Harlan Also Said

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The Three Cs

Got my three Cs – coffee, computer, and cookie. The cookie is an indulgence. I ate breakfast – granola and yogurt with blueberries – a few hours ago, but I feel hungry, so what the hell, I indulged myself and ate a cookie. Salty caramel, if you must know.

Admittedly, eating the cookie was a little bit of stalling. I was stalling my start today because yesterday’s writing events surprised me. Handley attacked Kanrin with a sword. Kanrin killed her. What was going on with Forus Ker? He just sat there watching. Meanwhile, the ship’s alarms continue to go off. Kanrin’s nets have been compromised. And where are the rest? What are they doing?

None of this was planned. The destination is known but the path is a wildly winding way.

Once I finished writing those pages and concluded that chapter, I cleaned up errors and checked continuity. Then I walked, and wondered, where are we going now? What’s supposed to happen?

All of this took me down paths about immortality and death. Born with a fear of dying, and still capable of suffering injury and pain, one doesn’t abandon those fears, despite the evidence of past experiences. Even if you’ve died and returned before, or you’re not sure that what’s happening is reality, virtual reality, or a hallucination, and even if you’re doubtful if the outcome matters because of everything else happening, coping with the natural emotional and intellectual stresses inherent in these paradoxes challenges your will and sanity. Put yourself in that position and imagine. And remember, whatever the brain or personality might decide, the body may have different ideas. We’re not the masters of ourselves that we’re told as children. It’s a lesson we learn as we age and our bodies and abilities decay. It’s a lesson that’s reinforced as we meet others with lesser and greater abilities than ourselves. Exploring these avenues of similarities and differences and the impact on our decisions and actions is one of the most exciting and delicious parts of my writing experience.

When I walked and thought, I struggled to know what was to happen next in this story? It’s stupid of me to wonder, but I can’t resist. I know, though, I’ll slip into the moment and begin typing, and things will come out that I never foresaw. Consciously, I don’t know what’s next, but once I assume the typing posture, out it comes, if I just let it.

Yeah, it feels like weird fucking magic, typing something when I don’t know what I’m going to type. After all these years of writing, the process still astonishes me. I hope it never stops.

Now fortified with sugar and caffeine, it’s time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

The Fuel

I’m mostly a self-driven vehicle, writing out of need to imagine and tell stories, and entertaining myself. Mostly, I energize via reading what I’ve written, editing and revising it and pressing on. Mostly, I write from practice and habit, walking to awaken the muse, giving her a mocha to encourage her engagement, and then shutting off everyone in me except the writer.

Mostly.

But that’s all about the writing side. The damn business side is depressing. The need for accepting rejection, considering advertising campaigns, hunting for copy-editors, beta readers, cover designers, publishing venues, publishers and agents are all depressing.

I’m not nuanced in demographics and specific costs structures, operating margins, etc., of the publishing industry, but I do understand that it’s an involved, expensive business on the traditional side, and it’s a crowded field in the self-publishing and digital publishing arenas. I understand on emotional, physical, intellectual and financial levels about the difficulties with finding representations, publishers, sales and readers.

That doesn’t make me feel any better.

I read fiction and non-fiction to study and absorb others’ ways with ideas, stories, characters, plots, words, settings, beginnings, middles and ends. I read them because I enjoy them. I want to be entertained and I want to escape.

But I read other writers ‘like me’ for true incentive about writing, dealing with rejection, and why it’s difficult to solve the writing, publishing, sales and marketing puzzles. Writers are my tribe; we write because we often feel we must, or we’re addicted to the dream or the process, or we’re using it to therapy to cope with who and what we seem to be.

Several families co-exist in that tribe. One family consists of the writers who have made it – King, Rowling, Chabon, Frantzen, Erdrich, Collins, Lee, Green – how many need be named? We each have our writing heroes.

My family is that other one, the family of writers who write each day, wonder how much writing is enough writing, publish short stories online, the writers who are struggling not to write, but to live and exist as a successfully published writer. I spent much time with their words and blogs online. I take comfort in our shared misery of struggling. It allows me to say, “See, it’s not just me. It’s not just Michael Seidel.”

And that’s a relief. I often think it is just Michael Seidel. I often feel like I’m right on the cusp of making a breakthrough and then the moment is gone. It’s exasperating and debilitating. Yet, I sense other writers live in that same zone by the words they write online.

From them, I get my fuel. Because sometimes, I want to stop. Sometimes the muse asks, “Excuse me, but are we wasting our time here?” Sometimes the internal writer agrees, “Yeah, shouldn’t we just go wash and wax the car and have a beer, or volunteer for some charities, or go find a job? Wouldn’t any one of those things be more productive than the daily rituals we follow?”

But my family of writers and I all answer, “No.” I can elaborate, “You’re not correctly measuring what it means to be productive, that being creative and imaginative is more worthwhile to me than those tasks you ask me to undertake instead.”

We know this. Commercial and critical success is a matter of validation and pride. It’s driven in part by family and friends asking us, “How is the book coming along? When will I be able to read it?” They do not understand the difficulties not just in writing, but in getting published and noticed, of making sales.

Usually, we don’t bother to explain the intricacies their question deserves. Nodding, we just tell them, “It’s coming along.”

Then we add the exchange to our fuel.

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