Being Emotionally Honest With Myself

I struggled with that title. Was it right? Should I choose a different word? Did frank convey what I wanted it to convey, or was honest the way to go?

I struggled with that title much in the same way as I have recently been struggling with my writing. If you don’t write, you might think a writer comes up with a brilliant idea on his lunch break, runs home to jot down his words, and soon a beautiful butterfly of a story has erupted into the world via his typewriter cocoon.

Not true. Much more must happen for Reader to receive Writer’s prose. For one thing, Writer must tell his inner Editor to shut the heck up.

Inner Editor is scared. People won’t get this story, he argues. Sometimes, he has a point. But most times he’s just in his default setting. Freaked out. Inner Editor is used to rejection. Inner Editor expects rejection. 

Inner Editor is kind of a bastard because of rejection. Let me put it this way. He’s the kind of guy who’d invite you to Outback Steakhouse and then let you pay the bill. Yeah, he’s that guy.

The obvious question is what could freak out an inner-editor? For me, the answer is simple: Not being understood. Inner Editor wants everything to be clear and relatable, for every word to have a place and a purpose.

I write fiction. And yet, I find I write best when I can attach some emotional honesty to the character, the setting of the story, or the piece in general. An element of truth. What am I trying to say here? I often ask myself mid-sentence. Mid-two-finger-type. (I type with two fingers, so…) This is when Inner Editor starts in on me.

I knew from an early age writing was my “thing”. We all have a “thing”. Our thing. For you accountants, maybe it’s number-crunching. For you athletes, maybe you’ve got an insane vertical leap. Maybe you haven’t discovered your “thing” yet, and that’s okay, too. But I knew writing was mine, and I also felt a deep responsibility. Not everyone who has palsy like I do is blessed with the ability to articulate their thoughts and feelings. As a kid, I was the well-spoken boy with palsy. Then I became the well-spoken writer with palsy. Who threw in his sarcasm as both a show of a sense of humor and a defense mechanism. Say what you want about the way I write. Say what you want about what I say in my writing, or my sentence-structure, or my poems. If you don’t like something, that won’t hurt me, because I’m quick-witted.

Tonight, I came to a realization.

I first acknowledged it when I acknowledged that my Inner Editor is kind of a bastard.

I am in a really good place in my life. One that I didn’t always think I’d get to. I have people around me who appreciate me. A novel that tells a story I need to tell.

And, most important. it’s okay for me to write for me.

I don’t need to write stories for people with palsy, or about people with palsy. Hopefully, I am now telling stories about people, some of whom have palsy.

Palsy is a part of who I am. It is not who I am.

Writing is what I do. It’s my “thing”. I’ve done it for years. I know how to do it.

So, oh dear Inner Editor of mine, take a hike until I need you. When it’s time for revisions, I’ll let you know. And the next time we go out to the Outback, it’s on you.

Are we clear?

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Tune Out The Critics And Don’t Try To Be Perfect

I have a wonderful support system around me. A support system well worth crowing about. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that. Family, immediate and extended. Friends from all facets of my life; school, writing, radio. (Networking’s pretty important; if people like you, they’re apt to like what you do.) Friends who’ll watch sports with me, friends who would go to a Garth Brooks concert, should he and Ms. Yearwood come to town. Cross your fingers!

I’ve got people on my side who have been–and remain–steadfast believers in my talent. “Derek’s a writer,” they say. Sometimes, I believe them. Then there are the moments I silently scoff.

Regardless, I appreciate them all.

Think back on your life. Somewhere within it there is that person–that one person, lurking, waiting to be a reminder; maybe it’s an ex from long ago, maybe a bully who just never “got you”–who really affected you. Who said you weren’t good enough, and against your better judgment, and because it’s easier than taking the time and effort to prove them wrong, you believed them. We put so much more stock into what our critics say than we do into that with which our true believers counter.

“I’m not a good enough writer to write that story,” I’ve said to myself so many times. Buying into the non-hype, you might say. Result: That story went unwritten each time I had the chance at it. Whereas if I had just sat down, put my fingers to the keyboard, and trusted myself a little, there’s no telling what would have come to the page.

Sure, every writer wants to write the perfect piece. That faultless gem that everyone falls over themselves to first represent, in an agent’s case, and then to read, once it’s in print. But those gems have no chance to exist if writers don’t first trust themselves to hammer out an imperfect first draft.

Don’t try to be perfect. And don’t spend so much time giving your critics the air time in your mind they’ve never deserved. Surround yourself with believers. With friends. With the kind of support every artist needs.

All I’ve Ever Wanted…

…is to be a published writer. An author. (Sometimes, that word can sound so exotic.) To behold my words in print. To know–and, in some cases, to get to see first-hand how my articulated thoughts on a page affect readers in a real and tangible way.

A couple weekends ago, with this goal very much in mind, my dad and I attended our very first writers’ conference. Seattle is a great town, with a fantastic literacy rate, but we are not the hub of literature, despite Amazon starting in a nearby garage. Since I can’t drive–and, if I’m being honest, I’d fear flying on my own, so I can’t just go to New York and pound the pavement looking for an agent–and I know enough not to cold-call them, this conference would be the best chance I’ve ever had to get in the room with an agent and demonstrate the passion I possess for a seven-year project that has bled the words from my writing veins, made me a better writer, and a stronger person.

The night before my agent-interview, I could barely sleep. I assume this is how an athlete must feel the night before The Big Game.

Five minutes. That’s all the time I had to showcase the most meaningful thing I’ve ever scribed (Really, I had ten minutes, because my dad, already agented, gave up his time with the agent, which followed mine, but everyone else only had five minutes, and that’s all I needed, anyway; not the point of the story). That morning, I awoke early and practiced my pitch. Imagine being in an elevator with an editor at Penguin or Random House (Yes, imagine it. It sounds amazing.). You’ve got thirty seconds to make them care about this thing you care about more than you’re willing to admit. That’s the pitch. I decided my book would be best described, genre-wise, as “secular spiritualism”. What is that?  Think about the novels of Mitch Albom. His stories often mention God or Heaven, but his characters are never overtly one religion or another, meaning that he–the author–is never trying to convince you one religion is the right religion. Secular spiritualism. It should be a thing, yes?

I sat down in front of the agent. I think I was shaking, but she might have thought that was just the palsy. Fine with me. I launched into my pitch. It went off without a hitch. (A poet just stole my keyboard for a second; sorry about that.) Then she said, “Is your book complete?”

Is your book complete? Such a simple question, whose answer is so complex that only the simplest reply can accurately convey it.

“Yes,” I said.

After seven years, countless words written, deleted, re-written, and re-deleted, after receiving several rejections whose gist boiled down to: Obviously, you wrote this book for people with cerebral palsy (My book’s main character has cerebral palsy, because I’d always wanted to read a book about someone like ME, and I never had) when my book is for anyone and everyone who likes to read, wishes to read something a little different, a little quirky, that holds some meaning; after all of the struggles and doubts, and hours spent fussing over one passage or another, it was liberating to make that announcement, even if it was to an agent who’d never seen me before in her life. Yes, ma’am, my novel is done. Complete at eighty-four thousand words, the longest piece I’ve ever written.

No, this agent didn’t take me on as a client. In fact, she took only a few days before passing on the project. But, unlike the overwhelming majority of rejections I’ve received, this was not a form letter. An I have decided to pass or I didn’t connect with the story.

She told me she liked my writing, and that my story was merely outside of her expertise.

So this post is a thank-you of sorts. To that agent–and to agents everywhere–who take the time (I realize not every agent can do it, but if you can it really does assist us writers) to offer constructive advice. One or two sentences might be all it takes to send that future best-selling author off in the right direction.

And, okay, I’ll grant you that not all of us can be best-selling authors. There are 100 best-sellers per year, and there are so many books published annually that to read them all would be the height of insanity. But every author who has something to say should be able to say it to the widest audience possible. Agents serve as gate-keepers to this audience. But who says the key needs to be made of gold? Sometimes, it’s as simple as a few fleeting moments.