. OMG, your metaphor for your writing process is too funny!

    • ericjbaker

      That metaphor is entirely fictional, in case anyone is wondering! No beer goggles for me, thanks.

      As far as self-criticism goes, I don’t mind if someone knocks my work, because I’ll probably be tougher on myself than anyone. Still, I wish I’d stop doing 15 drafts of something I know is unpublishable or self-indulgent from a subject-matter standpoint.

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