This will be an introspective one. Also a bit of a strange one, for me. For well over a decade, I’ve been writing stuff like this in a journal, hidden away somewhere on my PC, though always to some imaginary audience. Now, having my own site, I’ll write it to an audience that’s only mostly imaginary.
Why the change? Well, why not? This one in particular isn’t going to be as edgy as my ruminations sometimes get. Might as well share it with the poor souls who stumble upon this site one way or another.
Anyway, enough rambling, let’s get to the meat of this thing. See, at this moment I’m kind of confused what I really hope to reach as a writer. It can’t be fame, surely, because then I’d have put a lot more work into marketing. I might even have attempted to query a traditional publisher.
I chose not to do that, however. I also decided to forgo any professional editing, or having my cover designed by a professional. According to several people online (who, without jokes, probably do know more about this sort of thing than I do), this is a good way to sabotage my own odds for success, and a part of me is beginning to think that that’s exactly what I’m doing.
But why? Why would I work so hard on writing a book, the first of at least three, and hopefully far more down the line, only to then let it languish in obscurity, hindered by my refusal to get other people involved in the process if I could avoid it? And why is that, when faced with ‘writing tips’, all I feel is frustration and annoyance? Am I afraid to be judged? And if so, whose judgement do I fear?
In general, I don’t really care all that much about what other people think. I’m in my thirties, watch My Little Pony, openly wear shirts of the franchise, and post fanfiction of it online. I’m really not embarrassed about the things I like.
What, then, is the reason for my fear and revulsion when I see tips on how to write a story, how to get that story published, and how to make it successful?
Perhaps it’s because my writing is incredibly personal to me. It’s one of the only things, if not the only thing, that has ever been truly mine. Suggesting that I’m doing it wrong feels like an attack on me as a person, even though it isn’t meant that way. So even though these tips and tricks describe only one possible way to success, it feels like in doing so they are invalidating me, and with me my way of doing things.
I can’t really say they’re wrong, either. I know that a lot of the things I do make very little sense, logically. I know that to be successful, you need to make sacrifices, many of which I am entirely unwilling to make.
But a part of the fear also comes from my idea that I perceive the world fundamentally different from everyone else. I don’t mean that I necessarily have wildly differing opinions on things compared to others, but rather that I arrive at those opinions in a way that is contrary to how many others see it.
For example, the cover art for my book. It was made by me, in paint.net, in the span of maybe three hours tops. I have no graphical background. I can’t draw at all, and have no experience with software like this other than a rough cover image for a My Little Pony story.
Still, I had an idea, and I found some tutorials that helped me realize that idea. I, personally, love the way it came out. Everything about it. However, a professional designer could (and has) pointed out a number of flaws I never really gave much thought to. I’ll take all of that feedback on board for a future project, but for this book, and the two others that will come out in this series, I probably won’t. Why? Because I personally have never rejected a book on its cover.
Fantasy books usually don’t have great covers, anyway. A sword in the ground with a dingy castle in the background. I’m probably describing upwards of a dozen book covers here, all made by professional artists. An artist’s impression of a scene that may or may not actually be in the book, stylized in such a way that it’s just on the wrong side of fugly.
Cover art, then, clearly doesn’t need to be great. It can help, sure. I mean, I love the ‘adult’ Deathly Hallows cover, with Slytherin’s locket on it. I love the Lord of the Rings cover where Frodo and Sam are at the Black Gate, with Gollum peering over the edge at the Haradrim arriving below. Those covers really draw me in. But the thing is, to me, my cover does that too.
And yet, I can see the undeniable truth in someone saying that it clearly looks like an amateur made it. I can understand someone seeing that cover and thinking, “I’ll pass.”
But I wouldn’t, and because I wouldn’t, I went with it. I already mentioned that the kerning of the paperback is pretty bad. I noticed it, but it doesn’t bother me, so I didn’t bother to fix it, although I might for the next book in the series.
It’s details which I notice, but don’t care about. The details I care about are in the story, in the choice of words, in the way I ended up structuring the plot and character moments. They’re not in if the cover font is logical or inviting, or if the logo is perfectly round, or if the cover text is properly aligned, or if the kerning is ideal.
I ran into that very same issue in my regular job as a programmer too. I can’t do clean code very well, because all the details of ‘is this ideally efficient and clean’ simply don’t matter to me. Does it work? Then it’s good enough, really. I want to move on to the next thing, to see that working as well. I don’t care if I still understand my intentions a year later, despite having shot myself in the foot with that several times over the course of my career as a programmer.
I can learn from my mistakes, but if I don’t see the need to even after being confronted with the consequences…well, what can you do?
In my case, I ended up shifting functions into partially being a developer, and partially being a devops and odd jobs guy. I love the odd jobs, most of the time, because they consist of making something work somehow. Of course, I want to do those things right, but my inattentiveness isn’t as noticeably problematic here because the solutions are often oneshot and highly specific anyway.
That is what I mean by ‘a fundamentally different look on things’. I want things to be done properly as well, but my definition of that is clearly different.
And, to bring this whole story back to the topic of writing, what I see when I read writing or publishing tips reminds me too much of some kind of code review. Judgement is being passed on something I did, and I’m found lacking by some authority or other, an authority which I don’t recognize, but which has shown itself, through its own success, to be correct. I hate it.
And by extension, I find myself begrudging the success of others from similar origins. But they made the sacrifices that had to be made. They opened Youtube channels, started podcasts, have Twitters and Instagrams. I don’t have or want any of those things.
Then what right do I have to be as salty as I am? And, again, who is judging me? These tips and tricks are not condemning me. They merely say, “This is something you can do.” Okay, most say stuff like ‘should’ and ‘must’, but honestly, I don’t think anyone but the most narcissistic author of a writer’s handbook would be dense enough to think that their way is the only way.
No, the only judge of my approach is me, and I evidently deem myself to be in the wrong on some level. Now, being hard on myself is nothing new. I’ve struggled with being positive about myself and things I do for years. Lately, I’ve been getting pretty good at it (as this very statement obligingly proves), but in this I haven’t been able to face the music yet.
What part of my own approach truly dissatisfies me, and what part is my imaginary admonition from other people? I’m getting better at drawing that line in general life, but here, it still eludes me.
As I sit here, essentially thinking aloud by typing, I still can’t really find an answer to this question. See, I don’t think I’m really doing anything wrong. I think that my approach can work, provided I come up with a way to bring the book to many people’s attention without breaking my self-imposed rules, even without professional editing or cover art.
Maybe it’s just hubris, but I truly do believe that my writing is good enough to carry the book by itself. (Wouldn’t it be damn ironic if this blog becomes more popular than my books?) And yet, I scowl at the works of many other authors, for no reason other than that they’re more popular than me.
What does it matter, in the end? There are better fencers than me, and that doesn’t bother me, so why should this? What do I really want to achieve with my writing?
I’ve reached the milestone of publishing a book. It’s in print, on my mantelpiece, and I grin like an idiot every time I see it. Sometimes I pick it up, leaf through the pages, read a couple of paragraphs, then nod in appreciation and put it back. Some of my friends and family have actually bought the thing, including some people who have been reading the story chapter by chapter, as I was writing it. I’d like to think they did that at least partially because they enjoy the book.
What’s left for me to achieve, after that? Fame really doesn’t matter. My fanfics aren’t all that popular either, but I keep writing and posting them. If only a single person out there likes it, it’s a success.
What do I want? What do I really want? In my heart, I think I know the answer. I want recognition, but given in a way that feels genuine to me. If I can follow my foolish course and still have people say, “You’re a pretty good writer,” well, at that point I would feel like have truly succeeded. It would be vindication, vindication that would, to me, extend to me as a person.
If you’ve ever seen A Place Further Than the Universe (and if you haven’t, go watch it), that would be the moment where they reach Antarctica after the doom predictions of everyone else and struggling through a lack of funds, where the entire expedition just shouts out, “In your face!” to everyone who ever doubted them. It’s just one of many, many relatable things in that show. But for me, my goal is so nebulous, and yet so specific, that I have no real plan to reach it.
And this jealousy, this envy, rather, of other people who followed other paths…it has to stop. It’s keeping me away from books and fanfics I would probably enjoy. I’m grilling myself over not meeting standards, but at the same time I don’t want to meet those standards, nor have to.
This duality is one I’ll continue to struggle with for some time, I think. I don’t have an easy resolution. I can’t simply let it go, at least not yet.
The weight of my pride, do I really need it? It weighs heavily on me now, because that’s really all it is. Pride in my abilities, pride in abilities that I feel aren’t recognized in the way I want them to be, that can’t be recognized in the way I want them to be. Regardless of my true level of skill, my approach isn’t doing me any favors. Genius or total hack, as it stands now the end result will be much the same.
Well, I don’t think I’m going to get any further tonight. Typing this out like this helps. If anyone reads this and manages to get to here…I’m impressed. This will be the sort of thing I’ll post on here, most likely. I’ll at least try to keep it on the topic of writing, but I can already tell that I’ll go on massive tangents. I’ll at least try to figure out the category system WordPress has…at some point.
For now, good night, or morning, or day, or whatever else it might be when you read this. I’m going to do the one lost person who read through all of this a favor by chopping this wall of text up into paragraphs. See you!