The agony of writing (1): Punishment, mostly

I am beginning to think that writing must be a genetic condition that influences some of us, or maybe many of us, based on the hundreds of people who pay good money for writer’s conferences all over the country. I have no idea why anyone else does this. I have no idea why I do this, and hence have concluded I must carry a defect, a sort of self-punishment and humiliation gene. Actually maybe I should amend that. It isn’t the writing itself that brings pain, at least not for me. In fact the process of writing is a form of serenity, a timeless place where things happen and flow from somewhere within the background onto a page. There is magic in that, and even more magic when things start to happen that could never have been imagined going in.

I think it is in the area of bringing your writing to public view that is where the pain lies. Even that is inaccurate, honestly, because these days there are a million ways to go public (witness this never read blog for example). No, the pain lies in the drive or belief or sickness that says, this story should be “out there” meaning as a BOOK.  Of course in the last twenty years with print-on-demand systems and computers and the web it is now easy to publish a book. I think I read somewhere that there are 50,000 new novels produced each year, most of them self published. It used to be just getting a book published was a huge effort – setting type, printing, distributing. Now that is simple and almost free. Now the problem is, getting noticed. But, in either case, those among us who try to go the “traditional” route of finding a publisher and putting out  books are, in most cases, doomed to a track of unrelenting pain, rejection, disappointment, and grief.

I now see I was spoiled when I sold the first full novel I wrote in about 1989. I had tried a few before then, the first back in 1971, but this one I finished, learning along the way all about the issues of how you write and rewrite and then correct, this in the days before many computers or word processors worth anything and the old dot matrix printers that ran for hours. I finished the book, sent it to an agent recommended to me by the one guy I knew who had published some books, and she picked me up, and then in a few months sold the book to Pocketbooks for a $ 5,000 advance. It was so easy (I now see).

Being encouraged, I wrote another book while waiting for the first to be sold, then another soon after, but these the agent didn’t like, they were not a series, I wanted to do what I wanted to do, I was in no writing group, had no comments, nothing. My agent fired me, eventually. She should have.

I kept on, this when self publishing was just starting, wrote more books, lined myself up with a company to self publish, designed the covers myself, and produced them after rewriting them all in 2004, mostly to get them in book form. Disaster, though, because when it came to – when it comes to – the self promotion thing, the marketing thing, the blow your own horn thing, in this sector and area I am crippled, inept, shy, lazy, afraid.

For a few years I put writing aside. I had this “big” job running around being an executive (which I hated and am entirely unsuited for because I don’t kiss ass well at all) and besides when you’re working in an office all day and writing memos and emails all day your writing gene withers and eventually dies, or mine did, but then, in the last such job I had, I knew there was nothing but a bad ending ahead, and so I thought well, if I’m going to go down I might as well learn something on the way, and so started again with research (something I had done little of before), building notebooks of ideas, themes, lessons, desires (something I had also never done, because I simply would start and a book would emerge), and then I was fired and went to sea to clear my head and earn money and soon learned that at sea there is no time to write, not working 12-14 hours a day, but plenty of time to ponder. Then, back from sea, I decided, OK, if you are serious about this, then get serious, so I entered this literary fiction course at UW and the day the class started I started my current novel, Strong Heart, though it had a different name then, and before I knew it (three months) I had a 155,000 word draft and the real work and “fun” began. I started the book Octotber 8 2013 and had the first draft done by December 30 the same year.

Remember, though, I had been spoiled, thinking, because that first book was easy, so would the rest, and here I was with one published and then republished mystery, Fat Chance, which has never really sold but is a very decent potboiler, three others self published, Guardian, Chasing Davy Jones, and Boomerang Heist, and a fourth finished and edited but in a box in my office gathering dust, Logger’s Landing. I removed Boomerang Heist because it is a book now dated and one element in it I want to use in a new book I am planning now. The other two are OK for what they were. But now I finally had a story, after getting great comments and huge reactions and hiring a editor and having great insights from people who knew what they were doing, and so, in the late winter of 2014, I began the process of getting this new book out.

I thought it would be easy. Instead I found nothing but pain, grief, humiliation, and rejection. Lots and lots of rejection. And it’s an ongoing story.

 

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