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.
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.
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.