How to Depress a Writer

Today, though I was fighting the remains of the cold / flu that wiped me out most of last week, started off well enough. I actually got on the train and went to work, which meant I was able to return to my regular writing schedule. I opened my laptop to the place I left off last Monday, and resumed planning my next novel. I have the beginning, and I have the ending. I just had to get the two to meet in a logical and gripping middle. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting there. Finding words in the ether after a break is always a calming feeling.

During the middle of the day, I came across two articles on the web that turned my sunny outlook a little bit gloomy. First, this story from The Guardian regarding “the self-epublishing bubble” in which Ewan Morrison parallels the economics of the housing and internet bubbles to the publishing industry. It’s a fascinating and frightening read, and I recommend it for authors, both self-pubbed and not. I actually recommended to the folks at Amazon in the hopes that they realize they are killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

At the present time, I have no intention of self-publishing. I worked too hard to get an agent, and am working too hard to improve my work to make said agent’s job as easy as possible when she goes to sell my polished work, to give up just yet. But I am glad that self-publishing is out there, so that should my novels not find an appropriate audience in a major house (through no fault of my own or my agent’s, of course), I could self publish and make it big that way. I’d like to think that I understand what is involved in self publishing, and that because I understand it, I would be one of the few that could sell more than the 100 book average.

But the article seems to drive a spike through the theory that self-publishing is here to stay because sooner or later, those authors who were only in it for the money, will find out that the money isn’t there and their time is better spent elsewhere. That’s great for those of us who truly love to write, right? Well, not exactly. Morrison theorizes that once the publishing bubble bursts, there may not be much left of a once grand industry to allow the rest of us to be able to reach the audience we need in order to make ends meet.  Had I been writing ten years ago, it seems, my chances of breaking in to the market and breaking out as an author would have been much better, assuming the same quality of work. But I wasn’t writing back then. I was goofing off. That’s a little depressing.

Then, later in the day, I read John Scalzi’s take on the legacy authors leave behind. This one struck a bit hard, because honestly, I place a great deal of value in the idea of leaving some kind of legacy from my life. I always have. When I was a teenager and a college student, I wanted to work for NASA to help put a man on Mars. That was something I could be proud of at the end of my career. I could tell my kids that I was gone all day long, five days a week (or more) because I was working on something the human race needed.

But my aspirations for contributing through my work were short lived. Instead, I found myself working on car assembly line systems, junk-mail billing systems, financial systems and Y2K systems for morally and ethically challenged companies, and revenue management systems for airlines. Those early years were fine for my career, but not great for my pride or optimism. I’ve pretty much given up on working on ‘great ideas’ for work, and now see work as something that enables me to take care of my family. Don’t get me wrong – I completely realize that my family is my true legacy and I hope that my kids find something they love to do and do it well and leave their own positive mark on the world.

However, it doesn’t stop me from hoping that something I write won’t leave a legacy as well. I call it my “Beatles moment”. I look back at the music those boys from Liverpool created, and I know that a hundred years from now, their music will still be played, and will still be inspiring people. Sure, it may not be to the same extent that it was played in the 60’s and 70’s, but it will still be recognized when heard.

Notice that I didn’t say I expected to be as famous as The Beatles. I said I ‘hoped’. Perhaps it won’t be me, but one of my stories that is instantly recognizable, even though my name may be forgotten. Perhaps someone will read one of my stories and be inspired to write one of their own, which inspires some grand idea for someone else. I hope for a legacy of story-telling that continues on through me. That legacy was inspired by Farley Mowat and Johann David Wyss and Stephen King and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I want to be part of that chain.

Scalzi, in his so-effective way, pointed out that of the top 10 books in 1912 (100 years ago), not a single one was one that I have read or is by an author I have heard of. Other people commented that they were aware of the books, or of the authors, but I was not. And my hopes on leaving another long term legacy through my writing, drooped just a little more.

Now none of this would have affected me so much had I not already been facing a few doubts of my own coming out of the weekend. I haven’t written a lot lately, and I always get a bit glum between books. Also, I just read a very good book by one of the members of my writing group. This book was a very early draft, but seemed to me to be head and shoulders above anything I write. The author tells the story so effortlessly, and there doesn’t seem to be much left to do to it. I measured this against my writing. I have been working on some of my stories for over three years, and I still have at least ‘one more edit left’, and can reasonably expect that just one more edit won’t do. The story doesn’t seem effortless yet, and maybe it never will. While I am a better writer now than I was three years ago, and the stories come easy, the prose does not, and that will always worry me.

Tonight, on the way home from work, I pulled out the laptop and worked again on the plot for my next book.  I’m very close now to tying the beginning to the end. But it was a bit of a struggle, and my mind wasn’t fully into it. Perhaps tomorrow it will be. Perhaps tomorrow, I will read through some of my writing and realize that “Hey, this isn’t so bad.”

Maybe I’ll play The Beatles as I write tomorrow. Maybe “Let it be”. That usually does it for me. But I’ll stay away from “Paperback Writer”. Just for a couple of days, anyway,

One thought on “How to Depress a Writer

  1. Thank you for another thought-provoking post, Joe. Your comment about another writer’s work seeming so effortless caught my attention. Is there a chance that writing was as laboriously produced as yours and mine? I think that, sometimes, because we are so aware of the effort that goes into our own writing, it can be hard to imagine that to others it, too, may seem effortless. Just saying… The fact that you have an agent, not to mention how much writing you’ve done, tells me a lot about the quality of your writing. I quite admire everything you’ve accomplished, and learn a lot from reading your blog. Maybe I’ll catch up to you one day, even though I’ve had quite the head start :)

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