I've been too busy writing to write about writing, lately. I had to take a deliberate vacation from Long Shot Books so that Maureen could actually get shit done without my bologna in the way. She's probably posted more interviews in my absence than I have in the Weebly's lifespan thus far. The thing with writing is that it's almost a form of meditation where you're so hyper-aware of every thought you have that it's hard to break the spell in your everyday life. It's silly when you say it out loud, but there's a lot of stress involved with every sentence. (I go more for a freestyle approach with these posts but I've already read this paragraph about eight times over.) Think of how much it takes to be one actor in front of the camera, or the set designer, or the director telling the actors how to act, or the screenwriter deciding what they say. Writing a book is kind of like being all of those things at once. So far as the narrative is concerned, you're God. (Now, whether or not you're any good at playing that role is a whole other story...) So, it can be difficult to go from that to Silly Internet Blogger sometimes. Much like writing a book, making post like this requires a special form of narcissism, not to mention Maureen and I try to separate this company from our own creative works as much as possible, but this all ties into a relevant point. Long Shot Books is a company by writers for writers. That's why it's was necessary for me to fuck off for a while. How can one play Virgil without first completing his own hero's journey?
Let's get this out of the way, now. Conditional Love is the last Todd Crawford book, in many aspects. It's not the final book that I will write, almost surely, but it's both the last book of the ilk I've been writing for the past few years. I mean, it very well could be the last book I write. That doesn't really matter to me. (If none of this makes any sense, I understand. Well, maybe I don't understand and that's the problem.) Much of the book is about the dynamic of the idea of an artistic persona vs. a true identity and how one reaches a point where they cannot coexist. It's no coincidence that I'm releasing the book physically on my twenty-seventh birthday. As soon as I realized the ending of the book, I knew it had to be a last of some sort. The important thing is that there's no second second chances. There isn't the excuse of a sequel. If there's another book, which there probably will be at some point, it will be far enough removed from this that they can have unique identities. It isn't walking away in frustration; it's more leaving well enough alone. I've never put as much time and effort into anything else I've done before and the idea of following it up with a quickie isn't that attractive to me. Plus, I'm kind of drained. With Conditional Love, I'll have written ten books in the last decade. (Before you think that's impressive, take a look at the quality of some of them and get back to me.) Writing a book is starting to feel like the point of exercise where you're just hurting yourself and it's time to get off the treadmill. I'd rather shut myself up until I have something new to say, however long that might take.
And...it's no secret that there have been a lot of personal struggles this year. The circumstances don't matter. They're just variables in an equation; once you solve for X, there's another problem just below it. What is important is to recognize that every misfortune is an opportunity to grow. I'm not thankful for all the stuff that's been working against me. I have this weird anxiety about anyone else taking credit for inspiring me to write this book (which is funny, because who would even want to do that), like I needed to suffer in order to get to this place. No. Losing a couple grand, chronic nightmares, and total paranoia have not contributed in any healthy manner to my creative process. I'm too fucked up to get it up to fuck without getting fucked up. That doesn't help, either. Plus, I never changed my act for pussy so why would I switch it up for a few cunts? Usually, art's a distraction from life but lately, it's starting to feel like my life has been a distraction from my art. There's no one person or event to blame for any of my circumstances. The only one responsible for myself is me. I'm writing this book because I know that's what I want to do, and I owe that to myself.
Of course, it's embarrassing to say or share these things. That's the point. This isn't my best self but who else is offering their worst material? If you want to improve in what you do, you have to confront your worst self. You have to look the worst person you're capable of becoming in the eyes and having the patience and love to turn that into the person you thought was too good to be true. You can't brush anything under the rug; you can't make any excuses. You don't build muscle by sitting on the couch. I'm using myself as the demonstration, here. You can't be afraid of yourself. Don't think “How am I going to deal with this situation?” Ask yourself how the situation is going to deal with you. You don't have to be perfect but if you're not doing your best, then you're selling the world short.
It's important for me to share this and it took me a month to build up the courage to do it. It matters because when we start taking in real submissions, I don't want any illusions of authority or prestige on our behalf. We're “artists” just like you. (I'd never call myself that but for the sake of communication, just roll with it.) I can't look an author's profile picture on Facebook in the eyes and type them some crap about writing their best book if I can't even finish mine. Maureen understands that and has been incredibly supportive about it, so thanks always to her. (Heck, she let me crash on her couch rent-free for a month when my home life got too bad that I needed to move out. We'd stay up on work nights and talk about our plans for this company while I got too wasted to remember what I was running away from.) Thanks to everybody who reads and supports this company and my goofy, inappropriate articles. I think the coolest thing anyone's ever said about my writing is that they could tell I put everything into it. For now, this is what I've got. I'll try not to go so long next time.
I feel like there's an unspoken truth with artists, creative people, and hacks like me. Nobody really knows how to respond to criticism. It's the classic slut or prude dilemma, and it's hard not to take a hard-line stance on the matter. I mean, it's simple as fuck, actually, but there wouldn't be much of an article if I approached the subject pragmatically, now would there? So, for the sake of my word count, you have a few options here.
The Slut. Also known as The Rian Johnson. Formerly also known as the Kevin Feige, but who the Hell wants to remember that guy? They're the sluts. This approach is the most destructive for oneself and one's reputation. Basically, what you do is dismiss any and all criticism as that of trolls (or if you're an oldhead, the “h8rs”). Obviously, you made all the right choices because if they weren't the right choices, why would you make them? Don't bother using reason to defend yourself, though. Avoid any real criticism at all costs. This style calls for ad hominems and broad generalizations about people who dislike your work. They probably just don't agree with your politics 'cause they're fuckin' nazis. Might even be Russian bots. Clearly, no reasonable person wouldn't like something that a master of the craft such as yourself gifted the world with. Shit, if your Goodreads rating was one star higher, Bernie might actually be in the White House by now. Nevermind how it affects your career. You have an ego to uphold. You have a platform, a fucking pulpit, and you're gonna use it. In the short run, you look petty getting into scrabbles with fans on Twitter. In the long run, well, let's take a look at Exhibit A. Oh? Kevin Feige made that A Simple Favor movie? Huh. I knew there was a reason Anna Kendrick was in something and I didn't have the impulse to jerk off to it. Well, it didn't say “From the Director of Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Ghostbusters Answer the Call” or advertise his input, so we'll just pretend he's floundering. (Seriously, though. Life's not fair. Jodorowsky struggled for financing for years and that guy gets another chance?) So, that leave Mrs. Johnson. Let's be real, his Star Wars trilogy isn't happening. Shit, he's “known for” Looper on IMDB and not The Last Jedi. Wut. (If there was any justice in the world, he'd be known for Brick, which is a legitimately great film. This is not to be confused with the James Gunn or Roseanne Barr, who were ostracized for comments not about their work. For a better third wheel example, see the J.K. Rowling.
The prude. Marilyn Manson has some quote about art dying once it becomes dictated by the audience. There's a kernel of truth in there, but most people who listened to his later albums would probably cite those as examples to discredit such a stance. (I enjoy them all, but that's beside the point.) I'd offer a better example of this but I'm not actually going to put any research into this article. It's gonna be a shorter paragraph because this example isn't as embarrassing or as entertaining as the slut. People don't take notice of the prude, whereas everyone's talking about what (and who) the slut did at the party Friday night. Nobody cares if the prude showed up at all, because there's no cheap entertainment to be gained from her. In short, you don't engage in any criticism whatsoever. Your work and the criticism of it are parallel lines. They can say what they wanna say but you're just gonna keep doing what you do. This isn't a bad approach, but you do risk missing out on valid criticism. You might keep up an enigmatic or “superior” reputation, someone whose engagement is a social privilege. Most likely, though, people will probably just think you're stuck up, even if that isn't true.
The obvious. You pick your battles. You engage in conversations you feel are worth having respectfully and without talking down to others. The key to this is to listen to all perspectives but only follow the advice that you find valuable. You're not a pushover but you're not gonna be getting into any turf wars, either. There might be some Iagos in your midst, but if you play your cards right, you'll carry on your path without too many snake bites. (That's a mixed metaphor if I've ever seen one.) It's about self-respect and respecting those who give your work the time of day. You can benefit from listening to your audience...and you'll inevitably piss them off when you put your foot down, but it's all in the best interest of the final product. You're not perfect, but neither are your readers. You're equals and shit. You make mistakes but are willing to learn from them. More text leading into a proper conclusion to the article that doesn't just sound like a structural obligation.
I've been excited for the past few days, because I modified a character in the book I'm writing in a way that completely changes the dynamic it has with the protagonist. A formerly male character is now female. (Uh-oh! Gotta pretend like men and women act exactly the same for some fucking reason, because G.R. Martin's quote or whatever. Maybe if writers spent more time talking to girls, they'd understand that men and women tend to interact differently in social situations...) So, I've been tweaking dialogue while I twiddle my thumbs on the bus and having a good time with myself. My original article was about that, how writing dialogue is like playing chemist. Then it hit me: I'm a fuckin' dork. Who wastes their time on this shit? “If I talk to myself this way, but also talk to myself that way, that'd be really neat.” You're inventing social situations from the safety of a control panel and expecting anyone to be entertained by that. You might as well be playing with sock puppets. Or action figures for that matter. “Hey, wouldn't it be cool if Han Solo said this to Bowser?” No, it wouldn't. You're twenty-four.
I see lousy memes all the time on the internet about things like, “Go ahead, be mean to me, I'll write you into my next book.” Are you kidding me? I'm not a violent person, but shit like that makes me wanna hand out serious noogies. Could you imagine if somebody pulled that shit irl? They'd be headed straight for the inside of a locker. You ever try to befriend a kid that everybody gives a hard time only to realize that the kid's actually not bullied, he's just a total prick that no one else can stand? That's us. We're snivelly little brats who think we're the most fucking precious thing because we string words together in a manner that pleasures ourselves. I always see these cliches about how writers and readers are more in-tune with emotions and are more compassionate, understanding people. Well, here's the thing; that implies that we're actually good at what we do. Just writing doesn't make you a humanist. It doesn't make you more aware of feelings or any of that shit. Sure, if you're good at it, it'll help. Are you seriously trying to sell me H.P. Lovecraft as a socialite? I know Stephen King's all chummy on late night TV these days, but you gonna tell me that dude was a player back when? Now, the thing is that both those writers tend to fall short of the third dimension more often than not, so I'd definitely say that such qualities help, but aren't necessary. How about David Foster Wallace and all his creepy shit? Infinite Jest is one of the most obvious examples of humanistic literature on this side (the gentrified end, that is) of hipsterdom, yet...
Here's a secret. Nobody respects virgins. (I'm sorry, incels is the nuspeak politically correct term.) Let's be real. Writing is just masturbation. Getting published or read is equivalent to a bone, I guess. Idk. Maybe it's more like jerking off on someone's face. Us writers can't control ourselves when we have even the smallest audience. After years of toil and self-doubt and being ignored over dinner, someone is finally willing to hear us out. A platform for most of us is like if the dog caught up to the newspaper man and dragged him off the bike. Great, now we have this vehicle, but what the fuck are we supposed to do with it? We're just hairy, clueless animals. Everybody wants to be John Bender. Nobody has ever wanted to be any character that Michael Anthony Hall has played. Ever. I don't even know that Anthony Michael Hall has ever wanted to be an Anthony Michael Hall character. “Oh, boy. I get to be the geek that doesn't get the girl.” I know what you're asking myself, now: “Well, what about Lloyd Dobbler? John Cusack was hanging out with AMH in Sixteen Candles, remember, Todd?” Lloyd Dobbler was a fuckin' kick boxer. He was sensitive (like, really, really sensitive) but he wasn't a dweeb. The kids in SLC Punk graduated from DND to the music scene. I mean, not everything worked out, but at least they got to party for a bit. If the kids in Stranger Things were fifty pounds heavier and pounding back Gamer Fuel like my Uncle Ned used to pound on me, I don't know that the show would have its mainstream appeal any longer. It's a miracle that people tolerated The Lone Gunmen for one season. Anyhow, not enough writers can maintain that balance. They're either the bullies from Revenge of the Nerds (me) or they're that crazy kid from Super Dark Times. You don't see many Morrisseys on Goodreads. When did writers become such pansies? Were we not given enough wedgies in our playground days? What the fuck?
I think the “geek” era, making it hip to be square, suddenly made everything cool about being uncool suddenly just uncool. Finally, in the era of Createspace and the Nook, writers get to play like they're the cool kids. Problem is, they don't know how to handle that power. You ever see a person who was never in a relationship, a typical “nice guy” that immediately becomes the most possessive, gaslighting piece of foreskin once he finds himself in a relationship through some cruel twist of fate? I believe that's what's happened to us. We've become the schoolyard bullies of the internet, and the thing is, we suck at it. We spit down from our high horse, but we never learned how to cough up real loogies. Dudes like Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Rian Johnson, Louis C.K...they never stood a chance on the A List. We're the assholes who think we're political pundits because we read 1984, or at least we've read a synopsis of it. There's a great Built to Spill quote, "Jack thought it twice and thought that that thought made it true/Some brains just work that way." Even if our whole thing is writing, I think most of us really need to learn when to shut the fuck up. On that note...
I'm not sure if writers get growing pains, but I have something like that going on right now. After taking a three-year hiatus from writing and publishing, getting back into it feels just as pleasant as taking a stroll across a field of burning coals during a heat wave. Making the time to write and slaying the performance anxiety monster are half the battle--the other is actually trying to figure out who you are as a writer--not your process, but something a little more introspective than that.
The following questions (in no particular order) are some I've composed/complied to try to figure this all out. If you're looking to do a little self-reflection, give them a shot. Or if you're just bored and looking for a notebook prompt, that's cool too.
Ready? Set? Go!
What do you write?
I know this sounds a bit obvious, but having some idea of what you want to do (and knowing it's not set in stone) is a good starting point.
Why are you doing this, like, what's the point?
Maybe you want to write to get published and have your name on the bookshelves across the country. Perhaps you have a story you want to tell that you believe no one else can. Maybe you feel like no one around you listens and you just want to be heard.
What are your influences?
This is the book you read in 10th grade English class that made you think you could be a writer. This is a place for your writing heroes or for the ones you don't want to be. This is where that poem Langston Huges wrote about dreams that inspired you to write a chapbook goes. These are the folks, books, ideas that got you writing and got you to where you are now.
What's your inspiration?
Different from influences—this is where your ideas come from. This is where you look back and cringe at all the stupid crap you did and never want to tell anyone; but then you realize you're a writer and have to tell everyone.
What's holding you back?
You don't think you're a good writer. You don't think you have any fresh ideas that haven't been done before. You could be worried about offending someone. You're worried about critics. You don't want to receive a rejection letter. You don't know much about writing a book or where to start.
What does it mean to succeed as a writer?
You want to make it on the #1 slot of the New York Times Bestseller list. Maybe you hope publishers and editors of big-name houses will beg you to work with them. Or, you want to find your “people,” and build something together through writing.
What does it mean to fail as a writer?
Rejection scares you. You don't want to embarrass yourself in front of a publisher. No one shows up to the reading you host. You don't sell enough books. You think your ideas suck. The book you released receives negative reviews across the board.
What keeps you going?
When you do fail, this is what keeps you from throwing in the towel, copping out, walking way, and other euphemisms for quitting.
What are you reading right now?
A poet once told me, “You write what you read.”
What are you working on right now?
There are writers who write and writers who “write.”
Are you writing something you want to read?
If you're not, follow up question, why aren't you?
What are you hoping readers get out of your work?
You want to tell them a good story, you know, the kind with the hero that overcomes his challenges that brings out the underdog in all of us. Your poem might be a battle-cry or a call to action. Or maybe you just want to do some Inception-like mind meddling.
Do other people know that you write?
Maybe your ultra-conservative parents don't know you write poems about how you lost your virginity. Or your professors who are impressed you can write a coherent sentence and think you have potential. Maybe you're out there in random internet forums posting haikus and gained a following.
Have more questions? Thoughts? Post 'em below!
So you're a writer? Fantastic! Have a great idea? Even better! Stuck in a rut?
Well, if you're a writer, you'll probably get stuck in that rut at least once in your career: that spot where you're doing alright, but you're not really improving and maybe you're even getting bored because your writing just isn't getting better.
It's one of the most frustrating aspects of writing, to be in control of entire realms and still not be able to put what's in your head down on paper properly. Writing is a career in which you are (or should be) constantly learning, so while this rut might be cozy at first, it's incredibly important that you don't stagnate. How do you improve, though?
Explore outside your comfort zones.
I know, I know – it's a lot easier to just stick to the areas of writing you feel safest. You can improve your strengths by practicing with pieces that no one else will ever see. If you're afraid of failure or a piece that isn't so great, remember that even failure is an improvement and a learning experience: you learn what not to do and how to improve so you can avoid it in the future!
So what if you suck at writing in the sci-fi genre, poems with rhyme, or even romance? While you might not enjoy the genre as a reader, try crafting your piece in a way that would make you, as a reader, enjoy it. You'll learn how to appeal to your own audience that way; to make even the disgruntled reader enjoy your work. Practicing it means that you're allowed to stretch your mental muscles; to see your writing from new perspectives. It's like exercise, only it's a lot less painful in the physical department.
Another way to improve involves your style. How do you write? Are you snappy and snarky, or do you prefer 1800s-style lengthy dialogue and descriptive language? Something in between? Try to identify your style and then attempt working on different styles of writing. You can also try writing characters with thick accents or informal speech patterns, which is more genuine but also a little more difficult to write if you're used to exercising proper grammar.
Next question: do you like writing books that are dismal, or do you err on optimism? That's your tone, and it's one of the most important features of a book. To improve your own tone, experiment with different ones. Try flipping your style and write a character opposite anything you've written before. Write a story, poem, or piece of flash fiction without a happy ending, or if you're a complete pessimist, let the prince save the damsel for once. This intertwines with style in that your language portrays your tone, so try combining both of these.
You can even start a story with the ending and work your way back. Doing so can allow you to more closely evaluate the typically linear timeline that stories follow. Flipping your understanding of writing can help you see your own strengths and perhaps you'll even notice something you're really good at that you've never seen before. It may also help you see where you're stuck at, if you're working on a bigger project and just can't get past a certain plot point.
Now, you've probably heard this one: "You should only write what you know." Um, what? How can works by J. K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Suzanne Collins, George Lucas, George R. R. Martin, and so many more even exist if that is a rule that good writers follow? As writers, we can improve our writing by breaking through the logic we know in our world and expanding our imaginations to accommodate. We aren't allowing ourselves to expand if we put ourselves into little boxes, and if any of those "greats" had done so, maybe we wouldn't even know their names.
Perhaps a modification is necessary to this misleading piece of advice. Include what you know about the world – what you've learned, tragedies you've experienced, how certain things make you feel, little tics you've noticed in people, etcetera – in whatever kind of story universe you want to create. This allows readers to find common ground and relate to your characters, even in the strangest of realms (even galaxies far, far away or when conversing with talking trees and-or lions.)
Finally, if you're looking for a way to trim down your word count and trying to figure out how to be more concise, try some flash fiction. There are prompts and challenges all over the Internet, like 6-word horror fiction, 5-word stories, and the like. Flash fiction is a very unique way to hone your skill with conveying your point in as few words as possible; a great exercise if you're wordy (like me, in case you haven't noticed. Oops). Plus, it's a really quick way to practice, even out in public or at work, as long as you have a scrap of paper and a pen. This is a big thing right now in magazines and journals, so you might even submit some of your better exercises for publication: win-win!
In short: write what you want, but make sure you're expanding and exploring constantly. Additionally, read as much and as diversely as you write; never is reading a waste of time when you are a writer (unless you're using it to procrastinate). And remember that you shouldn't view every single piece as something you can make money off of, and doing so can actually be very crippling and detrimental to your motivation (especially if you have self-doubt or a lack of confidence). Most importantly of all, have fun with it; practice makes perfect. Exploring new ways of writing can help you improve your current mode. Finally, think about defining your career by what you want to see in literature, not always what you think others will want. Chances are, someone else is waiting to see the exact same thing!
Find Michaela Bush at:
Thank you so much to your contribution to our page, Michaela!
There's a lot of shit-flinging in my articles. I like teasing other authors and poking fun at myself. I try to provide other perspectives, the kind that I don't see anybody else providing, and avoid the platitudes. Nobody needs to hear another cliché, right? Sometimes, it's as exhausting to avoid conventional phrasing as it is to repeat the same tired idioms. It's easy to get all tangled up in the politics of writing and the differences in business practices. My favorite lyric of all time is, “It's so easy to laugh. It's so easy to hate. It takes strength to be gentle and kind.” Even in the cut-throat book game, I think it's important to set aside our differences and remember why we're all here.
We're here, because, for whatever reason, we love books. We love reading and writing, whether we prefer the smell of a new hardback or the convenience of an e-reader. We want to see great books get published. We to see books connect with audiences in ways that people never thought would be possible. Reading/writing isn't exactly a social activity, even if you are a part of whatever literary community or book club you participate in. It's a generalization, but I think there's some pocket within every writer's heart that is, well, just alone. I'm not going to talk the craft up in the way I can seldom stand or pretend that we have any emotional acuteness or depth nobody else can fathom. I truly don't believe book people feel anything that nobody else has felt. We're oddballs but we aren't a different species.
What does separate us is that we took those feelings and made something of them. We set out to write the book we've always wanted to read. We filmed the movies of our dreams so that others could see them. We've faced the critics, some of us were even able to befriend them. (Seriously, book critics are some of the coolest people I've ever met, petty jabs aside.) Even the worst books require effort. It's a massive undertaking in many ways. It takes a lot of patience with oneself to take a formless lump of clay and try to shape it into the image we imagine it to be. The blank page is a mirror that we fill with our own self-image. No matter what we write, we're relaying the human experience. One needs to fish within oneself to find that emotional resonance. It takes a lot of personal awareness and a lot of honesty in order to do properly. It can be painful. Sometimes, confronting yourself or even your own idea of self can be painful. I'm stinging from it right now. We all relate to Luke Skywalker because (to some diminished degree) we've felt or can imagine the emotions he feels throughout the movies, not because we have experienced the same circumstances. That isn't an easy thing to do. I'm not saying we all pull it off. Shit, I doubt that I ever have. My point is that to take our abstract thoughts bring them into the world in a way that another person to appreciate is no small feat, no matter what it is you're writing.
Or, maybe nobody will like your story. That's a possibility. You could spend years on a project and it could totally flop. It's happened to me more than a few times. What's it matter? Do you write for praise? Did you program your laptop to make a cha-ching sound every time you hit the enter button? You're not guaranteed any pats on the back in life, no matter what you do. What you do is you keep on doing what you're doing to the best of your abilities, if that's what you want to do. That's the only thing that matters. You're making it happen. You're living your dreams, even if reality is a little more HD than you imagined it to be and you can see all your own scars and unpretty details. All that matters is that you're up there, onstage, and you owe it not only to yourself but the audience to give your best performance. Regardless if you're Montague or Capulet, we're all up here together.
I always tell people, “You don't get laid for writing books.” That's a pretty thought, but I can confirm that it isn't true. The sad reality is that there's a ton of posturing in the literary world. There are tons of Chads and Stacies that would push poor Kafka into a locker and then start viciously making out leaning against that same locker. Shit, I'm probably a Great Value lit answer to Bender from The Breakfast Club. (Would that just be called The Book Club? Fuck me...) The book world really isn't all that far off from high school. We're all awkward and trying to sell ourselves when we hardly even know who we are. Genres are just the cliques we wedge ourselves into. Financially successful and established writers are the teachers and coaches we mimic in shortcuts to identity. Editors are fucking nerds, but more so the chill kinda nerd that smokes pot while playing D&D. What I'm tryin' to say is that despite all our marketing, all the interviews, the readings, and the tweets that only other literary-minded people could possibly understand, it's nothing but foreplay.
The thing with books is that they require patience. You write a song and it takes three minutes to play on guitar, or kazoo, or whatever instrument you play, five minutes tops. (What? You wrote an eight minute song for your crush in high school? The fuck did you take yourself for? Zeppelin?) Make a movie and it asks about two hours of an audience. Reading a book is an investment. You're practically asking someone to do homework. Then you expect to have a conversation about it? Homie, that's a book report. Now, I'm not saying that producing a book is any harder to do than those other examples. Quite frankly, as someone whose tampered with all three (I don't mean to brag but my kazoo always brings the house down at parties.), writing books was by far the easiest. It's just you at the desk on your own time. (There's a great Hank Moody quote about writing just being about what you come up with when your butt's at the desk and how everything else is playing dress-up. I might've jacked that idea for this article...) No scheduling, little-to-no technology, no financial burden. I've read some tweets about how being an author is just as difficult as being a carpenter. Frankly, I think that's uncut bullshit, but the craft doesn't come without its challenges. The heaviest burden I've encountered as a writer is the solitude that comes with the territory.
Reading really is kind of like fucking. I'm no Casanova, but I've been publishing for a decade and my readership's only dwindled, so it might be the aptest comparison for me. Asking someone to read your book is like making love with a runny nose, or during a bout of chronic flatulence. It's about as intimate as you can be with someone and you're also risking the worst kind of embarrassment. It doesn't matter if your work is pure fiction, or if there isn't an ounce of autobiography between the lines. You can wear whatever brand you like, and you can sell yourself however you like, but once you're between the sheets with a reader, it's all about performance. When I was on my man, Eric Zavinski's podcast a year back, I talked about every time your significant other is reading someone else, it's kind of like getting cheated on. Call it fragile masculinity or possessiveness, but I stand by that statement. A player just wants his girl to wear the jersey with his number on the back is all, ya know? You want to pleasure your reader; you want to take them on a ride that'll make their fucking eyes water. Then, of course, you want that pillow talk where they tell you how amazing you are.
-Todd The Bod
What am I getting at? I don't remember. We really need to hire some content creators, because I'm fishing around in my pocket for loose change and coming up with lint, here. If you wanna do your boy a solid, send us your worst so we can get hits off it. Don't worry, we'll include a link to your twitter, or whatever. Jesus.
Writing this fucking article is the last thing I want to do right now and yet there's nothing I'd rather be doing. My cat's lying beside me and I'm listening to Pet Sounds. I should be DTF (Down to Function?) with this thing, but the ambition just isn't there. I feel stupid, impotent, like the biggest jerk in the universe, and have absolutely no right pretending to be writing from any position of authority. I don't really understand how I plan to release other people's books when I can't even figure out how to sell my own. I'm big-headed and don't have the muscles to back it up.
I don't have any outline for this post. I'm distracted. My thoughts keep drifting below the belt and I'm wondering if I'm so repressed because of a turbulent past or because I'm incapable of living in any one moment. On one hand, I need to move forward with my life, but on the other hand, there's some shit that needs set straight for the record. But then, being a jerk to vindicate myself would only prove myself to be the jerk I was made out to be? So, it's just another lose-lose situation. I can't express myself properly and that makes the people around me uncomfortable. My body's in a constant state of pain and I have to roll my wrists and ankles, which makes a bony popping sound that makes me, if not everybody else in my vicinity uncomfortable. My arms are always stiff at my side and I've never danced in my fucking life. I'm quick to criticize and afraid to compliment. Then I go and write some whack shit like this on my publishing house's blog as though that counts as productivity. I had planned on writing a blog post about some lame-ass advice Neil Gaiman wrote about ignoring logical criticism and how I think that if that isn't an example of anti-intellectualism, then what is. Somehow, dissing on Gaiman feels like punching down for me, and wouldn't be that fun. Then, I could write about how to collaborate, but what the fuck do I know about collaboration? You see The Renaissance Men around? I haven't in well over two years. I'm pressing my wrist down so hard on the keyboard it looks like there are cuts across it. If I could figure out how to work that into a singular visual, that could serve as the upcoming e-Mo/Anti-Counter-Culture rerelease scheduled in the next year or so.
If you actually read this far, why? Are you some kind of voyeur? Do you hate me? If so, those are two things we can see eye-to-eye on, so there's that. If you want to write, or do anything in life, there's really only one thing you can bring to the table, and that's yourself. There will always be someone with better grammar than you, more impressive reference points, more publishing experience. There'll always be a face better prepared to be sold on a back cover than yours. There is no hierarchy of authors, necessarily, but I do think that's an indisputable fact in that it's so obvious that it isn't a concept worth wrestling with. My point is, and I'll make it quick because I'm thinking (hoping) that I'm drifting off as I type this, that the only unique asset you have is yourself. Nobody else has lived your life exactly, and nobody but you is you. That seems obvious, but only because it is. The trouble is that not everybody is going to want you.
First off, you're going to have the haters. I was never big on that term and I'm still not, but there's a lot of clique-ishness in the literary world. It really can feel like Mean Girls at times. “Oh? Another book about a character discovering himself/getting over a past trauma/[insert story trope here]? Like the world needs more of those.” Usually, I try to avoid strawmanning but a series of viral images with book covers mocking the various tropes getting shared by writers and publishers alike kind of proved my point to me. (I also don't like citing examples without citations, usually, but I never saved the images and you'll just have to fucking trust me on this one thing, God dammit. If I find them again, I will share them retroactively on this post.) Simply put, some people just won't meet you with open arms. Did you ever see that episode of Recess about how some people just aren't going to like you no matter what you do? I didn't, but I saw some anons discussing it on 4chan the other day while I rode the bus. It's like what I imagine that episode to be like.
Most importantly, this whole “be yourself” platitude is about honesty. You have to keep it real with yourself and know who you are and what you're about. That isn't as easy as it sounds. Back to the collaboration thing, you have to be real with whoever you're working on it, be that a co-director, editor, or coauthor in terms of what you wish to accomplish and how to accomplish that. You'll be seen as an egotist if you don't bow down to any criticism but you'll be a coward if you don't put your foot down on some of your hard-line values. I played a huge role in the dissolution of Renaissance Men by not having the emotional intelligence or confidence to do so. Now, you're probably not asking yourself, “But, Todd Daniel Crawford, author of such classic flops as The Final Gospels and L'Pilgrimage, how can I be honest if I write fiction?” You just have to listen to the story and find what's right. When I get stuck, I'll just start asking myself questions about what would happen next, knowing the characters and flavor of the story. I don't have the tools to demonstrate for you exactly how that process works but I think you'll know once it starts working for you. Look around the room you're in. Then, close your eyes and try to imagine what the room looks like in your mind. That's kind of what it's like bringing the idea of a book to life.
That might sound simple but it's something very few writers, very few people are willing to do. Think about charming demos from a young band before they break it big. Then think about the polished sound of something like Coldplay. Which would you rather sound like? Exactly. Right now, I'm trying to figure out how to fill in the blank spots of the room I'm illustrating for you people, but my memory's a bit hazy. I'm sure there are more clothes on the floor, some posters on the wall that I'm leaving out, but I'm fucking tired and when I sat down to write this, I never actually thought I'd get around to finishing it.
I'm only going by the moniker, “Honest T” for this one article. I mean, that would be ridiculous if I actually ever used it more than once. It really isn't worth even a one-off, it's so corny.
When I started writing this I tried to Google “performance anxiety” and most of the articles I found were about erectile dysfunction. I'm not really sure what it's technically called, so I'll just refer to it as performance anxiety/stage fright until I can find a name with a less sexual connotation (or figure out what the actual term is).
To get a better picture of what I mean, pretend you're back in school giving a presentation. You did all the research and prep work, and you know your stuff. Still, you sit there with this sense of impending doom as you wait for your turn. You don't even hear what your classmates are saying because your heart is pounding in your ears. Maybe you're on the verge of vomiting if you haven't already. When they say you're next you feel like you've just been shot. As you approach the podium you might ask yourself, Maybe I should take the F? Is this worth it? Why the hell am I doing this? Your voice cracks and shakes as you talk and you fixate on how many uhhhs you use. Sweat rolls down your forehead and you're gulping air, but you don't feel like you're getting enough of it. When you finally finish you retreat back to your seat shell-shocked and wonder how your teacher does it every day.
I'm not a psychologist, and don't have any training outside of a high school education and one college course I study-buddied through with my second ex-boyfriend's sister, but I would think with most fears, you'd need to figure out the underlying cause. Fear of rejection? Afraid of embarrassing yourself? Worried it won't be perfect? Scared you won't please everyone? Is failure a strong possibility?
Fear of rejection? Most of us wallpaper our homes in rejection letters. You're not a bad writer just because one or two places won't buy what you're selling. Many authors have had their work rejected repeatedly and still live to tell about it.
Afraid of embarrassment? Been there, done that. I stupidly submitted a short story to a reputable literary journal in New York that was riddled with typos, continuity issues, and even plot-plausibility errors because I was so self-conscious about what I wrote I couldn't even proofread it. Needless to say, I was rejected and embarrassed. I continue to humiliate myself to this day. I'm not the only one. It's an inevitable part of writing and putting yourself out there—just don't dwell on it.
As for perfectionism, in Anne Lamott's essay Shitty First Drafts, she says your draft isn't going to be totally flawless the first time around. While you stew in quiet envy over that book, film, poem, song, or story that seems to get it all right, keep in mind that what you're seeing is the finished product. Most of the time, we don't get to see the bedhead or smell the morning breath of someone's first draft. We hear there's a process, sure, but we don't always get to observe the transition. In other words, try not to make the mistake of comparing your first draft to someone else's final.
Failure is a tough thing to accept and come back from. This deserves its own article, but for now, you really need to define what failure (and success) is to you and how you plan to bounce back. People think failure happens when things don't go according to plan, but I think you really fail when you don't try.
Still this is hard given some people are critics for a living (and not all of them get paid to do it). Criticism has its role to play in your performance and the stress it causes—but that's an article for another day. The best snip of advice I can offer is to sift through legit advice from the unjustifiable disapproval and use what you can to make your work better without tearing yourself apart.
Over halfway through this it dawned on me that I might not be the best person to write an article about overcoming performance anxiety. I haven't overcome anything. I've spent the last ten years trying to write a book that's nowhere near finished. I abandoned my dream of becoming an artist because I didn't think I was good at it. I almost walked out on my LLC brother and our publishing company three months in because I thought I my ideas were shit and that I wasn't qualified to run a business. I didn't make it as an artist because I didn't want to do the work and possibly fail, and now I'll never know if I would've made it. This time, I want to see Long Shit Books through so I don't have to wonder what will come of it.
Bottom line, we all get in our own way.
I can't prescribe an antidote. There's no 10 Steps, In 30 Minutes or Less, For the Convenient Price of $19.95 (plus shipping and handling) solution here. This isn't something a tablespoon of coconut oil or an apple cider vinegar rinse can fix. It also isn't exactly something that happens overnight or something being published can fix. From my experience, and the advice of many creative folks I know, the best way out is through. That poster in your guidance counselor's office that says, “Life begins outside of your comfort zone,” has some truth to it.
In other words, sometimes you gotta say, “Fuck it.”
When people ask about my religion, I tell them I was raised Christian. That seems simple enough, and leaves room for ambiguity. First of all, it would be a lie to commit myself to any school of thought beyond my own. I'm not good enough at following directions to belong to any dogma. More importantly, though, it revokes any accountability that the religion and culture would have for my actions. If I provide that partition between what I was raised to be and the person I've become, that lets a lot of people from my upbringing off the hook. I come from a very religious family. I love them, but I'm not the same as them. We have two very different approaches to life, and I don't wanna cramp their style.
Most Christians I know are too well-conducted. Their shirts are unstained. If you zoom in on their profile pictures, you won't find that their visages are dotted with blackheads. I can't relate to that. I'm a dang mess at all times. I can practice my song every night and still hit the same wrong notes every time. A few months back, my ex called me erratic. I was like, well, yeah. What else is old? Even at my best, chaotic good is not orderly. You throw enough darts, you're bound to hit the board every now and again, even if you're taking shots in the dark.
My issue with a lot of Christian art today is hard truth tends to be traded out for platitudes. The depiction of a struggle to sustain fidelity is left alone in the corner of the bar while false promises are courted on the dance floor. If we're so dang perfect, what good is God? Real talk, you will turn your back on morality in life. You will excuse yourself with relativism. It doesn't have to be religious. You'll covet someone outside of your relationship. You'll bump Tupac even though you ride for Biggie. That's human nature, and it sucks. If you don't believe that we were willed into creation, then that's why we invented God. The human mind alone is a labyrinth of deceit and false narratives. We're the best, but we still suck. Morality isn't about being a perfect example; it's about honest effort.
I believe in sin, but I cling to the concept of forgiveness. If not for that, I'm in a heap of trouble. I'm also OCD, so I have no choice but to believe in some narrative to life. A world without purpose sounds to me like an unwanted gift that you only keep in your possession because it was already given to you and the effort to return the dang thing just doesn't seem worth it. Even if we belong in Pandora's box, at least we have that context to contain ourselves in. When I was promoting my fifth book, e-Mo, I called it post-Christian fiction. That was neat, because it upset everybody that heard it. Atheists I knew didn't like that it implied there was any place for Christianity in the modern world and Christians didn't care for the fact that it implied we are approaching if not living in a world beyond a Christian majority. The book's confessional nature, using social media as a new form of prayer, though, was to show that humanity cannot replicate objective morality. You might be well-reasoned, but you cannot appease the mob. Others might be no more human than you, but they ain't any less human, either. An agent that I submitted to once said that Bret Easton Ellis was feminist enough to show women done wrong. I don't think that enough religious writers challenge themselves to confront the world their beliefs are rooted in. The Bible's got more crazy antics than any exploitation movie I've ever seen.
I don't have a good zinger to end this on and I feel like I'm straining too hard to invent one, so I'll just say I'm happy with what I've got here and contentedness isn't something I'm used to feeling. IDK. See ya.