While last time I chose to dwell on consistency, I think it’s even more important to discuss persistence.
Consistency is doing something repeatedly, without fail. Persistence is continuing to be consistent, with many fails.
I’ve discussed failure on this blog time and time again, because it’s a topic I constantly have on my mind. Every day, I seem to think of something I could have done better. I think of something I gave up on, a friendship I let slide, or a bad review that shattered how I felt about my writing proficiency. At the time, they are failures.
Failure has a permanent ring to it, doesn’t it? If something is a failure, then it is something that has come to pass – and, well… failed. A misstep is something that almost hit the mark, but likewise fell off to the side.
Persistence is taking your failures and erasing them, without erasing the lessons learned.
Even if you can only erase them from the forefront of your mind.
The biggest problem with creative pursuits is consistency.
Unless you’re one of the very fortunate (or very insane, financially) people who decides and has the means to pursue an artistic endeavor as a career – you have a life. You have work to keep your days full. You have children to keep you away from your projects once school’s over. You’ve got the gym to get to, shopping to finish, and meals to prep for the next week.
When you really want something, you find a way to make it happen.
I first started writing while juggling a live-in girlfriend, university education, a full-time managerial position at a bar, and an extremely busy social calendar. Somehow, despite all that, I managed to crank out a full length novel in less than six weeks. A little short in word count maybe, but it didn’t stop a publication offer only two weeks later.
These days, where I juggle work, working out, and a very demanding repertoire of drinking alone, I haven’t managed to finish a single manuscript in over a year. I’ve slammed out three or four 20,000 word starts on some projects, but then I fizzle. I lost the middle part – the part that makes you hunker down and write when you feel like it least, because that’s when the best things happen.
I liken it to how I am with the gym right now – I work a ten and a half hour day six days a week, and I still get to the gym for at least an hour and a half, six days a week. Theoretically, that’s insanity. It seems to leave very little time for life.
But I want it, so it happens. I don’t have to think about ‘making’ time for it – the time is there in my schedule, because it’s important to me.
For creative pursuits, if it begins to become less important, the time for pursuing the dream becomes smaller and harder to come by.
Consistency, and only consistency, will separate you from the other people trying to reach the same goal.
The past few months, I’ve been on a strange kick. I’ve really been digging extremely self-aware, trashy hip-hop. It started with Die Antwoord, who I couldn’t get enough of. This progressed, lately, into RiFF RAFF. From the outside, the guy sucks. He’s a ghett0 Dallas/Fort Worth Jewish kid who didn’t get enough hugs in the trailer park. Dig deeper, and you realize that like Die Antwoord – there’s a very good chance that this is performance art being taken to the extreme.
One Youtube user comments about ‘dirt-butt hoes’ and how this is a ‘Tuesday gone wrong.’
I know about Tuesday’s gone wrong.
I look at the girls – especially the blonde – and I know about strung-out girls.
This goes on for two days. I laugh my ass off at it – how torn up everyone in this video is. How much of a waste of life they are, or how much of a waste of life they’re pretending to be. RiFF RAFF is obviously coked out of his skull. The girls have all seen Molly, and they’re sweating.
Then, I dug a little deeper.
That blonde? She’s a writer. A very respected writer, in her own right. I read some of her stuff tonight. It was brutally honest, and brutally relatable. I couldn’t stop reading once I’d started if I’d tried.
I won’t say anything more. Watch the video, witness.
Those who have followed my online presence with any consistency over the past few years will know my stance on self-publishing.
I began writing right at what seems to be the turning point at epublishing – when all of a sudden, any author, of any caliber, with a work of any length or completion, could put their work on Amazon.com and become an overnight success. When I first started, self-publishing was a dirty word, bringing up mental images of talentless hacks trying to sell the hundreds of copies of their book they’re stuck with out of the trunk of their car.
Then, it changed. A few big-name(ish) authors left the traditional publishing world to self-publish their works. Some had big success, some continued to plod along with decent sales, some tanked. Self-publishing, having the stigma of it’s past, was still a dirty word. New authors chose to call it indie publishing, as they were their own independent publishers. Apparently.
Given that independent publishers had been using the term indie to differentiate between Big Six publishing houses and small press efforts, this obviously ground my gears – I had been marketing my works as indie, and now I felt this had been taken from me. As well, with the massive influx of shit writing being published alongside my own shit writing, I felt it would be harder to tell who’s shit writing was who’s, and who’s shit had actually been vetted on by a publisher.
I used to think these things mattered.
Here’s the facts as they stand now:
Every author should still seek traditional publication, either by a small press or going through the agenting process. While there may be many, many hurdles to jump through, this is the most honest and critically important indication of whether your work should be headed towards print, or whether the manuscript – or you in general – needs more work. Amazon self-publishing won’t give you feedback – even rejections from agents and publishing houses are better feedback than that. You’re being told that you’re not ready, that the work is not in the condition it needs to be, and you need to go back to the typewriter for a while to mature and mellow like a cheap bottle of popskull wine.
For people like me, traditional publication – as in, a house publishing your work without your cash being involved – is still an important milestone for our careers. It’s the validation I need for my works – or at least I’ve felt I’ve needed. I have two novels that have been extremely poor sellers, but I still felt validated that someone else believed in them enough to put their own money behind it, and to put their name on it. I thought this was a big deal, but now I’m questioning it.
Traditional publication is important because it allows you to add novels, shorts, poems, what have you, onto your curriculum vitae. Self-published works, unless certified best-sellers, are not typically looked at with the same credibility as published works. Ironic, because a published title may sell 5 copies and a self-published title 4,999 – one copy under the bestseller ranking for Canadian works – and the published title will still carry more weight.
But, traditional publication is in a strange place. Have I been happy with my experiences thus far? Sweet baby Jesus, no. Is there a lot that can be said for my recent lack of marketing motivation in the last year or so? Of course.
Which leads me to my next thought:
I’m seriously considering an experiment. I have one finished manuscript that I haven’t been able to sell for the life of me. The writing is kind of shitty, the plot is so-so, and the ideas are okay, I guess. It could use a lot of polishing – so I’m going to polish it a bit.
Then, I’m going to self-publish it through Amazon as an ebook-only release.
And then, I’m not going to charge a cent for it.
I’ve been far too hung up over the years over the imagined prestige traditional publishing brings. By no means am I turning my back on traditional publishing – but I do think it’s time to explore what other avenues are available out there – and more importantly, stop being such a fucking snob about it.
It seems the more you try to achieve in one area of your life, the more you tend to let slip in others – no matter how much of a conscious effort you make to keep balance. Putting the blinders on helps guide you to success in the area you’re looking, but you tend to miss out on the beautiful scenery – and opportunities – that are off to the side of your path.
All of the big writers who are credible enough to discuss writing as a craft tend to agree with one motto:
Don’t read reviews of your work.
That is, don’t read reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc – because, I’ve been told, this is something that tends to be discouraging. I can identify with that – I’ve been absolutely carved apart in reviews many times before. However, I tend to agree with what Stephen King said on the subject in ON WRITING:
Bad reviews? Bad reviews are not the enemy. Obscurity, and only obscurity, is the enemy.
It makes sense to me. Even if people are reading your work and hating it – your work is being read. Even if it’s critically panned and makes people angry upon reading – you’re making people feel something. You’re eliciting an emotional response to something you created. Some people won’t like your work because they don’t get it, some won’t like it because it hits too close to home. You can’t please all the people all of the time, and I’ve found that you shouldn’t worry about pleasing even some of the people some of the time.
I believe that reading negative reviews of your work, assuming that it’s more than a string of expletives and open-ended questions about your sexual preference and / or illict relationships with your mother. Too many authors dismiss bad reviews stating that someone just didn’t ‘get it.’ No shit. If they got it, they wouldn’t have had the problem, would they?
More importantly,the author should question as to why the reader didn’t get it. Was the writing style catered to an audience outside of their background / reading comprehension level / interest? Did the author promise a thrill ride and deliver a character study? Did the author set up a situation and fail to end it in a realistic / plausible fashion because it didn’t jive with their idea for the plot?
I’ve had all of these and more thrown at me – but it doesn’t change the fact that bad reviews suck. They definitely sting less with time, and you develop thick skin because of it. I nearly threw up the first time I got a 1-star review on Amazon. I thought it was the end of my publishing career – that nobody would ever give my work a shot because someone once said it sucked.
But, of course, they did.
All this leads me to one core point:
When you get a review by someone you’ve never met, who you never even knew existed, and they say your book is one of their favourites, or it touched them, or even it just made them feel something – that makes all this bullshit worth it.
I would rather have ten five-star reviews from ‘nobodies’ on Amazon than a gushing five-star review from an actual literary critic. The critic’s job is to carve through the bad and find the good. The average reader’s job has nothing to do with reading – they do their reading on their spare time. They’ve invited you into their homes, taken you on their vacations, and welcomed you into their lives.
To all the people who have ever read something of mine: thank you.
FIVE WORDS IN BLACK is now on Amazon.com – so in other words, it’s going to release extremely soon. If you go to my publisher’s website, you can grab that discount code to save a few bucks, but it’s ending extremely soon.
Thanks to everyone who actually visits this site for your continued support. It’s hard out there for small-time authors, and although I’ve had better luck than some, it’s still hard some days to sit down and actually get writing done. I went from being extremely prolific a couple of years ago to a slow crawl these days, but things are looking up.