So, we’re here writing a blog post again, an update on what’s been going on in the writerly world of James Latimer. And the tl:dr version is, not much. So this post isn’t going to be so much about what has been going on, but rather why it hasn’t. Because, frankly, I’d like to figure it out myself!
It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing at all, but more a sense that I’m not really getting anywhere. It’s been a year and a half since I completed my last first draft, which is my third completed manuscript, and I’ve only done one read-through on it and some minor edits. This is because I’m still working on the two others that I “finished” first, nudging them along incrementally, writing a new scene here, polishing the language there, even sending them out to readers now and then. I suppose I’m incrementally closer to “finishing” them, whatever that means.
And there’s the rub, I suppose.
Always remember what painters say – it isn’t finished, i’ve just stopped working on it.
— John Jarrold (@johnjarrold) September 14, 2017
These books have been compete for a while, and even “finished” at various times, but I’ve obviously never reached a point where I believe their ready for whatever the next step is. Some days, I think they are nearly there, and other days I worry they may never be. I find it very hard to to even understand what “finished” looks like, because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and very particular about what I like. I wrote these books, in part, because I couldn’t find exactly what I thought I was after on the market, but judging by my fondness for Hidden Gems, I’m not sure the market is really missing me. Excellent and exciting books seem to come out every day, after all, a fact driven home by the increased amount of reading I’ve been doing (to partially compensate for not writing).
It seems such an overwhelming act of hubris to put a book out there and say, “Here, read this instead of all those other wonderful books, because it is worthy of your time.” Obviously, thousands – perhaps millions? – of people do, every day, whether by submitting to the insatiable slush-piles of agents and publishers, or by putting their book straight in front of readers through the new avenues of professional self-publishing.
The former – no matter how many #askagent Q&A’s I read – still seems daunting and mysterious. Most of the time, you get one shot with an agent, and so your book has to be the best it can be. This only increases the anxiety I have about finishing the books, because if they can always be better, how will they ever be the “best they can be”? After a while, it makes you wonder if the book will ever reach that point, and even if it does, it might not be good enough to entice an agent or publisher. If so, perhaps it’s just time to put it on a shelf and start another one with more potential – but how do you know?
Instead of putting the book on the shelf, I suppose I could simply self-publish, but again, that means the decision on when a book is finished is entirely down to me. Then I have to sell it myself, pushing it amongst all the others clamouring for attention in a crowded marketplace. While I’m confident that my books are as good if not better than many of the others out there, how will anyone find out unless I can master the black magic of marketing and Amazon algorithms? Moreover, the non-exclusivity of the option makes it feel more like something to fall back on if you haven’t succeeded at the traditional route. If that’s the case, then I would be in a way admitting the book isn’t good enough, and why should I inflict an average book on anyone?
(Yes, I know self-publishing is a valid and viable option, and a good way – perhaps even the best way – to make money from writing. But it seems to work best if you have something very marketable and/or the ability to write fast, and I think I’ve demonstrated that I have neither.)
I suppose what I’m struggling with is that this writing game is all push and no pull. Nobody is asking me to write books, in fact the marketplace is flooded with fantastic books, many by much better writers than me, and many of which are not getting the attention they deserve anyway. Reading them does take my mind off writing for a while, but I can’t quit for very long without feeling even worse, or (on better days) catching some spark of inspiration that puts me back at a keyboard. But to what end?
Yes, it does seem that I’m a writer, but do I want to be an author? Do I want to have books out there that people read, because one day becoming a published author does seem to be the point of being a writer. I mean, I would probably still do it if it was just a hobby, but I’d certainly go about it in a much different way. Much less editing, for a start. It would be even harder to justify spending time on it, too, and I’d probably just drift away from writing, contenting myself with ideas that played out in my head and not the page. At least, I certainly hope I would. Sometimes it seems a happier place to be.
Something about writing a book makes you want to share it, even if it’s just with one other person. It’s a particularly frightening compulsion, because – for me, anyway – it raises the contradictory dichotomy of being unable to think of anything worse, or anything better, than having your book out there in public for people to gawk at, criticise, misinterpret, or – perversely worse – simply ignore. It seems beyond my (current) capacity to imagine anyone would actually enjoy, like, love, “get”, or even just read what I’ve written.
This reflects my own love-hate relationships with what I’ve written, because I do love them, the characters in them, the world I’ve created, the adventures they go on that speak to me because I spoke them. But I also hate them for not being perfect, for not being as brilliant as the books I adore, for not being powerful enough to draw in readers all on their own without me having to make them available, to push them on people, to beg people to read them and tell me all the energy I’ve expended hasn’t been wasted.
Yes, what I really want is for these books to get up and walk out of here on their own, to take responsibility for their own success, to not need me – to not plague me – anymore. I suppose they are a bit like adult children that are still living at home, which makes the title I chose at the beginning of the article even more apt, I suppose. Of course, they aren’t going to do that, so it comes down to me, and I’m not sure I have what it takes.
Fortune favours the bold, they say, but I’m just not feeling very bold these days.