I am and have been many things; a forensic investigator, retailer, executive, healthcare professional, computer guru, traveler, fly fisherman, spiritual counselor, camper, hiker, husband, father, son, uncle, and friend. Oh...and a writer. I do not plan on growing up.
"You fail only if you stop writing." Ray Bradbury
How does it start? How do we end up where we are? Are we in control or just the mass produced mess of someone else?
My life, in the early, was experienced as an artist of music, poetry, and lyrics. Every child wants to be a rock star. I only wanted to create. I read Poe and contemporaries, Golding (Lord of the Flies), Bradbury, and others. And while some can recall childhood with reckless abandonment, I barely recall any of those younger years. Sometimes I wonder if I recall because of old stories or perhaps photographs, or is there a real memory. There are times my memory recalls a childhood more akin to a Burroughs/Irving/Salinger/ novel. Some parts fit neatly across those pages. Regardless,
Adulthood brought reading and it became my heroin consuming novels whilst traveling across the skies cramped into a jumbo jet. Tired from reading, I would write as if late for an appointment. Still, daily existence consumed time and as Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy doing other things.” I did a lot of other things leaving my creative world behind to welter in a sea of confusion as I became the man everyone thought I should be.
"You become a writer because you need to become a writer - nothing else." Grace Paley
Years passed and the one child we were blessed with provided us a goodbye. The journey as empty nesters began among the souvenirs gathered over the time of parenthooding. Once settled, the old spark flared and I decided my dream was to live the life of a novelist. Having never been a novelist, this was a challenge, and a naive one at that. I had lived, vicariously, through the masters—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Poe, Twain, and others until, one day, I wrote a short story regarding my wife.
I believe every writer, poet, painter, dancer, artist, or performer is a bit of an egocentric. One would have to be, don’t you think? Stand in front of an audience and bare your soul? What if you fail? What if you act the fool? What if there is no applause? It appears that the gene that determines all of this does not exist in people like me. With that, the logical step was to publish this work in that I am just that brilliant.
Off the story went to its destination—a small struggling website—and as if by the magic of the literary gods, these folks recognized the genius that I knew existed. Of course, this success only fueled my intensity and supported my artificially inflated ego. With pen in hand, and hope in my pocket, I produced my second short story; a childhood experience with a father—a real Nick Adams type of thing.
Low and behold, once submitted, this story was accepted and I was paid a handsome sum of green stuff. I repeated this triumph with other short stories several times and as Stephen King said, "If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented."
Apparently, I was talented.
"Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped." Lillian Helman
Shortly afterward I discovered NanoWriMo, a writing contest that give you the chance to write as many words in thirty days. I thought, “I am talented, I am probably a genius, so this should be easy.” In the thirty days, I completed the rough draft of my first novel.
“Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” Faulkner
Over the next year, there were finishing touches, added chapters, deepening of characters, and a lot of proofing. Once the novel was complete (which is a misnomer), it was time to get an agent. Easy enough…right? Since I was apparently a genius, and I had just created a blockbuster novel, this should be easy.
Rule #1 – writing is easy. Rule #2 – the creator of rule #1 lied.
I was a prolific query letter writer and after dozens of rejection letters (Hey! Stephen King had a bunch also). I convinced myself the agents contacted were very busy or simply, not my kind of agent. Of course, it had nothing to do with my writing. (Side note: Time is an excellent teacher.) Personally, it was as simple as I had just not found the right agent looking for this type of story. It was, after all, the next great American novel albeit the story apparently did not fit today’s genre needs. Like all great artists, I was ahead of my time. I settled that agents were looking for Stephanie Myers and JK Rowling types. Trilogies and vampires—the quick money. That was just not me. I had put my blood and soul into an epic love story but soon came to the conclusion in absolute abnegation; who wants to read that? Romance is dead…right? This must be the reason why these agents are not interested.
I concluded that self publishing was my liberator and only for the reason that my legacy would be left among cyberspace (and of course, a big city publisher would inadvertently find my genius, on a table at an airport perhaps, read it, and I could expect a phone call soon).The average self-published novel sells around 200 to 500 copies and that includes family purchases. Mine sold about 2,000. I suppose you could call it a success. Several years later, I decided to re-read the novel and this is where the truth comes home. Apparently, I am good with short stories. That was evident with being published by recognized authorities—and getting paid. The discovery is that the journey of writing is one of continual growth. The truth is, after some development and understanding of what writing is about, I discovered one very important lesson.
My novel sucked.
And that was the reason agents did not call. How do I know? I actually sat down and cracked open the cover and tried to read the novel. It was embarrassing. For those that bought the book, and for those that read it…God bless you for your kindness.
"Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go." E.L. Doctorow
After learning to enjoy the taste of crow, it came together. But, here’s the deal. If you are a writer—if you even think you want to write—this is the realization you need to experience. It is a rite of passage, so to speak. This art has taken me years to find a voice that shows in my writing without sounding like…me. Oddly, I discovered this recently while talking to my harshest critic, my wife.
Of the two novels I am working on, one is a mystery, the other an adventure. One is serious, the other just fun. My wife picked up the rough draft of the adventure—her not being an avid reader—my curiosity regarding her thoughts was held with great anticipation. Her position was, “Your writing, your characters, don’t sound like you. If someone had asked who wrote this, I would have never guessed it was your writing.” I thought that was an interesting observation. It also pleased me in that I don’t want to sound like me in a story.
“You fail only if you stop writing.” Bradbury
The important lesson learned, from reading my novel, was it really sucked, it was naive, it was silly, the words and thought processes were jagged; all the things I would say during a critique popped into my head. I was incredibly depressed. After mentioning this to my critic, she said, “It was your first try and you shouldn’t beat yourself up. Just keep working on what you are doing.”
Tolstoy said, "In a writer there must always be two people - the writer and the critic."
With that, I have become my worst critic and believe this is where one needs to be if one wants to write seriously and enjoy the life of the novelist. Someone said that success is just around the corner, if you stop, you fail. Do I have another (better) novel in me? All I can say is, “If you wish to be a writer, write.” Epictetus said that. My guess is he was a lot smarter than me.