May 15, 2017

15 05 2017

Another rainy day, although it is supposed to clear. I’m grateful for the rain, but ready for a bit of sun. I spent most of yesterday cloistered in my room with my cats. I wrote another piece for the Monitor, scanned and posted a bit on Facebook, then devoted myself to revising a story to submit to an anthology.

I haven’t done much with short fiction for several years. It is a lot more work than the pieces I write for the Monitor, and it pays squat. But two friends of mine, Dan Kimmel and Morven Westfield, nudged me in that direction. I’d been cleaning out the basement (as my regular readers know) and unearthed a number of files from my past. Back in my younger days, I wrote compulsively. I was absurdly prolific and never sought to publish any of it. Getting my fiction published was too much work. I’d rather write.

As a result, I have this treasure trove of unpublished work. It desperately needs editing and revising; I’ve become a much better writer, technically speaking, since those early days. But I enjoy editing and revising; it’s not the chore for me that it is for other writers. And having established myself as a published writer, with a few connections and a better understanding of how the process works, I’m going to see what I can do about cleaning them up and finding homes for them.

In the process of choosing a candidate for submission, I stumbled onto one of my earlier unpublished novels. I wrote it in the early eighties. Terribly dated now, but I started reading it and was completely absorbed. Again, dear god, did it need a good edit! But the characters, the story—I couldn’t stop reading. I had to pull myself away from it to go make dinner. Yes, it’s my own damn book and of course I’m hopelessly biased. But I found myself wishing somebody else would write a book like that.

I enjoy reading, and I’ve discovered a lot of good books, many good enough that I’ve wanted to revisit them. But very few that totally sucked me in so that I didn’t want to stop reading, watching the end of the book approach with regret. You know the kind. Rare and wonderful reading experiences. Stories that resonate perfectly with you.

It’s not vanity to say that I felt that way reading my own work (and no doubt why I enjoy the revision process, polishing and perfecting it). I first started writing because I was dissatisfied with most of the books I read and wanted to write the sort of book I would enjoy reading. So naturally the characters are people I would like and the story is interesting to me. I wrote the ending to be satisfying to me. These are recipes for meals tailored to suit my tastes. Why wouldn’t I enjoy them?

Whether anyone would else would feel the same is the question. I expect most writers feel that way about their own work. They can’t understand why editors, publishers, and other readers don’t find the meal as tasty as they do. Kale is delicious! Why doesn’t everyone think so?

Experience and maturity provide the answers of course. If you want to appeal to a greater audience you stop insisting that they must like kale. You cook for other people to suit their tastes. Find a recipe that works and start cranking ’em out. You might actually be able to live on the proceeds. Heck, cook shrewdly enough and you might get rich.

Another thing I found in my excavations was a card I used to have tacked to my bulletin board: “Sibi scribere – The sensible author writes for no other posterity than his own, that is to say for his old age, so that then too he will be able to take pleasure in himself.” It’s an excerpt from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Human All Too Human, picked up in my college days. It’s the fundamental choice a writer makes early on. Who are you writing for? Why do you write?

Sibi Scribere. I write for myself. But surely there must be others out there who also enjoy kale.

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