Autobiographical nonsense follows. I’d skip it if I were you. The only excuse for this wallowing: maybe if I write about them, I might actually get these projects done. One can hope.
So I’ve written a couple decent length novels in blog posts over the last couple years. And, in other venues, I’ve cranked out a similar volume of stuff – mostly humor for an internet publication. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of often surprisingly coherent prose. So I suppose that makes me a ‘writer’ in some baseline, mechanical sense, sort of how somebody picking out a tune is ‘playing the piano’.
Meanwhile, over the last getting on towards 30 years, I’ve written the occasional short story, and even outlines and a good number of pages for a couple novels. There are also dozens of essays in there – that’s what this blog is about. I’ve started one book project – an analysis of Catholic education – that I may get to if I ever retire (no time soon, that). I’d write that book out of a sense of duty, if I do. All the rest of it runs from utter crap to interesting ideas buried in utter crap.
Other than three, I think, letters to the editors (I’m 3 for 3 in getting them published, if I’m recalling correctly), the only things I’ve ever submitted to an editor were those humorous pieces and jokes. There was no money, but quite a bit of warm fuzzies involved in getting my stuff published. Bragging a little – I got something like 8 or 10 fan letters for stuff I wrote, which was, I think, the best of the stable of writers. But if the highpoint of one’s literary career is getting sparse fan mail for humor published for free on the internet – and that’s about it – then, ‘literary career’ is quite the reach.
I never dreamed of being a writer as a child. I didn’t even discover I liked writing until well into my 20s, and, even then, didn’t actually do much. Did once ask a writer friend (published and everything!) to read a short story I wrote, and she came back with several pages of comments – overall, encouraging, although I got the feeling she didn’t really like the story – it was insanely dark, I’m not even sure I liked it.
Anyway, these thoughts are occasioned by my now trying to finish an essay and a short story for real publication, like maybe even get paid. In doing so, I rediscovered two things I’ve long known about myself: I’m a coward, and I’m lazy.
I hate rejection. I hate failure. The options are to become insanely driven, or just to not try. I’m a coward, so I don’t try. This takes the form of wasting enormous amounts of time. Lazy.
Once, 25 years ago in business school, I made a conscious effort: I was going to do the best I possibly could in this one class. Generally – and, for business school, this is probably a sane approach – I coasted as much as I could get away with, which turns out to be a lot. But, this once, I was going to try.
It was a programming class, something I can certainly do, but have less than zero interest in. The teacher, in a classic programmer type move, published the cumulative scores for everybody in his classes on his office door, names ever so slightly encoded for privacy. So, I could see how I was doing both absolutely and relative to everyone else whenever I passed his door – which happened regularly.
So I went for it – how well can I make myself do in a subject I do not care for? By the end of the class, I was getting emotional. I almost cried when I did in fact get the highest scores. In a small, private way, I managed to put myself on the line – and it was tough.
Yes, I am insane. Was there any question? Even putting myself on the line in private like that for something I didn’t really even care about was incredibly trying.
So, imagine what it’s like to write something for real, with the intention of throwing it out there, of releasing it into the wild. No hiding behind ‘I’m just doing this for kicks, it’s not *really* writing.” The major difference: in the ensuing 25 years, I’ve almost grasped one of the major blessings of age: not giving a crap what other people think. Almost. But the problem really resides where *I* think.
I’m trying to finish the first piece tonight. Wish me luck.