Join Prism Book Alliance® as Edmond Manning goes Outside the Margins today.
I regularly receive discouraging reports from the outside world informing me I’m not a real writer. Low sales. No shelf space in any bricks-and-mortar bookstores. On social media, I constantly see writers celebrating their books being translated into German, French, Italian, Korean… Really? Korean? My books languish in pedestrian English with no audio books to speak of. Next year, the IRS will downgrade my novel-writing career from “small business” to “hobby” if I don’t show profit.
Just the other week, I mentioned to a good friend that I’m working on the fifth book of The Lost and Founds. He cocked his head when he said, “I didn’t realize you had written a fourth one.” I wrote twenty-six blog posts promoting that fourth book, so I’m not sure how he missed that. But it underscores how even my friends no longer pay attention to my writing career.
Before King Perry was published, he and many others were insane with questions: Have you gone through editing? What’s it like? Can I see your cover? Do you think your book will be in Barnes & Noble? Do you think Oprah will read your book?
And now, nothing.
I don’t blame my friends—I’ve been even more absent from their lives since devoting 80% of my free time to writing. I’m not always current on their latest news either.
Honestly, I don’t mean to be so whiny.
I have been blessed with brilliant reviews, new friends met through these books, and even (can I say it without sounding like an ass?) people who love my writing and stories. I have it pretty damn good, actually. And yet, a thousand nagging reminders seem to whisper, “You’re not a real writer.”
I would consider quitting this gig, giving up writing.
But see, thing is, I can’t.
’Cause I’m a writer.
That’s the quirky contradiction in all this. I keep seeking validation from the outside world—confirmation that I’m a writer—when in fact, I already know in my gut that I am someone who can’t stop writing. I like playing with sentences. I like stretching them, condensing them, twisting and bending them into unfamiliar yoga poses, like Deep Sad Sentence, and Bouncy Rejoinder, and Elongated Description That Makes Readers Exhausted Just Like the Characters. The Impactful Gong. Trigger Sentence To Make Readers Cry.
If you name the types of sentences you create? You’re a writer.
If you look at sentences in magazine stories and online articles, and in your head rearrange the words for greater impact? You’re a writer.
If you take pictures of alleyways, flowers in a former coffee can, the way a cloth napkin looks lonely against the gritty cement sidewalk outside a café—because all of these visuals seem like they’d make great detail in a scene—you’re a writer.
Defining yourself as a writer comes from within. I know that.
I know that.
Why do I allow myself to get hung up on whether or not my books rank somewhere in Amazon’s Top 100?
I need someone to blame.
Someone who is not me.
If psychotherapy has taught us anything, it’s that it’s usually the mother’s fault. But I dunno…I don’t see her indelible fingerprints on this. (I do blame her for many other things, like my uncomfortable desire to make my bed every morning and my inexplicable love of parsnips.) As I ponder this, I think the blame is beyond one person’s influence. It’s more central to the creative spirit.
When a writer finds writing—like, finds finds writing—the thrill is discovering you play a meaningful role in creation. Whether you write about shifter sea mollusks, historical figures, or romance between two ordinary and wonderful men, suddenly, you Have A Story Inside You and that story Wants To Be Told.
You start capitalizing inappropriately, because, fuck you, I’m A Writer Now.
Discovering a song inside me, and discovering my ability to sing it with written words, is the most exciting thing I have experienced. When I ponder it, I get dizzy. I am responsible for singing the song of creation. Some religious writers have posited that we are closest to the Supreme Being (be it God, Allah, or the Great Spaghetti Monster) not when we love but when we create. The act of creation is to participate in the universe’s brilliant and eternally unfolding story.
Or perhaps your writing performs magical alchemy, transmuting a traumatizing pain into something beautiful, something hopeful with soft, pinkish petals, reflecting the triumph of your broken heart ready to love again.
You sculpted a tulip.
You sculpted a field of tulips.
Who doesn’t want to celebrate that?
And yes, a million other humans alive today have this same power, so you’re not special, but you are the most special person in creation because a story was born of your fingertips, your heart, on fluttering electronic screens late at night. Nothing could be more astonishing.
When the external world doesn’t share your amazement, it hurts. You feel like a fledgling wizard who performed the amazing Patronus Charm, but only a few people were around to witness it. Everyone else was off cheering Harry Potter at that goofy game on brooms that never made any sense.
The gift of writing…that comes from within.
Honoring the gift of writing—witnessing your ability to create—that comes from the outside world. After all, who are writers without readers? Scribblers. Liars. Unpublished fabricators. Without readers, it’s possible to believe in yourself as a writer for a long, long time, but it’s hard to carry your own torch alone. Take a look at this Wikipedia description of a now famous book.
A Confederacy of Dunces is a picaresque novel by American novelist John Kennedy Toole which appeared in 1980, eleven years after Toole’s suicide. Published through the efforts of writer Walker Percy (who also contributed a foreword) and Toole’s mother, the book became first a cult classic, then a mainstream success; it earned Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981, and is now considered a canonical work of modern literature of the Southern United States.
Tool committed suicide because he was frustrated by the many, many literary rejections he received. He knew he was a real writer…and he couldn’t convince the external world of that fact.
I’m not suicidal.
I’m just struck by the tricky relationship of inside and outside—you can know you’re a writer inside, but you still need validation on some level to keep believing it.
A friend of mine recently finished writing his first novel. It’s clocking in at roughly 135,000 words, and according to him, it defies all genres. We texted back and forth the night he finished, him using all caps to frequently proclaim he COULD NOT BELIEVE he had finished—this thing which was a mere idea three years ago.
Then, he texted me a series of questions: What now? Do I get an editor? An agent? Should I be looking for an agent while I’m getting it edited? Do I first need to have someone else read it and tell me what they think?
I thought about texting long explanations to these important questions, remembering how these same questions bewildered me once I finished my first first draft. Hell, they still bewilder me. Who am I kidding?
Before I could reply, he texted me again. I have to rewrite this whole thing, don’t I? Tighten it up?
I smiled. He had reached the next plateau almost immediately and entirely on his own.
I texted him my reply.
Relax. You’ll figure all of this out. You’re a writer.
About Edmond ManningEdmond Manning is the author of King Perry, King Mai, The Butterfly King andFilthy Acquisitions. He spends a great deal of time standing in front of the fridge with the door open, wondering why it’s not stocked with more luncheon meats and cheese.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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