Friday, May 18, 2012
Turning the Page, What's Next For This Blog, And Why I'm So Afraid
Part 1- Turning the Page
Yesterday I took a walk . It was about a three mile circuit around my neighborhood. I started the walk just to get some exercise. Writing About Writing has eaten a lot of other time sinks while I launched it, one of them my health and fitness goals, so I figured I'd get back into that by starting to kick off a daily walk.
It turned out to be just what I needed. I've been a little bit afraid of the next few steps. Maybe "afraid" isn't the right word, but I've been trying to psych myself up for what comes next and feeling like my sticking place was melting into jibbering goo instead of being a solid anchor for my courage to screw. Then again, maybe "afraid" is exactly the right word.
The reason I have a Summa Cum Laude degree in English (Emphasis: Creative Writing) covering up a hole in my drywall is because I tried the whole "just writing" route about a decade ago, and it ended with a number of people telling me not to quit my day job. Some did so with as much politeness and gentleness as they could muster, and others did so with the tact of a jackhammer welded like a piercing ram onto the front of a bulldozer, driven full speed into my soul.
Now...well, now I can tell you a hundred things I did wrong back then. I can tell you craft elements that weren't working, and how to fix (most of) them. I can tell you the ideological difficulties my work was having being didactic. I can tell you major, fundamental process issues I had--primary among them giving out a first draft, and giving it to anyone who would read instead of people I trusted and respected to give good feedback. I can even tell you that I hadn't cultivated the kind of thick skin that one needs to be able to get "Go back to the farm, kid," caliber feedback and just keep right on going, and that now I know feedback that nasty is just part of the price of doing business.
But what I can't do is forget how much it hurt. God, did it hurt. Wisdom teeth, root canals, pulled muscles, internal bleeding from a car crash--I've never hurt like that before or since.
I slunk away from that encounter with my tail between my legs, enrolled in school with the goal of a creative writing degree, and buried myself in being the best student I could. For seven years I had a great excuse for why I couldn't expose myself to that again. I still had "things to learn." I wasn't done yet. I'm not even a hundred percent sure that starting this blog wasn't partially a way to put off that inevitable moment just a little longer. Oh I had my legitimate reasons for it, but of the legitimate choices I could have made, it might also have been the path of least resistance.
But here we are...
And so yesterday, I walked. While I'm sure that just getting some blood pumping and working some atrophied muscles was a good experience, and that just the meditationesque mind-floating that happens on a solo walk was good for clearing out some cobwebs in the corners of my brain, what really did the trick wasn't just the pedestrian benefits of a good walk.
I was passing Oakland Technical High School right when they were getting out for lunch. There's an energy that swirls around high school students gathered en mass--especially in the second half of May--because so much of the trajectory of their life is yet undiscovered. It isn't exactly tablua rasa, but it's one of the closest things we'll ever really get. Individually there may be exceptions, but as a a group, there's less tragedy, more youth, and a sense of unbridled optimism (even through the emo filters of some) that the world has yet to beat out of them. A twelve year chapter of their life is finally coming to a close, and the next part is unwritten.
At that moment the theme song for Dragon: The Bruce Lee story came on. This is not only a gorgeous and moving song, but it came out right around when I graduated, so I've always associated the two. At my own graduation rehearsal, instead of being a good little line walker like I was supposed to, I was running a pair of headphones up under my gown and listening to this very song. Try hitting the pavement right at the fanfare of this song during a coronation if you ever want to have a peak experience. Not. Even. Kidding.
With all that optimistic teen energy around me, and this song blaring in my ears, nostalgia hit like a hammer. I didn't really enjoy or hate high school--I liked the structure and seeing friends each day, but I pretty much thought the class part was slow torture. But I do remember the idea that I was stepping into a world of possibility and wonder.
I became, in that moment, that young little Chris once again. Eighteen, and looking out on the world for the first real time. Not quite yet realizing that I couldn't actually be anything I wanted. I was held in that split second--that suspended moment right before the roller coaster tips over the edge of the first hill--just before you realize that your life won't really be shaped by your fantastic string of awesome successes, but by instead by how you handle your innumerable failures.
And that turned out to be exactly the perspective I needed.
I don't know if what I'm planning is going to work, or if I'm going to fall flat, but let's crank up the Bruce Lee soundtrack and say, "What the hell!"
Part 2- What's Next for this Blog
When I was young I didn't know what was going to happen in the publishing industry. I grew up with the same formula every other writer hopeful did of short story publication, agent, publisher, book deal, win. I couldn't have predicted that this strange machine that a few of my tech-savvy friends had--a machine that made a lot of weird noises and let them go into "chat rooms"--would be upending everything within the publishing industry right about the time I felt ready to have a serious go of it. I couldn't have predicted the longest recession my generation had ever seen would make everyone gun shy to take a chance on arts. I just knew I thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to be able to write fiction for a living.
I've watched the industry carefully. I've watched the popularity of e-readers explode. (Even Uberdude bought one, and two years ago, he was sure I was personally contributing to the destruction of bookstores.) I've watched a lot of writers make a go of it in unconventional ways, and I've listened closely to those who are in the right kinds of places to hear the wind blowing. I've watched book stores, small presses, and major houses have to change their business model to keep up with the times. And even some of the local mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar stores have done so with aplomb. I've watched writers I like increasingly eschew the traditional routes of those first few steps in favor of pioneering their own paths of monitization. They might not run screaming when Random House stops by with a fat check and an offer, but they begin the journey on their own terms. More and more success stories that involve blogs, zines, e-publishing, show up every day. (Cory Doctorow, J.A. Konrath, Grammar Girl, Fifty Shades of Gray and on and on and on.) These aren't one-time flashes in the pan. The frequency of these non-traditional routes to writing success is increasing.
I've also watched people doing the more traditional route smash their head into one proverbial wall after another. Writers of true excellence who simply can't find an agent in this environment. Or if they find an agent, they can't get a book deal. Agents are increasingly quagmired in anachronistic submission processes that paint a picture of their deliberate, calculated ignorance of industry changes which are already upon them. Small presses and literary journals fold one after another like the characters in an Agatha Christie novel with the death knell of, "The smell of books!" on their lips. Yesterday's publisher sneering at the Kindle as ridiculous, today puts a "For Sale" sign on their store with a bewildered scratch of their head. The publishing industry has practically ensured that it will be irrelevant by not adapting. The old guard seems to be collapsing in on itself and the writers who allow the decades-old stigma of vanity press, and the more recent contempt for zines, or online publication to influence their decisions are dealing with options decreasing even as they watch. They too sneer at the coming of the new age and then wonder why competition is so tough for the dwindling number of spots the industry can still handle.
So this is what I decided...
1- I'm going to write out ahead of myself, so that I can take W.A.W. up a notch. If I get week or two ahead, things like dental appointments will be less likely to alter a decorum of professionalism. Cause it's really professional around here. Oh yeah. That will also give me more time to copy-edit since that is one of my weaknesses, and it takes me longer to do. Basically, I'm going to try to take W.A.W. to the next level.
2- At the suggestion of a few of you, and given some calculated predictions regarding the industry, I'm going to put some of my short fiction up here. I don't know if that's the "right" decision, but it's something. If that works, then I'll keep doing it. If not, then I can go back to other directions. But scoffing at the past while being unsure of the future was just one more way I was avoiding taking the first step, so I'm just going to take some first step and let's see what happens.