I keep getting super-wordy in places I’m only supposed to by succinct. For example, I just wrote the following on a Facebook status update, stopping myself as I began to write more:
90 minutes ago I came in here with the intention of recording a chapter or two of the new audiobook, but instead I spent all that time making ever more adjustments to my setup, trying to get the sound to sound “better” … and now I’m back to the point where I can’t hear a difference between one file and another (even though I know my mixer’s settings are all quite different). I give up (again) for now, but next time, I’m just going to record the next chapter with the settings I’m leaving it on now, rather than trying to be sure everything is “right” before starting.
I don’t think I actually like the nuts and bolts of recording the audiobook, and only the most perfectionist part of me gets anything out of editing it. What I like most is having created the audiobook, and next-most having had control over the performance/reading, followed closely by having other people enjoy listening to it. Actually *doing* the reading is tedious, second only in the process to editing it, and by the time I’m through with the audiobook I generally loathe the whole thing, if only for the massive repetition. I wouldn’t want to put out a book without both the text and the audio versions, but I don’t think I’ll ever think of myself as a “podcaster”—my only interest in podcasting is as a medium to disseminate my audiobooks.
What I was going to continue from there was: I suppose it’s similar to writing, in many ways. There are large parts of the process, even some of the actual writing, of which I am not fond.
Certainly 99% or more of the business side of writing and publishing my own work is not enjoyed; not intrinsically. While I appreciate having had the authority over every aspect of publishing a book, from conception through marketing, actually making those decisions is not really something I think I would do for someone else, or for some corporation; I wouldn’t want a job running a major publishing company, or a job as an editor (at any level) of someone else’s publishing company. What I like about it (and why I’m accepting submissions, both for complete books and now for short works for a periodical anthology) is being able to publish the things I want in the way I want on the schedule I want, without having to answer to someone (or something) else (see also: “the market”). What I don’t particularly enjoy about it is actually doing it. (What I dislike about it is having to try to make money doing it.)
As I’ve posted about before, thinking about and researching the “right” ways to write are … agonizing. Terrible. Reading writing advice, especially when it is couched as “rules”, can devastate me. Trying to outline according to someone else’s idea of “what works”, and trying to write according to the accepted formulae of popular fiction, has been literally painful.
Getting the initial ideas for stories, watching them coalesce inside my mind and/or on the page, is amazing. I don’t know whether I’ll ever get tired of getting new ideas. I have significantly more ideas than I have time/energy/motivation to implement them; I have little books filled with hand-written notes about all these beautiful little ideas I get for new stories to tell. Flashes of inspiration rock. Sometimes they’re sufficient to just start working on the story, which is great, and other times I need to research.
Depending on what I’m researching, research can become a painful cycle where the more I learn the more I realize I need to learn and the further away or more impossible the actual beginning of writing the book seems to become. If what I want to do is write a story, but what I think I need to do is ever-more research, it feels as though I were a terrible procrastinator, doing something unpleasant to put off something pleasant. Or with the sort of mainstream/genre research I did from 2009-2012, it can just mean month after month (after month) of reading books I don’t enjoy (or dislike, or loathe, or even hate), day in and day out, trying to steep myself in what “the market” and/or the critics declared successful, committing suicide by popular fiction.
Writing, itself, is frequently … well, awesome. Amazing. A real high. An adventure. A joy. If getting the ideas for stories is amazing, actually putting them on the page is doubly so.
Not always. Not by any means always. But mostly for normal sorts of reasons: Sometimes when I want to write I don’t have time (or space), and that can be frustrating. Sometimes when I set aside specific time (and especially frustrating when I’ve travelled to a specific place) to write I have trouble actually writing; I lose focus, or I get stuck because I haven’t sufficiently researched or planned first (or I’ve planned too much and can’t get myself to come up with any flesh for the too-detailed skeleton I’ve built), or I get sleepy at an inopportune time… Sometimes my stories self-destruct, or the characters fight against my plans for them at every turn. Sometimes getting the words out feels like pulling teeth. I think the worst is when I realize that I’m writing a story I don’t want to be writing. Like noticing halfway through Virtual Danger that it was part of a multi-year project to try to re-write Dragons’ Truth, but that I didn’t want to re-write Dragons’ Truth, really, or to write a mainstream/popular YA Adventure book at all, and that the whole thing had been part of a massive waste of time—and then there’s the idea that the only way to redeem some of that time from being a total waste is to actually finish at least the half-written book, which makes it awful to be writing the book and awful to not be writing it, too.
Most of what seems to make writing feel terrible is outside pressure. Other people’s deadlines. Other people’s “rules” and formulae for what to write and how to write it. Other people’s expectations for stories, characters, tone, content, et cetera. Most of what seems to make writing feel amazing is when there’s no meaningful outside pressure, just a story within me telling me it needs to be told, and the opportunity and ability to tell that story the best I can. I particularly enjoy being surprised by watching a story unfold beneath my fingertips, so even having much of an outline can feel like too much outside pressure.
Then there’s editing. Here’s what I like about editing: Reading my stories, and enjoying them. Here’s the biggest things I dislike about editing: Not being perfect; catching mistakes after I’d already thought I’d caught them all, especially after several passes and/or the book being in print. Except for that first pass at reading it after some time away, where reading the book itself is a joy, editing is really just drudge work, and I’m apathetic about it. I don’t mind it, though I wish I could be better at it. Mostly it’s time consuming. I like the result (a cleaner, if not perfect, story), but the work does little/nothing for me.
I like making decisions about the interior design of the book, but am not thrilled by actually implementing them. I don’t like making decisions about the cover image on a book (mostly because I hate Marketing and trying to think like someone in Marketing; when I just design a cover I like & think represents the book without worrying about what other books look like, that part is fine) but I do generally enjoy actually creating the artwork and doing the layout of a cover. There is nothing I enjoy about writing marketing copy, book descriptions, or any of what it takes to get a book reviewed (whether that means “read at all by Beta Readers” or actually “reviewed by book reviewers”). It’s easier than it once was, but the hoop-jumping required to sell/list my book through all the various eBook, audiobook, and paper-book outlets is frustrating and/or boring bureaucratic nonsense. I like having my books read by other people; I like that part a lot.
And there’s 1.4k words telling you what I’ve known most of my life: If I were going to be an author, I should be the mythical sort of author who only writes. The sort who writes their stories down, sends them off to a publisher who handles the rest, and gets paid for it—then begins writing the next story. Most of the rest of this business is, at the least, mind-numbingly dull and unfortunately-often proves to be awful, horrible, painful, and suicide-attempt-inducing.
Unfortunately, there’s another important aspect on the road to reaching that mythical point of becoming an author who is able simply to author books, and it is something I have even more trouble with than any of the things I do as a small press publisher: Submitting my work. Querying agents, submitting short fiction to anyplace that’ll take submissions, writing articles for magazines, sending off manuscripts to be lost in slush piles. Being judged. Being rejected. Worse than a one-star review (most traditionally-published books get their share of one-star reviews) is being rejected by publishers (almost no traditionally-published books were wholly rejected by publishers). Worse than being rejected by publishers is waiting. Waiting to hear back from agents. Waiting for agents to hear back from publishers. Waiting to hear back from publishers, magazines, anthologies, and journals. Weeks, months, years. Even with acceptance and a publishing contract, waiting months or years before the book (finished, edited, nearly publishable before you ever submitted it, or it wouldn’t have survived the submissions process) hits store shelves. Waiting half a year or more to see whether the book did well enough to actually earn any royalties; to learn whether you’ll ever be able to get a book published under your real name again, since one bad book on your name kills your chances in the submissions process in the future.
I’m well aware I’m not writing stories like anything else out there. I’m not writing anything even close to popular, commercial fiction—not even when I spend years of my life, killing myself, trying to. Plus there’s the low self-esteem. The fear of rejection. The paranoia that “I’m not good enough.” The idea that the work isn’t good enough.
I’ve never submitted anything I’ve written, anywhere. Okay, that’s not entirely true anymore. Last Fall I wrote a short interactive story specifically to submit to the Future Voices contest, and my story was selected. For the first 34 years of my life, I never submitted anything, anywhere. (Once, in high school, an essay I wrote was submitted by my teacher to a contest and won “Honorable Mention” and got published with the winners; that’s the only other thing of mine which has been submitted anywhere.) No query letters, no contests, no stories or books sent to publishers. They say “you can’t win if you don’t play”, and my common-sense response has always been “you can’t lose if you don’t play, either.”
Have I lost by having to do all the parts of publishing I don’t actually enjoy? Perhaps.
But after 2007, after I had a couple books on the market, through normal channels, where anyone with a Bookscan account could look up my name and see what my sales numbers were(n’t), I’ve known I’ll never be able to get a traditional publishing deal until my success at self-publishing exceeds the best deal I’m likely to be offered. So this is where I am. Most of this, I don’t actually enjoy. Theoretically, whether through time travel or sudden and unexpected financial success, there is a mythical sort of author life I might gain access to, where I only need do the parts I enjoy… but for now … This is my life.
I want to have written the books, I want to have recorded the audiobooks, and there’s no real alternative but to do all the rest. The ends justify the means. For now. Maybe someday I’ll give up on the whole endeavor, decide the result is no longer worth the effort, and you’ll never hear from me again.