With my 2019 novel published and my 2020 novel not even a glimmer on the horizon, I thought I might take this fallow time to write a post or two about my experiences as a writer.
Over the past four years I’ve come across a good number of articles written by writers concerning their struggles as a writer. In these articles, they often discuss their experiences dealing with things like writer’s block, criticism, and self-doubts about their talent and stories, plus the usual struggles of getting agents, making sales, or the business of self-publishing. This is not going to be one of those articles, since it seems that I have avoided much of that drama in my writing life. I owe that, I believe, to my set of character flaws.
So let’s have a look at them to see how they make writing easy and fun for me.
Perhaps the over arching character flaw of mine is that I don’t take writing all that seriously. I’ve written stories, or parts of stories, off and on my entire life, but rarely with any serious intent. I simply enjoy the process. I enjoy playing with words. So when I’m writing, I’m having fun. I hope my stories reflect that. Moreover, I will cheerfully admit that I’ve nothing profound, or otherwise, to say about the human condition. I’m not on a mission. I write light, hopefully entertaining stories, and that’s it.
I don’t have a great deal of fortitude. Many years ago, when I was young and foolish, I wrote some stories that I submitted to magazines and a book publisher, collecting a small collection of rejections slips that I still have for my efforts. I gave that up rather quickly. And so, decades later, when I started writing my first three self published novels, I never even considered trying to sell them to publishers. I wrote them simply as a personal challenge and, as I’ve said, for the fun of playing with words. I had collected all the rejections slips I cared to collect. Self publishing was the easy route, making it my preferred route because...
I am lazy. I write imaginary world stories so I can just make things up and thus avoid the tedious research necessary to place stories in history and the known world. It also means that when it comes to publishing, I don’t bother with anything that resembles work, which for me, is everything other than writing, making the cover, and uploading my books after my volunteer proof and beta readers have found most of my many mistakes. And with that, I’m content because...
I must have been standing behind the door when ambition was being handed out since I lack ambition. I have no desire for fame or fortune, or to do the work they require. And I also don’t need, or even want, great success. Fame and wealth seem to be very toxic. And since I’ve successfully avoided both my whole life, I not about to blow it now as a writer. So I’m quite content with my modest success. And yet...
...I have a big ego. Or maybe it’s little one. I’m not sure. All I know is that satisfaction for me is largely internal. I’m a shy person. I don’t need acclaim. I’m a writer, and I don’t need a price on my books to consider myself a professional grade writer. “Professional” writers are free to consider me a “hobbyist” but I don’t see a difference. I mean, it’s not like most professional writers actually make a “professional” level income from their freelance writing. And most of the professional indie authors are making pocket change from the sales of their books, if they’re making any money at all. Writing is simply writing. Money is neither here nor there. This attitude saves me a whole boatload of grief. So is it a lack of ego that allows me the joy of writing without a monetary reward, or is a vast ego that allows me to serenely look down on those scrambling for coins, shake my head and smile? Who knows?
Another character flaw is that I’m not a perfectionist. Good enough is, indeed, good enough, for me. While I try to make every book the best book I can write, I don’t get (too) discouraged by the fact that I can’t go back and read more than a couple pages of any of my books without coming across something that I’d like to change. Something that makes me wonder what in the hell I was thinking when I though that it was good enough. However, achieving perfection is a true life illustration of the fact that, in theory, you can never actually arrive anywhere, since every journey can be divided into halves. Get halfway there, and there’s another halfway point that must be reached before arriving, and so on and on; the remaining halves just keep getting ever smaller and smaller, and smaller but never disappear. Getting close to perfection is like that. You never actually arrive, but the closer you get to it, the more time and effort it takes to achieve any tiny incremental improvement. Being able to sigh, shrug, and say, “good enough” when those efforts no longer make any sense, makes life, and writing easier. That, and the knowledge that no matter how close you come to “perfection,” perfection is always subjective. Some people will like it and others won’t, and that can’t be helped. And that being the case, I can be...
Selfish. I write only to please me. You, my dear reader are merely along for the ride, though your company is very welcome. I only write the stories that I enjoy, trusting that other people, but far from everyone, will enjoy them as well. As the creator of the story, I have to live with the story and its many variations, in my head for months on end. So what my readers might want (And who knows what that is?) doesn’t figure into my calculations. It’s all about me and what I enjoy. I know that whatever I write is never going to please everyone, so I don’t even try to please everyone. I’d like to think, however, that by making the best possible story for me, I make a far better story for the readers who share my taste in stories.
Which brings me around to my last flaw. I may be a bit of a snob. I consider writing art. I paint as well as write and both involve bringing something into the world that did not exist in it before. I’m a creator. And I think the highest ideal of creation is to make something as original, and as personal, as one can make it. I don’t claim any great originality, but they are all very personal creations. They are mine, and all mine. And I think there is great value in that. It is art in its purest form.
Commercial art is something different. It is art in a harness. It is not lesser art, but it is a creation process that is compromised in order to appeal to the broadest audience possible. People know what they like, and like what they know, so if one wants to appeal to the most people possible, one gives them what they know and like – a minor variation of a familiar product. In order to sell a lot of books, the books are engineered to fit a very specific and well researched market niches. They have covers that look like every other cover in the specific genre, they have blurbs that have been fined tuned and filled with key words known to appeal to the target readers, and are written to include all the tropes that the readers expect find it them. They are designed to be just original enough that the reader knows they’ve read new book. (Though I gather that just changing a book’s title, cover, and author can sometimes accomplishes the same thing.) These books are so similar that their authors need to publish a book every two or three months just to be remembered by their readers. And then, when that particular sub-genre falls out of fashion, as it will, every book in that sub-genre will seem old and as out of date as a month old newspaper. It is disposable art.
I won’t compromise my vision for increased sales. I don’t chase fashion. I don’t chase readers. My books will likely never in fashion, but then, they will never be out of fashion either. (Always just unfashionable.) I choose this approach because I think it will produces books that can and will be read decades from now. As I said earlier, my books are just light entertainment. I make no claim for any greatness. But they are as original as I can make them within the long stream of adventure stories, and I think that counts.
This has gotten to be a very long post. But then, I’m not known for brevity in my writing. So to draw it to its conclusion, certain characteristics of mine, ones that can be seen as flaws, combine to make writing for me fun, while allowing me to avoid a great deal of angst that other writers without these flaws may have to endure.