Rogue Ink

May 16, 2008

Writers Know More Than Wile E. Coyote

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 5:45 am

My father and I were discussing my writing career. Specifically, we were discussing why I don’t write fiction very much anymore. I used to write fiction, and still do, occasionally, when I can’t help it. I stopped actively trying to write fiction a little after college because I realized that there was something wrong with my writing. It wasn’t bad. It was, in fact, quite good. I made a girl in my fiction writing class believe that I was a smoker with a scene from one story. She offered me a light for about three weeks before she shook the assumption. It was a good victory for fiction land.

But I stopped doing it. Here’s why.

You Actually Can Only Fold It 11 Times According to Mythbusters, But Math Isn’t Real Anyway

The trouble is, I’ve always known the difference between what I was able to produce, which was decent fiction, and literature, which is bloody brilliant fiction. It is a big gap. It is a chasm. It is approximately the length of a piece of tissue paper folded a hundred times, and if you never had a mathematics professor who thought he was particularly clever, you will not know that this is a freaking long distance, but I will. And I will judge you for not having that mathematics professor, and yes, my judgment will in fact be surrounded by a cloud of envy, because he was an irritating little man.

I know the difference between what I am able to produce and literature. And looking at that distance, daily, was killing me, and making me not want to write, ever again, because it seemed like the gap would always be there, like the one in Madonna’s front teeth, just right THERE. Always THERE.

So I stopped writing literature.

DON’T PANIC

The Hitchhiker’s Guide is full of great advice. That’s top of the list. Don’t Panic, in large, friendly letters. I’d have made them friendlier but WordPress only has so many fonts to choose from, people. I say ‘don’t panic’ because I can sense that each and every one of you who are writers are now poising your fingers above the keyboard to tell me not to quit, not to give up, that the artist within me will prevail. I thank you in advance for your cheerleading and assure you that it is not necessary, because my ESP keeps me warm at night. Also, because of this:

I am not giving up. I am going into training.

At this time, I would like to issue an apology.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have counseled clients and friends against doing what I am about to do. I have warned them it is only for the elite and Jack LaLanne, and that most of us are neither of those things. The President does it, and I think we all know by now we’re not looking to him for good ideas in communication land. I am against it in all forms of media, from speech to writing to hieroglyphics, and yet, here I go. I humbly beg your pardon, good people of Rogue Ink, for I am about to do something dangerous and possibly quite painful.

Yes. I’m going to do it. I’m going to use a sports metaphor. I will try, for all our sakes, not to make it too hideous.

Here Goes

Trying to write literature when you have not spent any significant period of your life in constant writing is the equivalent of a pretty fast kid deciding he’s going to run in the Olympics, and he’s going to beat the world record for sprinting. The pretty fast kid can beat everyone in his hometown, and everyone in the surrounding towns. Everyone he knows is impressed with his speed. He has been compared to cheetahs and racecars and other really fast things, and someone has probably written an impressive little piece of poetry about him in an op-ed in the local paper. He’s a pretty fast kid.

He is not the fastest kid in the world.

What’s more, before not being the fastest kid in the world, he is also not the fastest in the country or the state or the college he’s going to attend in two years. If you put this kid directly from his sophomore year in high school onto the Olympic running team, he would get schooled and it would be humiliating. Athletes would waste precious bodily fluid to spit in his general direction, and then they would have to replenish from a carefully rationed bottle of Gatorade, and that would break their concentration, and then the Communists would win. I’m telling you, it would be bad all around.

What the hell does that have to do with writing?

I’m the fast kid.

I’m a good writer. I was one of the best writers in my school. In general, I was the best writer in every office I’ve worked in. People have commented on it, people have praised me, and as long as I never left my little sphere of Awesome, no one would ever know that I wasn’t Olympic material. But I know. So does the kid. The kid knows that the difference between his best time and the fastest man in the world’s best time is a minute and twenty seconds, and he knows exactly how big of a gap that is. I know what my gap looks like, and it is huge.

So what do the kid and I do? We can’t keep comparing ourselves to the Top Gun, because he is too impressive. His glory makes our brains hurt. We are not worthy to gaze upon the Top Gun, and besides, he’s ruining our self esteem, and if we have to spend all our money on therapy we’re never going to be able to pay the rent. He’s an inconsiderate bastard, the Top Gun, but he is there and we have to deal with him.

The kid and I are going into training.

This blog is training for me. It’s about an hour a day of me stringing together a coherent thought in long format, making it funny, and making it halfway intelligent-sounding. I write in my journal for another hour a day. I spend about half of my work day doing writing (the rest of my workday, for those of you who are not writers, is spent doing something we like to call ‘brainstorming,’ which is more accurately assessed as stressing out in venues as varied as the bathtub, the bowling alley, and the biker bar. I spend about six hours a day, solid, writing.

In another week or two, I’m going to be adding another hour of fiction writing to that total. Then I’ll increase the fiction writing hours, and then I’ll increase the quality of that writing, and someday I’ll get there.

Until then, though, I’m not looking at the Top Gun anymore. He’s freaking me out and he is sapping my mojo and I just don’t like him very much. It’s something about his hair. I think maybe he’s got a piece that he gilded, or something. His halo glints all wrong.

The kid is doing a lot of running to get to Olympic level.

I am doing a lot of writing to get to literature level.

The kid just wants a gold medal.

And all I want is a Pulitzer. Like that is SO much to ask.

Moral of the story: Do not look at the gap. The gap is the mind-killer. Remember how Wile E. Coyote never fell down until he saw the chasm? It’s just like that.

Subscribe. When I win the Pulitzer, I’ll thank you in my speech.

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18 Comments »

  1. Absolute brilliance Tei,

    You managed to paint a very colorful picture and bring across the importance of not comparing ourselves with the “gilded hair” top gun. Like you, I write a minimum of 6 hours a day, although I don’t do fiction – yet. Who knows what’s around the corner.

    That Pulitzer certainly sounds like it’s got your name on it. So for all it’s worth you go girl.

    Comment by Monika Mundell — May 16, 2008 @ 10:07 am | Reply

  2. Now *you’ve* given me *my* new motto. (I’m on the same track, only you have a head start.) That moral is perfect. Thanks. Can’t wait to read some of that Pulitzer worthy material! I’ve no doubt it will rock my socks off.

    Comment by steph — May 16, 2008 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  3. I’m just glad we’re able to witness your training regimen. It’s like watching a Triple-A player who eventually makes it to the big leagues. One day, we’ll all be able to say, “We knew her when …”

    (Does it really only take you an hour to write each post?)

    Comment by Rebecca Smith — May 16, 2008 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

  4. My Little Tei-tei.
    ( I have a feeling you hated that, and you were supposed to. I’m kinda trying to piss you off just a little, like a poke in the arm.) And I wouldn’t be trying so hard if I didn’t like you so damn much. The WHOLE darn problem with you in a nutshell ( Maybe in your Nut graff ) Is that you HAVE been winning all your life. What you need to do is come down here in the mud and lose a little, maybe a lot, get your face dirty and find out once and for all that it won’t hurt as bad as you think it does.
    No one needs you to be the BEST, we just need you to be TEI, cause she is IN FACT pretty damn INCREDIBLE, winning, Loosing, face clean or face full of mud. You have an overdeveloped fear of failure because you have won too darn much. Start failing right now, it is a wonderful cure. Then success, and victory will fall all over you like rain. All you have to do is be yourself and not care about the prize, just the process.The more you stop looking at him, and at even your own writing and just let it flow from the muse, the better you will be. Give yourself permissionn to write horrible stuff. Please. It will be good for you. Just right authentically, and it will improve itself right before your eyes. Because the true Tei IS worthy of a Pulitzer and doesn’t even need to train.
    ( OK, done poking you now. You really are awesome.)

    Comment by wendikelly — May 16, 2008 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

  5. Monika: Thanks very much. Compliments make my hair shinier.

    Steph: Wish I could take credit for ‘the mind-killer’ but it’s from Dune. The quote is actually “fear is the mind-killer’ which is applicable to more situations.

    Rebecca: Yeah. Little less if I’m not editing and adding jokes after I’ve gone from start to finish. This one, for example, took about half an hour, which is why is joke-lite.

    Wendi: Well, you’re right and you’re wrong. You’re right, I suck at losing. Not because I’m really that poor of a sport about it, but because I have a serious fear of it. Someone else just wrote a post about this . . . the fear that all your losses will start to judge against you. True. I have that fear. But then, if I weren’t trying to conquer it pretty hard-core, I’d not be starting my own business now. Most businesses fail. Most writers aren’t successful. I’m throwing myself into a tiny niche with the hope that I can weasel into that percentage that does both. I’m getting there.

    Comment by Tei — May 16, 2008 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  6. Tei,

    Yes, I can see that you took this awesome jump to do just that. The thing about you is that despite this giant fear of failure you have, what you have MORE of is a big pile of courage. and a sword. And a chunk of the crazies. All good business owners need that cause sane people talk themselves OUT of running their own businesses.( “What??I’d have to be crazy to do something that only a few people are successful at after the first year…”)Yeah…well then just leave it to us zanies then and we’ll run the the world….

    Come on Tei…you belong with us.

    Comment by wendikelly — May 16, 2008 @ 3:13 pm | Reply

  7. I have to agree with Wendi on this one. You rock, plain and simple. Failure will only make you better at what you do. Where’s Brett? We need him and his “fail early, fail often” mojo.

    Comment by Sandie — May 16, 2008 @ 5:29 pm | Reply

  8. Tei: I am not asking for a list of your “favorite” books or anything, but I am curious…can you give us an example or two of the Pulitzer Prize winning literature that you think is beyond you? I ask this because I’ve been spending time lately reading your blog thinking, “I wish I could do that!”

    Comment by jimsmuse — May 16, 2008 @ 5:51 pm | Reply

  9. Fear is exactly what has kept me from writing fiction for the last ten or so years. In university I thought I rocked at it. But that was long ago and stuff happened and then I couldn’t write. But I love doing it, which sort of won out over the fear: I started my blog to at least start the process of writing again, to practise, to get the creativity flowing again. You, my friend, are more than halfway there; no shortage of creativity in you and you write exceedingly well.

    Comment by steph — May 16, 2008 @ 5:52 pm | Reply

  10. I had a similar attitude about my writing that kept me from starting the business. I would see some of the really good stuff that was out there and be put off. But then I saw enough really bad stuff and thought, If someone can get paid to do that…” So I jumped in and have done pretty well.
    Consider the fast kid. He doesn’t have to be faster than the Olympics runners. He just has to be the fastest in his district. And maybe not even that, if he’s doing it for fun.

    Comment by Matt Tuley — May 16, 2008 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

  11. Tei- Have you done a stint in journalism… with newspapers?

    Comment by Janice Cartier — May 16, 2008 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

  12. Tei,

    Everybody I know tells me I ought to write a book. They are wrong, wrong, so I sympathize deeply with the big fish in a small pond story. You want it and I don’t, so that’s a big difference. May you grow, so that the size of your pond no longer matters.

    Because you rock and because you are totally right about this (you’re probably the best judge of your own work) and because that gap is real, and maybe instead of bursting past it you’ll wind up zigging and zagging, two quotations from my precious collection. You will see these in the Wednesday Words at MCE sometime, so don’t yawn just ‘cuz I’m sharing them now:

    The world may be full of fourth-rate writers but it’s also full of fourth-rate readers.
    —Stan Barstow (British novelist, playwright)

    It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.
    —Robert Benchley (U.S. writer, humorist)

    Maybe you’ll get all the way to the literature Olympics, maybe not. Keeping writing the stuff you do; the journey will be worth it.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Comment by Kelly — May 16, 2008 @ 11:32 pm | Reply

  13. Wendi: True that. Crazies rule the world.

    Sandie: It’s all good. I’m learning to fail. I am in fact learning to rock-climb. I fail a lot.

    Carrie: Sure. Middlesex. The English Patient. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Sexing the Cherry. All phenomenal, all totally out of my league. Right now.

    Steph: Exactly. That’s why I’m here.

    Matt: In copywriting, you betcha. There’s always some loser getting paid to do the same thing, and you can do it better. In books – I could write decent novels, and they might even sell, but I’m not willing to compromise there. It’s something I’m willing to work hard to be extremely good at because it’s magical to me. Copywriting is a lot of things, but no one ever read a piece of copywriting and said, “Wow. That brochure changed my life.”

    Janice: Yup yup. Had the same problem there, actually. I really wanted my first article to be some kind of super-amazing thing. Instead, I started writing for the San Francisco Chronicle’s Employment section. Way easier. I’m working my way up to the Atlantic Monthly.

    Kelly: Thank you. I love Robert Benchley, and he’s right. But the most famous writers aren’t necessarily the best. Stephen King is damned famous, and he’s very, very good at his genre, but popularity isn’t what I want. I want good, pure and simple.

    Comment by Tei — May 17, 2008 @ 1:12 am | Reply

  14. Ah the conundrum of all writers we’re good but not as good as….but I dig the training. We should all train. We need to write everyday, it is a skill that needs to be practiced even when it comes easy, and even when you’ve always been good at it. There’s a great post over at Annarchy today that addresses this same issue. Whenever you decide to write that fiction novel I’ll be reading and laughing I’m sure.

    Comment by Karen Swim — May 17, 2008 @ 3:37 am | Reply

  15. Damn, I wish you’d had a subscribe to comment button here somewhere. Trying to wade through all the fans here is kind of like sticking your feet into the mud in the pitch black and not knowing which way to turn.

    BTW, I’m glad your hair is all shiny now. Just let me know whenever you need an after treatment. Always at your service Mam. 🙂

    But seriously Tei, a fear of failure is real and happens all around us. Having seen what you are capable of you will go a very long way and longer still. I’m not even sure whether you need this small talk anyway and I don’t want to sound like I have found the answer to failure. The only thing is that I can say, failure becomes easier the more you do it and getting up is like getting out of bed in the morning. [Your hair might be all wiry *here is some more gloss, sleep is stuck in your eyes and your mouth has the taste of a Kentucky fried chicken drive in on a Saturday night].

    Who cares. What matters is that you tried something, perhaps failed, maybe even succeeded or just getting by. In the end everybody is a winner, even failures – because it shows that they tried and that alone is a win.

    Comment by Monika Mundell — May 17, 2008 @ 8:49 am | Reply

  16. Yes, Tei, that was my point with those quotes. You might end up Art Buchwald, and not Ernest Hemingway. You’d be a good Art Buchwald.

    When you tally up the score at the end of the game, you will have rocked in your own way, which might not be the same as rocking in the way you want.

    Please, don’t end up Stephen King. 🙂

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Comment by Kelly — May 17, 2008 @ 11:25 am | Reply

  17. Kelly, that thhhhoouught actually made me shudder. A Tei Stephan King. I can’t even imagine the horror after her warped little Tei brain got done twisting a fork in it. Can you even imagine the twisted path it might go down?
    eeeewwwwwww.

    You know….people would buy that stuff…oh yeah…they would. They would buy a lot of it.

    Comment by wendikelly — May 17, 2008 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

  18. I would like to take a moment to thank you all, and reassure you that I have no intentions of becoming Stephen King, cuddly uncle-type though he is.

    Comment by Tei — May 17, 2008 @ 3:56 pm | Reply


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