Monday, December 4, 2017

If I Were Told I’m Going to Die Soon, I’d Write Short Stories

Started watching House again. It’s one of those shows that I watched every episode before the very last season came out, never finished, and now have to watch it from the beginning because I remember jack.

The show, a medical drama, often features characters who are told they will die soon. I think the worst of it is when they only have a few days or a few hours. Even if, hypothetically, I was fully mobile and felt good enough to leave the hospital during that time, what would I do with myself? How could I have any enjoyment? I’d probably end up spending the rest of it taking care of my friends and family.

What would I do if I was going to die soon?

The first thought that comes to my mind is what would happen with my writing. I have something like sixteen finished manuscripts of varying degrees of editing. Most of them are not in the shape I would want the public to see them. When I edit, I edit sloppy. I don’t change chapter numbers even after I reorganize (easier to take notes on), and I will jam something into a place then smooth it over through slow full-read throughs.

If I only had a few hours to live, I would give my books over to someone else and ask them, for my dying wish, to finish the edits and send them out into the world. Who would it be? The friend who I know to be reliable and dependable, who I know I can count on, but doesn’t have a lot of assertion, ambition, and doesn’t like to think critically? Do I give it to the friend who has the upmost love for my writing, who understands it better than anyone yet tends to procrastinate and blow off things even when it’s her own ambition? Do I give it to the friend who knows the most about working in the art world, but whose philosophies drastically differ than mine, who has simultaneously supported me lovingly while we let some competitive conflict get in the way? Do I give them to my mother?

I would spend my last few hours frantically making a list of things to be done and how to do them. I spent so much time learning about the publishing process, so much time avoiding actually taking the leap, I could possibly hand over the materials with a step-by-step process and make it easy for them. That makes it all the sadder; if everything is so close to being ready, why haven’t I done it yet?

I often joke if this was the last day on Earth, the only thing that would change is I’d write a short story that day.

That’s true. I probably would focus on shorter fiction during that time

If I was told I had a few months to live, things would be different. Things would be very, very different. I analyze how, believing I will live for another, what? Fifty to seventy years? I think I have all the time on my hands, so I have procrastinated on trying, truly trying, for publication of my novels.

But I realized something else as I considered what my actions would be if I was told I only have months to live. The path, knowing that I not only didn’t have time, but wouldn’t have to deal with the ramifications of my actions as long, would take a drastic turn.

I’d self-publish. People ask why I don’t do it now, and I think the answer is pretty obvious; self-publishing is harder. It’s harder and garners disrespect until you can be successful at it, which I doubt that I can. It requires good business sense and charm, neither of which I have a lot of.

I like money. I love money. Money’s great. I’d like to do a Scrooge McDuck dive into it. But I never manage to prioritize it in anything I do, and I don’t like thinking about it. It’s certainly not my main focus when I think about my career, but this lack of financial savvy is important because sales, money, and number of readers are often achieved by the same means and thought processes, and as many know, the amount that you value your book at is important. Too cheap and people think it’s not going to be great, too expensive and you look like a naïve egomaniac. If you aren’t good at being a salesman—whether your main concern is fans or if it’s money—you need someone who is.

But not only that, it doesn’t appeal to me in the long run. Many self-publish for the hope of control, but I see control for its responsibility. I am good at negotiating, and even bulldozing people when I want something, but I am not good at being decisive. As I’ve said in prior posts, I like having someone there to tell me when I’m going too far. It allows me to take greater risks if I know I’ll have someone going, “Don’t, idiot.”

In fact, there once was a study in which they watched a group of children playing in a huge, endless field—the children all clumped together in the middle. Yet when they were placed in a fenced in yard, they went everywhere. I am that child.

When living in L.A., I produced small time theatre, and I found myself with complete say and complete responsibility for everything. I’ve always been a sort of Jack-of-all-trades, master of none, and it became incredibly apparent to me about how imprecise I am. Most of my internet activity, like my web comic LINK is more for fun because professionalism is not my strong suit, especially in the visual arts. Graphic design is unique to itself, so while I have some artistic ability, many of my images online I’m insecure about.

In any case, having to do everything myself, and/or dealing with hires of a wide diversity in skills and dedication, I knew damn well that I would much prefer working with a team of vetted professionals, that I don’t want to do the vetting myself, and I don’t have the financing to pay them what they need or what is deserved. I like working with others, and I’ve done enough projects to not only have lost the need for complete control, but prefer working with others.

Sure, I may end up self-publishing one day, for various reasons, but traditional publication has always been my target.

So what would a limited time change?

While having sold a good number of books as a self-published author might help you get into the traditional path if you change your mind later on, if that book is unsuccessful, it can be detrimental. As I found when I produced a local literary journal for authors in my hometown, it can be hard to remove it from the internet or a Google search of your name. I also experienced, even as the mere editor of the journal, the judgmental reaction people can have when they find out about your project being self-published.

It is not uncommon for books in the traditional path to take two years before reaching shelves. I’ve been quoted up to five months for an agent to get back to you, and it is well-known that a main benefit of self-publishing is the short period of time it takes to get something out there.

It’s more than that though. The original belief that I would turn to independent publication if I have a time stamp on my life was logistical. It wasn’t just an issue of never seeing the book in print, but it’s possible I couldn’t even get it accepted in that time—if it was accepted at all.

However, the deeper I got into my reflection, the more I realized there were other things that worried me about the process—the stigma of a failed self-published book, dealing with competitors who use the choice as proof of laziness or insecurity, the potential embarrassment of putting yourself out there to only receive rejection.

None of that mattered if I didn’t have much time left.

After having all of these thoughts, I began to understand that I was banking too much on time being my mistress, and wasn’t making the best choices. I need to finish editing the damn manuscript, I need to turn in the damn manuscript, and I need to get moving. I once told a man, an aspiring writer much older than me who claimed I didn’t need to be writing now, “Not if I get hit by a truck tomorrow.” And yet, even being fully aware of the limitation of morality and my procrastination, here I am, a decade and a half after finishing my first novel and still afraid of readers.

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