Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Never Join a Club That Would Have You As a Member.



Take risks as a writer.
I hate hearing that suggestion. (In fact, I hate that sentence. It's nearly a tongue-twister. Go ahead, say it five times fast.) For a guy who’s spent his life taking risks, priding himself on squeaking through perilous positions unscathed, it sounds like an insult to be told I’m playing it too safe as a writer.

The amount of you gottas I hear. You gotta try some journalism, you gotta take a stab at a children's book. Forget reading out of your genre, you gotta write out of your genre. You gotta edit as you go, you gotta rewrite the rewrites. You gotta blog, you gotta Facebook, you gotta spend less time online, more time on Twitter, gotta, gotta, gotta ...
Take this blog for instance. My initial reaction to joining a regular blog with twenty other writers was Hell No

Why? I have plenty of solid excuses. My schedule is full, I've just started a new novel, I have a magazine to edit, I just quit smoking, I work a night job, I have to deal with all the things everyone else on the planet has to contend with on a daily basis …

Anything but admit the truth. I was scared. I was intimidated. I didn't know any of the other authors, aside from their head-shots and bios. And by perusing their pics and bios (read: rank the competition), I quickly surmised they were all decidedly more professional than I. Sure, we’re all repped by the same agent, but … really … look at ‘em. They look like actual writers (You know, people that don't have to keep an awful other job just to keep writing.) What the hell do I have to contribute? (Cue crushing fears from junior high.)
What I think the other writers look like:

Reading the previous blog posts didn't help either. Rich odes to the craft. A grammatical geek fest crossed with educated writers’ op-eds on the subtleties of form. At least that’s how it looked to me. In my own bio, I’m proud to point out that I received my education on the streets. Why? Because it’s the best I can boast. I have no Alma Mater, so I had to claim one. There’s no exaggeration there. Any technical skills I picked up through osmosis, and I let instinct do the rest. It’s these handicaps that I battle. Saying they’re my strengths is tantamount to whistling in the dark when it comes to situations like this—yea thou I walk through the valley of academia. But at some point, whether you’re Steinbeck or a ghostwriter of romance novels, you have to trust your gut. The idiosyncrasies of word choice and the distraction of paragraph placement ultimately goes unnoticed by most readers. They just want the damn thing to move. They don’t want to know how it’s constructed; they want to be removed from their own lives and float in the the ether of fiction. It’s true, you have to make that trip as smooth as possible. It's like the back beat in a rock n’ roll song, if it’s out of time, it ruins it, the listener can’t hear the tune. But if it’s tight and on the money, no one notices, but your feet start movin’. You don't hear that fat bass line right away, it just moves you. Before you know it, you're dancing like a fool.
How I think the other writers view me:

At times like these I need to trust in myself, trust that I do have something to say. Remind myself I write the kind of books I would like to read. I have to pause, comb over my own track record, and reassure myself that do have seat at the table and then mumble quietly, Goddamn it, I have something to say …
In all probability, the world’s view of me as a serious writer:
 
So—fortified by my inability to say no—I decided to go against my knee-jerk reflex and agreed to be a part—to take the risk—and join the gang of 21 at the Prose Cons. It’s these things (like taking suggestions) that make us better writers. I’ll tack it on the list with some of the other bitter pills I've had to swallow, (like blogging, social media, re-writes, a outline, and, oh yeah … rejections.)
So, let me begin ...
... oh. Is that all the time we have? 
All right then. I'll see you next month. 




Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. His new novel, HUSTLE, is out now on Snubnose Press, as is his novella, Piggyback. Tom is also an acquisitions editor with Gutter Books and co-editor at Out of the Gutter Magazine.
Find links to more of his work at: TomPittsAuthor.com

8 comments :

Joe Clifford said...

That wasn't so hard, was it? You are right: in the end, fancy degree or no, all that matters is does the piece move. (You are also right about how others view you. That IS what we see!) Nice addition to the conversation!

Sue Coletta said...

Bravo! *standing ovation* I couldn't have said it better myself.

Susan Clayton-Goldner said...

Great blog, Tom. So honest, funny and right on the mark with regard to what reader's want. Thanks

tom pitts said...

You mean the naive kid with the over-sized pencil? Gee whiz, thanks.

tom pitts said...

Thanks, Sue.

tom pitts said...

Thanks, it works in theory anyway.

ElizaCross said...

I appreciate your candor and transparency with this essay, and the illustrations you chose cracked me up! I wonder how many of us initially had the same reaction you did to the group blog - because I was definitely right in there with you.

Dr. Suzana E. Flores said...

I love your blog! I'm very relieved that someone else felt the same way - "Damn it Jim…I'm a shrink, not a writer!" :)