After an absence of “quite a while”, I’ve twice in recent weeks been put on the spot of explaining my relationship with my writing to curious strangers.
How long have I been writing? What do I write? Have I been published? Is it a living? Why do I do it? (Since always. Stuff. Quite a bit actually. Hell no. Um, because?)
I’m not particularly good in these moments, not great at coming up with zinging sound-byte responses that sound positive without coming across as self-defensive or desperate or over-compensating. It’s like how, sometimes my partner will ask me a profound question I can barely articulate an answer for and then protest “You’re a wordsmith! You should be able to give a better answer than that!” – right, so let me go away on my own somewhere with paper and pen and time to ponder my answer and I’ll write you something better than what my brain/mouth just gobbed out on the spur of the moment, okay?
My list of publications, btw, runs to three pages if I let it. In order to keep my writing CV to the recommended two pages, I have to put the whole thing in very tiny font and every now and then delete less impressive listings in order to fit in “better” achievements.
No, I haven’t done anything anyone’s ever bloody heard of.
Books containing my stories have been for sale in huge chain bookstores. I’ve been invited to interview some relatively big names. I was published more than once in a national mainstream magazine. Three years of reviewing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival have got me into a lot of shows. My words have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria.
I’ve been getting published since 1987. Total monetary earnings from my writing over that time – probably about $1,600.
I had a contact -an extremely good contact- at a very major, international publishing house. This contact expressly contacted me for a novel treatment, stating they very much wanted to work with me. I demurred and instead presented them with a friend, a fellow writer, who of course was then published by them.
Why? Why did I do that? Some classic case of self-sabotaging, most likely. Also, I really liked that writer friend and really wanted them to succeed. But fucking HELL do I regret not being more mercenary at that time. I’ve never had an opportunity even approaching that level of goodness since and, the more time passes, the older I get, the more I fear I’m never going to get another opportunity like that ever again.
I had my chance -probably my one chance- and I blew it. I gave it the fuck away. I want to go back in time and seriously slap some sense into my younger self.
For most of the past decade now, beyond my work on the Comedy Festival, I’ve barely even made any effort toward publication. In my manic phases, I want TO WRITE AND PUBLISH EVERYTHING. In my depressive phases, I wallow in ALL THE UNACHIEVING-SELF PITY.
Setting aside striving for “legitimate” publication, I fell into the rabbit-hole of fanfic instead. Brilliant stuff happened there. I made friends through my writing for the first time ever. I got fans! I inadvertently wrote a “classic” of one particular sub-genre. People bought tshirts with words I’d written splashed across them. My prose improved beyond anything any writing course I’d ever paid for had given me.
And where does this all leave me now?
Self-discipline is a serious issue. I pride myself on the fact I’ve never missed a deadline required of me. But try to set myself a Date To Get Shit Done By and I fall into a slacker trough deeper than my own self loathing.
I WANT to achieve what I KNOW I can. But somehow I just can’t make myself do it. The stuff is all right here in my brain – I see it all acted out upon my frontal lobe. It’s the making myself sit the fuck down and write it the fuck out that I’m just not disciplining myself to do.
When I wrote that fanfic sub-genre “classic” mentioned above, I pumped out the prose on a regular basis, being as good as I could be on-the-fly, getting it done, knowing the fans were waiting for the next instalment, and finding I was actually proud (even, occasionally, actually impressed) by the quality of the work I managed to pump out. My darling brother, Alan, died unexpectedly early on in that writing frenzy. My cat, Vlad, died in my arms one afternoon around the middle of the frenzy. Was grief part of the propulsion? Would that mean Fear Of Impending Doom was the driving force?
I certainly wouldn’t welcome that fear back, even if it did mean a return to that drive.
I’m… maybe at a crossroads with all this. Not looking to make a deal. I still want this shit, but I’m not gonna sell my soul for it. I guess, if nothing else, that’s what that giving away of probably my greatest opportunity really illustrated. I’m not a mercenary.
I’m a writer.