My posts here are generally informational, but I want to take up space with something of a more personal nature, though it might strike chord with some of you. Since we all know not to start with the weather, I’ll start with a dream.
This dream was decades ago, but I try to keep it in my thoughts. I was the MC or ringmaster for a show of some sort. And things weren’t going so good. Some underlings came to me saying that they needed special food and toys for one of the players. They hauled him in and it was this amazingly dorky little RainMan geek, not even verbal. He shambled out onto the stage and stood there, then let out this peculiar squawk. And the crowd went wild. This fat, pimply, four-eyed little gooner was what they came to see. I took it all in and told the handlers, “Look, we’re not exploiters here. Give him whatever he wants, keep him happy. Treat him good.”
I came to see the creative impulse as being like that. People want to think of it as a goddessly muse or some sort of James Bond genius down in the rag and bone shop making it all work. But I no longer believe that at all. It’s ugly little Morlocks scurrying around down there that enable the artsy Eloi to be beautiful. There’s not much understanding of it, and no real way to communicate. Except to keep it happy. And not get in its way. Which I am finding that running publishing/promo is doing and I’m not sure what to do it about it.
I have realized in time that my muse or subconscious or “nerd within” can’t get it up without knowing it will bring home the bacon. And what it likes is getting read. Knowing, or at least believing, that people out there are paying attention.
I have published since grade school, literally. I put out books and newspapers on little plastic rubberstamp presses, invented ways to make copies and publish them. I’ve published using Xerox, memo, heliogravure, fax, ditto, silkscreen, hectograph jelly. I was kicked out of Wake Forest for—among other things—publishing a magazine of astute socio-political commentary called “Up Your Ass” by breaking into the Baptist Student Union and rolling off copies on their Itek machine. What drove those efforts, and writing things down at all, was knowing that people would read it. It was a vehicle to other people and without them it made no sense at all.
Screw that “only write for yourself” stuff. That is dilettante talk. You can have orgasms with yourself, too, but that’s hardly the point, is it? If you only write for yourself the term “indie authors” is a meaningless tautology, isn’t it? The late, great author Ross Thomas told me something once, and I’ve heard it said, or agreed with, over and over: each writer is creating for a unique, personal audience. You might not even be aware of who that audience is, but they are there: somebody your Writer Within is trying to please. To impress, to outrage, to seduce, to entertain. It might be your mother, your first English teacher, the in-crowd down at Greenstreets on Friday nights, the other bozos in the newsroom, international colleagues in some obscure profession, anonymous posters in an internet forum, or some internalized construct like “New Yorkers who appreciate the finer things” or “guys who know the real deal about prizefighting.” But most artists have these ghost juries inside them, and try to impress them.
Maybe you don’t work that way. Or maybe you just never thought about it before. And I guess it’s too late to warn you now, but thinking about it and identifying your Inner Kibbitzer might not be a good idea. I have discovered you have to watch out actually coming into contact with the real world avatars of your Inner Fanbase. I started writing my “Weekend Warrior” columns—which went on to be a cult thing syndicated in “hip” papers all over the West and is currently a novel, of all things—for a small weekly in Pacific Beach, CA called “The Weekender”. It’s one of the biggest outpouring of sheer, untrammeled creative wildness I ever did. And I imagined all those cool dudes and (more to the point) chicks sitting in boardwalk bars with microbrews and racks out front for their fat-tired cruiser bikes… and just cracking up over my work, shaking their heads in sheer wonder at its excellence, and showing it to their admiring chums. Then I went to a party the publisher threw and met a bunch of people who said they were “my biggest fans”. Bunch of losers I couldn’t wait to get away from. NO chicks, no three-digit IQ’s. All they were getting out of it was—“Yo, mucho beers, dude!”
But it didn’t throw me off because I knew they weren’t the REAL fans. They were wannabes, poseurs, impersonators. The real fans were sharp, literate people reading me down at World Famous or Zanzibar, sipping their lattés amidst beautiful girls with bikinis and sun-blonde hair streaming in the Santa Ana wind. The REAL audience you write for may or may not have a name, or have a face, or have an Amazon account, but that’s just a mask, one of the thousand faces worn by your true hero, who lives deep inside of you, speaks only in cryptic squawks, and looks like a home-made cowpie.
Mysticism and advanced physics both lead us to the concept that “inside” and “outside” are connected up like mobius strip, an infinity symbol whose lines cross at a singular non-point. We hear about internalizing our teacher, about externalizing God. That what means the world to us is really a quantum mustard seed in our heart or the reflective apple of our middle eye. How many times we hear the deepest expression of love or worship to be, “You’re a part of me now.” And there are few human endeavors where these things are truer than in creativity. The unified force of the universe is love, which is the source or all creativity, both within and without.
I spent many, many years writing for a living, on deadlines. Often to see what I wrote get mangled. Or not paid for. Or even paid for and not run. But there was still the impression in my mind that I was writing something that would get published and read. I have thought it was all about the money, and said so. But I now know that there was always some inner reader I was addressing it to. Despite what you keep hearing, writing isn’t a business. Publishing can be a business if you want it to, but it’s basically a lifeline to Them. So now I’m writing novels and using cool modern publishing tools like Kindle and CreateSpace and weblogs. And desperately needing for them to bring in an income stream. But I write them to appeal, to ring the Big Bell. To get off somebody other than myself, even if in secret it is myself—a purer part of myself, probably. Hey, even whores fall in love.
17 thoughts on ““Out There” Is In There”
This struck a chord with me. Ot’s something I’ve been pondering for some time. I am still looking for that elusive audience. Yes, there a re few who love what I write. But I KNOW I have not reached the mother lode. It makes me wonder if that is the reason so many of us under-price our work, spreading our words thin in the hopes that a seed will sprout and grow the ‘tree of recognition and enjoyment’.
Reading this online here, it occurs to me that what I wrote was all, essentially, “upside”–wanting to know what I’m writing will do any good.
But there’s also a downside–not wanting to write things that won’t be worth it, won’t get read. This has buggered my output for years. And for me, as many others, has led to things like writing a regular column for peanuts because it’s a sure thing, rather than doing something on spec…that might be something that inner nerd really wants.
That concern right there–and how to figure it out and what to do about it–has been much on my mind lately and I don’t think I’m the only one. This is just my private scenario for describing it.
I have no time for the whole “wonderful Art vs nasty Commerce” dichotomy. It’s deeper than that and draws it’s own lines.
Hmm. That’s what your post did to me. Made me think. I guess that’s part of what you were talking about. Guess it still works.
As for fans and readers? There out there. An income, I guess that’s out there too. Meanwhile, as long as I’m stoked by the writing process, I’ll be pounding the keyboard.
Like you, Lin I spent a lot of years writing stuff that somebody else thought needed to be said (although I never lived the freelance life — I always had a steady paycheck). I’ve had my words quoted back to me from people who heard them on the radio, and yeah that was cool. But now, I have the freedom to write the stuff *I* think ought to be said, and that’s pretty cool, too.
I think our society in general, and capitalism in particular, undervalues the creative act. The savvy opinion seems to be: if you can’t monetize it, what good is it? And I think that’s short-sighted. If more people thought they could afford to give their inner nerds free rein — or could divorce themselves from the idea that the only lives pursuing are the ones you can make money at — our society would be a lot healthier. Less affluent, maybe. But money can’t buy everything.
“But what it can’t buy, I don’t need.” Berry Gordy 🙂
Lin, when I was a kid and was asked what I wanted to grow up to be I answered Ernest Hemingway. I may have settled for Clarabelle. I relate to E.H.’s need to write. Days I spend on promo and don’t write, I feel unclean and agitated. I sometimes wonder about Emily Dickinson’s life of write it and leave it for later folks to decide about it. EH seemed to want now feedback. Don’t most of us?
Ernest Hemingway in Letter to Charles Scribner (1940):
“Charlie there is no future in anything. I hope you agree. That is why I like it at a war. Every day and every night there is a strong possibility that you will get killed and not have to write. I have to write to be happy whether I get paid for it or not. But it is a hell of a disease to be born with. I like to do it. Which is even worse. That makes it from a disease into a vice. Then I want to do it better than anybody has ever done it which makes it into an obsession. An obsession is terrible. Hope you haven’t gotten any. That’s the only one I’ve got left.”
Funny, I had a story in my high school literary magazine (the high school I just learned is being shut down for lack of interest, by the way) that was a Hemingway pastiche. Or at least a “Man’s Real True Balls Adventure Magazine” pastiche.
I think that sort of obsession is preached to writers as a given or default or, “If you aren’t that maniacal there’s something wrong you, loser.”
I’m not so sure. I go through periods where I don’t write at all. Sometimes I go back and finish work that sat in a box for 20 years.
But either way, I really get the impression that it all stems from some little internal daemon (Hemingway also said, “Writing and sex come from the same juice”) that is not really all that socially or psychically acceptable, and definitely not “cool”.
Picasso said, “Good taste is the enemy of art.”
And that it’s directed to another secret internal goblin–that internalized audience I mentioned.
Writing for yourself or for a market are not mutually exclusive. I think many of us do write for ourselves, but we also want people to read it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be going to the effort and/or expense of publishing it and certainly the enormous effort it takes to promote it. We want to communicate, which I believe, in one form or another, is a basic human need maybe not like eating or sex, but close.
Well said, and I couldn’t agree more. Without love we have no creativity. It’s like there’s no competition in Cuba or N. Korea. You buy the one rough toilet paper and like it.
To learn marketing, to share the world and the economic platform with others, to fearlessly and confidently make you, your writing or a product different can only be attributed to love. (I’d love to make a joke here about Mr. Whipple but I won’t). This post is wonderful Linton because there are readers who will want what you have to say. That is freedom–choosing your fan-base and audience because they have a choice and from the large selection available they still choose you!
Wow – probably the most touching bit of yours I’ve ever read, Lin. This said something to me. Perhaps I’ll just leave with this feeling.
Linton… I think the out-there in-there analogy is quite accurate. At the same time, I think it’s only one of many possible motivators (and yes, that’s me being contrary for no specific reason). I’ve often distinguished between what I write for consumption by others and the things I “must” write for myself.
Like you, I also was a rubber-stamp press publisher as a child; I also had a desire that others would find my words purposeful and, under the best circumstances, insightful. At the same time, however, there was story creation that was done without any expectation or desire for consumption by anyone other than myself. That creation was, initially done, in the form of play with my sisters in the scenarios I would fabricate.
Later it was done as spoken word stories, dictated to a small, battery powered, reel-to-reel tape recorder and modeled after radio plays of the pre-television era. Still later in life, it was cathartic writing and a means to purge myself of suicidal thoughts following a failed marriage… there are acts we can commit against fiction characters that would be immoral and illegal in the real world.
There is a third type of writing. The writing that has to be done because there are stories in my head that have to be told; if for no other reason than just to get them out of my head so I can think normal (or relatively normal) thoughts. Those are probably a little like the Hemingway reason. Some of those could be read by others. Some of them I’ll keep stored away in a safe place… so the men in the little white jackets don’t come looking for me.
Oh well… enough of being contrary.
Wow! Lin, I really had to read your article and go away and let it percolate while I dealt with the on-going construction of my own life. In so many ways, I have conducted my life and viewed those who have been drawn into my reality in a similar manner to the way in which you expounded in your post.
When I initially published my first book, ‘Surviving the Battleground of Childhood’, the publisher wanted me to take out the prologue (I think you’d like it). Long story short, the next publisher, grudgingly left it in. Four years down the track, disentangled from that publisher too, I ePublished it, along with another four titles. Being your own person can be difficult but for me it’s the only option.
Excellent post, Lin!
I sincerely hope my words will leave you confused and hopelessly confilcted.
I agree with so much of what has already been said. I especially identify with the “ideal reader” fantasy.
A gutsy piece, Lin, and it rings true with me. I’ve had some insights like yours from time to time but you’ve put them into much more down-to-earth language than I ever could. Thank you.
Thanks for allowing us to see your inner dialogue and vulnerability.
I am tweeting this.
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