Mea Culpa

That’s Latin for, “I suck.”  At least, I think that’s what it means.  I don’t really have what you’d call a classical education.  Just kidding. As everyone knows, that’s actually Latin for “My culpa.” 

So what is this culpa I’ve come to lay bare in the private confessional that is the Internet?  In what tomfoolery am I culpable – for lack of a better word?  Foot dragging, malingering and general self-sabotage.

When I started this journey in the year 2000 (cue music sting) I set out on a fairly logical and well thought out path.  I know art is art and there’s nothing logical about it, but even if you’re thunderstruck with a world changing idea every morning, you still have to amass the tools to write the damn thing.  You have to sharpen your pencils.  You have to experiment with colors.  You have to figure out what works and, more importantly, what works for you.  In short, you have to build a foundation on which all your future endeavors will be constructed.

Here was the plan I came up with:

1) Read lots of fiction.

2) Read lots of books about writing fiction.

3) Write tons and tons of crap. 

4) Create a feedback loop to refine the crap into something less crappy.

5) Join online writing groups – but only after producing work that should be seen by others.

6) Begin to methodically and relentlessly market my work.

 

Steps 1 through 4 went quite well. 

Step 5 was a huge mistake.  Your mileage my vary but my recommendation is to never submit your work to the critical eyes of a bunch of rank amateurs.  Trust me, they have nothing to tell you that you can’t figure out for yourself and you won’t have to sit through the oddly formalized critique that starts with a short list of insipid positives (“I really like the way you use periods.”) before the long list of minor nitpicks (“can guts really cry out for a drink of whiskey?  Guts don’t have mouths”). 

I’ll do a whole post on this in the future, but the upshot is this: Listen to professionals, they know more than you, but what in the world does someone in your exact situation have to say that you haven’t already thought of? 

Step 6 is where I got stupid.  Technically, I believe that I can tell when I’ve written something worthwhile, that I can hear the ping of pure crystal when it comes out right.  And as you’ll note from previous posts, I also know when I’ve written something not so good.  You have to know for yourself.  No one can tell you.  If writers didn’t believe in their work over the rejections of editors and agents, we wouldn’t have… well, very much at all in the library. 

I say “technically” because that’s what I believe but that’s not how I act.  Here’s how I act: Oh my God I just found this awesome agent and I read her website and she totally gets it and I’m going to send XYZ to her and she’s going jump all over it and it’s going to be a best seller and I’m going to be on Kimmel!   

Then the “good but not for us” letter comes and I sublimate like a mother.  Oh, yeah?  Really?  You don’t think?  Okay, fine.  You’re going to regret passing on this.  Then, after fifteen minutes, it’s like the hair dying scene from Scott Pilgrim.  “Oh, my God! Why did I send this crap out?  It’s total crap!  I should never have sent such drivel to an agent!  My reputation is ruined!”  Then after fifteen more minutes: “You know what, though?  I’ve got a great idea.  Yeah, this one is going to be great.  This one is going to blow the world away!”

No, I am not currently under treatment for bipolar disorder but I probably should be.

The end result is that I send that manuscript to exactly one agent before moving on to write something else.  I love writing.  I hate marketing.  But I have to face it.  It’s been twelve years since I started.  If I’m ever going to get anywhere, I’m going to have to stick my chin out a little further and get on with carpet bombing New York with my manuscripts.

Carpet bombing?  Hey, that gives me an idea for a cool story…

 

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One thought on “Mea Culpa

  1. Hi, Jake. Good post. I’ve been there. I guess we all have. My steps to success are similar to yours.

    About the feedback. I belong to Critters Workshop. Not sure if you’ve checked it out, but, your point about being critiqued by amateurs certainly rings true. I once heard Marion Zimmer Bradley say why would you send your manuscript to someone who isn’t going to potentially pay you? For me, this rings true . . . to a degree.

    I come from a video game background and I use a lot of my experiences from there for my writing adventure. Video game developers test constantly (the good ones do anyway). They are always looking for feedback. Its too easy to get so close to your work that you don’t see it any more and you need a fresh pair of eyes. I believe strongly in feedback, but at the end of the day, its just that–feedback. I’ve learned to filter out what I know is just a bitter amateur railing into my story for the sake of it and finding those gems that makes me see the story in a new light.

    Thanks for the post!

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