Yes, I’ve something to tell you. So, so many things that I wish others–yes, those blasted writers–would have told me. But we writers are a selfish breed of bastards and we always think that we’re better than the next so we don’t want to seek advice; or we think we’ve made it as an accomplished writer and don’t want to share the knowledge.
I gave up on the idea of writing the best American novel because I’m not even sure what is considered “the best” any more. And, by whose standards is it the best? A few under-paid editors from a major publishing house in NYC with most of its authors from NYC? That’s not good enough for me.
Anyone can write, sure. But not every writer is a writer. A writer must be willing to learn. A writer must know what inspires. A writer must read. A writer must show no inhibitions. A writer must be willing to write with purpose. Yes! A purpose! I ask myself every day what is my purpose as a writer. And, every so often my purpose changes. But what remains the same is that I know I was born with a need to write. A need that is sometimes balanced (or off-balanced) by desire.
We must adapt. I’m blessed to have lived through the printed-age and the digital-age of publishing. Many writers haven’t been able to survive both worlds. My point in mentioning this is that we need to take advantage of all forms of publishing as we can. For many years now, if a writer doesn’t have an online presence there probably won’t be any support for any printed materials. We must adapt to technology and the world around us.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I schmoozed my way into every single major book party in NYC. What a dream that was, and it happened so many years ago with nothing successful coming from it due to my then, shyness, that we might as well label it a dream. But I was hanging out with almost every A-List author and celebrity at these release parties and even offered a few low-paying personal assistant jobs with many of them. Schmoozing works. And you have to be willing to take a risk no matter where you are–there is always a local writer within 30 minutes drive from you. Find them. Schmooze. And make your own opportunities.
There will be people out there, other writers, who may be better than you. And, that’s okay. This isn’t a race or a competition of sorts. It’s simply writing. What is important is staying true to your art, your craft, and making sure your voice is unique as you write with purpose. Times have changed–writing has gone back to its roots. Much of the good writing is underground, buried, and waiting to be found, similar to the Harlem Renaissance. Most of these authors were (as we say today) nobodies during this influx of creativity. It took later in their career, or even death to be recognized for such talents. Their writings for the most part were printed in underground, indie journals and newspapers.
And the same goes for today. You will not find much of the great works published by major book publishers because they only publish current trends they feel will sell. Not works that will stand the test of time. Simply because something is published traditionally and makes great money, doesn’t mean it’s well written or written with purpose for today or tomorrow.
Wait. Be patient. Your writing, if truly good and groundbreaking, takes time to be found. If you are writing creatively for the sake of making money you are probably doing it for the wrong reason. Writers write to sooth the beasts within; to tame inner demons; to exorcise their souls–and to share all of this with a purpose. That purpose is your secret. No one needs to know your purpose, except you. Know it, write your purpose on the first page of your journal. Yes! Write it, by hand–it becomes real.
Use your inner beasts to create characters–it’s cathartic. But heaven forbid you write another blasted story in first-person narrative–it shows you’re green. You don’t need to tell your readers everything about your characters, just as long as you know–that’s the important thing. Just like our characters we create, we too, are not perfect. And that’s okay. Flaws make us human. The key is understanding our limitations and our human flaws.
As a writer we must keep up with the current trends and daily news. We may not be interested in it, but it’s good to understand what’s going on so we can be conversant with others about these topics. Our characters need this knowledge more than we do to make them live and have a real personality.
Find another writer you are passionate about. Not just the writer and the subject matter–that’s easy. But find a writer who writes in a style in which you can get lost. Someone you can fall in love with. There was something beautiful about the Bible’s Revelation that lured me in–and oddly by 8th grade I had most of the passages memorized; Something unspoken and intimate between me and Sylvia Plath; Something conservative about Shakespeare I appreciated; Something twisted and honest about Poe. The lists of authors who have inspired me could continue for days. And, with each author, I learned something different that helped a small aspect of my writing. I still read them all today when I need to hone my skills. We tend to pigeon-hole ourselves as writers when we read. We must get over that obstacle and take something from everything and everyone outside of genre.
The most important thing I need to tell you is that you must not give up. If you feel your writing is special, hold it close to your heart and as a badge of honor. Stand up for your writing, your methods and subject matter. Many people will not understand why you write the things you write and that’s okay. And, what you may write will not always be in accordance to what you would normally say or what is deemed socially acceptable. As a writer, the reasons may not be given to us or may be hard to articulate. And, that’s okay.
Finally, I’d like to tell you to keep writing whether anything major comes from it or not. Too often we forget our purpose, our skills, and let our 9-5 jobs or families push us away from that hidden gift we were given. We make time for the things we want to make time for–keep writing.