Thursday, July 17, 2008

Writerly Stuff: The Ying and Yang of Distractions

Ever get the feeling that you’re doing too much and not doing any of it particularly well? That’s the rut I’ve been stuck in for the past several weeks (months, if I’m being honest). My Aries ambitions sometimes get the better of me and I end up overextending myself only to scratch my head and ask myself why. If I only knew how to decompress…

I get the occasional email from readers (yes, all three of them!) asking where the follow-up to The Literary Six is. Good question. The answer: in my head, scribbled on pages of the writing notebook I carry everywhere, in a pseudo-outline on my laptop. Basically, everywhere but where it should be - on paper and in a publisher’s hands.

Truth is, I love writing and love writing all over the place. At the end of the day - after I’m done with blogs and message boards and my online magazine and non-fiction articles and short stories – I find that I’ve written tons, but none of it amounts to anything resembling progress on the next novel. I’m a runaway writer…a roving scribe…a loose literary cannon.

So how do you curb the muses? Focus literary ambitions? Discipline a meandering pen?

Shit, if I knew the answer to that, you’d be reading the new book right now.

And so I ask myself if all this extracurricular, non-novel writing actually amounts to anything. I surprised myself with the answer.

Yes, it does.

Since Lit6, I’ve tried my hand at short fiction. Truth be told, while I like reading short stories, it’s never been a format with which I’m comfortable writing. I’ve sent a few pieces out in the last year or so and gotten some valuable feedback from editors like Mort Castle and Nick Mamatas. In fact, this foray into short fiction hasn’t been at all a waste of time; one more substantial piece that clocked in around 7,500 words actually served as the inspiration for a new, post-new novel idea.

My non-fiction writing remains my most commercially-viable literary talent at present, with my gig as contributing editor at Autograph Magazine and contributions to several forthcoming non-fiction collections including Diva Complex (from University of Wisconsin Press) and The Ultimate Guide to Slasher Films (from Hadesgate/GoreZone). I’ll post more details about the latter two titles once the TOC’s are made available. My non-fiction work also afforded me entry into the Horror Writers Association (the genre’s national professional writers association) and quickly morphed into a gig as the org’s acting Secretary until at least the fall.

Likewise, the entrepreneurial aspects of my personality have been tapped with the creation of the virtual Dark Scribe Magazine and my corresponding publishing company Dark Scribe Press. And while it remains to be seen how well my business plan for DSP will fare – the company’s first print publication, an anthology of queer horror tales called Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, is in the production stage – DSM has done quite well with over 3,000 unique visitors per month stopping by to check out the myriad interviews, reviews, and other features we’ve got up there. As much as I like being part of the genre, I also enjoy actively supporting it. My Dark Scribe undertakings have afforded me the perfect outlet.

And my blog? Well, aside from the occasional pressure it gives me to come up with something wildly clever or insightful, it too has served a valid purpose. As literary repository for those stray hairs of interest not covered in my formal writing endeavors, Slasher Speak affords a home to my slasher film fixation, my Jamie Lee Curtis obsession, life and literary chronicles, and other related and non-related miscellany.

Even message boards – irksome and tiresome as they sometimes are – have been the catalysts for expression, fresh perspectives, and new friends and acquaintances.

Now there are at least a dozen career writers who would flay me alive for what they’d deem lost writing time - rightly pointing out that had I devoted as much time, effort, and words to the new novel, there would indeed be a new novel. No arguments from me.

But you know what? I’ve been alternately blessed and cursed with a day job – through which I ascended the tried-and-true career ladder – that affords me the opportunity to make writing something I call my career-by-evolution. No carefully plotted trajectories, no stepping stones, no formal learning curves. Just lots of experiential learning and following the passion. My healthcare career followed a carefully orchestrated series of logical and methodical steps to get me from Point A to Point B. What started out as a desire to be of service to others quickly became more about attaining the position and status and finances to allow that altruistic desire. In the process, the reality set in that simply desiring to help others doesn’t mean that others will be helped, and the realities of government and policy and over-regulation stymied any creativity I brought to the table. At the end of the day, I was faced with the reality of a well-paying job through which I could affect minor change at best within an over-complicated system that cared more about dollars and sense and less about the dignity of people. The acceptance was painful, but it gave me a valuable perspective though which I now view my writing.

So writing is – and will remain - a passion for me without the constraints and pressures of having to achieve a certain degree of success by a certain time. I’ve made a conscious decision to focus less on the career aspect – plotting, planning, strategizing. I aim for nothing but to become a better writer; to learn, to grow, to experience.

To evolve.

I want to write what I want when the muses strike me and not be shackled to minimum daily word counts or constrained to one format or genre. True art…true craft…deserves the benefit of evolution – not some cookie-cutter blueprint from a book on writing. For me, it’s more about listening and absorbing advice from writers whose work I admire – and not necessarily subscribing to a “how to” laundry list from someone who’s sold a certain number of copies. At the end of the day, I’d rather have written one really great book - the product of passion - in three years and still have to rely on my day job to pay the mortgage than to have the luxury of writing full-time and putting out four mediocre books - the product of deadlines - in a single year that pay the bills. To me, that’s the ultimate selling out. Greatness will be long-remembered; mediocrity will be soon forgotten.

Would I like a career (as in something that financially sustains me) as a professional writer? Absolutely. But only on my own terms and not if I have to sacrifice the passion, the enjoyment, the freedom, and (in many cases) the quality for that career. I did that once with something I was passionate about and it became a daily grind – a “must do” in order to pay the bills and sustain a lifestyle. I am not making the same mistake again.

My writing deserves more than that.

So, for now, I’m content with my myriad distractions and the wonderful writing destinations they take me. Distractions keep me fresh…alert…open. Blog today, four pages on the new novel tomorrow…or a short story revision…or an essay on slasher films…or a book review for an online magazine. All worthy distractions within the limitless boundaries of my evolving craft.

Take your own muses off their leashes and let them run wild. The results just may surprise you.

1 comment:

Chad Helder said...

Thanks for this entry, Vince. I have encountered a lot of the same feelings recently. I'm also an Aries, and I have been spending a lot of time lately (too much time) self-evaluating my writing career and direction. It must be something in the stars!