Search This Blog

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Pushing Through Obstacles

It's a working title but I think it speaks for itself.

I'd like to start by saying that there is nothing special about being a writer.

This might not be a very popular opinion, but I'll always opt to assert what I believe to be true over sweet little lies. As much as I'd like to believe that writers- including myself, of course, should I label myself as such- are special entities above the struggles of normal peasants, whose problems are deeper and more poetic, that's simply not the case. As much as we'd like to think that our stories are etched in gold and our words are dripping with honey, we're pretty normal and our problems are still relatively normal too. We get headaches, and insomnia, and anxiety, and mad at traffic, and frustrated with our work and school just like everyone else.
Your words will never be this yummy.

Don't get me wrong, writing is pretty fucking cool.

After all, how many people can say they've published a novel? Over 80% of Americans say they'd like to write a book someday, but less than 1/1,000 people actually do. At first I was confused by these numbers, as it was looking closer to about 1/480, not 1/1,000- until I realized I was looking at the number of books published each year, not the number of new authors every year. Since most books are written by someone who has written, or will continue to write, multiple books, that means that there are far fewer authors than there are books. Some figures are looking as low as 1/15,000 or less, which is quite daunting.

And if we're being honest with ourselves, most of the books that do get published- either traditionally or self-published on Ingramspark or CreateSpace, aren't very good.

I'm not trying to discourage you. But if I can do anything here today, it'd be to play up the hardships of novel-writing as much as possible, so that only the most dedicated remain and they can go in fully braced for the shitstorm of confusion and doubt that will inevitably come their way.

I'd like to bring up this article from the New York Times, which is a particularly volatile look at the publishing industry.

Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again.

What I can't stand about this article is the author's attitude and approach to the whole thing. Don't get me wrong, while I generally dislike most of what I read on the New York Times, I don't have a personal vendetta against them. Every now and then I see an article by them that I actually respect and enjoy, such as a few of their better ones on net neutrality- a thing that I found myself having to agree with democrats on as my own party didn't approve of this concept.

But I freaking hate this piece.

The author basically goes on to say, "Yeah, I wrote 14 books, but I'm special, and most Americans fail, so you shouldn't even try." In his exact words right at the top:

According to a recent survey, 81 percent of Americans feel they have a book in them -- and that they should write it. As the author of 14 books, with a 15th to be published next spring, I'd like to use this space to do what I can to discourage them.

Let's also not forget...

Don't write that book, my advice is, don't even think about it. Keep it inside you, where it belongs.

True words of wisdom. You heard it from the God of Journalism, folks. Instead of getting your ideas down on paper and fulfilling your dreams, just let it claw away at you for decades until you're old and wilting as you come to the realization that you never pursued your dreams and will die having never even attempted them because Joseph from the New York Times told you so.

It seems pretentious and condescending. I can't downplay just how difficult writing can be, and is, but I'd never discourage anyone from trying. I'd only warn them, telling them how insurmountable and crazy it is, but if they're still determined afterwards, then good on them.

However, this article did do one excellent thing; it doesn't acknowledge itself enough to be aware that it's actually filtering out writers.

Someone who was really determined to write a novel wouldn't give up because some pretentious snob at the New York Times told them to. Like me, they'd read that article, go "Fuck you Joseph" and write their book anyway.

I'd like to stress that this is an old article from the early 2000s, so some of the numbers and figures have changed, as has the New York Times as a whole, but the general concepts haven't changed too much.

*I'm about to go on a brief and slightly political tangent, so skip these next two paragraphs if you you'd like*

Just a quick reminder to those who might enjoy the New York Times, I don't have any issue with you. I believe in transparency, so despite my more conservative leanings, I don't dislike this article simply because of its source. Had it been written by some guy at Breitbart I would have been just as livid (more so as I would probably feel betrayed by my own party). One example of my views actually falling out of alignment with the norm for the right was when Trump joined the "video games cause violence" bandwagon. As someone who supports him, but is also a gamer, I felt a little betrayed. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a complete deal breaker or anything like that, but it really pissed me off. Anyone that knows me knows how much I love the POTUS, but this really set me off. So while my views might be different from yours, dear reader, just know that I won't blindly follow what the rest of the group does, and I'm not partial to any one source or anything like that, as my views are generally rigid and unwavering- meaning that I won't change them to fit what others in my party might be doing or saying.

I often reference Chris Brecheen over at Writing About Writing here on this blog, but I've recently been disengaging more and more from his platform as he becomes more and more hostile to conservatives. I love his advice on writing but recently they've become too politically charged, and he's started openly attacking anyone who has different opinions from him in his posts. And it sucks because I donated to him regularly, only to log on and see him calling me racist, sexist and stupid. So I've stopped donating money and I hardly read him anymore. But he has taught me how not to do that, so I've decided to take precautionary measures against becoming "that guy." Whenever I feel something I'm discussing has some bearing on politics, or vice versa, I want to respectfully share my thoughts without shoving them down your throats, or going after you if you happen to be left-leaning. I want to be able to share my opinion, as this is my blog after all, but I don't want to isolate you or make you feel like your views don't matter if they don't align with mine. So to make amends for what Chris has done, I'd like to extend my hand and welcome any liberals or centrists reading who have graciously tolerated my ramblings thus far, and just know that we can agree to disagree and I won't disrespect you or write off your opinions. That's why I will always caveat my political ideas to separate them from the writing advice, because I do believe that the two should exist independently, and that I shouldn't try to conflate them. I also believe in separating art from artist; despicable people have created amazing art, and some of the best people have not. It's a sad fact of life, but the quality of a person's character, or their beliefs, doesn't necessarily affect their creative ability. So as such, I will always separate my opinions from fact, so that the reader can choose which parts they're interested in reading.

Anyway, back to what I was saying.

There are a few serious roadblocks that need to be conquered in order to publish a book.

These include, but are not limited to:

1) Inexperience. You don't know where to begin- but worst of all, you don't know any of the other steps either. On the off chance you do find a starting point, you never know what to do next. So you do nothing at all.

2) Motivation. Even if you think you have all the basics down (but trust me, you're always learning something new. Just ask Stephen King), writing won't ever be convenient. There will always be a million reasons not to write. And they aren't all just excuses either, many of them are legitimate reasons. For example, last week I didn't get any writing work done, and each day I had a seemingly valid reason. The first day I was sick, and the next I hadn't slept and could barely stay awake, let alone craft a coherent sentence. The next few days I continued to not write anything because I had ear-splitting headaches- and then I still had the headaches but had a bigger time slot to write, yet I didn't because I hadn't written in so long that I didn't quite remember where I left off, so I opted not to rather than trying to resume in a disjointed way.

Obviously, this type of procrastination can't last forever- except it totally can. Setbacks like this have stopped entire writing careers, and every day you go without writing only makes it harder to start again. So no matter which stage you're in- looking at a blank page or trying to resume where you left off days, weeks, months or years ago, there is no time better than now write. The sooner you start, the sooner the habit can become easier.

3) Time. This ties right into #2, because non-writers seem to have the notion that writers must have a lot of free time on our hands. Unless you're a famous enough writer to make a living purely on your writing alone, which is only a microscopic sliver of all writers, you don't have free time. Almost all writers are just regular people- moms and dads, teachers, military troops, cops, doctors, construction workers, prostitutes, you name it- all sorts of plebeians. We have college and day jobs and family to take care of just like everybody else, and we're expected to whip out novels on top of that.

Writers don't have free time to write, they make time. If you want to write for an hour a day, then wake up an hour earlier and write before your usual daily duties, or afterwards if that works better for you. If losing an hour of sleep is too much, then compensate by going to bed an hour earlier.

There's so much focus on this clock that nothing else exists.

I'm going to tell you that writing has to be your number one priority in life. If you have a long distance relationship, kids, or a job or activity that requires your attention as much or more than writing, then I won't hold it against you for choosing those paths. It's your life and you should prioritize whatever you need to. But if you're willing and able, and actually want to be a writer, then writing has to be a priority. Time is the most valuable resource a person has because it's the only thing that can never be given back. So invest your time wisely.
If we're being honest here, just writing this blog is a huge calculated risk. I had to start knowing that I was going to have to make room for it in addition to work and school, as well as the hour I set aside every day to write (except for the hiatus I mentioned previously, which I am now terminating). Yet it was a risk that I carefully thought over and committed to. Did I have to commit to it? Is it possible for me to just have started blogging casually to test the water? I mean if you want to be technical about it, sure. But I've started and abandoned so many "blogs" and various projects that I said "Fuck it" and did an all-or-nothing ultimatum, so here we are. I've deserted so many different projects that I've grown sick of my own bullshit, so if I was going to try I had to go all-in.

Maybe I'll just test it real qu-
It's also hard because things like  GTX 1080s and Netflix exist, but those are temptations that must be relinquished in order to be a Writer™.

A lot of people want to be a "writer" but don't want to write. This irony is the very reason why 81% of Americans want to write a book but next to none ever will, and most of the books that do get published were written by the same few people. It's why famous authors are such a rare breed compared to other platforms. How many authors are famous today? Famous enough for just about everyone to know about them? Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, John Green, James Patterson, Suzanne Collins maybe- there's only a few that everyone knows, and maybe a dozen that avid bookworms collectively know about. Even on platforms like YouTube most young people know dozens of famous YouTubers. You have your Pewdiepies and Markipliers, your JaidenAnimations and Domics, your Jacksepticeyes and Yogscasts- I could easily rattle off a hundred more. Vsauce, RealLifeLore, Logan Paul, Rhett and Link, Matthew Santoro... you get the idea.

So if you've idolized the idea of being a Writer™ but have no desire to write, then your resolve is as weak as your perception of fame. Hell, if fame is all you want, there's a plethora of easier and faster ways to do it. You could easily become locally famous by pulling a Florida Man, but there are ways to become famous that are even faster and more demeaning than that.

So if you just sit around fantasizing about being a famous writer, and go around telling people you're a writer without ever writing any meaningful amount of content, you've made a terrible mistake and you're probably stupid.


That's not to say you can't do both, you can write a lot and also have wet dreams about book signings (like I do), but of course the one and only requirement is that you write. That's it. I'm not a gate keeper, I'm not going to tell you that only fiction / nonfiction writers are "real" writers, nor will I claim that screenwriters and playwrights don't count- if you write, you're a writer. That's it.

But a lot of people couple unrealistic expectations of fame with unrealistic expectations of ease, thinking that it will be easy, that their story idea is so good that it will become an instant hit, even if they've only written two pages in 10 years and have no real feedback on their writing whatsoever, because they don't need constructive criticism, they're an artist.

Now let me ask you this if you're that guy.

How many people became famous by not doing the thing they're famous for?

How many famous actors don't act?

How many famous YouTubers never upload*?

*Some YouTubers do really big videos at a time and don't upload often or too consistently, but they've often been around long enough to have pumped out a decent amount of content. For example the animators like JaidenAnimations and Domics only upload once a week or two since animating takes forever, but a couple videos a month is more than enough to reflect that they work on their videos a lot.

When put into that context, it seems pretty ridiculous that anyone would think they could become famous by not doing the thing they wish to be famous for, which is exactly what's happening with all these people who want to be famous writers but don't want to write.

And while we're on the topic, fame shouldn't be the goal here. If you want to write, do it for the sake of writing, not because you want to be famous. Because like we covered earlier... that's not going to happen. Write because you want to write, and for no other reason. Don't write for money or fame because both will be denied you.
"I don't need to work! My idea is a guaranteed success!"

4) Business. Some people will miraculously make it past every other pitfall in one piece, and after slaving away at a manuscript for years, writing and rewriting everything a dozen times, and reading countless pages of excruciating criticism, they'll finally have a book that's ready to publish.

Then nothing.

They don't know how to get it formatted, how to get a cover, how to set up distribution; and even if they get all those things figured out, they might not have a clue how to market whatsoever (that's where I'm at). Sure, I've watched all the YouTube videos, all the Jenna Morecis and John Greens explaining how to market a book successfully, but carrying it out is a lot easier said than done. Not to mention marketing requires money, which is something a lot of writers are in short supply of. (See: Squidward.)

This is because creative endeavors like writing, painting, performances, etc. are usually not taught in tangent with business. People who studied their craft for hours on end often are just ordinary people, and many of them didn't have the fortune of taking business and marketing classes, so they have no idea what they're doing. I can't offer a solution (because if I knew I'd be popular right now) but this is an obstacle you'll inevitably have to face somewhere in the publishing process, and it's kind of a bitch.

There are many others obstacles- general incompetence, conflicting advice, a lack of resources, you name it- but really it just boils down to how badly you want to succeed.

If we're being honest here, there's no such thing as talent. Sure, there are those who are fast learners and might catch on to stuff more quickly than others, but that's about it. No one is born with an inherent God-like writing skill. Stephen King wasn't born holding a fountain pen in one hand and a book deal in the other.

Skilled writers are just people who invested countless hours into practicing and perfecting their work to the best of their ability. It's true that some peoples' best is better than others, but that has less to do with talent and more to do with their understanding of quality.

In fact, calling that type of skill "talent" is almost an insult, even if it isn't meant to be. When someone slaves away at a paper, and it's no good, so they pile more and more hours onto it until it finally looks good, and someone reads it saying, "Wow, I wish I was this talented," it's almost an insult to the amount of work they put into it, because it makes it sound like they just whipped it up because they're so talented when in reality they agonized over it for great lengths of time until it wasn't terrible anymore. The word "talent" makes it sound like they just have it, they were just born with it or something, completely ignoring the rote of writing. And this can be said for any piece of work in any field.

If you ever see a painting that blows your mind and you want to compliment the artist, don't tell them they're talented, just say, "Wow, you really put a lot of work into this and it shows." That will make their week.

There's no talent required. There's no MBA or degree or certification needed. You don't even need talent. Just work every day through each obstacle, investing yourself and holding nothing back.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

P.S. I just discovered a feature that lets me see which countries I'm being read in, and apparently 15 of you are reading this from Germany! How some Germans discovered this obscure blog of mine (which I am yet to get a domain for, but rest assured, I'll acquire one) is beyond me, but glad to have you on board. There's a translation feature at the top, is that what you guys are reading? If so maybe you can comment below and let me know if it works, or if the German translation is rubbish. Maybe some of you are reading this in German right now for all I know. Anyway, haben sie einen guten tag!

No comments:

Post a Comment