Writing as a Job

I don’t actually remember the exact moment when I decided that I wanted to be a professional writer.  I was know that I was young enough at the time that I wasn’t particularly concerned with considerations like money.  I was still in that sweet spot in life where I knew that when I grew up I would have to pick something to do that defined who I was, and I knew that the something I wanted to do was tell stories.

It was perfect, beautiful even.  I loved stories, loved to read them, loved to watch them, loved to close my eyes and let them dance around in my brain; all I had to do was learn to take the stories inside my head, put them down on paper, and I would get to BE a writer.

As I grew up, I came to realize that there was a bit more to it than that.  You have to learn to use the right words in the right place so that your reader will be able to pick up on the subtleties of the story.  You have to plan ahead, make sure that what you’re telling is cohesive and meaningful, a single story, instead of a series of unrelated tales that simply happen to somebody.  You have to figure out how to make sure that your reader will relate to the characters so that they are invested in them.

Lots of subtle little details.

But those are skills you pick up along the way.  They are tools that you add to your toolbox, and while you might struggle with them, wrestle with them, sometimes even hate and despise them, once you’ve figured out how they work, the writing itself is still the same glorious adventure that you loved before.

It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I began to discover where the real work began.

I remember, very specifically, having finished my second or third novel, I looked it over and thought to myself, ‘finally, something worth publishing.’

Looking back I realize how terribly, terribly wrong I was, but at the time, having just forced the last big of this giant brain-baby onto the page, I was convinced that I had delivered unto the world the first book of my burgeoning career.  All I needed to do was send it off to get published.

So I got on my parents’ computer, headed to whatever search engine it was we were using at the time, and typed in something along the lines of ‘publishing novels,’ which got me a long list of book publishers.  Of course, there homepages were filled with advertisements for the books and authors they already had, but I did a little bit of digging, and at long last found a link entitled ‘submissions.’

And this was where my journey hit its first snag.  I had expected them to give me an e-mail address or a physical address where I could send my book.  Instead, they had about a page and a half describing, in detail, what they were looking for, and what they were not looking for, and how everything was to be organized.

The first hurdle listed was something called a ‘query letter.’  I was bewildered.  I knew both of the words: query meant ‘question’ and letter… well, that was just a letter, duh.  So a letter of question.  What was the question?  After looking over the submission requirements for ten or fifteen minutes, then googling ‘query letter’ and scanning through examples I came to the inescapable conclusion that they wanted me to send them a letter asking them if they wanted to see my novel.

What. The . Hell?

Send a communication asking if I could send a communication?  How was that not a waste of time?  They published books, clearly they needed to look at potential manuscripts to decide if they wanted to publish it.  How could they possibly look at a letter… a half page letter at that, and decide, based on that, whether they wanted to see my manuscript?  But the real kicker was the little comment at the end of the paragraph where they informed me that it would take several months for them to get back to me.

Months?!  It had taken months to write my book, they couldn’t possibly, not seriously, be expecting me to wait for the same length of time it had taken me to write my book just to hear them say ‘sure, send it to us and we’ll take a look.’

But they did!  And more than that, when they did ask for it (at this point it hadn’t even occurred to me that they might not want to see the manuscript itself), it would take them even longer to decide if they were willing to publish it!


Well, my google search had given me a list of publishers, surely they weren’t all so demanding!

Except that they were.  Every single one.  Not only that, but it turned out that not a single one of them was willing to even consider my book if I had anyone else thinking about considering to look at it!  Which meant that if I sent my first query letter out that day, got a reply to send the book, sent it, and then found out that somehow they had decided NOT to publish my book, I’d have to start the entire process over again!  From scratch!

I had spent months and months lovingly and carefully sculpting a story from nothing.  Some days I worked for hours at a stretch creating characters and backstories, building a world… it had been a labor of love.  Then, just when I thought my work was complete, when all I had to do was send something off and wait for someone else to finish working on it, it turned out that my trials had just begun.

The secret about taking up a job in the arts, the thing that most people don’t realize when they start, is that the art is not the work at all.  You assume that it is, after all, it’s hard.  Everyone can make art, but very few people learn to make it WELL, and you assume that the long hours of work, and the research and study that you put in are what make an artist.  But if you are looking for any level of commercial success as an artist you need to realize that what separates the successful from the rest of the pack is largely bullheaded determination.

Skill is good and important, but trying to be a successful artist is a lot like trying to be a violinist in a machine shop.  Whether you are the best in the world at what you do, or a novice, most people can’t even hear you over the cacophony that surrounds you.  There are moments of silence, brief periods when you can be heard, but those moments are unpredictable and fleeting.  You have to be fortunate enough to be playing at those moments, and to be heard by somebody who can appreciate what you’re doing before the scream of steel and the grinding of metal overwhelms you once again.

It is possible, of course, to be an artist in a vacuum.  You can spend your entire life writing beautiful works, then piling them up on the edge of your desk, unconcerned with whether or not anybody ever reads them, but most artists need their creations to be seen, to be heard, to be read.

And the only way to do that is to fight for them, tooth and nail, climbing up the side of a cliff, against the wind, in snow six feet thick, without shoes…. Well, I think you get the idea.


It occurred to me recently that I am only a couple of years away from my twenty year high school reunion.  I didn’t go to my ten year reunion.  Not because I couldn’t, but because I wasn’t where I wanted to be.  For that matter, I wasn’t who I wanted to be.

I remember, my senior year, looking around one day and realizing that about a half a dozen girls in my class were pregnant.  At the time, I’ll admit, I kind of judged them for it.  I didn’t say anything to them about it, it wasn’t my business, and as a rule I don’t poke my nose in where I’m not invited.  But when I thought about it, there was judgement.

Now I can’t help but wonder if they chose a better path than me.  It’s been nearly twenty years since high school ended and I am still… adrift.  Boys and girls I went to classes with now have children who are about to graduate.  Some are probably grandparents already.  I’ve had a handful of relationships in my life, and none were particularly serious.  I’ve never been a father… never been close to being a father.  My chosen career, that of a writer, has not led me where I expected to go.  Or rather, it hasn’t led me there yet.  The truth is, I still have no idea where it’s going.  Perhaps I’m circling the drain, on my way to washing up, unaccomplished, unremarkable.  Or maybe greatness is just over the next horizon.

Twenty years will have been more than long enough for many of my cohort to establish their place in the world, I’m sure.  Or at least accomplish something.

Perhaps uncertainty is the only certainty.  Perhaps, right now, a hundred miles away, the guy who sat behind me in Spanish II is thinking to himself, ‘that reunion is so close, and all I’ve done with my life is have these three kids and open my own garage.  I wonder what would have happened if I’d followed that pipe dream…’

It’s funny, looking backwards is sometimes the only way to see the present clearly.  When we see the choices we didn’t make, and consider all of the people that we might have become, it gives us some clarity about who we are.

Odd, though, that clarity seems to come in the form of unanswerable questions.

The road not taken.  The person I might have been.

Rate me! Judge me! AHHHHH!

So… my book has been out for a couple of days now.  Not too terribly long, but a little while.  Three days, basically.  It’s available for kindle on Amazon, and hopefully will be available in print before too terribly long, fingers crossed.  And it’s up on goodreads now, which is nice.  Unfortunately the only rating it has, which is on goodreads, is the one I gave it.  I keep on reminding myself, it takes most people a couple of days to get through a book.  Maybe even a week.

But the knot in my stomach refuses to listen to reason.  He’s curled himself into a ball so tight that I’m surprised any food is making it to my lower intestines.

It’s hard, twiddling your thumbs while you wait for strangers to judge you.  You know that it’s coming, and you fear it, but you need it, too.

Because if they judge me that means that they see me, and the only thing worse than being judged is being invisible.

I remember that feeling from high school.

Strange, isn’t it?  How high school scars us all.  It’s been a decade and a half since I went to high school, and I still have nightmares that take place in it.

I keep on expecting the day to come that I shift from childhood dreams to ‘adult’ dreams, whatever that means.  But I found out recently that my father, who’s in his sixties now, still has those same nightmares.  late to a class you haven’t been going to all year.  Test coming up.  All that jazz.

The Reviews Conundrum

I have long held that writers should not read reviews of their books.  What it comes down to is that reviews are not written for the author.  A review is simply a conversation between one person who has read a book, and someone else who is thinking about reading it.  As such, a review is not meant to contain information that is useful to the writer.  Where a good critique, which is intended for the writer, will note both positive and negative elements within a book, a review is essentially an argument for or against reading the work, and will mostly contain information designed to support the initial argument.

A critique, generally, will be specific in its points, identifying, not simply where the story fails to work, but why it fails to work, and what can be done to make it work.  A review doesn’t have these elements because there’s no reason for it to do so.  When an author reads a critique they will hopefully emerge on the other side with an idea of how to better themselves.  When an author reads a review, they will emerge on the other side either thinking more highly of themselves, or pissed off at the person who wrote it.

It is a no-win situation.

But authors, especially new authors and authors who have not achieved the level of success that they want, will inevitably read their reviews.  Because reviews are one of the best indicators of a books future success.  Did you just get twenty praise-filled reviews in a row?  Well, chances are those people are telling their friends.  Did you get a dozen one star reviews?  Good luck getting someone who stumbles across your amazon page to randomly purchase that.

So our eyes are locked on it.  We are fully invested in that next review.  that next comment.  that next X-star….

Every once in a while, one of my writer friends will post a story about a writer who replies to a bad review.  Inevitably, things go poorly.  No matter how bad a review is, how much we think that they just didn’t understand, writers have to learn to keep their thoughts to themselves.  The truth is, we’re listening in on somebody else’s conversation.  They aren’t talking to us, so bursting in and screaming at them is unacceptable.  After all, if they bought a copy of the book, then they’re entitled to share their opinion of it.

Sorry, just had all of this running through my mind while I wait for Awfully Appetizing to get its first review.  I have to remind myself that I may not like what they have to say.

Then again, maybe I will.

Either way, the truth is, I shouldn’t read it.

But I will anyway.

It’s (a)live!!!

My book is out!

Well, sort of.  My book is available in e-format.  Very exciting!  And terrifying.

Now all I can do is sit and twiddle my thumbs and pray that somebody reads it.  And likes it.  And tells their million friends that it’s awesome so they’ll all buy copies too.

Of course, most of my friends are old school, they want the book in paper, and I’m not sure how long it will be before it’s available.  Eh, whatcha gonna do?

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do:  I’m going to sit in a chair twitching and trying not to think about my book, sitting out there, unnoticed…. Oh god, what if nobody reads it?  what if nobody likes it?

I need a valium.


So I’m sure that there’s already a name for it.  I have no doubt that somewhere in some medical journal there is already an established and accepted term for a person who becomes convinced that they have every single psychological condition that they find out exists.

But somehow I think the process of going through the medical journal in question to find the appropriate name would do me more harm than good.

I’ve gotten better over the years.  Now, after my initial gut reaction that, yes obviously I must have multi-personality disassociative anti-tourettes misassociation disorder, I do take a moment, calm myself down, and take a few seconds to consider whether I’ve really experienced those symptoms, or if I’m just searching my memory for one or two moments that have some vague similarity to what I’ve just been hearing about.

I’m not entirely certain why I am immediately inclined to think that anything that could be wrong with my brain, is wrong with it.  I have a few vague theories, but they’re mostly just wild guesses.  Sometimes I think it’s because i want to believe that I’m more interesting than I really am.  Other times I’m convinced that the problem is that our list of mental illnesses is just a very human attempt to fit people who aren’t normal into boxes, and that many of the things that we call mental illnesses are just mild exaggerations of traits found in all of us.

Mostly, though, I think it’s my attempt to take parts of my personality that I don’t love, lop them off, and label them as something foreign to me.  Why am I obsessing?  Is it something that I need to work on?  No, it’s my disease, what I really need is a pill to take the problem away.

Ah, the madness, it is an all consuming thing.

An introduction

I guess I have to start somewhere with this, and the place that makes the most sense, I think is with me.

Please allow me to introduce myself.  I’m a man without wealth or taste.  I hope some day to have wealth, but as for taste, I could do without it, I think.

The most important thing that I can tell you about myself is that I am mentally ill.  Specifically, I’ve got depression and anxiety.  I strongly suspect that there’s more to it than just that, but those are the ones I’ve been diagnosed with.  Well, sort of.  Diagnoses related to mental problems are a bit different than diagnoses related to physical problems.  Basically I just told a shrink that I spend a lot of time depressed for no discernible reason, but I don’t have any periods where I partake in excessive risks or think I’m immortal and she goes ‘yeah, that’s depression.’  I don’t know exactly what I expected, to have to pee on a stick or get some blood drawn or something.  Honestly, I think it’s the word ‘diagnosed’ that through me off.  I spent years thinking ‘hey, I’m anxious a lot.  maybe I have an anxiety disorder?  But I shouldn’t say that for sure until I’ve talked to a doctor.’  Then when I do they just go, ‘oh, yeah, anxiety for no reason?  Okay, I can give you something for that.’

Sorry, that’s a bit of a tangent.  Just something that always felt weird to me.

Anyhow, I’m currently medicated for the depression, and sort of medicated for the anxiety, which has helped me more than I can express.  I mean, it has literally been years since I’ve laid in bed, crying, praying that I’d die before I woke up.  That sucked.

The funny thing, looking back, was the little voice in the back of my head doubting everything for me.  I remember, very specifically, thinking ‘this is it, it can’t get worse than this, I have to see a shrink and get something to help me deal with this.’  And then this little voice in my head goes, ‘but what if there’s nothing wrong with you.  What if this is how everybody feels, and you’re just such a giant pussy that you can’t deal with it like everyone else does.’

I don’t know if there’s a name for that little voice, but there should be.  And he should get his ass kicked.

Well, that was another tangent.  Let’s see, what was it I wanted to talk about?  Oh, right.  So, one of the interesting patterns I’ve seen is that a lot of people with mental illnesses end up working in the arts in one form or another.  A lot of painters, a lot of authors, a lot of sculptors, when you look into them, they were pretty screwed up.  They would maim themselves, kill themselves, go bat-crap crazy.  I’ve felt for a long time that the reason for this is because those of us with mental illnesses find the standard means of communication to be insufficient to encompass what we feel.  People use words like happy and sad, frustrating and invigorating, and we know what those words mean, so when we feel something that seems to press beyond the stifling borders which normal speech allows, we feel that we need to find some way of expressing it.  I remember somebody asking me once what I thought the job of a writer was, and I said, after much consideration, that I thought our job was to help readers experience the full range of human emotion.  Because so many of us don’t experience it.

Perhaps we need to create bizarre scenarios to allow those feelings out, but in the end, I believe that what all of us are trying to do is connect with others, to communicate those things that standard words and pictures don’t seem to quite accomplish.  So we have to reexamine language.  Sometimes that means making up new words, sometimes it means building an entire universe.

That’s what’s on my mind at the moment.  Hope somebody got something out of this.

Incremental Progress

So, my website is now, technically up.  www.ldfitz.com.  If you’re reading this the same day as I post it, don’t bother actually visiting the site just yet.  What is there is essentially a placeholder.  The real content, such as it is, will be up in a couple of days.

My friend, who knows a billion times more than I do about computers, is frustrated with me for using godaddy to host my site.  To be fair, I know about as much about website hosting as I do about heart surgery.  I’m sure there are options and I’m sure that some of the options are better than others, but the only way I’m going to find the right answer is if I trip over it.

Anyhow, he had to do some finagling to get just that much up.  And believe me, I appreciate it, because if my history with websites is any indicator, what I would put up would likely cause seizures, and possibly result in a third world war, somehow.

But the situation with my website is a lot like my situation with my manuscript in so much as it is vitally important to me, and yet I have no real power over it.  I am sitting here, practically shivering with anxiety and anticipation, and there is nothing that I can do to make things go faster or slower, better or worse.  I’m just waiting for the next thing that will have a massive effect on my life to happen of its own accord.

Well, that’s life for you, I guess.

Absurdly fast!

Things are happening now faster than I ever would have expected!  Usually when someone I know gets a writing contract, things afterwards proceed at a snail’s pace.  The editor looks over their work, makes some suggestions, sends it back to them.  They do a round of edits, send it back to the publisher.  I’m given to understand that this is often repeated over the course of months.  Then there is the cover art and the dedication, this and that and the other.

I’ve been told that between the time that a book is accepted and put out, it’s not uncommon for a year to pass.

I signed my contract about three months ago, and my manuscript will be a book within a few days.

How crazy is that?

To answer my own question, not half as crazy as I am.  As soon as I received the final FINAL draft of the book, I started questioning everything.  Is the book really ready?  Did I correct all of the mistakes?  Did I set up everything I needed to for the future books?

And, of course, most important of all:  Will anyone read this?

I mean, obviously somebody will.  I have friends who owe me favors.  I have relatives.  They have to read it.  They also have to love it, no matter what.  But will anyone else?