A rhetorical question — how can one be arrogant and self-conscious at the same time?
I’m sure somewhere out there is a research project or thesis or essay that sets out to prove that arrogance is borne out of self-consciousness; that someone can be so full of themself only because they’re convinced they’re so flawed that they have to project this cocky facade in order to survive.
But enough about them, this is about me.
A long time ago, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I took my high school’s lone creative writing class twice — as a freshman for credit and as a senior because I needed to fill my schedule and, well, I wanted to write.
I wasn’t confident enough in myself then to tackle my ultimate goal — writing a novel. Hadn’t lived enough, hadn’t done enough, didn’t have the free time to devote to it. Keep in mind, I was, and still am, a big Stephen King fan, so I’ve always had it in my head that a novel should be long. I mean, really, long — hundreds of pages, thousands upon thousands of words.
A lot of work, in other words.
So I went off to college and bounced in and out of school — I wasn’t the most dedicated student, an aspect of my personality that no doubt reflects on my inability to write a novel — and I started and stopped a couple of projects along the way.
Time passed, as it does, and I fell in love and got married to a woman who encouraged me to write. Again, here and there I found time but I never finished anything.
It dawned on me recently, the reason why these fantastic stories — well, they’re fantastic in my head, and I want to write them — don’t seem to get actually written is because I’ve convinced myself that I need to have an audience.
I know, the prevailing wisdom, at least among the fiction writers who have deigned to give advice to us aspirants, is that you can’t write with an audience in mind. You have to submit yourself to the muse, treat writing as some sort of etheral conduit to the great mysteries of the universe. You can’t know where your story is going. Let it flow, man.
I’ve made a living, of sorts, in newspapers. Writing what people want to know, or need to know, as the case may be. You sit down and 99 percent of the time you know what you’re telling; the magic is in how you put the words together to tell the story.
And always, always, always, you know you’re writing because someone out there wants to read the story.
The thing about novel-writing, at least in my head, is that I’ve convinced myself that there has to be a reward for all that effort. And that reward isn’t that I wrote something; I write things all the time.
No, the reward that I’ve convinced myself I’m owed for writing such a masterwork is that a lot of people will want to read it and buy it. So, to borrow a phrase, I’ve got to hit a grand slam my first time at bat.
Truth is, that’s not going to happen.
For every King or Grisham or Rowling whose work(s) become a phenomenon, there’s hundreds of other writers who don’t have that winning lottery ticket in their imagination.
Oh, they’ll write good stories and they’ll have fans and they’ll be able to celebrate their achievements without maxing out their credit card or refinancing their house, if they own a house.
But their literary careers will be asides to their true careers, the ones that pay the bills while they find a few free minutes here and there to retreat to their imaginations and take the rest of us to these wonderful worlds they’ve created.
Nothing wrong with that. We don’t all get trophies for participating.
And that’s the lesson I have to remind myself. It’s OK if I put the time into writing a book and the only people that read it are my immediate family.
Arrogance — “my novel will be the greatest ever!” — won’t get me anywhere.
Self-criticism — “who’s going to want to read something I wrote?” — won’t get me anywhere.
Writing the damn book already? Yeah, that will get me somewhere.