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.
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.