Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fear of Finishing

     My current WIP was started about three years ago and isn't even half finished yet. It's my WIP because I have the most done on it. I have other partial stories, novels, kernels of ideas that are much older. I can't even remember when I wrote the oldest but the oldest I can remember was written in an English Lit class in college some fifteen years ago.  Fifteen years and I still haven't finished even a short story. I am constantly coming up with new ideas for stories and books, sagas even, but I just can't seem to follow through and finish anything. I enjoy the process of writing once I make myself sit down and do it. There's nothing quite like achieving flow in my writing and looking up hours later and not even knowing what time it is. The feeling I get when I come up with a great line or a great scene can make me smile for hours. So, why am I like this? Why can't I actually bring the story on in? Am I alone in this?
     I suppose I could blame it on procrastination, laziness, or being to busy and stressed from my day job when I had a day job. I don't really think those are the answers though. Now, more than ever, I must be honest with myself. Those are convenient excuses. What I've determined after many hours of conscientious navel-gazing is that I am afraid of what comes after I finish a book. It's not actual rejection that I fear. It's the accumulation of rejection by traditional publishers, lack of sales should I self-publish and the building realization that "it's never gonna happen". If I never finish anything then making my living as a writer remains an attainable dream. If I finish something or many things and no one is interested, the dream will die and then what?
     I'm writing about this and putting it out there as an effort to overcome the fear. I have already squandered too much precious time that could have been devoted to nothing but writing. When I left Chicago and my career behind I told myself it was a blessing because how many people get the opportunity to take time like that to write? And what have I done with it? Not much, not enough, not what I should have done. So, before my time runs out, I must face the fear head on, write and get past it, finish something and put it out there because fear is the mind-killer and a dream kept on a shelf isn't much of a dream after all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quid Pro Quo Reviews...Where's the Integrity (and the Chianti)?

     In the world of self-publishing we all know that reviews sell books. We also know that self-published books don't get reviewed, not by the pros anyway. So, how does a self-published book get reviewed? Usually the author gets other self-published authors to do the reviewing. And, whether it's actually spoken or not, there is an expectation of quid pro quo. But can you review something honestly if a review of your own work is hanging in the balance? I think it's probably very rare unless you're lucky enough to review something that is genuinely good. Sadly, more often than not, you're gonna review something that is just plain bad or, best case scenario, in need of much editing. If you were an agent or editor, you might be able to get away with an honest review as constructive criticism. As a fellow self-published author, however, you are opening yourself up to resentment, questions about your intelligence and/or sanity and a retaliatory hatchet piece about your own work.
     What got me thinking about this was a self-published book I recently read half of. I only read half because I was so frustrated by the poor writing that I couldn't force myself to finish. The metaphors were tortured, the pop culture references were jarring and self-conscious and the dialog swung wildly from something out of a hip hop video to what you might hear in a 1930s film noir. In addition, the characters were schizophrenic and not in a "this is a story about schizophrenic people" way.  I was frustrated and, quite frankly, kinda pissed because not one of the reviews had anything negative to say.  They were undeservedly glowing. I suppose I got hoodwinked because, like a naive idiot, I believed the reviews.  This dichotomy between review and actual product got me thinking about the integrity of quid pro quo reviews by fellow self-publishers. I don't think any of us have the balls to give someone a tough review when we know that they either are, will be, or could be reviewing our stuff as well or even that they are part of the same writing community. The stakes are too high, our egos too fragile and we empathize too much.
     This book could probably be a good story but it needs a lot of editing. However, if no one is ever honest with the author in a review, he/she may never know that it needs fixed. He/She cannot grow as a writer either without honesty from peers and readers. So, you're probably wondering if I wrote an honest review. Absofuckinglutely not! I want to give and receive honest reviews but I also want to have friends and colleagues who don't hate me. Yeah, we talk a good game about having a thick skin when you put your work out there but who doesn't resent a bad review? For my own work, I'm sticking to strangers and, where possible, people who have no interest in blowing sunshine up my ass.
     What do you guys think? Can quid pro quo reviewing result in an honest review? Am I wrong?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Choosing "Failure" or It's Never Too Late to Do What You Dream

     Moving home with my mom was always my "worst case scenario".  I used to refer to it that way a lot. I had considered my 'worst case scenario' many times during years of working for psychotic attorneys with anger management issues and personality disorders. (You wouldn't believe me if I told you. But I will, sometime.) It wasn't just the bosses, bad as they were. The clients had long ago convinced me that humanity had begun to devolve...rapidly. When I found myself starting each day with the thought "most men lead lives of quiet desperation" running through my head and I was "most men", I knew it was time to get out. \
     I still wasn't ready, however, to surrender to the "worst case scenario." I hung in there in Chicago refusing to give up the museums and the nightlife and the CULTURE. I'd spent 18 years trying to get away from the small town I'd grown up in, no way could I survive returning there. I was convinced my mind would atrophy, I would be utterly adrift in a sea of rednecks and white trash, alone and growing more and more bitter by the day. Not to mention I had no idea how I would explain such a move to my friends and acquaintances. Giving up a decent salary, a respectable career and the urban lifestyle isn't exactly what most people I know choose to do at age 35. I felt deep down that people would think I'd failed, that Chicago had chewed up the small town girl and spit her out. So, I stayed in Chicago, unemployed and wondering what to do next. It took a year but I finally realized that Chicago was making me more and more bitter by the day. I was tired of the expense of just trying to live in the city and the inconvenience of everything from carrying groceries up to my apartment to doing laundry to parking during the day. I was beyond sick of planning my life around rush hour traffic. So, perhaps inevitably, I threw in the towel, packed my things and headed south.
     In the midst of my horrible jobs I used to pray for time, time to figure out what I really wanted to do in life. Well, I guess I got it and now that I have it, I spend a lot of it wandering through Walmart but I'm also pursuing my dream of being a writer. It never seemed possible before. With student loan payments hanging over my head and a lifetime of training for a very specific career behind me, writing was not a practical occupation to pursue. It never even occurred to me to write until I was a junior in college and had already been accepted to law school. So, I'm coming to it late and with a tendency to procrastinate that is a real problem. Still, "most men lead lives of quiet desperation" and I refuse for that to be me anymore.
     It's been an interesting year since I left Chicago. I'll be writing about some of my experiences and thoughts from the past year from time to time. Mainly, what I've discovered is, the people who matter don't think I'm a failure and the ones who don't have time for small town me, no longer matter to me. As it turns out, you can go home again. It might be a bizarre experience but you may find that you were small town all along and there's nothing wrong with that.