THE SHIT YOU WRITE AFTER TAKING A SERIES OF JABS TO THE FACE
Some days, I get punchy. I sit down at this blog and I start writing, only to discover that there’s nothing new in my head. I’ve been fighting the fight too long, taken too many hits to the face, and I’ve got nothing left in the tank but a kind of dogged resolve to keep swinging and hope I get lucky.
I’ll start drawing together ridiculous concepts, seeing what I can connect. I’ll throw words at the page and squint at them, wondering if there’s something there.
Some days it works.
Some days it doesn’t.
But if you take most writing advice on the internet to its core principles, digging beneath the layers and seriously looking at the what is being said, it will generally come down to one of two things.
One: the best thing you can do for your career is keep on fucking swinging.
Two: please, motherfuckers, someone buy my books.
There’s a reason for this – both the advice for wading forward, and the quiet plea for an audience. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, over the weekend, because I am full of deep and brooding thoughts about my future. And yeah, I got punchy, but I was also in need of pep talks.
And since my pep talks become your pep talks…
EVERY FIGHTER GETS SIXTY SECONDS IN THE CORNER
I am a fan of the just keep swinging tactic when it comes to writing, but let’s be honest: it takes its toll. I remember turning thirty, many years ago, and being unable to comprehend my life. I’d been swinging away for a decade, on the writing front, and what it got me was a house full of second-hand furniture, no employment prospects, a recently-failed relationship, and a handful of publications that added up to a couple of hundred bucks.
What had seemed like an easy sacrifice at twenty-one felt like crushing failure ten years later. Worth it is a nebulous concept at the best of time, and the things one values change over the years. What had changed, for me, was this: I was heartily sick of living off potatoes and instant noodles, fretting about credit card debt when I should have been writing.
I took an office job for the first time in my life. Thought of it as my sixty seconds in the corner between rounds. A chance to regroup and figure out what came next.
I’m still figuring that out.
But there is no shame in saying yo, I need a break. No-one gets into a knock-down, drag-out fight and keeps fighting with success. I went and worked a different job. I wrote less, but I kept writing. I hit a point where I thought, yeah, I’m ready to rumble again.
The key is making sure the breaks are a chance to regroup, not an excuse to lie down and let things go forever.
MOST FIGHTS DON’T END IN A KNOCK-OUT
The appeal of combat sports like boxing and MMA is the potentially clean distinction between winner and loser. We live in a world rendered in shades of grey and almost successes, which means there is something comforting about the knock-out or submission victory.
Many fights don’t end that way.
There is a saying, in MMA: Don’t leave a fight in the hands of the judges.
Once the impartial panel gets to scoring your fight, attaching scores to your striking, grappling, aggression, and control of the fight, shit is going to get weird. Fights that end in decision have winners and losers, but fans (and, occasionally, fighters) can spend hours arguing the result.
Most fights end in a decision. Outside forces looking in and saying, you, you did better. It’s still a victory, but it can feel much less certain. The hollow thought of what-if lingers in an otherwise even fight. It becomes the narrative the drives most rematches.
The trouble is writing is that even fewer writers achieve the knock-out, in terms of success, than boxers or MMA practitioners.
The wondering and uncertainty is constant. The folks who are starting out still wonder if they’re good. The folks who have established they can get things published wonder if they’re good enough, or fast enough, or brave enough to go full-time. The folks who go full-time start wondering if they can maintain it, given the haphazard payments and uncertainty in the industry.
It’s easy to see why most writers look punch-drunk, when you see them at the bars of a writers con.
Easy, also, to see why so many of them are drunk.
This is not an easy gig.
THERE IS ALWAYS ANOTHER FIGHT
One of the most interesting panels I saw at Contact, two weeks back, involved three of the most prolifically-published writers at the con talking about the finances of writing. There was a recurring theme about the uncertainty of it all, the worry about the future, the looming awareness that it could all end tomorrow.
Veteran heavyweights of Australian genre fiction. Among our best, our most prolific, our most consistently published, here and overseas.
The hardest truth to wrap your head around, in writing, is that you are a going to fail. You are going to fail a whole lot, get your head knocked clean off your shoulders, and you are going to decide that your career is over. Everything has gone wrong and you are done, kaput, no more readers and no more publisher interest and no more books for you.
You get punchy and then you fail and then you lie on the mat.
Some people never get up. They’ve had their fight and they’ve failed and they didn’t enjoy the sensation.
Some people, thought, they go back into training. They get ready to keep swinging, keep telling the next story, keep trying something new until they finally get what they want.
And maybe they try something new – vary their training, or go in with a new tactic – and maybe they just go back to what they know. Maybe they rest and recover and get the shit kicked out of them once more, until they’re punchy and not entirely sure what to do.
But the fight is there.
There is always another fight if you want it.
The best thing you can do for your career is keep on fucking swinging, in this fight or a new one.
And please, motherfuckers, someone buy my books.