Today I have an interesting exercise I have put together for you. I have come to something a crossroads crisis in my life, and I am truly at a loss as to what to do. Part of the problem is that, being the kind of thinker I am, I try to see things from all sides. Unfortunately, when all the sides are trying to talk at once, it doesn’t work out so well. So today, I have put together, as I have in the past, a fake dialogue between the various and disparate voices that live in my head (in a totally not crazy/no meds kind of way). This is mostly to help me come to a productive decision with myself, but also slightly to amuse all of you. So, without further adieu, I turn myself inside out.
The Problem: I am, ostensibly a writer. However, I am a writer who has (speaking honestly) lost his groove. I have not produced much substantial content in six months, and I’m not sure why. It is my deepest desire (at least, my deepest conscious desire) to be a successful published author. I have written the better part of two novels in a series of middle grade fiction for queer youth, and I have been working to polish the first novel so I can sell it to an agent. I am working currently, at least marginally, with a group of individuals called The Book Doctors, who are like hourly book coaches. I met with one of them today to discuss some revisions and was given the feedback that my narrative voice in my novel was really clouding up what was otherwise a good story, and that I should take significant time to edit before I try and sell the manuscript. These edits would be MASSIVE because it would be changing the entire writing style of my novel. However, this advice was also echoed by one of the writers I most deeply respect in my writing club as well. So I have given it some weight.
The Factors: As nearly as I can tell, the biggest factor I need to address is whatever it is that is stifling my drive. If it is an internal cause, a fear or laziness or self-sabotage, I need to grow past it. If it is an external cause, be it social, environmental, seasonal, I need to change it. And if it is that this project is ill-fated, I need to let it go. The factors are the confusing part and they are what will determine my next course of action. I have given various parts of my persona the job of arguing for these various viewpoints on the real cause of the problem.
Hit the jump to follow the argument!D: Let’s just get this out of the way ok? We’re lazy and we always have been. It is human nature to get by with the least amount of work, and we have that down to an art. How long has it been since we did anything “the right” way? We skipped the vast majority of our primary education. We wrote every paper we ever turned in during college on the night before it was due. We wriggle and twist our way into people’s good graces and we leech the support we need from their hard earned lives, and we give nothing back. We are, quite possibly, the most profoundly self-centered person on the face of the planet,
L: Sugar, I think that’s quite enough out of you. Did you think this exercise was a place for you to vent your cowardice? Why I bet you’re just dying to know how many of our friends and family secretly agree with you. But this ain’t for that. We’ve got flaws, so does everyone. We’re talking fixes here darling, and if you don’t hush up now, I just don’t think I can resist fixing you.
W: It’s a fair point. I think the data D raises is good. We haven’t produced what we set out to produce, and so we experience mounting guilt. The mounting guilt itself may be the cause of all of this turmoil, nothing more.
S: No, I don’t agree. I think that there are other factors at play. We haven’t had this issue in the past. I see that there are a few possibilities. The first is simply that we are in the natural process of editing our work. A lot of that process is internal and invisible. Clarity requires distance and emotional fortitude, and clear editing is the only editing worth accomplishing. How do we know this isn’t just our process at work? We’ve never BEEN this far into writing a novel before?
W: And the passion is certainly the same. We go to bed thinking about the novel every night, and we wake up every day thinking about it.
D: But during the day, what do we do? We run errands, or watch movies, or go help others. Helping others is such fun isn’t it? We go off playing fix-a-friend and ignore our own responsibilities. It’s just time we faced it! We need to grow up and get a regular job. We need to become a functioning member of society before we…
L: That’s two, sweetie pie. Try one more.
B: We’re doing what we really want to do! Why is it wrong if we’re having a hard time doing it? If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing! And besides, I don’t like the idea that we have to choose between being the kind of friend we want to be and being successful in our passion. We’re going to be a writer! That hasn’t changed.
L: Well said.
S: Was that ever a question?
L: Good boy.
W: So the question then becomes what our next course of action should be. The issue is at hand is really environmental more than anything. We’ve had a very rough time since we’ve been back in Texas, be it that we are in a cramped space, or having more responsibilities socially, or being distracted by other projects.
D: Like the foolish stage stuff.
L: Now you listen here you sniveling little goblin. I’ve worked hard, Awful Hard, to polish up this little life of ours. You kept me sitting around in the shadows with you for a long time. Do you know what you are? Small. That’s it. You are the very smallest part of us. And I’ll thank you kindly to stay that way. Of course writing a novel sounds foolish to you. It scares the pants off of you because we could fail. But I’m done sharing brain waves with you.
W: Now, L, I don’t think we can silence D all together. He has a practical set of concerns. It isn’t immediately apparent how our foray into the theater helped or hindered us. It certainly healed some old wounds, and brought you into the light, but now we’re facing the question of sticking around for six more weeks to do another play right? And how does that support us? It keeps us here in this environment, where the risk of dependence is much higher.
S: It also strengthens the social bonds we have here. The bonds we have if we decided to leave and focus on the novel are not at risk of being damaged, whereas we’re unsure about the strength of these bonds. Remember that success is largely serendipity, and the more social connections you maintain the more tickets you have in the lottery, so to speak.
W: So let’s see if we have the immediate problem articulated. Our basic question is whether to stay here and do another play, or to leave now and focus more deeply on our novel in the relative seclusion of our other life.
D: Or we could just suck it up and get a job, live in the house we own, and start living a real life, instead of playing vagabond.
L: Perfectly dull as usual.
W: I think the majority of us agree that D’s proposal is the least likely option. It simply won’t happen.
S: Plus, I think it insults our friends and family, who have genuinely supported us. We haven’t tried and failed. If we try and fail, then we need to do what it takes to be more independent. But for now, what those who love us have said is that they want to support us to give us a fair chance. The problem is we feel like we haven’t taken the chance they’ve sacrificed to provide us.
B: But we haven’t done nothing. We have six versions of the plots tree for all five novels. We have seven different opening chapters. We have character bios for 10 new characters that didn’t exist a few months ago, and we’ve really produced an excellent writing sample to draw from. Now we just have to carry those changes forward into the rest of the work!
L: But the question is, where is the best place to do that? And can we afford six more weeks of inactivity?
W: I don’t think we can afford to be inactive, regardless of the location. If we stay and do the play, we’re going to have to structure life differently than before so that we can focus on the writing. There are different factors. Our focus on our social group will have dropped, now that we’ve helped that woman regenerate. Also, the roommate case is shifting as well. She’ll be gone all day, plus we’re not afraid to come to a coffee shop anymore.
S: Why were we ever afraid of doing this in a coffee shop?
L: Why were we ever afraid of anything?
W: That’s tangential. Of course I think we can all agree that the world in Albuquerque calls for our personal success more easily. Mostly because all they have ever known us as is a writer. They don’t know or expect anything else, and we aren’t entangled together the same way as before.
S: I agree. Ultimately, that is the place our writing will flourish more easily.
W: Then the question is when.
L: And we also haven’t discussed whether we want to take that woman’s advice or not.
W: I think that is largely dependent on what her edits are like. We know we need to make major edits, and the truth is, we probably aren’t as ready to sell as we thought we were.
S: But our gut is telling us to query now, yes? Won’t there always be a desire for the process to treat us like a number? It fears being responsible for generating false hope. Yes, the majority of books take a long time to get published, because the majority of books are shit. We, however, have great confidence in our writing. And objectively speaking, we have a lot of affirmation for our writing. Our parents are willing to financially support us, as are other friends. We are universally told we have talent, and the majority of people have criticisms that are matters of taste. Even the Book Doctors said we were in the top 10% of pitches and book ideas in terms of quality. They’re polishing us, but really it is to taste. Didn’t we listen to her? She even said this was her opinion, not gospel.
L: We take things personally often. It’s really a shame, sugar. Keeps us so small when the whole world is about us. Better to take it in, let it be, and move along.
W: That isn’t very actionable.
S: So the real truth is, we are free to do what our gut tells us.
B: I think we’re ready!
W: I don’t. I think we are close to being ready, but we should probably give the whole novel a read through, start to finish, with fresh eyes. Really see how it reads all together. Then we can make an objective decision about what edits need to be made before querying.
S: But don’t you think that we should query now and edit while we are waiting for responses? We’re confident in our first sampling, and if we sent out the queries, we can edit while we wait for responses.
L: I think that is a sound bit of reasoning.
W: However, what if they respond more quickly than that? Or what if we discover we really do want to make huge edits? It’s a strange quandry.
S: You’re suggesting best foot forward and planning for a rapid response? Interesting approach, forcing me to put my instincts to the test. If I say now is the time, stands to reason that it is the time because of a quick response. However, if now is the time, preparedness may have to be foregone.
L: You heard that woman today. You’ve done it before yourself, when you have little to say. You choose small things so as to have something to say, so that a client doesn’t feel they have wasted their money. The truth is, the make-up could always be more flawless, but there comes a time when the music starts, and baby you just have to walk out fierce in what you’ve got on.
W: A little…cliche. But probably accurate. Then are we resolved?
S: No, I’ve been thinking about it, and I think giving it a reading is the best course of action, to determine what needs to be done. Rather than making the decision without all the data.
B: But let’s not commit to edits before agents until we have that data.
L: That’s a good point. Why force a choice?
W: Well…it would certainly make things easier.
S: And the location?
<there is a loooooong pause here>
B: Do you remember who we are?
L: I wondered when you might say something like that…
B: Have we lost sight of the passion, the feeling, the simple act of saying yes? Why are we trapped in a prison of no? Every choice we make is no. It is yes to one, no to another.
D: That’s life!
B: That’s ordinary life! You’re absolutely right. We could live ordinary life! We maybe even should! But why would we start now? Too long have we born the tyranny of no. Why does the decision have to be who we’re going to have to let down, rather than what we’re going to accomplish? Shouldn’t that be the way we look at things?
L: Works for me.
W: Ah, that inevitable passion. When we have to look ourselves in the mirror and say…will I quit?
S: Of course the answer is no.
D: But we still haven’t answered the question: What are we going to do?
W: Haven’t we?
S: He’s right. We’re going to read the manuscript, we’re going to make a decision on querying agents after that. We’re going to make the edits we need to make, and start accepting the process, and honoring the love and support our friends and family have blessed us with.
D: And where will we be doing this?
W: That is still a good question. But it isn’t the point anymore.
L: That’s right. Shouldn’t we do what we feel is best for ourselves first? And if we don’t know what to do, then patience is perfectly peachy.
B: Patience is fine. Why did we have to have an answer right now anyway?
D: BECAUSE YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO GET IT RIGHT IF YOU DON’T FIGURE IT OUT!
WSLB: You can’t get it right. You just go for it.
I suppose that is what I have to do then. Face it, whatever the difficulty and however long it takes. I’m so frightened that all of these blessings will dry up. That I will wear out my welcome, and hollow my wallet, and bare my soul for nothing more than the ability to say I tried. And that feels hollow and stupid. I’m afraid of looking foolish. In fact, that’s all D is…D is just my fear of looking foolish.
Well, I suppose then what I am specifically risking is foolishness. Please help me not to forget that what I am doing is ill-advised and impractical. Don’t let me forget, and don’t you forget that when it all comes down, you helped someone try something insane, like being a full time fiction writer with no credentials and no contacts. And also possibly a personality disorder (REMEMBER no meds crazy…)
Thank you if you read this, and I understand if you didn’t. It was just an exercise.