Punch in the gut! Oof! Ow!
When I saw the title of this one (“this one” being Kristine Kathryn Rusch part 9 in her “How Writers Fail” series), I almost laughed. “There’s no way that this will relate to me! HA!” The title of this one is “They Quit”. I am no quitter (with my writing).
Then I read it.
By the end, I could nearly cry. It fucking hurt because in many ways, she was right. Oh, so right. This one clung to me like a silk shirt in the tropics. She wasn’t talking about quitting as in the writers who quit writing (although, she does address them). No, she is talking about all those writers who aren’t trying hard enough. And god, do I know I haven’t given this my best efforts. It’s like standing in the field alone with a whiffle ball bat pretending to win the World Series vs stepping up to the plate against Nola in the World Series (OK, so I am a Phillies fan…).
Recap time! This is the 9th entry in my ongoing series based on writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s ongoing series “How Writers Fail” where I take the topics on each of her entries and become self-critical to examine why I’ve flailed about as a writer for 20+ years. Basically, rather than whine about it, I am writing these as a means of looking into what I need to do to change. Here’s the links:
And Kristine’s post which this is based: Business Musings: How Writers Fail (Part 9): They Quit
Back to this… Yikes.
In truth, this behavior is one of those things that I’ve been conditioned. As rebellious as I might claim to be, I, like many other writers, cling to the ideas that 20th and 21st century publishing houses have brutally pummeled into our brains. We all have been conditioned to think that we have to over-write a story so that our editors can chop it down. We have been told that good stories have editors. We’ve been told that in order to find readers, we need the almighty gods of the publishing industry! We’re told to write every day until you finish your book and then revise, revise, REVISE! It is but through editing that our sins can be repelled!
We are told that we must not write too fast as that simply means that our writing is too chaotic and therefor needs… more editing. Or that writing too fast would be a waste as one cannot publish too quickly (which makes sense from a traditional publishing standpoint, but I do not wish to belabor that topic here).
We are told that short stories, novellas, and the like are not viable options in story telling, only good for the literary magazines. For a reader to be interested, short stories and novellas should be grouped together into collections, otherwise.
We are told that blogs, posting stories online, and other “cheap” methods of distribution are exactly that: cheap, and that they degrade the quality of the writing.
We are told that writers need all those other things: agents, editors, publicists, publishers, marketing teams, sales, graphic designers, etc to ensure a quality product. But are we writing stories or selling a product? Both, but that’s only partly the point. Writers just need to write and not worry their pretty little heads about anything else. Without these other things, why even bother writing except to entertain yourself? Or to always prune and trim and rewrite until your book fits the right mold.
Then Amazon came along and the reality for indie writers changed. There were always a few people, like Kristine and her husband Dean, who gave the middle finger to the “proper” way of doing things and struck out on their own. Both found sufficient success to live quite well enough that both can probably retire and rest, yet they refuse. Read her post that inspired this one and you’ll see that even as her husband turns 70, he’s pushing himself to do things that traditionally published writers would cry foul on were they asked.
Realistically, though, until Amazon changed the games, it was a hard slog for any writer to operate successfully outside of the traditional market — or in the tradition market for that matter. I’d argue that it was mostly the folly of insufficient technology at the proper price-point, such as print-on-demand and ebooks. Amazon became one of the pioneers on that front, enabling and encouraging what others were slowly bringing along to the whole writing game. Along with Amazon, B&N, Draft 2 Digital, Kobo, and others have joined to make the possibilities for indie writing endless.
Even websites now count as mini literary magazines, news sites, and other, allowing for a single person, like me, to share at scale for minimal cost.
While it might seem that I am belittling the traditional publishing world and blaming them for the problems that ail us writers, that really doesn’t fit in today’s climate. Twenty years ago or more, it might have been true — that only those writers who play within the sandbox of traditional publishing had any shot of success, so therefor those were the rules with which one had to play, unless you had the skills and proper mindset to do otherwise.
Of course, many in the tradition markets cry foul, insisting that all these other avenues for writers are cheap or cheating. That there is no way that quality product can come from those means. They are the complaints of people who stand to lose their livelihoods or levels of success because the markets are shifting. Traditional publishers will continue to exist because there are those writers who genuinely need or maybe like all the features of that system. That’s fine. The point in this whole thing is that technology has now afforded many of us the opportunity to go crazy with the volume and to tell the stories we wish to however we please to do it — all the old ways be damned!
The question becomes, what’s stopping us?
To Kristine’s point, all the above thoughts and mindsets held over from the glory days of traditional publishing shackle the writer. She argues too that readers suffer for it. Even in my own experience, readers are a very forgiving bunch. Readers (which all writers happen to also be) want stories. We are hungry for them. Good stories. Entertaining stories. Silly stories. Weird tales. Badly written ones. All of it. If all we wanted was high-brow literature and perfect edited manuscripts, how would we have seen such breakaway hits as Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey? Both were panned almost religiously for being poorly written and plotted. But who cared? Certainly not the readers who enjoyed them.
Writers should write, and they should be able to share whatever they want with the wider world. As Kristine says, people will love stories you hated after writing and vice versa. She learned long ago to never begrudge readers for their tastes. I am still learning that lesson. Like too many others, I ate up the assertions of the publishing industry. I knew that it could be, and should be different, but I was never able to articulate it well (outside of cynical rants), nor was I ever really able to understand why I clung to those ideas.
In many ways, I started the whole Free Fiction Friday because I knew deep down I could not only produce a fresh story each week to post on my site, but I could do it while also writing a whole shit-fuck-ton of other things. To put it bluntly, the stories I wanted to tell that I passed on because of fear or doubt or whatever ideas I had a “writer” should behave like kept me from chasing — they could fill a superfund site. I failed because I quit too soon.
Kristine’s own stories touch me — about her and one other writer being the only two writers in a creative writing course who made it as writers because they over-produced and kept going anyway hit me where it hurts. It hurts because… well, fuck — it hurts because I know that I am like that. I know that stories come to me constantly. I want to write everything from the inane to the epic. Whether I am walking or driving or whatever and a singular detail will catch me, revealing to me a whole world that I need to get to right now. RIGHT NOW! Yet, I hold myself back. I quit too soon and too often.
That isn’t how writers behave, after all! They sit and write, but then they revise! They consult those all-too-necessary editors to give them the pat on the head that they are doing the right thing. They consult the mighty publishers to determine when and how a story will be released. Oh, fuck that whole system. That system isn’t built for the writer; it is built for the upkeep and operation of traditional publishing. That’s not saying some writers aren’t thriving in that system, it is just saying that it isn’t built for writers — despite what it damn-well claims.
Even in trying to get a 1,000 words-a-day target goal thing going, I’ve always wondered if I was doing the right thing. I mean, much like Kristine tells, I do need the target to ensure that I write on those days that I otherwise would avoid it. But that’s the old me, who thought that I needed some angel to come down and visit me in order to seek inspiration to write. Listening to Stephen Pressfield, I came to realize that the angel is always standing next to my writing desk waiting for me to come over and write. She’s there tapping her foot with her arms crossed, staring at me like I am an insolent child.
One time, I tried to see how far I could get in writing and I hit over 4,000 words a day several days in a row. I patted myself on the back as though I was some damned hero. Gas remained in the tank. But I turned off the engine and walked away. In other words… I quit. Just like Kristine said.
That WIP got thrown away, too. Because of all this shitty thinking, might I add. I am rewriting that story, for what that’s worth. This time I am going with what I end up with. I’ve even wrote notes in the story where I might have thought it needs touched up, but I wanted to keep blazing forward rather than stalling. (By the way, I wish to praise Scrivener for this ability. The features of this program have been a godsend in this regard. It truly is the best program for writing.)
Add on the other issue where I wrote so many stories that I ended up throwing out. Hundreds of thousands of words went into the can because I didn’t think they were good enough. Or I started to question if anyone would like a story. Once again, all these doubts would circle in and I’d succumb to them. Or I’d finish a story and rather than a simple revision to tidy it up, I’d start to doubt it was good enough. For whom though?! Traditional publishing? Who am I publishing works for again? Certainly not them.
Readers are readers and if there are some out there who like my writing style, they’ll find me. Many already have. I should cater to them and work to write more. To publish more.
The truth is that I did quit. Quit writing? No, I am still trying to make it as a writer. I quit in all the ways Kristine describes. I quit writing instead of charging forward. Whether it is because of fear or lack of knowledge or doubt or whatever, I quit at whichever stage I need to that stops me from proceeding. Why am I failing as a writer? Because I quit too soon. That’s why.