Existential crisis of a writer

At the Alaska Writer’s Guild annual conference, I heard a lot of things. So many of those things stuck with me as really good and legitimately helpful advice. I will go on about that quite a bit over the next few weeks in part because I’m still digesting what I heard and writing it out like this helps me to understand it. That said, one of the things that hit me, and is still hitting me, is this question:

Why do we write?

If you’d asked me that question before last week, I’d have selected one of the following clichés:

– Because I love doing it, and I want to keep doing it,

– Because I want to be a professional writer when I grow up,

– Because it legitimizes my wearing of socks and sandals in a way nothing else can.

Okay, I made that last one up, that’s being a programmer. Being a programmer does that. So the real answer, and one I’m embarrassed to say someone had to tell me, is that we write to be read. Wow. Okay. That distills it down to the very heart of the matter, doesn’t it? I think that ought to be enough for me to just carry on and keep writing. After all, it’s not exactly an earth shattering revelation. Yet, it still nags me, because I can’t get past the second why. This is the why that hangs out with a but just at the end of the to be read.

Why? It’s the ultimate existential question isn’t it? You can why anything to death. I keep wanting to come back round to the why I do this, but here’s the kicker, it’s not about me at all. If I make it about me, then I’m missing the point. I’d like to think what I write is humorous. Perhaps not outright funny, but silly in a slightly better than slapstick way. Attempting to be humorous adds something to my work for sure. When I started doing that, the quality of my writing increased dramatically. Even I like it better and I’m extremely hard on myself. I’ve even gotten a few compliments, and compliments feel good. For me, the best compliment is “I’m really enjoying this.” I’m not really looking for anything more than that. There it is again, that me thing, but that’s why I do it, we’re talking the second why, not the first one.

To get back to the first ‘why’ in ‘why do we write’, it’s a two way street isn’t it? I get satisfaction from hearing the words “I’m enjoying this.” and the reader has clearly gotten something from it. They’ve gotten what I was hoping they would get out of it. The problem here is that it’s all too easy to focus exclusively on the ‘me’ portion of the equation and not the reader portion. I’m not saying it’s all about working out exactly what an audience wants to see, because quite often they don’t know what they want, that’s why creative people exist, to make up the new things that people didn’t know they wanted until they have it in front of them.

In any case, this is something for me to ponder and think about as I work through the difficult process of getting enough pre-orders to publish Wine Bottles and Broomsticks on Inkshares, and moving forward too into other projects that will need to find the readers that need them.

Why do you have a tattoo of a lemon on your left butt cheek?

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This is an excellent question, and based on completely false information. I don’t have a tattoo of a lemon on my left butt-cheek, but I wanted to see how many people clicked through from such an absurd title. I’m a total stats nerd and so if more than one person took the bait, I’ll be analyzing every bit of information Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress can give me about who took it. Once I’ve done that, I won’t put that information to any other use.

The truth is that I haven’t posted a blog in about a month and it’s time. It’s not that I haven’t written one, because I’ve written several. All of them are whiny, stupid rants about not finding an agent or feeling sub-standard. And it’s true, that’s what’s going on and how I feel about it. But, having a pity-party for myself is a stupid asinine waste of time, even though I do it routinely –I just can’t help myself. In fact, today was one of those days where my ego fought itself relentlessly because my everlasting low opinion of myself may, in some instances, be a tad unfair. I didn’t receive another agent rejection, and that felt good, but I didn’t receive a partial or full MS request either. I didn’t really accomplish great things at work, but I did my best to get folks what they need and may have even made one person happy with the work I have done. I was contacted by someone with Google (the result of my playing of their foo.bar recruiting game over the winter -for those unfamiliar with Google, this alone was something of a feat), and I also got word that business cards for another effort have arrived – Maybe more on that later, still need to get things squared up with work before I can actually being working on the new thing.

All that being said, I’m still feeling down because the one thing I desperately want to succeed at doesn’t show the slightest shred of evidence that it’ll pan out for me. Perhaps that’s what really hard. I’m the sort of guy that will do shit once provoked. It’s vaguely like when you hit a hornets nest and those little bastards will chase you down and lay siege to your house until you starve to death. They just don’t quit. So, when I hit something where I no longer have the control to achieve success, it’s a painful blow.

Before jumping to conclusions about how it is I waste my time, I have not given up. I haven’t given up on the querying, even though it’s feeling like a Sisyphean task, and I haven’t given up on writing. It’s true, I’m not nearly as in love with my current projects as I was with Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, nor am I as committed to finishing any of them. In some ways, I’m still looking for the right story to work on. Book 2 of Wine bottles is where my heart is, but I don’t want to spend six months hammering out another book that is DoA. I’ve got three other book projects in the works, but only two have much of a plot-arc mapped out and the one of them has a YA feel, which I’m not 100% comfortable with just yet. Plus there are some short fiction projects, one of which I’m committed to finishing, but it’s more literary and I’m not equipped to tell the story that I want to tell.

And that’s my writing progress report. It’s not awesome or productive, nor does it cover anything at all relevant to tattoos of lemons on butt-cheeks, but it’s where I am. Maybe one of these days I’ll have something better to report.

Thoughts on finding an agent

I finished another (not the final) read-though and revision of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks yesterday, so naturally, I’ve started the process of researching agents and agencies who might be interested in what I’ve got. My first reaction of this process is that it’s a soul-crushing experience.

I’ve only gotten as far as starting a list of agents to query once I’m ready. The best thing I can say about it thus far is that every agent is pretty clear about the stuff they’re interested in. The less awesome part is that I don’t see how my particular book is going to fit in. Not only that, I anticipate being involved in the process of research, querying, not hearing back (standard procedure), and fretting for a good long while.

The query letter also has me worried. As a hiring manager for a number of years, I know that the cover letter makes all the difference in hiring and even a well-written one can suck. Furthermore, I also know that a generic cover-letter doesn’t do anyone any favors. I expect query letters more or less work the same. After all, the query letter is only an application to have your work looked at. Writing an individualized query to speak to the specific stated interests of various agents could take two or three days each. To put a cherry on that sundae, I’ve got no more than a handful of sentences to sell the idea of the book, so they go on to read the sample (assuming they’ve requested one), and then hope that all of those things get mefrom ‘nope, boring’ to ‘go on…’

The bottom line is that even though I’ve got quite enough work left to on the manuscript, there’s a lot more work to be done in trying to get the thing sold. A lot of work. I don’t mind work, but I have no idea what to expect or how best to approach this, so the mountain looks a lot higher. On the bright side, I’ve got a day-job, so yay for that.