January 24, 2012

The Wrong Type of Crazy

If you haven't been following the story from the beginning, here's the summary. In 2009 I challenged myself: finish a novel or give up writing. I had way too many starts and way way way too few finishes. So this was it. I had a new job. I had a long commute with dedicated writing time. Get it done or give it up.

Happily, I did finish a novel (BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE), two in fact (WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING [which has since been renamed WITH A CROOKED CROWN]), and my pursuit of professional publication began in earnest. I wrote novels, queries, synopses, thank you letters, blog posts, twitter tweets, and so on and so forth. I took this seriously and knuckled down so I could endure rejection and enjoy success. Well, benchmarks I consider success as the professional publication part remains elusive. Still, full requests and the like are pretty thrilling. I've met some cool authors along the way and cool agents too. I've learned a hell of a lot and tried to teach a little, too.

One thing I've learned about the other people in this craft is that we share a lot of similarities in terms of emotional states, emotional stresses, emotional sensitivity in the like. While I will not limit this to authors but would go so far as to apply it to so many artists, creative types seem to have an increased level of empathy. You might hear this as soft-skinned or over-reacting or being a pussy. Whatever. We feel pain at 11 when the meter should only go up to 10. And not only our own, but others too. We empathize because we we explore how people work. It's how we create characters. We watch people. We measure what they do and how they act. We contrast what people say versus what they do and we find the inconsistencies. We explore motivations, watch lies (to themselves or to others), and let the drama play out because all of it is life's story that we want to twist and retell in our own way.

Problem is, this empathy isn't just a switch that turned on when we decided we wanted to write. It's been there forever and there was no explaining why the overly sensitive five year old was freaking out about something that seemed so minor to his parents because someday he was going to be a writer.

I think that's why so many artists are messed up emotionally. They've been running at 11 their entire lives and that is going to create neuroses. It is that damage that allows us to find pathos and tell an amazing story, to plumb the depths of broken life and show the heart one has to endure such hardship.

It also allows for a lot of self-doubt. What if I'm not broken correctly? I often write about a character that has to do the right thing at his own expense, or a person that puts duty before self. It applies order and logic to the chaos, but what if rather than painting with such amazing lines, I should be creating form from chaos. Paint outside the lines and make it amazing. What if how I endured years of being at 11 isn't what's necessary to be great at what I want to do? Don't be crisp and clean. Be loud and hectic. Put our guitar up to the speaker and hear all that feedback and find the music in it.

I'm broken wrong. I broke and taped it back together when I should have just enjoyed the two different pieces separately.

Oh my!

I've been sick, which has left me a lot of time not writing and a lot of time thinking of what I've done in the last three years. The feedback I've received. The success and the failures. The successes of friends who are going on to great things while I'm essentially still in the square I was three years ago. Maybe they're broken right and I'm broken wrong. Wouldn't that be a bitch.


On an up-note, I'm getting better, which means I've started writing again. When I write I have less time for self-doubt. But I also have a partial with an agent and that always ratchets my self-doubt up to about a 15. Especially since she didn't like the full I gave her (which I thought was a stronger novel). I've piled so much onto this accomplishment and every time it doesn't work out, I start finding all the different ways why I'm not good enough. Because I live life at 11. That's how I do.

4 comments:

  1. I think part of what you also need to look at next to the crazy meter, the feeling things at 11, is your expectation level. I find I sabotage myself time and again because my expectations of a situation (and not just in writing) don't match with the reality of the situation.

    Having very high expectations is a good thing, and I would never tell you to lower them (considering I also have high expectations of myself, I know you CAN'T always lower them), but I also think sometimes perspective is key.

    Sure, you're not published. You don't have an agent. You haven't met a personal benchmark for success.

    But you have received requests for fulls and partials. You have written and finished a gazillion books. You're a much better writer now then you were three years ago. It's not what you want, but it should count for something I think.

    Hang in there!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's the drawback of being friendly with other authors. They keep succeeding and succeeding. Stop it, all of you. Too many of you are succeeding, and I'm getting left behind. It just makes you think, maybe you're doing it wrong. You like to think, I have a unique voice, but then it's two in the morning and you just watched Avatar the Last Airbender again for the fourth time and you start to wonder, are you doing it wrong? Is your unique voice uninteresting or unartistic? You write with a little of this but you should be writing with a little of that.

    *booty shake, booty shake*

    ReplyDelete
  3. You're not left behind! You're where you need to be. If you must compare, just remind yourself you're ahead of me :). Waaaay ahead.

    You mean the series, right? Because watching the Last Airbender as a movie will make anyone suicidal. Damn you Shyamalan! You had a very simple task and you screwed it up six ways from Sunday!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I know people like to think that M. Night Shyamalan made an Airbender movie. But he didn't. That was the result of hallucinogens accidentally pumped into the water system. There is no airbender movie. Only the TV show.

    ReplyDelete