Monday, November 2, 2015

Unfortunately, It's All Worth It

I'm writing a serialized novel called Erra's Throne, which if you're here and don't know I don't even...hello, person who is here totally by accident. Welcome to my blog! Poke around--it's cozy. My name's James.

Anyway, I'm writing this thing.

And "Column 5" (I call the parts "Columns") came out recently; "recently" being late October of this year. This was after a...7 month wait from Column 4's release date, which itself took a few months and much much longer than I had anticipated claimed or wanted.

There's a simple tactical fact here, which is that I began releasing this book thinking it was done and then I read it and was like WHARG! ARGH! NO: NOT DONE. And I was right. We'll get to that.

BUT that fact--the tactical misjudgment--needn't have mattered. Anyone who's spent now like a year waiting for these last two parts of Erra will laugh at this, but the fact is: I'm a pretty fast writer. If you were like, "I'll pay you some amount of money worth caring about to write a 120k word novel in eight weeks," I'd take your money with a clear conscience and swear to goodness give you a pretty good novel on time. Words come out fast; they come out pretty good and I'm able to go over them in a focused way to make them a bit better; I have lots of ideas in my head and in various files I can draw on and things string together pretty quickly.

The issue with Erra is that, because it is a self-published fantasy-adventure novel entering a saturated market on which I make let's say y'know not a lot of bank, the only rationalization I can offer for its existence--and I don't mean consciously "offer", I mean in my heart and my gut--is that I really believe it is and could be f***ing awesome. Not another indifferently written genre thing; a story with story-beats that sweep and crack and sentences that each one of them sparkles. I really think it CAN be that, and that it's the best thing I've ever done, and that it can stand as something I'm proud of for years.

[CAVEAT: As probably any writer will tell you, "proud of for years" means that you read it in two months and want to punch out your own brain because you're so stupid who could write a sentence like that holy cow, but that's fine. That's part of the thing. You're still actually proud, if you feel it's a worthy offering to the world.]

The point is the only reason for Erra to be is to be perfect. Or, at least, really as close to perfect as I know I can muster at this moment. No concessions or compromises or "that'll have to do", until or unless I actually break.

So I strove for that, for the last year, with these last two parts.

And each time it made me f***ing miserable. Truly...well, okay, "truly" miserable is people who've experienced a real misfortune or hardship. In the context of a very blessed life, really down and self-recriminating and angry and upset. That it wasn't out yet; that I hadn't had the ideas yet that were good enough; that I lacked the craft to shape what ideas I'd had into something good enough; that I apparently have to learn the same lessons about storytelling mechanics a hundred BILLION times and STILL I don't know them and have to learn them again...all of it, whole thing. I'd go on runs where for minutes on end I'd be spitting spiking vitriol at and about myself, my tawdry failure even to do this one thing of getting this story and who did I think I was, and what did I think this story was, really, it's not f***ing Sophie's Choice, and etc. etc. etc.

I did work, this whole time. I wasn't moping around waiting for inspiration, or sliding into a writerly slough of despond. I get up a little before 5 every morning, energized and ready to go, because that's the only way to fit in the things that make every day such an amazing gift: working at my desk 4 - 7 hours, depending; a couple workouts; possibly something remunerative (I guess this one doesn't "make each day a gift", but it's fine--my life's good). AND, and I'd note, friend--are you still here, accidental person?--that when I say work I quite frankly don't mean bulls**t "work" as some of us, myself absolutely included, have been guilty of in our lives. Minding time in the place where "work", ostensibly, happens. I mean work: turning off the shit that doesn't serve me and digging in and doing my best, putting down lots of words, thinking through plot mechanics with organization and discipline, etc.

And then throwing most of it out because it was rubbish; days weeks months: rubbish.

So all that weighs on you. It does. It's nothing like a real burden, and I'm super-blessed. But it weighs on you.

The PROBLEM, and the reason I'm writing here, is that it's all worth it. Which, like...sucks. But it really is.

Let me decompose the different statements that are wrapped up in my saying "it's all worth it":

  • I am not under some strange misapprehension about what I've created here. There's always, for me, a moment in the rush of the work where you're sure you're creating the greatest thing a human person has ever created. But then that passes. Like I said, in a few months I'll read this thing and be slapping my head all over the place. BUT
  • I AM under an ironclad subjective impression that it's terrific. That it's lean and good-hearted and really rewards the reader's time and attention with movement and thought and some novelty and good sentences and characters who do things that are worthy of clay. I stand by it. Three months ago (or whatever), I read what I thought was the last draft of Column Five and this pit opened up in my stomach because: nope, nope nope nope. Not sharp enough; too much widgetry too gracelessly introduced. nope. And I remember reading this draft, essentially the one that's now out, about two weeks ago: on an evening I'd set aside to read it in a coffee shop and not edit, beyond a separate pen-n-pad setup (I have to make that rule or it screws up the reading). And reading the draft that time, this more recent one, was: yup. NOT "this is perfect"; not "I am a big genius." But: yup. This is the thing; it is itself as I meant it. Go.
  • So then you put that into the world, this thing that you stand behind and...I just physically shrugged, trying to convey this. There is nothing at all like it. GUESS WHAT THIS BOOK PROBABLY WON'T MAKE ME WEALTHY. And, for sure, I don't want to be a marginal self-published writer-guy for the rest of my life; I want to get big audiences and be well paid for my imaginings and all that, I really do. But this: this is the thing. It is there, in the world, it is being read and experienced by other humans RIGHT NOW for all I know, really that's quite possible, certainly TODAY, and I did that and it is as it's meant to be, not a compromised partial crackity thing: it's it, it's there.
And that is totally worth it. All of it.

Which is a really big problem.

I have to figure out a way to speed up or handle this process better. Or something. Or this is gonna be a long haul. 




G#d, or Something

A few days ago I was running Temescal Canyon, a popular hike and wonderful trail run in the Pacific Palisades. It's pretty steep, and some sections are skiddy, with loose rocky scree and larger "real" rocks sticking up from the ground.

I was coming down, going fast (for me!); I was minding both my left calf--which cramped for a full week recently, when I pushed too hard on an interval run--and my left adductor, which has been inflamed and painful since June.

So: running fast, minding calf minding adductor but feeling good running CHOCK

My toe caught on one of the "real" rocks, sending all my weight forward in what I was sure was gonna be a pretty unpleasant forward slide; I caught myself first on the left leg, the problematic leg, pulled harder on that leg than I wanted or meant to but my body really did not want to skid chest and face first down this trail, which I mean: fair enough. I ran/fell/stumbled I'd say seven or eight feet (felt like twenty, of course) with my torso way out in front of my legs, my legs pumping to catch up downhill on this scattering rocky slope

and caught up to myself; pulled up, and was running again.

Jack Johnson's "Bubble Toes" was playing in my ears--if you know the song, you'll know it's upbeat acoustic pop with a "La da Da da DAH duh" refrain that's well earned; that refrain came on as I righted myself, and I sang it loud loud loud, and a couple of women coming up the trail I was hurtling down appeared around the corner and we all had a good smile at how stupid I was, hollering, as they parted and I ran between them.

I'm not someone who was raised to sync with, or has gravitated towards, any codified/organized system of religious or spiritual thought. But all of this is to say: there are some situations--healthy enough to be running; these incredible trails and mountains to run in; almost a nasty fall that turns thrilling; "bad" leg catching me and feeling just fine--that I have absolutely no response to but thank you, thank you.

thank you.