The world is exploding, shifting, fracturing. We’re all bearing witness to global catastrophes occurring all at once in real time. Climate change. Pandemic. Civil unrest. The war will be televised in high definition and broadcast on Twitter. Humans gawping into their tiny screens, soaking in the chaos, watching while the environment shuts down, tanks rumble through city streets, and our once valiant institutions turn into an angry clown academy.
Humanity is but a blip on the timeline, a latecomer to the party who floats in, trashes the joint, and leaves with onion dip on their shirt. If you were to ask me my personal philosophy, I’d say it was optimistic nihilism, in that I’m convinced that people will always be rotten to each other. Humans are more sinner than saint, more villain than hero, more rage than peace.
This is why we bungled hominids are fascinating.
And why kindness, above all else, is important now more than ever.
Writers can excel by finding beauty amid the hideous. Deep in this gore-soaked reality, with its anger and idiocy are stories that can redeem and enlighten. Your protagonists await. They don’t have to stand against entire armies or save the world. They could be humble people, invisible to all because of their meekness or timidity, who find a way to change themselves and discover the courage inside them. (Samwise Gamgee, I’m looking at you, bud.) These stories interest me; the ones where an unlikely hero has an epiphany and realizes why they must change.
Writing is hard, yo. It’s draining. Merciless. Panic-inducing. Every little bit I do helps me become better ay my craft. I’m bombarded with self-doubt that my work has any real impact on the world. Maybe one or two people read a story of mine in passing. Perhaps someone saw my name published somewhere. But that’s about it. Sales are slow and reviews nonexistent. The most important thing a writer can do is write what readers want to read.
The anxiety is real. Am I wasting my time with this foolish word-smithery? Is a writer still a writer if nobody reads them?
Benjamin Franklin said it best:
“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”
It’s the whole “write things worth reading” that trips me up. When I have a good idea for a story, I make my outline and think about plot, character, action. I need a story, for without a story, it’s just an incoherent jumble of character traits and actions. Your plot pulls these elements together into the story.
No writer can predict if their work will sell or resonate with readers. You can learn how to make characters likable and relatable, give them traits readers can see in themselves and root for, or hindrances that are believable. You can study trends, the market, what’s hot and what’s not. Yet our quest to write the Next Big Thing remains fickle and elusive.
Though I’ve been a writer for a long time, I’m still learning and growing in my craft. Still failing, falling, and plummeting. But I’ve also had some lucky breaks.
Based on recent reviews, my work isn’t for everyone. (Thanks for the sobering reality check, Goodreads!) My style isn’t lyrical or beautiful. There are talented writers whose masterfully manipulate language with stunning results. They conjure images and feelings with the turn of a phrase and leave your soul warm and satisfied. My words? There’s no beauty in my words.
But that’s okay.
My style is evolving as I learn. I’m not a poet with pretty imagery and jaw-dropping tales. I’m more like John Waters. I’ll give you the ugly freaks and weirdos. The monstrous and macabre. Flawed heroes facing defeat who pull themselves up through clunky prose and simplistic sentences. Blemishes and warts. My grotesque prose is an outlet, a way I carve my initials into this mercurial world.
This year I’ve got three short stories appearing in anthologies and one novel coming out. I’m working towards more submissions and a new book. It’s a Never-ending cycle of plot, write, edit, submit. Repeat ad infinitum or until death, whichever comes first.
The grim reality is I don’t know if I’ll succeed as an author, if I’ll ever be read or appreciated.
But damn it, I’m not abandoning my post, no matter how shitty the reviews or how deep the rejection pile.
I’ll grow, adapt, and continue putting words onto the page.