Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Writer Unwrapped.

We spend countless hours creating characters, situations, crises, and resolutions.  We anguish over storylines, plots, dialogue, subplots, personalities, twists and turns, and suspense arcs.  Ideas and inspirations pop into our minds at the damnedest times, and we hurriedly scribble them down in hopes of nurturing them into new and quirky characters, fast-paced and engaging chapters, and literary detours leading to even more suspense and drama.

The next day, many of these inspirational gems sadly end up being slam-dunked into the recycle bin or relegated to a “Bits and Pieces” folder to repose peacefully in Limbo.  If we're lucky, a handful of them will actually make it into the Word document where they'll fight to endure a seemingly endless succession of editing passes.  The survivors will be allowed to reside proudly on the pages of the final manuscript.

If the truth be revealed, every work of fiction includes a bonus--a piece of the author's psyche--as we truly do put ourselves out there along with our words. 

Our deepest fears, our most terrifying nightmares, and those memories we'd dearly love to erase from our minds beget our plots and storylines.  Those formless, unseen things that go bump in the night, the monsters that lurk under our mental beds, and those childhood bogeymen that we never quite managed to outgrow evolve into our characters.  Our most secretive feelings and imaginings become the dialogue and thoughts of our characters as though we've silently appointed them as proxies to think and speak on our behalf.

We spend hours simply staring into space--by all outward appearances--or at computer monitors until our vision blurs (as does our consciousness) and we simply must back away in order to recharge our creative batteries.

Every line of dialogue becomes a point of obsession; every sentence is scrutinized for structure and readability; every paragraph is read and re-read in search of anything irrelevant or, worse yet, boring.  The intrinsic worth of every chapter is evaluated and re-evaluated until we can recite them from memory.

At our worst, many of us--myself very much included--actually grow to despise our own creations because we harshly question their worth, their appeal, and their sales potential.  Somewhere along the line, we stop looking at them as products of our creativity; we begin critiquing them as commercial commodities.

Every author's fear is that his/her work will join the endless parade of other best-seller-wannabes penned by an endless parade of other authors, only to be lost in that mind-numbing procession of book promos found on every social media platform.

At some point, self-doubt, despair, and frustration combine to effectively choke that creative flow we all value so highly.  Hopelessness fills our minds with fears that NOBODY wants to buy our books, NOBODY wants to review them, and--frankly, my dear--NOBODY gives a damn about them ... or us. 

For many of us, what follows is a self-defeating round of what-ifs powered by sheer despair: What if I'm wasting my time and energy?  What if only a select few of us will ever achieve a modicum of success as writers?  What if the vast majority of us simply don't have what it takes?

Then there’s the most gut-wrenching specter of all: What if it NEVER happens for me?

With heartfelt promises to ourselves to finally let go of our pie-in-the-sky dreams and rampant idealism, we store our Word files away somewhere and make at least a token effort to move on with our lives.

Then, next week, next month, or next year, a brilliant idea comes a-calling when we least expect it.  A few random notes are scribbled on a notepad, a napkin, a scrap of paper, or on the back of a receipt.  More ideas come barreling down that dormant pipeline.  A plot begins to assume an intriguing shape; characters emerge from the shadows and demand to be brought to life.  We sit back down at our computers and begin tentatively toying with a handful of newly-hatched concepts.

And the process starts all over again.

Why do we do it?  Because--like it or not--we can't quit.

I've been writing for audiences of varying sizes and shapes since my grammar school days.  Even at that early age, I knew that something inside me delighted in entertaining people through my words.  The term “entertaining” can run the emotional gamut from infuriation to delight, from revulsion to empathy, from sadness to soul-searching, from tension to laughter, and from disbelief to contemplation.  Whatever the reaction, it’s okay as long as the reader feels something after reading my words.

“Please, dear God, don't ever allow my writing to become boring.”

How many times, author colleagues, have YOU recited that prayer?

I'm energized by shining a bright light on the best AND worst of human nature and behavior.  I often state during interviews that I enjoy chronicling ordinary people meeting extraordinary challenges with extraordinary courage, strength, and determination.  There are billions of everyday heroes fighting personal wars in every corner of American life's vast panorama.  It matters little if you're surrounded by the best of everything as was Dana in Child of Privilege, or if simply scratching by every week is a life-draining crusade.  It is my duty--and my pleasure--to weave fictional stories drawn from those silent struggles, sculpt them into novels, and relate them to anyone who will buy a book of mine and read it.  Entertaining, enlightening, revealing, educating, and sharing are, to me, among the noblest of goals in this life.  If my words can move just one reader to think about my characters or stories after the final page has been read, then I've done a good day's writing and I'm happy.

But what about that old bugaboo: reality ... the bane of every indie author?

If the odds against my success are so staggering, why do I continue pursuing this unlikely dream?  Why don't I simply quit and move forward to the next chapter (pardon the pun) of my life?

Believe me, I've asked myself those questions a million times already.

Is it because I long to be another J. K. Rowling or Stephen King?

That's part of it.

Sure, it would be my fondest wish fulfilled to be considered an elite writer by reviewers, book-buyers, and author colleagues alike.  Book tours, signings, interviews, return visits to those bloggers who were kind enough to help me during the lean years, and interacting with fans would be one hell of a great way to live, IMHO.

Fate, any time you wish to tap me on my shoulder, I'm ready.

As many times as I've walked away from writing--or tried to--something invariably pulls me back: some indefinable urge to post just one more short story or ridiculous commentary to my blog; some nagging little voice that keeps chiding me in no uncertain terms that I'm not finished yet; or some gently-glowing ember of a hope that I just might be on the verge of placing my work before the right pair of eyes.

That's what keeps me going ... that and the novels I've yet to write ... the characters I've yet to bring to life ... and the stories I've yet to tell.

Then there's that one unavoidable truth: whether I like it or not, I need to write.  It's in my blood (along with considerable quantities of alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine).

In the true spirit of Rocky Balboa, I'll gamely shake off the latest knockout punch and stagger back to my feet.  I'll keep telling myself that the right pair of eyes is out there somewhere just looking for my writings.  I'll keep telling myself that there are still thousands of reviewers out there to impress and millions of readers to find and win over.  I'll keep telling myself that it ain't time to quit yet. 

Most of all, I'll keep telling myself that tomorrow may find Opportunity knocking on my door.

Rest assured, I'll be here.  I'll welcome him in, heat up a pot of tea, and we'll become close friends.

Then things will get really interesting.