Two years ago, I completed a draft of a young adult novel entitled EdgeFlow: The Art of Chaos. It was the first book in a planned trilogy because trilogies.* I felt accomplished to the point that the work needed no justification; I experienced fulfillment in the journey, or at least I liked to believe that was true. Regardless of the journey’s reward, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, I thought, “Hell, why not try to get this thing published?” I was fortunate (very quickly, thanks to generous friends) to get connected to a New York literary agent,** and, after a convincing enough elevator pitch, I sent him the first 15 pages.*** A few days later, I received the equivalent of a rejection letter. It confirmed what I knew but didn’t want to know: I was a shitty writer.
Dan Harmon urges young writers to accept this fact right away and then to get on with the damn thing. I had heard that advice prior to the rejection, but I ended up dumbly inflating my artistic ego in the process of writing the draft anyway. I’ll blame it on listening to the Interstellar soundtrack the entire time, which must have given me McConaughey syndrome: acute hypnotic arrogance. I actually thought, “Yo, I’m a writer!” And then when the world (aka one guy…plus Fuller) said, “Eh…”, I was completely broken. Instead of taking critical feedback and adapting, I shut down. Sure, I promised myself to revise the work…eventually. Like, when I was ready for it. Which is effectively a death knell for artists. There’s no such thing as ready for it. You just do it.****
Basically, I lacked what Ta-Nehisi Coates argues is key to becoming a writer: perseverance.***** Fuller has it. The mother fucker just passed 90,000 words, and he’s a goddamn dad. He’s grinding. What am I doing? Avoiding. Denying. Wallowing. Anything but writing.
So why such a fragile constitution?
I don’t actually know, but here’s one possibility: From the above experience, I learned to associate writing with the same thing I learned to associate romantic relationships with: inevitable heartbreak and pain. A logical defense mechanism in response to this “knowledge” was to shut myself off from the source. If romantic relationships only led to pain, then if I avoided them, I avoided pain.******
Likewise with writing. I avoided the intense emotional investment in it because my operating assumption was: What’s the point if all it yields is rejection? As it turns out, I was full of shit with my “it’s all about the journey, man” optimism. All it took was a single rejection for me to abandon an art I love. To quote the second footnote below, “Well fuck me then!” It’s time to rise out of this bullshit narrative I’ve let myself slip into. The one where I might’ve been a writer if only. Instead, how about I finally reclaim the identity: I am a writer. A super shitty one too.
Thank God. Now I can get on with it.
*Ambition’s favorite dalliance is with ignorance. When you don’t know any better, you imagine everything is possible. When you realize that there’s nothing to know better, you understand everything is possible. I fell out of imagining and I’m trying to make my way toward understanding.
**This is where you’re supposed to be really impressed. Or this is where you roll your eyes and open a new tab. If that’s the case, then you won’t be here for me to say, “Well fuck you then!” If you were really impressed, I’m sorry for now offending you. If you now went and opened a new tab, then you also won’t be here for me to say, “Well fuck you then!” If you’re still here, “Well fuck me then!” In any event, we’re both fucked.
***I also sent these pages to Fuller, and he returned to me a generous heaping of incredibly useful notes that I should’ve attended to more fully at the time. Remember: coward.
****Do I owe Nike money?
*****This, obviously, is not new advice. Nor is it restricted to writers/artists. It goes for learning/living. In the education field, grit is the popular term people are bandying about these days, thanks to Angela Duckworth’s work at UPenn. I certainly expect my students to have/develop/demonstrate it, so what the hell am I doing with my head in the sand? If writing is the necessary outlet for my creative energy, then why have I dammed it up?
******Or I could just develop a story in my head that works its way around that pain and conjures up an alternate possibility. If it was romantic relationships with women specifically that caused the pain, then maybe ones with men would turn out differently. Wishful thinking that would only bypass the pain, of course. Unprocessed pain just festers.