Writing journal, no. 4

Blue Jay: Paradoxies and “truisms” of a writer’s life.

Mike Caffrey | Unsplash

Something clicked. Not sure what.

I have three pieces of advice I frequently repeat to a hypothetical struggling writer who “needs to hear” this advice.

I’ve always thought of myself as an awful editor. Which, if self-fulfilling prophecy is a thing, made itself true. The fact is that I never liked editing. I always liked writing. Editing felt…repetitious without feeling like progress. To edit was to change without modification. Pointless movement, no improvement.

Which probably speaks more to my editing powers than to anything else.

Thing is, I have always told myself that the difference between the person who has “success,” whatever that is, and the person who doesn’t is work. Nothing more glorious, if I can see my way to describing most of a lifetime of concerted effort inglorious. Work has a glory of its own, even if it’s a reserved, inauspicious glory. It still gets things done when everything else loses energy.

Lord, I’m being pompous today. All these long words. I must think highly of myself.

What’s going on, though, makes me feel rather proud of myself. Because what’s going on is that I’ve recently learned how arrogant I was to ever think that I could give the advice to “just do the work.” Because I’ve been realizing that I haven’t been eating my own ambrosia. I haven’t been exhibiting the moxy that I have been demanding from the imaginary ideal struggling writer who has been failing to succeed only by his or her own unwillingness to simply stick their nose to the workbench and pound away. Which is an awful metaphor, but that’s the kind of mood I’m in, I guess.

Because, suddenly, I feel like I’ve learned the first step to the value of the work of editing. I haven’t learned it very well, and I know I have to keep practicing it. I do feel like something clicked into place, and I can see the value of editing.

I’m still editing Blue Jay, which I mentioned before used to be called Bone Jack.

Which allows me to segue onto another of the pieces of advice I always gave to the hypothetical struggling writer.

This one I have a little more place to give, I think. The piece of advice goes, “You’ve got to show your writing to people. If you don’t, what’s the point?” And I feel like I can give that to people because, by and large, since I started writing I’ve been eager to let people see what I’ve been writing. I haven’t been eager to shove it in front of them, which will pertain to the third piece of important advice that’s on my mind and has to do with paradoxes, but I’ll talk about that piece of advice below. The point is that I’ve never been afraid to show people what I write. Or, put a better way, I’ve always been afraid, but I’ve always wanted people to read what I write.

It needs to be read. This might not be a philosophy that everyone follows, but I follow it, because I wish to tell stories. My writing needs to be read, or it’s only half done. I can lay down the prettiest words in the world and give them life and in my own little corner of the universe satisfy myself that I have created a beautiful thing. Which has an intrinsic value, certainly, but because of my fundamental beliefs then that piece of writing doesn’t quite fulfill itself until someone reads it.

That’s my belief.

And I’ve never had a problem showing people my writing. If, you know, I think it’s done enough not to waste their time too much.

I’ve been writing Blue Jay/Bone Jack for a couple years now, and it worried me for that whole time because, for reasons I couldn’t quite figure, I didn’t want to show it to anyone. I felt like it would waste their time. I felt like it wasn’t working. I still felt, deep down, that I wanted to write it, but I didn’t want anyone to see it.

So what’s cool about this editing process is suddenly that has changed. I feel eager to show it to people all of a sudden. I want people to read it. I want to tell this story and I want people to hear it. At least the early chapters. I feel like they have finally started to be the story that I wanted to tell from the beginning.

Which, cool feeling as it is, invites the third piece of advice that I like to give to my hypothetical struggling writer who needs my wisdom.

Which is that a writer who wants to make a career of it needs to be good at marketing. Good, bad, and ugly, in order to be a career option, writing needs an audience. Stories need to be wanted, distributed, purchased, and by a fairly significant crowd. Which means that the writer needs to put themselves in contact with that crowd. Essentially, needs to find a crowd and invite that crowd to look at him.

To make a career out of writing, I essentially need to build a mob and tell them to stare at me.

Which I hate. If I could make a career out of writing by hiding, then I would.

But that isn’t how it works.

Because, I don’t know if you noticed, but people are scary. They’re even worse, because they can completely ignore en masse like no other.

And in spite of everything I tell myself, it feels like a self-aggrandizing, mercenary act to invite people to spend some of the precious time — it seems precious when they talk about it — to take a few minutes to see what they think of my stories.

I mean, I know that my stories wouldn’t waste anyone’s time.

But, you know, they might waste people’s time.

I know they won’t.

But they might.

I am biased. I can’t get around the fact that I have an inescapable bias in favor of my stories. I also can’t usually get around the fact that I usually like different things to my friends. Maybe my stories will never suit anyone else’s taste. I don’t know. Not a lot of people have seen them, so I don’t know.

But the point is, I know I write good stories.

They won’t waste anyone’s time.

But they might.

Anyway, I have to build my mob, because I want to make a career out of writing.

I would like it if I could write for five or six or a hundred of my closest friends and call that good.

Then I could talk to every one of them.

Maybe I still can.

We shall see.

There’s Oliver’s winning formula for becoming a career writer.

Do the work.

Share the work.

Get over the idea that you make a fool of yourself by asking if people want to read the stories.

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