Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Essay: Writer Envy

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

Just last week, I mailed a friend a copy of the local anthologies here in the Philippines and she emailed me that she was distressed that I didn't sign them. My goal is to be a fiction writer and right now, I don't feel like one. In my mind, the people who purchase the anthologies I'm part of are reading it for the other authors, either the ones more famous than me or those who are more skilled at the craft. Right now, I'm wondering, who would want my signature? And while that could the basis of my rant here, that's not what I really want to talk about. What I want to focus on is me as a fiction writer. I've admittedly accomplished a lot in the past two years, especially with all the websites I'm participating in, especially this blog. Yet as proud I am of these, it's not fiction!

Now don't get me wrong. That's not to say all the nonfiction writing I'm doing isn't aligned with my goals. One of the authors I admire is Jeff VanderMeer, not just because he's a writer who's not afraid to experiment and utilize various styles, but because of his holistic approach to publishing: he's a publisher, editor, promoter, book reviewer, blogger, and more. The guy just can't stay put and you can't pigeonhole him! And while I hope to become someone like him some day, I really need to focus on my fiction writing. For all the multitasking miracles VanderMeer accomplishes, his fiction is still the core of his goals and he hasn't neglected them.

So I want to be a fiction writer. Easier said than done, right? A reminder for me of what I want to accomplish is looking at other writers, whether those that have come before me or my peers. Some are getting their work published left and right. Others are slowly honing their craft through participation in seminars and workshops. It's the latter that worries me more than the getting published part. How does one improve one's writing? There's no single route and unfortunately, it's not always evident how useful one particular path will be. It's up to each person to decide and find ways to improve their writing.

Which leads me to my next problem: I'm not writing enough. I wish I was the type of person who kept a regular writing schedule--and I admire those who do--but I'm not. The only time the writing muscles are stretched is when a deadline comes looming. Of course I have a repertoire of excuses why I'm not writing fiction. One compelling argument (at least in my mind) is that I have my book reviews. Well, writing book reviews is relatively quick (half an hour or so). The bigger time sink is actually reading the book and formulating my thoughts on the subject matter. I tell myself that my writing improves due to all the reading that I'm doing (and it does). But improving one's writing without actually writing only goes so far and that's something I need to work on.

And then there's this fear that your quality of writing isn't good enough. For the past few months, there's this story that I've been passing around various markets and it keeps getting rejected. Honestly, I'm weird in the sense that rejection doesn't really hurt me. My mentality is "if it gets rejected in this market, there's always another venue I can sell it to." (Unfortunately, one can't have the same mentality with real-life relationships: one's crushes are unique individuals and there literally is no "other market" to shop around your affections.) Be that as it may, there's a part of me that wonders: the stories I submit in local markets are getting accepted, but the ones internationally aren't (and sometimes these are the same stories). Is there that big of a gap when it comes to the expectations of the local publications compared to the global marketplace? That's a reality one has to eventually come to terms with.

Lastly, as much as I want to disconnect myself from the Internet and get some writing done in isolation, I can't. Somewhere along the way, I've been championing Philippine speculative fiction and I never thought I'd be that person to do so (every Filipino thinks it's Dean Francis Alfar and deservedly so). It's a good problem to have, mind you, but it's a dilemma nonetheless as personal writing time clashes with time spent promoting the genre*. In 2007, I was doing a podcast with a friend and she asked me when I'd come out with a book of my own. Five years seemed feasible at the time and so that was the number I mentioned. 2009 is year two and I honestly don't have enough stories to fill a book. My goals however have changed in the sense that instead of coming out with my book by the end of 2012, I want to see a book on Philippine speculative fiction published internationally by that time frame. Only time will tell whether that'll succeed or fail spectacularly but again, there's this tension between my editor (or "producer") persona and my writer persona.

To steal Mur Lafferty's tagline, I should be writing.

*And for those who are wondering what this exactly entails, it means mailing books to various people, reading local publications to find fiction that's often overlooked, contributing an article or two when invited to, and brainstorming various projects.


J m mcdermott said...

I'm currently facing a scheduling difficulty. My solution? Tea.


When I'm going into my scheduled fiction time, I stop whatever I'm doing and go make a cup of Chai tea. While the water's boiling, I take care of all the stupid things that will pull me away - bathroom, phone, hunger, etc. When the tea is ready, I start working.

My goal is to train my brain to equate the ritual of making tea, and the distinctive flavor of chai with "It's time to write fiction". Thus, I try to trick myself into fictioning.

It seems to be working, so far.

Even if we only write one or two pages a day, we've got a full, complete novel in a year, ready for revisions.

That's what I do, anyway. Other writers have other solutions, and everyone is right.

Kaz Augustin said...

Oh, I'd be upset too, Charles! On my podcasts, authors will often -- as thanks -- send me a copy of one of their books, and I always ask for their signature on it. Not so I can then sell it on at Ebay (I hear that's quite common), but because (a) it emphasises the personal link between us, and (b) tbh, I'm very proud to be associated with successful people who've actually got off their butts and done something. When I ask for a signature on a book, I feel I'm complimenting the person by valuing the small personalisation they add to the work they've already done. (If I ever get a book from you, I'd expect the same!)

As for writing.... The "not enough time" thing is one only you can answer yourself. I interviewed Amazon bestselling author, Maya Reynolds, recently and she said she only started to make serious inroads into being a professional writer when she stopped regarding writing as a hobby and began approaching it the way she'd approached every other one of her past careers. I strongly agree and wonder whether you are doing the same? That doesn't mean you can't do reviews -- I mean, writing is writing -- but it's a matter of determination and attitude, not time. If you have the former, the latter will be created, one way or another.

I took a hiatus last year to think all this kind of stuff through and, while I readily admit I don't do half the amount of work you do, I still realised that it wasn't the podcasts or the blogging that was the ceiling for me, it was me. So, late last year, I really decided to apply myself to writing and ... well, we'll see how things go.

Re: the local and foreign market thing. Not sure what the problem is there. Are we trying to skirt around the issue that local markets may not be as demanding as international ones? Maybe that's true. So what? If they're paying markets, then they're a viable avenue for you (and me!). Also, no matter how hard we try, bias always creeps into the work. Maybe the local bias wasn't compatible with the foreign editors' tastes...? Too difficult. If a market's there, pitch to it. Don't over-analyse. That just gives you the excuse not to write.