The passion to write is, for writers, overpowering; an obsession sated only by putting one word after another in such a way that there emerges a kind of inevitability to the flow that, when finished, incites the birds to sing, the sun to shine, the kittens to purr, the dogs… You get the point. I suppose, though, it is in perfecting that inevitability where the rub occurs.
I, as all writers, have written a perfect sentence ten-thousand times. Probably more. Yet, upon a reread, after the morning coffee, after sitting down to review what was created the day, or even the hour before; yes, that perfect sentence that I knew was there, that I knew was absolutely invincible, and would surely contribute to the Pulitzer I knew would be forthcoming; well, that perfect sentence is found to be less than perfect. In some cases that perfect sentence is found to stink. Badly. Where the hell did that inevitability thing go?
We trudge on. We make our little adjustments. We wonder how we could have been so self-satisfied with our creation yesterday, only to find that today what we thought was the essence of creative genius at work on a Tuesday, becomes slush on a Wednesday. Such is part of the writer’s life.
Most of us do eventually finish something. That short story finally comes together–all five-thousand words just where they ought to be. The kinks in the novella are finally smoothed over, ironed out. After six, seven, ten months that love/hate relationship we’ve had with that novel becomes a somewhat sad, somewhat happy farewell soiree over a glass of Chardonnay, a single cigarette–a la King’s Misery–as we submit the ms to our publisher…a letting go that mirrors, perhaps, a parent realizing they’ve done all they could for their child; that that child is now hopefully able to stand on her/his own two feet.
If we’re lucky (and/or quite talented) our publisher says, “Yes,” and we go through the edits, the cover design, the anticipation, the interminable wait to see our perfect creation made whole: The book (yes, something to hold in our hands), and the electronic edition that those with a bent for luminous words from plastic wizardry find preferable to the death of trees. Oh, and it becomes a satisfying moment. So satisfying.
But, of course, the writer’s task is not finished. Unless we are stabled with a publisher who coddles their writers as attendants to kings, our most onerous tasks are ahead of us.
The hype. Firstly, we must announce the birth, the ascension of our perfect creation from the publisher. We blog about it. We provide BSP (blatant self promotion) snippets to all the online writers’ groups we happen to subscribe to. We, of course, graciously respond to any WOO-HOOs from the members of those groups. Concomitantly we study our list of online reviewers for books in our genre, and quite methodically, quite purposefully send off our emails (reviewer’s copy of our perfect creation, .pdf attached) to those sites or individuals who may have an interest. We know good reviews sell books and, after all, we do want to sell our books because, for some of us, book sales equate to steak on the table rather than Hamburger Helper. (Oh, we tire of Hamburger Helper!) And on and on it goes.
No rest for the weary. The wicked? No, most of us don’t have time for wicked. Indeed, we’ve already begun the next project, the next perfect creation.
Eventually the reviews appear. Good ones. Not so good ones. Goofy ones. Ones that bring your fingertips to your head, scratching, as you wonder, Where the hell did that come from? Did they read the book? Didn’t they see the perfection of our creation?
I am an introvert. Shy. Happy left alone. Uncomfortable in crowds. Although, in my past life–from which liberation came some seven years ago–I necessarily played the part of the hard-assed administrator, responsible for a goodly number of subordinates, and the expenditure of a shit-load of money that wasn’t mine. I did well for myself within my adamantine shell where, at times, I outmuthered the endless supply of obtuse SOBs who happened to darken my door. (Maybe you’ve guessed. Yes, I was a bureaucrat. The SOBs were, yes, politicians.) I admit I was playing the role required of me all those years ago. Inside, though, I was a writer yearning to get out of the particular hell that–I understood, and understood quite well–paid the mortgage, put food on the table. I wanted to drop the facade. I wanted to be…me.
Having related this little slice of my life, my conundrum, my dilemma as a writer is not with the writing; it is in being something that I’m not.
I abhor hype. I detest the persistent, nagging, oppressive necessity to sell myself, my writing. I watch in awe–Yes! Awe!–those writers most prolific in the genre within I’ve been published, and wonder how in hell they can produce all that hype, all that unashamed breast-beating, all those blog posts, interviews, Face Book blips. How? How do they do it? (Gathering 2,000 friends on FB, and then ignoring most of them.) Some of them have answered that question with an offhand explanation that they manage their time well. God bless them! But still…
I could easily wrap myself up in some self-serving notion that I’d rather spend my time with my stories; that I just can’t share my creative juices with the necessity to market myself; that, ultimately, my writing will speak for itself. But reality nags. Reality begs the question: If you want to be a successful writer–read Sales!–then you know what you have to do whether you like it or not. Period.
The inevitability I seek in my writing does, sadly, metamorphose into another quite strident inevitability: Sell your books. You know how to do it. You’ve seen how the others do it. Now…just…do…it!
Oh, the humanity…
I recall an interview with C.J. Box that appeared in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) newsletter some time ago. Box is the author of the Joe Pickett series, and the 2007 winner of the Writer of the Year award from the RMFW…not to mention a whole slew of other awards and acknowledgments. He is a practiced, successful writer with the accolades to prove it. The part of the interview, however, that I recall most vividly was when he was asked if he participated in a writer critique group. His answer was instructive. He said, yes, he had participated in a group, but the experience was “painful.” And, I can only paraphrase here, but he then went on to say that his critique partners just didn’t get it; just didn’t understand where he was going with his writing. He also went on to say that writer critique groups are great for some, and, yes, painful for others.
I’ve participated in both face-to-face and on-line critique groups sponsored by the RMFW.
My first reading before a face-to-face critique group, huddled in an alcove formed by three bookshelves within a book store north of Denver, is memorable not so much because I had never done such a thing, but, rather, because first principles of critique were then revealed. (more…)