Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Writer in a Holding Pattern

Recently I hit a milestone in the writing career, then proceeded to stomp on it and throw it out with yesterday's garbage.  The resulting introspection has left me spinning a bit, a little up in the air, hence the blog's title: in a holding pattern of sorts.

So, the milestone: several weeks ago I received a few solicitations for upcoming anthologies.  My instant reaction was: "YESS! People coming to me, finally, instead of me begging at hopelessly locked doors."  I did receive a solicitation this summer, and that story is in its final proofing stages (more on that in a bit), but these were multiple submissions, and I thought I'd finally snap the short fiction drought that's seen only one piece of short fiction published over the past year, dreaming of lining up work for the next few months.  Work, which - if I didn't screw it up - I'd get paid for.  Not millions, mind you, but at this point: a sale is a sale.

Anyway, I like and respect both editors immensely, and because if there's one thing I do pride myself on it's my punctuality and work ethic, I went right to work on the first story due.  After several days of tinkering, however, I realized a sobering truth.

I didn't want to write that story.  At all.  It was a subject matter I'd never written in,  hadn't read much in and don't even really like, so I guess I'd thought it'd be a challenge, something to stretch my range.

Turned out to be too much of a challenge.  I could work up ZERO interest in the story.  I immediately emailed the editor to let them know I'd blown it so they could replace me, and moved on to the next story.  Figured that one would work out better.  I had several parts of unfinished stories I'd planned on cannibalizing, thought for sure I'd nail that one, instead.

And again, after several days: nothing.  Nada.  Just had no enthusiasm for the story, at all.   The kicker was when I started thinking of another anthology I wanted to submit to, (not solicited), and in planning the story, I almost came to tears.  Seriously.  The story dealt with such emotional subject matter, just thinking of it saddened me.

I realized a harsh truth: I'm not gonna be a writer who will churn out hundreds of short stories and will someday publish a limited edition collection through Cemetery Dance.  I'll never be known for my short stories.  And then I spent the day, (ironically enough, reading some back issues of Cemetery Dance), wondering where the desire to write short stories had come from in the first place.

And then I realized another harsh truth: I'd basically fallen in love with an image.  An ideal.  That awesome, thrilling short story writer who has everyone on the edge of their seat, waiting for their next story.  That's who I'd wanted to be.  And...not because I'm in love with writing short stories.  And not because - as much as I like them - I'm in love with reading short stories.

But because of the image.  And luck.  I'd gotten lucky, sold a few shorts (laughable, as they were over 6,000 words each) and thought: "Hey! What a way to make a quick buck!  Pretty soon, I'll have a collection of my own, and I'll publish it, get reviews, I'm so prolific that...."

WA-BAM!

That's the sound of me hitting the hard wall of Truth.    Why would I MAKE myself write all these short stories and try for all these anthologies when I'm not DRIVEN to?  I should only write what I'm DRIVEN to write.

Example: the story I'm finishing up that was solicited this past summer deals with the most difficult truths about myself - as an American - that I've ever had to face.  It makes some pretty serious - and hopefully not inflammatory - comments on Americans and the state of America post 9-11, and how we view those who are of a different faith and culture than we are.  And I was able to draw from my own experiences.   Once that story took root in my head, I was DRIVEN to finish it.

Another example:  this summer I received a sorta solicitation (hasn't really materialized fully, yet) around the subject of "tattoos".  My mind did an immediate flip to: tattoos - words/symbols have power - Lovecraftian symbols - a redneck that's addicted to getting tatoos and gets one mother of a tattoo at a weird tattoo stand at the local annual carnival...and I was hooked.  Instantly, the first line came to me: Bobby Lee loved to get inked.  More than anythin' in the whole damn world.  Haven't heard back on that yet, but rest assured, Bobby Lee awaits his terrible fate, in my head.  I'm driven to write that one, baby.

Final example: There's an anthology due this summer that I want to write a story for.  As mentioned above, while kicking around the story, I felt tears come to my eyes.  I'm not only driven to write this story...I HAVE too.

I can now say that officially, the dream of making a living on writing fiction alone is gone.  I'd have to be able write novels, novellas, short stories (of any paying kind) - and not only that, write them well, regardless of whether I wanted to or not.  I take no pride in this realization.  I honestly wish I could make myself write that way.   Would beat a day job.


I know it, now.  And I'm okay with it.  I'll be lucky if I write 30 short stories in my career.   Unbelievably lucky if I get any money or acclaim for them.

But at least they will have been stories I WAS DRIVEN TO WRITE.