I came across an interesting post over at Nathan Bransford’s Blog titled: How Do You Deal with the “Am-I-Crazies?”
Mr. Bransford is talking about the “Am I crazy for spending so much time doing this" conundrum. He was referring to the writing, but in my case, I have those moments multiplied by infinity. Of course, my answer to the question of how I deal with it is: I drink, I smoke, and I talk to myself -- a lot -- using a myriad of expletives. However, I may be eccentric, but I am no raving lunatic. I chill in my garden, I exercise daily to relieve the stress of it all, and I shower my husband and ferrets with as many kisses as I can spare and as many as they can stand.
People, especially non-writers, think I am crazy because I edit my work to within an inch of its life, and I am still never completely satisfied. We grow, we change, and every time we re-read the work, something new comes to the forefront. That’s what revision is all about, but at some point, the work does need to see the light of day. Some share their work with other trusted writer friends, some use critique groups, some use social networking sites like Scribd, and some actually publish the work and set it out into the world of strangers for review. I did this, and I found the commentary so beneficial that I took all the work out of print for revision. Actually, I took the work out of print in order to start-up my own imprint, but in the end, it seemed to make sense to have a look at it all again whilst I had the perfect opportunity to do so. Certainly, everyone said I was crazy, but I am a self-published author, so releasing second editions or revised work is not as daunting a task as it is for mainstream published authors. I needed the serious critique -- from people who didn’t know me -- and this was one way to go about doing it. The objectivity was what I was after.
This leads me to my other “Am I Crazy?” moment. That being: Why do I spend so much time on this blog reviewing self-published books and writing columns and commentary on the craft and the not so artful act of self-publishing? I receive no compensation for my work here even though I have garnered the coveted literary curmudgeon status and people seem to like what I write about, but none of this amounts to book sales or fame and fortune. Not to mention, popular opinion seems to be that writing reviews, especially the critical ones, is a thankless time-sucking lacklustre pursuit, so why in the world would I want to devote so much time to it? (That’s why most review blogs last less than three years, BTW.) So, all that being relatively true, what’s the deal then? Well, I am crazy, and to me, this is some sort of demented “pay it forward” karmic love-in I suppose. I’ll explain.
I’ve been writing since high school -- off and on for twenty-five years now -- nothing really serious, misogynistic penthouse forum type shit, and I just loved to write. In my twenties, I was too stooopid to write anything of value; I was too busy enjoying a suck career, a bad first marriage, and watching many of my friends and lovers self-destruct in a variety of interesting ways. In my thirties, I spent my time putting things into perspective and trying to recover from all my own failed efforts . What can you do aside from taking a lot of mental notes whilst trying to hang on to your own sanity, but I do have thirty years of literary study under my belt, and I still study literature in my spare time for my own personal pleasure. I know, it’s sick, but studying theory ain’t a bad thing, if you want to be a writer that is.
There is nothing like the smell of a used textbook.
I love the language.
I am a word nerd, and I love literature, the real artsy fartsy maudlin shit that by page two has you thrust into the middle of your own existential crisis.
But all that’s beside the point, really. After a while, I got serious about my own writing. I’d lived a nasty bit of life, and finally, I felt I had the emotional experience to tackle some of the issues I wanted to write about. Nothing fancy, no Proustian prose here, though some people seem to think the poet in me needs a bit of release … anyway, I had a traditionally published writer friend ask to see some of my draft scribble back in 2005. She read it and urged me to continue, that the stories were good and needed to be finished. I had gotten a bit rusty from the sporadic writing and the equally sporadic living, and she gave me the no shit version of a workshop critique, really kicked my ass, and told me in no uncertain terms where I needed to improve. I had been out of academia for fifteen years at that point, had barely scraped two sentences together for ten of those years, so the gears needed a bit of oil, but if it weren't for her honesty, I might have thought my horrible shite was actually good.
So, it’s all because of her really, and the fact that this blog agreed to review one of my original drafts back in 2006. As far as motivations go, I just really want to give back to the Indie community. A community who nurtured me without coddling me. A community who wasn’t afraid to tell me the pencil I had up my ass smelled like shit. That's right, I want to give some of that back, not the shit, the pencil -- promise, I’ll wash it first. If I can share thirty years of academic knowledge and help another writer be a better writer, then so be it. If I can shine a light on an Indie writer whose prose is worthy of recognition, all the better. Occasionally, I get a nice thank you note in my email for being honest and writing a real review -- a review that had some constructive use. Some of those thank you notes have, over time, turned into bona fide friendships and trusted critique partners.
So you tell me … am I crazy? I might just be, but my heart is in the right place.
How do you deal with the "Am I crazies"? Comments are open.
The Art is By William Hogarth titled “In The Madhouse” circa 1735
Cheryl Anne Gardner