Fuck, that title’s a mouthful.
Sorry about cursing word one, it just seemed the easiest way to shed the gross pretension I felt after writing that title. Literary tradition? Okay, maybe I’ve given a shit about literary tradition once or twice.
But I certainly didn’t start out that way. When I was a kid drawing comics and telling stories with action figures, the closest I got to tradition was pausing the narrative while my Han Solo action figure sat in a cup of water in the freezer overnight. Carbonite is hard for an 8 year old to acquire.
But post undergraduate, first-applying-to-MFAs Jeff gave too many shits about the “literary tradition” and would give you (unasked) pedantic opinions while we shared a joint or cigarette. When I encountered David Foster Wallace, my bad Raymond Carver imitations morphed into bad DFW stories. Bad fiction is one thing, but being a bad person is worse, and I found myself doing appalling things in the name of experiencing the breadth of humanity for writing fodder. I was basically an animal. An annoying, pretentious, self-aggrandizing animal who wrote white boy fiction no one wanted to read.
That’s maybe a bit hard on past Jeff. I was trying a suit on, seeing if it fit.
After a while, my depression had peaked. That suit, which had felt long in the arms on first fitting had grown worse from denial. I started to hate writing. I started to hate reading. I never voiced either of these thoughts, but I had first bounded into a late undergrad because I was reading non stop, running my own for-the-love-of-it horror lit journal, and writing 2-5k words a day. I thought going to college would help get me over the publishing hump, but after school I felt farther from it than ever. I was reading nothing and writing nothing.
The concept of self publishing saved me as a writer and a person.
I needed to get out of that suit. It’d begun to smell so bad that even I noticed. I was carrying large never-read John Franzen novels about with me places and rehearsing my NPR interviews but finishing one short story in two years. I hadn’t been published anywhere since 2009. My substance abuse habits kept starting earlier and earlier in the day. I’d gotten a job at a coffee shop and was acting like a joke, showing up and doing as little as possible because soon I’d be recognized as the anointed brilliant writer I knew I was.
Then I heard about self publishing on the Kindle store and something in my brain unhinged. It was just so blue collar, you know? “You can make it this way, kid, but you have to write and work your ass off. Also, nobody gives a shit about your autobiographical bullshit about the human condition. They want good stories.”
So I wrote a horror short story, just to see if I still had the chops for it. Turns out I did. Ironically enough, that’s going to be my first traditionally published work in about seven years when Ghostlight Magazine publishes it this August.
Then I set out to write a novel. I kept it as simple as possible. I’d do my take on vampires and set it in a coffee shop. I finished it. Plasma Spice Latte (which I’m hoping will be ready for you all by July) was the first novel I completed since high school.
I was already starting to just have fun and, in the best kind of way, not give a fuck when Ben and I started writing Detroit 2020. I was writing for pleasure again. More importantly I was writing again. I’m healthier and better as a person now then I’ve been in quite some time.
So, today when I came across Ros Barber’s post about why self publishing is the devil my response wasn’t frustration or anger, but laughter.
“Now, I understand that “indie publishing” is all the rage, but you might as well be telling Luke Skywalker to go to the dark side. Despite royalty rates of 70%, I think self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (by which I mean, novelists who take writing seriously, and love to write).”
Now, reading this follow up post, Ros seems a perfectly nice human that probably didn’t realize the shitstorm she was starting or how hurtful phrasing like “serious novelists” could be if she were on the other side of it, but still…I laughed. It just seemed something me from a few years ago—that guy in the ill fitting suit who’s life was off the rails—would say. A summation and understanding of a path that you didn’t take given as gospel.
Look, as a writer, a painter, or an actor, or any kind of artist let me level with you. As long as you’re making art that you are proud of and are healthy as a person, you’re doing alright. If that means you follow traditional paths, awesome. If that means you carve your own path, also cool. Just do what’s right for you, and try not to shit on others taking a different path.