I wanted to write about MADMEN creator Matt Weiner’s recent essay on perseverance. There are nuggets of wisdom there. The biggest one for me was: learn your medium while getting paid (he did that with sitcoms and other stuff), and when you’ve got a project that you believe in, one that goes against the grain, never give up on it, since you never know when it will hit pay-dirt. For him, it was seven years. But that number isn’t magic, just honest. Time and effort create opportunities for your work to find purchase, but when that happens involves factors out of your control. The only certainty you can bank on is if you stop writing it or submitting it or pushing it, it will die.
I wanted to compare that to the view that some genre writers have that no book is better or worse than any other they write. They’re all the same, or, it’s so subjective as not to be relevant. It comes from a particular mindset that doesn’t like comparing values, a mindset with which I do not agree. Yes, Borges’ “The Garden of the Forking Path” is different than a first-year writing student’s love letter to GI JOE . . . but one is also better as a story. Guess which one?
I wanted to dig into this subject of viewing your work in different ways, the good and bad. But right now, it feels trite.
Recently I experienced a hard time. The specifics are private. But let’s just say my emotions are raw, sore, sad and all that jazz. And whatever wisdom I hoped to share on this topic is fuzzy.
So this month, I’m reduced to a list, the basest form of information. But it’s all I got. Don’t like it? Write your own.
STUFF TO CONSIDER IN THE WAKE OF HARDSHIP: WRITER EDITION
- Let the emotion you feel be a guide, but don’t be a shit. Write about your feelings, explore them, use them . . . but cautiously. Don’t dash off hate mail and call it a story. I’ve read so much “I hate my life” or “I hate my ex” slush, and it’s always bad. Always. The deeper heartmeat of grief, sorrow, and hardship (beyond revenge fantasies and violent reversals) is worth spending serious time to consider and explore. Being invested in powerful emotions when they’re hot will likely lead you to more profound moments in your fiction. Or, certainly more profound than “I killed a vampire slut who was a dead ringer for my ex-wife, and did I mention I can beat up the Rock with my dick?” If I never read that story again, it will be too soon. Shelf anything that has that stink. Then burn it. In the distance of time you’ll see those emotional moments and use them in far better ways.
- Use Abstractions: In the wake of hardship, I often feel numb, and my mind repeats the loop of pain and suffering and never ending questions. To break the numb, I find solace in abstractions: for me, that’s music without words. I let my mind follow the notes, while my hands do the words. The results are often weird, surreal, and other. They don’t read like my normal mode. And that’s a gift. Some of them sell. And that’s fortune. But the joy is in going where I don’t normally go.
- Use Novelty: If I can’t get out of my own way, I use haikus to inspire “free writing” exercises, going where they are going to go. I used do them as a warm up before heading to the main writing-task. These days, I’ll use it as a means to get away from the shock and find myself somewhere other. And you can’t go wrong with reading Basho. He is neat-o. Believe me-o.
- Be cool with things sucking: I am not good at this at all, but sometimes you just need to let the bad times roll. You’re not going to be fun to be around for a wee bit. That’s cool. As Tricky Dick Nixon once noted: when you win, everyone calls. When you lose, only your friends call. Hang with the gang that’s not draining. Chat. Laugh. Get brunch (brunch is a general cure for unhappiness). If it’s getting worse, then do whatever you think is the next action to get you out of the hole. But it’s normal to feel bad when bad things happen. Only fools are happy all the time. Or shitty writers.
- Enjoy something that is not writing: A curse of my existence is that I turn most leisure into work. I do very few things to relax that aren’t tied into storytelling in some way. But go and do things outside of the writing zone or sad zone. Join a sports team, choir, or cooking class. Watch wrestling. Urban hike. Volunteer somewhere that speaks to your values.
- It gets better: I never would have believed it in 2013, the Year of Catastrophes, but it’s true. That which almost destroyed me helped me become a better person, and a better and healthier writer. Read stuff about those who endured what you’ve endured. There’s solace in knowing others have survived, and even thrived, in the face of hardship. Don’t compare your pain. That’s fucking stupid. But realize we can grow from being KO’d in the feels.