Whenever I'm In Here and You Hear Me Typing
Not that I expect everyone to stay on top of everything that’s going on in my life (although the fact that I have a blog seems to contradict this), but if you’ve talked to me in any capacity for more than two minutes in the past few months, you’ll know that I wrote a book.
Well, let me qualify that. I wrote a manuscript, it’s not a book yet. I’ve been working on this manuscript for almost a year now, though a better description for what I’ve been doing is eating, breathing, and sleeping it. I’ve fallen in love with my main characters, who seem so real to me that I expect to see one of them on the subway sometime. It’s become sort of a Winchester House of writing for me, in which I keep finding I have more to say. After a successful test run with beta readers, it’s now in the third (and hopefully final, until a publisher says otherwise) round of editing, with a goal of sending out the first series of query letters by the end of May.
I’m exhilarated. I’m terrified. Mostly, I’m just puzzled that I’m going this far.
You see, even though I’ve been writing consistently since I was a teenager (which was a very long time ago), even though when I’m not writing I’m usually thinking about writing, or jotting down notes for one writing project or another, I’ve never had any of my fiction writing published. I’ve never received any money for writing. It’s not that I’ve been rejected. It’s just that I’ve never tried. I’ve written other novels. I’ve written short stories. I’ve written plays. I’ve written a screenplay. I’ve written a treatment for a sitcom. As soon as I finished all of them, my immediate thought was “Well, into the sin bin with you,” and then I moved onto the next thing. I don’t think they were all that bad. Some of them might have been good enough to work into something publishable, if I had allowed myself the tiniest increment of a chance.
Once, I got a little carried away with myself, after writing a one act play in which God and the Devil go on a talk show to have a friendly debate. In what I thought was an incredibly clever twist at the time (that time being 1993 or so), both characters were meant to be played by women, with the intention of the actresses switching roles from one performance to the next (John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman callously stole this idea from me years later for a revival of True West). I liked it. My friends liked it. I decided that, what the hell, I’d show it to one of my bosses at the time, who was sort of a motherly figure to me. Not only did she like it, she just happened to know the guy who ran the local community theater, and would have been happy not only to give me his contact information, but to put in a good word for me. I took his information, thought to myself “Ha ha ha, fuck no,” and put everything in a drawer, never to be seen or thought about again.
That’s not true, of course. I thought about it a lot. I just froze, and refused to go any further with it.
As much as I used to fantasize about it (and still do, sometimes), I’ve never lived “the writer’s life.” I’ve never been able to devote myself full time to writing. I never considered asking anyone to support me while I did so (and I’m not saying no one would have, I just never thought to ask). The manuscript I’m working on now was written mostly early in the morning, before I left for my unfulfilling-but-hey-it-pays-the-bills job, with occasional marathon sessions on the weekends. To throw all caution to the wind and dedicate all my time to “the craft” seemed far too scary, far too uncertain a prospect, even back when it was possible to maintain a comfortable living as a writer. I needed that safety net, no matter how much of a “sellout” it might have made me.
But here’s the thing: I think I’m a good writer. I might even occasionally be a great writer.
That’s important, because I’m a relentlessly cruel judge of myself. I rate myself fair to middling at best in virtually every other aspect of my life (though I do make some great pancakes). I consider my abilities, and all I can hear is Immortan Joe yelling out a withering “Mediocre!” But writing? Yeah, for someone who’s taken exactly one formal class in it, I think I’m pretty good, particularly when it comes to non-fiction writing. You give me a topic, and I can eloquently bullshit my way through it. I’ve made myself cry, I’ve made myself laugh, I’ve turned myself on with my own writing. Some years back I participated in an online writing competition, and was so confident in my ability to mop the fucking floor with my competitors (save for one) that I actually got a little cocky about it, and didn’t make as much of an effort as I could have. I still made it to the finals, but ultimately threw myself on my sword, and encouraged people to vote for my closest competitor instead.
See, that’s the thing--I don’t want anyone to tell me that I’m not a good writer. I don’t want to see absolute proof of it. No one has offered as such yet. Oh, I’ve had people express complete and utter indifference, which is almost as bad (if, really, not a little worse), but no one has ever said “You cannot write, please stop immediately.” I have no reason, other than poor self-esteem, to think anyone would, but putting myself out there means the chance of that happening increases exponentially. Writing is all I have. If you take that away from me, you take so much I don’t know if I’ll be able to breathe. Loving the act of writing so much that I don’t want anyone to see what I write makes a sick sort of sense to me.
So what makes things different this time, for this manuscript? I honestly have no idea. As I keep telling people, it ain’t War and Peace. It’s a vampire novel with some elements of romance, and if you knew what a snob I used to be about such things, even pre-Twilight, you’d find this laughable. Hell, I find it laughable, as much as I love the damn thing. I’m still grounded enough to know that, despite the unique angles I’ve put on it, it’s the type of novel that people buy in airports. It’ll be part of a genre that people are a little embarrassed to say they enjoy. I’m fine with that. If I’m writing for a certain kind of audience, then so be it. At least I’m writing for some kind of audience.
With the manuscript came a renewed and more intense than ever desire to devote myself to writing, to take myself seriously, if you will (although by not letting other people see it might suggest that I took it a little too seriously). I paid for an “official” website, which you are looking at right now. I’ve started setting deadlines, even though I’m not accountable to anyone but myself. I’ve committed to carving away a little time every day to write something, even if it’s just a few paragraphs about some dumb TV show from when I was a kid. I’m trying not to worry about what sort of credentials are currently required to refer to oneself as a “writer.”
Mostly, it’s time. It’s time, it’s time, it’s time. Yeah, I’m not getting any younger. Yeah, I’ve let that phantom “what will people think ooooooOOOooOOOO” haunt virtually every aspect of my life for too long. More than anything else...what else am I supposed to do? This is what I do. I bought my tickets, I knew what I was getting into. I’ll either learn to accept rejection, or I won’t, but it’s worse to not find out either way. Of course, I say this now, and as soon as I send out those first few query letters, I’m going to insist that I must be crazy. I’m going to regret every minute. I’m going to wish my characters never existed. I'm going to wish that I had never so much as taken a typing class. But if that’s not living the “writer’s life,” then I don’t know what is.