“Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.”
This is the eighth week that I have been posting for Curbside and every week when the new blog post goes live I ask myself the same question: is anyone reading this? I mean of course Victor and Jacob read it because they have to. And I like to read it out loud to my dog while he waits for his food. But is there anyone besides us? I wish I could be like, who the hell cares who reads this, but really I can’t because it’s a blog and I want an audience, goddammit. If I didn’t I’d just write this stuff in my journal.
My whole blog is a shot in the dark and I’ve got no set formula. I’m trying to write about topics that intrigue me and say it all in my own voice. I’m not all academic and I don’t always make sense. But whatever I write about, I try to be passionate and hope that people want to hear what I have to say.
John Steinbeck said, “Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one.”
I don’t know if that advice works for my blog, but I’ve wrestled with it in my fiction many times. Obviously, it worked for Steinbeck, you know with the whole Nobel Prize thing, but I don’t really think about audience in my first draft. I just want to get the story on the page the best I can. At the same time, it’s not like I am just writing for myself. It feels like I am just the vehicle for the story, the catalyst, and the story is using me to get itself on the page.
I think Don DeLillo summed the way I feel up best: “When my head is in the typewriter the last thing on my mind is some imaginary reader. I don’t have an audience; I have a set of standards. But when I think of my work out in the world, written and published, I like to imagine it’s being read by some stranger somewhere who doesn’t have anyone around him to talk to about books and writing—maybe a would-be writer, maybe a little lonely, who depends on a certain kind of writing to make him feel more comfortable in the world.”
So after the first raw draft comes the revision. That’s where on some level I have to think of the audience. That’s when I can focus on what is coming through on the page strongly, what needs work, and if the reader will get the story in the way it needed to be told.
I have been in classes with students who clearly don’t care about the audience. They write for themselves and if it makes sense to them and to them only then they are cool with that. This is great, but not if you want to be published. Not if you want to establish yourself as a writer.
We are artists. We create because we want others to see it, to see us. It’s not an egotistical thing really. I may write stories alone, but I want to share them with others, so how can I do that without thinking of the audience at some point?
When it comes to my fiction or my essays, I write first and think about audience in revision. When it comes to my blog, I’m beginning to realize that I think of audience always. I mean really who the hell wants to hear me talk? Sometimes I don’t want to hear me talk, but sometimes in the midst of my many analogies and my over usage of the word and, I feel like I have something to say that maybe someone would want to hear. So I write.
Thinking of audience this way pushes me out of my comfort zone. When I submit stories, they go to an editor or group of readers. I am not there when they read them and I follow submission guidelines and have read their literary magazines, so I hopefully sending them something they are looking for. They have been vetted and I will usually hear from them either way.
But with this blog, I am writing and putting it all out there with no clue if the subject is going to register with anyone at all, or if my voice is the way people want to hear it, and I don’t hear back, and I’m left to wonder if I even have an audience. It’s an odd thing to feel like I’m standing here on stage for everyone to see, alone in the spotlight, tapping the mic and asking whoever is out there in the darkness, “Is this thing on?”
I’m going to give you a pep talk. I’ve been debating whether to write this post. What makes me any more special than anyone else to feel like I can give someone a pep talk? Well, you know what? When I’ve needed it, I’ve had friends and mentor remind me of why I’m doing what I’m doing. Why I don’t sleep. Why I stretch myself so thin, I’m transparent. Sometimes everybody needs a push. It doesn’t make us weak as writers or people to ask for that.
So, this post is for anyone who needs a kick in the ass, whether you asked for it or not.
Here it goes:
You can be the best writer in the whole fucking world, but what does that matter without determination? Without hard work? Without passion? No one is going to just hand you a book deal. You need to finish a quality book first, no? People can believe in you, but if you don’t believe in yourself then what does it matter what they think? I could have a contract for a million dollars for 300 pages, but if those pages are blank, then there is nothing.
Dreaming Isn’t Enough.
Don’t think about how you are going to do whatever it is you dream of doing. Stop that shit. Dreaming is great, yes, but doing is better. Want a book published? Well, start by writing the first draft. Then revise and revise and revise and when you think you are done, revise some more. Then research, make connections, submit, and keep working at it. When your book is done, there is more work to do.
I keep doing what I’m doing because this is what I want. I wanted to be a writer on top of mother, wife, employee, teacher, friend, etc, so I’m doing it. I don’t regret it. Why complain about something I want? Mind you, I’m fucking exhausted and I may grumble about that every now and again, but I never stop working.
I know very talented writers that do way more excuse-making than writing. Why? Either stop complaining you don’t have time to write or make the time to write. Time is always there for your passion. People ask me how I balance a full-time job, grad school, baby, marriage, teaching, and I never have a good answer. My only answer is a boring one, “I just do.” No one said it was going to be easy.
You’re Not Perfect.
I admit I’m flawed. I admit that a lot of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just trying things out. Challenging myself. Allowing myself to make mistakes. That’s the only way to grow and growing can be scary. Being wrong can be disheartening, but then how else can you get better?
Change Your Thoughts.
I allow myself to say that I am a good writer. Just because I think I am a good writer doesn’t make me cocky because I know I can be better, but I can’t get better if I tell myself my writing sucks. Negativity is always a deal breaker. Negativity is glue. It’s cement. It will stall you and your creativity and you will not grow as a writer. Also, don’t tell yourself, you are a fabulous writer because being too cocky will also stall you. If you think you are so wonderful, you won’t allow yourself to get any better. Just say, “I’m a good writer. I can get even better.”
Know Who to Go to When You’re Struggling.
Don’t go to enablers if you are serious about being a writer. We all have them. Some of us might even be one. You know the friend that agrees with everything you say? The one that tells you maybe you should take a break? The one that doesn’t want to make any waves and is just nice all the time? The one that is so positive but only has “Everything will be ok,” as an answer to everything? These are not bad people. But they are not necessarily the most helpful. We all want to hear people say “I like it” or “you’re so talented” about our work. But that doesn’t help nor tell me anything. Seek those that motivate and encourage you, but also push you to keep at it, to keep working hard. Seek out constructive criticism.
Be Serious. Laugh a Little, Won’t You?
Be serious about writing, but don’t take being a writer so seriously. Have some fun. Laugh at yourself. Go back to stories you wrote years ago and drink some wine and laugh your ass off. If you are growing as a writer, you will laugh at your old work. You may be able to point out some things that were working, but you will also be able to laugh.
Just Do You.
Stop worrying about what other writers are doing. Don’t be jealous. Don’t think they have it easy. Read work you admire, learn how other writers put their stories on the page, talk about writing, but always come back to what works for you.
Corny, But True – Don’t Give Up.
If you give up, the rest of the world will too. If you don’t believe in yourself, those that do will get exhausted trying to convince you. You want it. Go get it. It’s in you. Find it. Do it.
Don’t Listen to Fear (aka Your Mean-Assed Inner Critic).
It lies. It tells you, “You suck. You can’t do it. There are better writers.” It tells you these thoughts are permanent. Yes, some of the first drafts will suck. There will be times you feel like you can’t write. There will be writers better than you. So, who the fuck cares? Be more afraid of the regret of not doing than the fear of failing.
Now, go write!
One mother sees the influences of her abusive father in her face, and the love of her husband in her daughter
When my book is finally published where will bookstores decide to display it? The ‘Women Writers’ section? The ‘Latino Writers’ section? The ‘Chicago Writers’ section? The ‘35 and Over, Carb-Loving, Sailor Mouth Writers Under 5’4”’ section?
There are twelve stories in my short story collection, which is my thesis, and at least eight of them have Spanish words scattered throughout. Four are based in Guatemala or El Salvador and one is about someone who is from Venezuela. Tortillas make more than a handful appearances in my stories. So, yes, I am writing ‘Latin-American Fiction’.
Almost all of my stories are written in a female voice, told in 1st, 2nd and 3rd person, and my narrators are kids, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. My stories just aren’t told from a male point of view very often. So, yes, I am a ‘Woman Writer’ writing stories about women.
But why can’t I just be shelved as a writer? Why do I have to be pegged as one thing? (Mind you, this is all hypothetical for now since no one has pegged me as anything, so I’m just thinking out loud here.)
The vehicle for all of these stories is me: a Latin-American woman trying to be a writer. For me that means taking all of my experiences and feelings, all of that stuff that makes me me, and putting them on the page as honestly as I can. How we view certain situations or characters, how we view the world, are the things that make one writer different from another. We all tell the same stories but in our own distinctive ways.
So why shouldn’t I feel comfortable with the labels ‘Latin-American Fiction’ or ‘Woman Writer’? They are part of who I am, aren’t they? At the same time, I can’t control what stereotypes people think about when they hear those labels, but I’m old enough to know I don’t care especially if someone is basing their book choices on the color or gender of the author and not on the quality of the work. Those things are all beyond my control.
First and foremost, I just want for my stories to be read. I want to get published and find my audience. I want to not just be a good writer, but a great one. That’s my focus. So if I do end up being labeled a ‘Latin-American-Chicago-Woman’ writer, well those things are true. Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, it’s time to get to work, yes?
This is a post as part of my Friday Blog Series for Curbside Splendor Publishing
I have this fantasy that one day I’ll be on the train and across from me will be a person reading a book and the book will be my book. The person will seem to love it, will be all into it: smiling or crying or getting angry (whatever appropriate reaction that section of my book calls for). I will get up and we will briefly make eye contact. I’ll smile and as I get off of the train, the person’s head will snap back to the book and scan the back of it only to see my author photo. The doors will close as the person’s mouth gapes, knowing that I am the author of the the book they are falling in love with and then I will be gone in a blur.
What? I can have dreams, can’t I?
For me being a writer means I work alone. I write the first draft alone, revision 1, 2, 3, and 4 are all done alone. I don’t want to be looked at which is why I put my voice on the page, but then there’s that part of me that whispers, hey, check me out, yes?
Regardless of whether I ever get a book published, I will write. That’s a given, but there’s also part of me that wants to share my writing. Not because I think it’s the best thing ever written, but because I want to share my stories with others.
Putting myself on the page is my way of being raw and naked for all to see. No one likes to be judged and I know there are people that don’t like my work and I’m okay with that because judgement comes with the territory of being a writer. The flip side of course is that there will be people who love what I do.
I may be thirty-five, but that doesn’t mean I’m over wanting to be accepted by others. Mind you, it’s not the please-I’ll-change-who-I-am-I’ll-kiss-your-ass kind of acceptance. It’s the hey-I’m-a-writer-read-my-stories-hope-you-like-them-and-if-you-don’t-that’s-cool-too kind of acceptance.
I want my book to be published and for people to buy it, to read it, to enjoy it, and to recommend it. Rinse and repeat. Isn’t that why we writers work so hard? Revision after revision, submission after submission, rejection after rejection, we keep working because we want someone to like our stories enough to publish them and then share them with others.
So, yeah, I can admit it, I have literary fantasies of my book in many hands, of many eyes scanning my pages, hands and eyes that can’t get enough of my book, whether they are reading it on the train, or on the bus, or in their bed. That’s my fantasy.