Friday, December 13, 2013
The "Other" Questions
What have I been doing my whole life? What do I want for Christmas? Will I look at your book/story/thing?
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Sometimes I have to skip questions because I have too many, so when I'm out, it's a great opportunity to get an almost guaranteed answer.]
Okay so since no one is getting me good questions, I'm going to have to answer the...other questions. Please send me more questions!
What have you been doing your whole life? I'm so sorry that have only decided to start writing so late in your life. I will enjoy the blog and your fiction for as long as it lasts, but I sure wish you had kicked off your career in your twenties.
Dude. I'm not quite dead yet. I have a great pulse and blood pressure for someone with a foot in the grave, so there is cause to be somewhat optimistic that I might see 2020. I hear people are even living into their forties these days. So I'll try to hang in there for a few more weeks (maybe even months if I learn to love cruciferous vegetables) and get you a couple more good articles before I become more interested in plots than plots.
What are you hoping to get for Christmas?
You mean besides the groupie threesome? Because I thought I made that one pretty explicitly clear.
I usually ask people not to get me stuff for Christmas. That's really the best gift I could ever ask for. I sort of hate the materialism of Christmas, and I would much rather have some good peeps, a bit of cheer, and maybe one too many cookies--or four....teen.
However, my mom instilled this crazy sense of reciprocity on me. We would wander the isles of Toys R Us with her vetoing my every suggestion with "No, Josh got you those really nice walkie talkies last year, so you have to get something really good for him--$24.99 at least!" Now, thirty years later, I basically have a neurotic complex about reciprocity. Handing me any sort of gift begins a cascade domino reaction of anxious stress in my brain about getting back a present of equal sentimental and worldly value. I have ended up in a 24/7 gas station at four in the morning on Christmas Eve wondering which grotesquely overpriced novelty set of neon headphones best defined a mother of three ...as a person (and absolutely ready to shiv some poor dad for the last pack of AAA batteries) because someone handed me a gift I wasn't expecting at the last second.
I don't actually have anything I'm hoping to score this season (other than the aforementioned groupie threesome, of course). I have very little I want in a normal year, and The Contrarian's arrival has muted even that--I really just want the people I love close to me. My uberpeeps usually manage to delight me with some kind of techy toy (like a watch that counts calories or a game on Steam I was never going to buy for myself at full price or something), but they're not things I would have even thought to buy myself. I try to find them something similar. My Christmases usually clock in at under two or three hundred dollars, and that's the way I like it.
This might seem like a silly question, but do you actually like writing?
I understand that there might be some confusion about how much a writer enjoys the actual process of writing itself. Some find it to be excruciating. More something they are compelled by unholy forces of darkness within their corrupted soul to the page, and not something they particularly enjoy. And writers are even quoted as saying "I like having written," or words to that effect. But I think even with those people there is a sense of catharsis they can't really deny. The act of birthing an artistic creation is like horrible and messy and painful, and it fights back, but there's nothing like it in the universe. (Not unlike the literal version, I'm finding.) I can't always say I love every painful word birthing second of writing, but it brings me more fulfillment in life than anything else.
Lemmie put it this way, Michael. I've been doing this blog for 2 years and I've made about a thousand dollars. Before that I wrote for about twenty years and never made a dime. I wouldn't stop if you told me that I would never make another penny, ever.
Yeah, I actually like writing.
Will you look at my manuscript/book/short story/whatever?
Okay this isn't really a bad question, per se. Those of you who have been writing a while probably ought to know better, but this question keeps coming to me from much newer writers (usually younger as well).
I want to be really careful here because some of you who are writing me are at a very tender place in your development as artists. When that first spark of artistic passion really flares in young people, the world works hard to stamp it out (under the auspices of "being pragmatic" or "just telling it like it is") and keeping it alive through those first few years is a little bit like protecting a soap bubble from a sandstorm. Lord knows I had people in my ten year old face saying "Why on Earth would you want to be a writer? Can you maybe want to be a lawyer instead?"
So I want to encourage everyone who is writing me with these sorts of requests to keep your dream alive. Keep writing! You may have to write for a few years before you are ready for serious peer review or before a mentor might take you seriously, but if you look at the stuff you wrote when you first started, you should be able to see improvement. Well, actually, the reaction you are probably likely to have is to look at your old stuff and think "Oh Jesus titty-fucking Christ this shit is next-level awful!"
That's basically as close as you'll get to watching yourself improve in art.
The thing about peer review is you want it from peers--people who are about at the same level of writing as you. (Otherwise they'd have to name it something else, and that's a lot of paperwork to submit.) If someone is way above you, they are really doing more mentoring than peer review, and if they are far below you, it is likely that the feedback will be of very minimal help. While I put my fiction through peer review, I really don't have time to do mentoring, unfortunately. I am very busy with my three jobs and my blogging and my other writing, and there are a lot of people asking me to look at their stuff. I just don't have time! I'm sorry. I have occasionally made myself available for some of my friends who like writing, but those are people I am close to and rare occasions. So find a couple of people writing at about the same level as you and give each other feedback. (You'll probably find you learn more from the giving than from the receiving.) And keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.
Because I can absolutely guarantee you one thing: if you keep writing, the day will come when I will be honored beyond my ability to express it to look at something you've written.