I’ve always considered myself an ambitious person. Every since I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote a series of short stories when I was 8, about a pebble and his friends and their adventures in the stream where they lived. One of my classmates found out about the stories and told my teacher, who had me get up and read one of the stories to the other kids. I started with one… then I read the next… then I read the next… then I — and the teacher cut me off. Because I was losing my audience. And I’d never realized it.
I hated the experience. I hated every moment of it. I couldn’t tell if the other kids liked the stories or not, if they were paying attention, or if I did a good job of it. I was uncomfortable, I couldn’t “read” what the other kids were feeling, and I just felt like I’d been put on display, set up to fail. I read the story as quickly as I could, just to be done with it.
And I never forgave my “friend” for “telling on me” and drawing attention to me writing my stories.
My teacher seemed impressed by my work, but I couldn’t understand why. If you wanted to write a story, you just wrote it. End of story. You didn’t go all “googly eyes” about the process, and you certainly didn’t treat it like a massive accomplishment.
If you really wanted to do it, you did it. And that was that.
When I was 10, I wrote a novella about a gang of alley cats who lived in a city similar to the one I used to live in — before we moved away when I had just turned 10). I was homesick for the city. We now lived in the country, and it was confusing and disorienting for me. I just wanted to go back to the diverse environment where we’d lived before, not be “stuck” with all those cows and cornfields and people who looked exactly alike (because they were). Writing was my escape. It was my way out of boredom and disorientation. It let me feel human again… a part of a world that I actually wanted to inhabit.
And I wanted to inhabit that world ALL the time.
I wanted to be a writer.
In my teen years, I resolved to become one of those famous writers who gets featured in the Paris Review, with pictures of old drafts and notes interspersed with candid black-and-white photos of artistic, mercurial me, with a blurred exposure of my emotionally stabilizing, serene live-in lover standing just behind my right shoulder, in our little shack by the seaside or in an overgrown jungle area of an undisclosed location in Latin America. I had it all worked out. I was going to be bohemian, get jobs that would pay the bills and let me travel, while I worked on my novels. Poetry. Prose. It’s all I wanted. It was all I ever wanted.
And I worked. I wrote daily for years and years. I wrote short stories and novels and poetry. And I self-published them. I even got a couple of book deals from honest-to-God commercial publishers, both of which fell through, due to “business concerns” about my writing not being economically viable enough. Each time the deal fell through, I felt as though my heart had been extracted through my rectum. I was crushed. Desperately crushed.
Of course, I had to make a living. My emotionally stabilizing, serene lover and I needed to pay the bill, so I got “good jobs” and eventually acquired what some would call a “career”. The travel and the jungle and the seaside shack never materialized. Not yet, anyway.
I’ve continued to write, over the years. Some work I’ve published, most of it I haven’t. I’ve been working towards creating the right opportunity for my writing, my publishing, seeking the right “fit” with my audience. I’ve given countless hours of thought to publicity, how to get seen (preferably free), and how to make the most of “exposure” across all the different publicity outlets that exist today — especially online. I’ve got pages and pages of project plans for how to put together and publish a book that could appeal to a specific audience and meet some of their specific needs.
And I’ve had some success. But nothing sustained. It’s been fits and starts, and the “valleys” have outnumbered the “peaks” by about 50:1. The irony of it is, in the process, I’ve lost touch with what mattered most to me — the writing — while I deepened my involvement in what I cared least about: promotion.
See, here’s the thing — as much as I love to write, having an audience is actually a big problem for me. It’s less of a problem online, because I have a measure of control over how I present myself (and possibly how others perceive me). But live and in-person, I’m useless as a writer talking to my readers. I have no patience for it. I don’t see why I should bother. I wrote it. They read it. That’s that. I’ve had some pieces published in the big local paper, a couple of times, and people were eager to discuss them with me. But I couldn’t think of anything to say — anything I wanted to say. It wasn’t a conversation piece — it was a statement about what I thought, and others were free to agree or disagree. And fact, with the big piece that got the most attention, I didn’t even know I’d gotten it published until someone emailed me with an invitation to a kind of macrobiotic meal that they believed would be the cure for society’s ills.
Yeah, it was a little bizarre, that one.
I’ve had fans / readers approach me in person to discuss my work, but it’s always uncomfortable for me. They want me to talk about my stuff, but I often get the feeling that they didn’t even understand what the book was really about. Everybody has their own interpretation, and I can’t say I ever agreed with what I’ve heard people say. That’s awkward. They’re my readers. I don’t want to insult them. But if I open my mouth to say what’s on my mind, I’ll probably do just that. Plus – just like in 3rd grade – I have no idea how to read people, how to interpret what they’re saying, or when enough is enough. All I want to do is get away from them as soon as humanly possible.
That being said, I’ve come to the gradual realization over the past several months, that the last thing I want is to be a famous writer. Not the way it’s done today. People crave connection. They want to find out about you, your personality. They want to feel like they know you. Quelle horrible. A fate worse than death. If people want to read what I write, then great, but I’m not promoting it anymore. I’m not mentioning it to strangers in passing, I’m not doing press releases, I’m not trying to figure out how to “SEO” my writing so like-minded folks can find and embrace it.
Screw that. It’s distracting. It siphons energy from my proverbial “writing fuel tank” with a great sucking sound. And it never seems to work out the way I want it to, because, well, real-live people are inevitably involved in that end of things. And people are not my forte. Not face-to-face. And certainly not on a basis that’s sustained enough to make a real difference. I’m an Aspie. I have other things to do, than dance the vacuous social dance. And as much as others may enjoy chatting with me, it’s exhausting and depleting, and it gives them 1000x as much as I will ever get. It’s one-sided and draining.
No thanks. If people want to read my work, I’m not going to stop them. But I’m not going to waste my time doing everything that’s needed to entice them.
I like disappearing into the jungles too much — preferably well out of photo range of that Paris Review photographer.