Some thoughts on Writing

There are three parts of being a Writer. You want to be a Writer, with a capital W, in any genre, in any medium, you need to take on three different jobs. Really, this is true of any Creative Professional, but I think of myself as a writer, so that’s the terminology I’m sticking with. Three jobs.

(This is reductive. I know it’s reductive, but bear with me, I’m reductive sometimes. Reductive can be cool.)

First, you have to be the writer. This is the obvious one, and it’s the easy one too; I’m not saying that writing isn’t ever difficult, but even when it’s hard, it’s easy. You know what you’re doing… you’re taking images in your head and turning them into words and putting those words on a page. You might be the most writerly-blocked person on the planet, you might be devoid of ideas and unable to find the words and your hands have been eaten by bears, but you still know what you need to do… you need to put words on paper. Easy. Easy like lifting an engine block. Easy as being in love.

Of course, lots of folks never quite make it there. They don’t write… or they make plans to write, they brainstorm, they jot down notes, but they don’t quite get to that basic output of words which is essential to the process, because that’s always a project for another day. I know that feeling, and that “jam tomorrow” temptation, because as easy as writing might be, I’ve always found “settling down to write” to be a fucking onerous step in the process. But it must be done: if you’re a Writer, you write… it’s practically a tautology.

Secondly, you have to be an editor. Even if you have an editor, you have to be an editor. Now maybe this comes easy, you lucky bastard. And maybe it’s incredibly difficult, which is more likely. Or maybe, most likely and most sadly, you feel like it comes easily to you, but it, ah, doesn’t. This is rough… you have words on the page and you have to destroy them, mangle them, burn them and roast them and punch them out to make them BETTER. Hell, sometimes you have to maim and kill your words–your beautiful words that you worked so hard to create!–in order to make the product borderline readable. Now maybe you have access to a professional editor… I’ll make her an Editor with a capital E. That’s great. She can make a good story great, she has a suite of skills you cannot touch and she will damn well be your best friend but you know what? You still have to be an editor, because if you send her something you wrote but didn’t spend time punching into shape, she will either laugh in your face or quietly stop returning your calls.

Not only is editing hard, lots of folks don’t even realize they need to do it. More information about people who write but don’t edit may be found on the Internet. Not just incomprehensible forum posts, rambling and pointless blogs, and fifty percent of Twitter, but stories by actual people who actually consider themselves writers. Fanfiction, for instance, has an unfair but not unearned reputation for being terrible for precisely this reason; folk make words like they make water, but rather than spending some time crafting the mess and skimming the dross and double-checking that it makes sense, they hit spell-check (or… or don’t, in some cases) and send it on its way, into a world which does not appreciate what they’ve done. If you’re a Writer, you edit.

Finally, you have to be a publisher, and oh my goodness is this ever difficult for me. And plenty others, I suppose. Now here’s the rub: it’s technically optional. You might be fine languishing in obscurity until your works are discovered after your death. You might just be gorramn lucky and be Discovered like a Hollywood starlet and need never write again after your first big sale. Good for you in any of these cases, but for the rest of us, 99% of those who would deem themselves Writer, you have to be a publisher as well. You need to track down anthologies, you need to sell what you’ve written, you need to promote your name. You need to grab recognition and hold on to it. You need to force people to read what you’ve written, and force them to pay money for what you’ve written. You need to sell yourself.

This job is terrible. I suck at this job, and I don’t do it a lot. I’m trying to do it more. Not in the pursuit of Fame and Fortune but in the pursuit of recognition and a comfortable living, because I want to write. And note the capitals… I don’t want to Write, I don’t want to do the job which encompasses writing, editing, and publishing, I just want to write. But I’d also like to, you know, live off of that task, so I’m going to have to Write. I don’t mind editing, though it’s not my skill of choice, but I do so hate publishing. I hate making cover letters and sending off stories and tracking where they are and how long they’ve been out and if I can send them somewhere else. I hate being rejected.

Lots of people who would otherwise be Writers are with me. Some of them are dear friends. It’s terrible, because the need to be a publisher is a cloud ever-overhead, and it makes the other tasks difficult. I have to approach writing though a lens of monetizing and salability. I’ll start a project and dismiss it as too hard to sell. Or I’ll make something to show the world and choke when it comes to advertising it, even to those I know, because I fear selling myself, and I’m loathe to feel rejection or (worse, even) ambivalence. And I can’t say for the professional Writers out there, but I suspect, on the whole, that even those with agents and publicists and personal assistants of all stripes, those who put aside many of the duties of a publisher, still have to deal with this. Because, after all, they must still take that step of finishing a work and saying to themselves “Ah, this… this is good enough that I wish to show it to someone else.” And that’s a scary-ass step, and that’s part of being a publisher: declaring something good and worthy. Writers have to publish.

Sometimes I wish I could get away with just writing though.

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