Thoughts About Writing And Self-Publishing: Contradictions and Balances
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
March 24, 2019
The only joke i ever made up in my life that even got close to a chuckle from anyone is the following:
"I've always wanted to be a procrastinator, but I never got around to it."
There's not much there but a word play, I admit, but here's another one that has driven my actual thinking over the years:
Choices in life are a constant battle between "He who hesitates is lost," and "Haste makes waste."
In the battle between these two well-known truisms, I have lived mostly on the "he who hesitates is lost side" of the debate. I figure I can live with a few regrets over bad decisions than a wondering what would have happened if I had only gone for something.
Of course, that's the "Trespassing" thinking that got me in so much trouble over the years. Then again, if I hadn't gotten in so much trouble I would never have written the book, so go figure.
It seems that here's no script for life, just moments in which decisions can be made and experiences can be appreciated. So far it's been a pretty fascinating ride.
March 26, 2019
But this is a blog about writing and publishing, so where are the contradictions and balances there? Honestly, there are probably enough to fill a whole book, but my task at the moment is to jot down the ones that I think are most interesting and see where it leads. Here's today's:
Writers write for an audience, or do they write for themselves?
I think to have something interesting to say, the process of writing involves both letting go of the task at hand and focusing on the details, all at the same time - or rather both as part of the entire process of writing over the many weeks and months it takes to complete a project.
In the first draft stages, if I think too much about an audience, I get insecure about what is really interesting to me, and the whole thread gets lost. Judgement kills enthusiasm, for me anyway. Instead of worrying if what I am writing is any good, I prefer discovering what the deeper parts of my brain are digesting and spitting up to me. It's not an easy mindset to stay with, but I try to be playful at first and open to weird creative ideas. It sort of like I am the reader of my mind recording what the "not-me" inside me is bubbling up.
As a first draft progresses, if I am lucky, the playfulness turns to excitement about bringing a vision into reality. At that point, the editing mindset kicks in and grows more and more dominant until it is all-consuming during final stages of a manuscript.
So, that's the first and main contradiction about writing - it is a process of loose listening and letting go of judgement, as well as a process of judgement and critical precision. How one strikes the balance between these poles is one of the things that makes writing, in fact all art, uniquely fascinating and fulfilling.
April 3, 2019
So I had a dream last night that I was running in The Pikes Peak Marathon (something I have foolishly done once in my life), only I had missed the start. Right off the bat I was way behind, and I wasn't sure I had the right bib on, and my golden retriever dog had to run with me because I was the only one who could take care of it, only it wasn't a dog. It was a young mountain lion that happened to look just like a retriever, but only I knew that, and I was constantly worried that while it dawdled and played with every spectator along the trail up the mountain it would suddenly get fierce and bite someone. To make things more interesting, I kept calling to it to keep up using the name, Lyca, the actual name of the cat who presides over and dictates most everything that happens in our home.
So, many psychologists feel that the subconscious is stupidly and uncircumspectively logical. For example anxiety is usually triggered by the subconscious, triggered by things that happened to you in the past that you are not consciously aware of but your brain took note of anyway. An example: your parents had a scary fight once when you were being strapped into a back back at age one, so now you get anxiety in cars and airplanes because seatbelts trigger you. You get anxious, but, of course, you may never consciously know why.
All of us have these logical subconscious constructs. It's part of being human (and one of the reasons very early childhood is so important to healthy human emotional development). I get that. But if dreams are a window into the subconscious where the stuff of recent experience is filtered through and stored away using simple subconscious logic, why are dreams anything but simple when we happen to remember them? Is it because experience is complex and our brains have a hard-wired need left over from simpler times to file things away (with corresponding emotions) in as simple a manner as possible? Or is our conscious mind actually the one that thirsts for simplicity?
Maybe our conscious mind's need for "figuring it out," for making sense of the world in a manner that is relatively simple to understand and live with, has evolutionarily been putting this requirement on the subconscious mind to the detriment of our ultimate understanding? If so, poor subconscious! It dutifully records everything it experiences in all its vast complexity to protect us from dangers and to help us survive, and we keep beating it down in favor of our conscious need for comfort and easy answers.
What if the weird language of dreams were actually the most accurate representation of "the way things are," rather than the illusion of logic we live by every day? If so, what then can be our understanding of understanding?
In many indigenous cultures, "crazy" people were actually considered blessed and closer to God (or the gods, the spirits). They were listened to very carefully. Maybe channeling our own "crazy," our dreams is a beneficial practice toward living a fuller, more authentic life?
Simplicity vs. complexity - what is the goal for our understanding?
April 30, 2019
Sometimes the process of self-publishing feels a little like a runner who casually decides it's time to rehab a knee and the next thing he knows he's in surgery laying bare his own anterior cruciate ligament with a scalpel in one hand and an anatomy book in the other. Meanwhile, to save money on the whole process he's turning the dial on his own epidural and trying not to pass out at the same time.
Well, maybe it's not quite that bad. It's not medical, but this adventure certainly has every characteristic of a surprise enrollment in a graduate program in publishing, marketing, and economics. Like many occupations in life, the challenges of putting your writing out there are not what you expected, and keeping a positive attitude is not always easy.
First of all, if you had told me that editing a book well enough that it approaches an error-free final product is nearly impossible to do by yourself, I wouldn't have believed you. It's true, though. The side benefit of learning this humbling truism has been lots of practice at uploading manuscripts to Amazon and Draft2Digital. I'm pretty good at that now. Also, I am very good now at sending notes to Amazon begging for help with formatting. I'm nothing if not tenacious.
I'm also perfectionistic by nature. I don't come anywhere near perfectionism, but making mistakes does bother me. I like to be in control of what I am creating, and that doesn't work when what you are trying to create is an audience! There are plenty of articles about how to do this, and not one about how I should do it for my books. And that's the thing - you can do the things that are recommended (giving interviews, submitting to reviewers, entering contests, doing giveaways, etc.), but ultimately it is up to the universe how lucky you are.
There is one bit of advice that I will say has the most resonance with me, and that is the idea that writing a great next book is the best way to sell your earlier books. I'm going to go with that one, I think, mainly because it's really a blast writing the sequel to Lenore. It sure beats learning the hard way that the plural of mosquito is mosquitoes, not mosquitos, and that gutter spacing in the Amazon world has nothing to do with finding a drunken space with other self-publishers to pass out.
June 20, 2019
It's been a while since I posted on this blog, mainly because I have been focussing mostly on writing instead of promotion. Also, truth be told, I have been obsessed with the problem of climate change. Recently I had the privilege of hearing Chip Fletcher (University of Hawaii, Manoa) speak at my wife's CAIS Heads Conference at the Biltmore. As we sipped water from individual plastic bottles we learned the problem of plastic waste destroying the oceans, along with the usual depressing myriad of other ecological disasters unfolding everywhere. The most compelling graph he showed, however, was to refute the idea that this newest climate changing warming cycle is just a part of a natural cycle and nothing to be worried about. On the chart you can see that the earth has indeed gone through periods of increased atmospheric CO2 matched with rising temperatures. It all looks like normal ups and downs with millions of years between cycles. Clearly there is a connection between rising CO2 and warming temperatures. Then you look more closely at the cycle we are in now (which, actually, should be heading downward toward an eventual new ice age) is instead heading up with the CO2 levels literally flying off the chart at the top of the graph. That's the scary thing. We just don't know the impact that will have, other than that it will be substantially more severe than previous warming cycles.
So, the issue of my particular ambition to share my books with more people pales in comparison to the mission we all must work on to save the earth.
My only justification for time spent on promoting my books then is that I feel all of them raise heart-felt questions about this crisis, and maybe by sharing them widely better answers to the questions might come to light.
June 29, 2019
Just got back from Esalen Writer's Camp, and it was wonderful. Such inspiring teachers, and so many fabulous writer is one place it was like what we all wish formal education had been - inspirational, life-changing, uplifting, etc. (Click on "More" in the main menu above to read session notes from 2019 to get a taste of what was discussed, or to remind yourself of a few wonderful moments from the camp if you were lucky enough to attend.)
One thing I am grateful to the camp for is the sense of personal validation that happened while I was there. The teachers all shared similar views to mine regarding the absolute importance of listening to and activating your subconscious while writing. A number of great techniques for doing this were artfully presented by them, and oh man, the student responses were out of this world - breathtaking, inspirational. Such talent in that group of writers and artists! Such soulful learners and sharers! Lovely beyond words. So grateful to have been there!
Dec. 6, 2019
I have been busy editing "Lenore and the Problem With Love," and now that its release date is upcoming, I marvel again at the amount of work that is involved in self-publishing a novel. The learning curve is huge, and it is interesting to humbly experience that at my ripe old age of 64. It is especially fascinating to realize now that complete and utter obsession with and faith in a book is absolutely necessary to pull you through all the steps, and that the blindness that comes with obsession is also protective and necessary if one is to reach the finish line. Still, the editing process slowly lets light back into that shield of blindness, and then reviews blast the shield to bits with radioactive intensity. Now, a year out from publishing "The Tunes of Lenore," I recognize its shortcomings. Happily, though, I can still feel its positive energy and attributes too, and I am so glad I wrote it and learned from the process. Naturally, at this stage of the game, I am wildly optimistic about the sequel. Time will tell if my insights are blinded, or if blindness is insightful!
Dec. 10, 2019
I am making plans for a direct paperback book giveaway for "Lenore and the Problem With Love" in January, 2020. Stay tuned for details. It will either be totally free, or just $3.00 to cover an envelope and book-rate shipping (U.S. only). If you want to get on the mailing list for one, just send me an email, and I will reserve your spot: firstname.lastname@example.org (Limit one per person. I will be giving away 100 signed copies. Payment for postage will be made through PayPal.)