I am hip deep in the middle of a pity party. I am sharing this with you in an effort to get the hell over myself.
To set the stage: In 2107, I put out three books (well, four, but that last one was clearly a joke). They were small, comparative to your average bookstore novel. The three were intended to be combined into a “Book 1” but I decided that was silly, and to keep them all individual. At over 150 pages each, they do qualify as books unto themselves. So, semantics aside, I published three real books in 2017.
Volume 1 of Marlowe Kana came out on on May 20, Volume 2 on June 19, and Volume 3 on September 17, 2017, and all three became print paperbacks on November 22nd (for those of you who, like myself, prefer the book-in-hand experience).
Proud? You bet I’m proud. It’s an awesome feeling to be back in the saddle and writing books again after a 10 year hiatus (2013’s Everyone Deserves To Know What I Think was a best-of-the-old-blog, and as such, was honestly just a cash grab because I was penniless and homeless, literally. Everyone who bought it, thank you). The momentum of the first pushed me through the second, which pushed me through the third, and in a year’s time, I tripled my bibliography. That’s kinda nuts.
When Volume 3 went live, I told myself I would take a few months to relax, rekindle, recover, and hit the ground running on January 1, 2018. I had momentum, and the overarching storyline for all nine volumes was established a while ago. But as far as particulars and how I like to approach each volume from a writing perspective, I needed time to build all of that stuff. Outlines, character descriptions, particulars, tidbits, governing principals… You know, all that writing stuff.
But I draw a line between “writing” (story, plot, characters, concepts, outlines, descriptions, story arcs, whiteboarding, and so on — what almost any writer would tell you is what makes up “writing”) and Writing — words on the page, intended for publication (after editing and all that of course… The First Draft, if you will). To wit: you can think and plan your story all you want, but the book isn’t written until you start page one, paragraph one, word one, and finish that last word of the last sentence of the last page. Period.
It’s January 14th, 2018. To date, I’ve written exactly one and a half pages in the new volume, Volume 4. That was on Wednesday, January 10th. I even announced in the Slack channel for the Marlowe Kana team that the first day of my new 90-day challenge had started, and that I was excited to finally get going on the actual labor of writing the new volume.
And then, things happened.
I got a nasty message from a guy I sent some cigars to in a sampler. He didn’t appreciate that his selection wasn’t as varied and out there as someone else’s in our cigar group. He’s the first guy to complain out of literal dozens I’ve sent cigars to. It put me in a sour mood and made me all grumpy. Also, I had to put in an additional few hours Friday night to fix a bug I just couldn’t figure out on the temporary HomestarRunner.com page we have in place to let folks know, a new site that isn’t dependent on Flash is on the way (oh, by the way, I’m working on the new Homestar Runner site. It’s made of HTMLS!). My day job got in the way a few times with last-minute asks that found me working in the evening when I got home. And last weekend, I hit my brick mailbox with my truck and cracked both a bit.
And just this morning, head full of gumption after last night’s staring at a blank screen and blaming every minor distraction for my inability to just write, I sat in my desk chair — READY TO WRITE — and it broke. Again. On the opposite side from where it broke a few years ago, sure, but still. It broke. And I had to fix it. DAY RUINED!
Day after day, these little things appeared that derailed my plan — nay, my DREAM — of coming home, pouring a fine drink, lighting a nice cigar, and writing all night. That Hemmingway shit. That Steinbeck thing. That Gaiman, King, Whomever-you-idolize fantasy of the Writer at work.
Only, it doesn’t work like that. I know this, because it has NEVER worked like that.
Not last volume, or the volume before, or Volume 1, or the book in 2013 (which was just a best-of-my-blog book and had no new writing in it), or the book before that in 2009 (which finished in 2007), or the book before that in 2006. It didn’t work like that for any of the over one thousand blog posts I wrote from 2002 – 2012. It didn’t work like that for the hundreds of articles I wrote for dozens of publications. It didn’t work like that when I was writing the first season of Screenland.
I’ve proven this to myself dozens of times over dozens of years, and yet, every single time I take time off and have to get started again, I fall for this stupid trap, thinking somehow that it’ll be different — you know, with the desk and the cigar and the fine drink and the genius just flying out of my fingertips. Or, more simply, the writer’s dream. The way it’s supposed to be.
That whole concept is delusional. Always has been, always will be. But it doesn’t stop my brain from fucking with me by bringing it up every single time I start something new.
Getting the first three volumes out last year was actually a multi-year process beginning in 2015, which required LOTS of found time, and lots more cancelled plans or passing on other fun things or disappointing friends and family because the only way I was going to get words on the page was to prioritize putting words on the page, day after day, night after night, regardless of how comfortable or fun or painful or forced.
This is Stephen Pressfield’s textbook definition of resistance. I am nose to nose with the scariest and most devilish enemy on the planet: my own ego.
By most points of feedback I’ve gotten on the three volumes so far, this book series is good. It’s intriguing to the readers who have read it. Each chapter makes you want to read the next; each volume makes you want to pick up the following volume and see what has happened. Those who have made it through Volume 3 email, text, message, and ask “Dude, where the hell is Volume 4! I gotta know what happens to Marlowe and Atlanta!”
That feels good. And it’s hard-won, because writing Volume 3 was only SLIGHTLY easier than writing Volume 2, which was only SLIGHTLY easier than writing Volume 1, which was hard in a way I can only describe in relation to training for a marathon after spending years on the couch. So in that regard, each volume after the first was its own marathon. It was only because I was trained up for the first, that I could do the second — which was STILL HARD. And the third? STILL HARD.
It doesn’t get easier. It’s work. It takes work to think about. It takes work to write. Night after night for months. The loneliest, hardest, most exhausting fun thing anyone could ever do. And here I sit, on January 14, 2018, actively fighting myself not to just quit and give up and focus on the day job and let those first three volumes be enough. Because the absolute last thing my ego wants to face is the possibility that they were flukes, and I really do suck, and all I’ve done is set myself up for a bigger fall.
It would honestly be easier if they sucked ass, because then there’s no stakes. But to know that there are people who are reading it and liking it and that the story isn’t pure garbage makes starting again so, so, so much harder.
As Seth Godin described in his amazing book The Dip, I’m in a hole in the first plateau on the gigantic climb that is this project. I’ve climbed this far and put in this much work and accomplished something, but there’s SO MUCH MORE to go. And to even get started on the next bit, I have to get out of this hole I’ve put myself into (which, despite being not that big, and atop the first big hill I’ve already climbed, feels like it might as well be at the bottom of the lowest point on Earth).
It’s a pity party. Plain and simple.
Staring up at the mountain ahead from this point I’ve reached, i’m filled with equal parts dread and awe. I know the old advice that sherpas give mountaineers, not to look up at the tip of the mountain, but to focus on the climb and only look down to see how much ground you’ve covered. I know that if I can just put my head down and start climbing, I’ll get another inch or foot or hell, even up to the next plateau.
I just really, really don’t want to. Cause it’s scary. So, these little minor things that show up and hinder my start are secretly very welcome to the enemy within me, my ego. It doesn’t want me to start, because it’s afraid of all the hard work ahead. Not just the work, but the possibility that all of that work will be for nothing when the book goes to my editor, Rowena, and she says “uh… this is shit, start over” (which has never happened despite being afraid of it every single time). And even if she does somehow manage to hack it apart and get it to an acceptable place, it might go to press and everyone reads it and goes “uh, dude, this is shit, why did you bother?”
Or worse, no one will read it at all.
The common thread of all of the above — the world somehow conspiring against me to keep me from that pure, perfect writers’ bliss of romantic settings in which I get to be a genius, my editor, readers, external opinions on the story… Not only is it all pure fabrication and manipulation of perspective, it’s also not the point. None of it.
I don’t write this stuff because the environment I write it in is perfect. It hasn’t been. Most if not all of Marlowe Kana Volumes 1-3 was written in found moments, or on my back deck at the rental house I shared with Meghan with a small Wal-Mart fan pointing at me in sweltering heat, and a worksite propane heater in the shivering cold, and whatever other stuff the weather threw at me. It was written in the back seat of cars on road trips, or on airplanes, or in hotel rooms. It was written during lunch breaks and after late meetings at work.
It got written in spite of any discomfort, amidst fears that it would be hated (or no one would care, which is honestly worse). Because all of that stuff above is just an opinion. It’s how I feel. And the work doesn’t care one bit how I feel about it, it just needs to get done.
I write this as a sort of confession; to get it out of me and admit publicly that I’m procrastinating. Not so I’m held accountable by anyone else — I don’t really need that as much as I need to look my own self in the face and say “Dude, cut the shit. Fuck your chair, your truck, software bugs, day job blues, fear, validation, or anything else that isn’t writing words on the page of the next book.”
Nothing disinfects like sunlight, and these germs of fear, doubt, resistance… They need to be sanitized. So I’m pulling off the covers and letting the light shine on it. I have no idea how interesting any of this would be for you reading this, but thank you for doing so anyway.
So with that out of the way, it’s time to write. See you when I need to vent more crap.