The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Here we are, you and I, on this page, me writing, you reading. It’s a good combination if you ask me. We both get what we want, right? I get to write something cool. You get to read something cool. Does that sound good to you? I hope so because it sure does to me.

Let me make a confession: I didn’t start out enjoying writing fiction. As a matter of fact, I hated it. In school, I wrote the bare minimum to get a passing grade. I did enjoy writing songs and jokes and things like that, but fiction…meh.

Let me be even more honest with you. When I began enjoying the act of writing fiction, I did it solely for me. I wasn’t any good at it though I thought I was. The key word here is thought. I believed, like so many other writers, that I could be the next Stephen King. And why not? He was (and still is) my favorite author, and up to that point I had read everything he had written, and it didn’t seem that difficult, so why couldn’t I be as good, if not better, than he is?

Ummm…because I sucked. That’s why. And, worse than that, I wasn’t really trying to get better. I was just putting words in front of words. Do you want proof of how bad I wrote when I first started? I apologize now for what you are about to read.

[[“How are you doing, other than being pissed at Bryan?” Chris asked.

“I’m okay, I guess . . .“ she started to say.

“Don’t you have work to do?” Bryan questioned as he came around the corner.

“Go screw yourself!” Lindsey exclaimed.

“I’d rather screw you.”

“Enough, Bryan!” Chris intervened.

“Yeah, go ahead and take up for your piece of meat . . .“

“Bryan, I said that’s enough,” Chris said without raising his voice.

“What’s wrong, Chris? Don’t like the way I act toward your whore?” Bryan yelled.

Stepping toward Bryan, Chris grabbed his shirt and put a finger in his face. He got close enough to kiss Bryan if that was what he wanted to do.  Fortunately, that was not his intentions.]]

This was written way back when I first started, nearly 20 years ago. It is amateurish, at best, second-grade level, at worst. Or maybe it’s the other way around. It’s from a piece titled, Mirror Mirror and it really, really sucked. But at the time, I wasn’t trying to get published. I was just writing and enjoying it and not getting any better.

Then I was asked, ‘why don’t you try to get published?’

I said, ‘why not? I’m pretty good.’

Delusional. That’s what I was.

Still, I managed to get something published. It took exactly one hundred rejections, but it finally happened. I will tell you this: getting published is like a drug. Once it happens, you want it to happen again and again and again. And it did happen again and again and again, and I really thought I would be rolling in the dough once people knew who I was.

I am the next Stephen King, baby. That was my mindset.

Then reality happened. I subbed a story to a publisher, and he responded with a curt letter that said, and I’m paraphrasing here because the sting from it was bad: you should never write another story again.

I was brought down by one rejection letter. Forget all the other ones. They didn’t matter. They were mostly form rejections that didn’t really mean anything to me. However, that one was personal. It was an insult to my abilities. I stewed for quite a while on that one, even ranting and raving to my wife about it.

Do you want some more honesty? I got mad. I still didn’t write for the readers. I wrote to prove that editor wrong. For the next several years I wrote angrily, but I still didn’t get any better. That only happened much later when I joined an online writing group. I met some great folks who taught me quite a bit about writing and about patience. I learned.

Though I became a better writer, I still wasn’t all that great. I was lazy. I didn’t want to work to make myself better. I was in a hurry to write crappy story after crappy story. Here is where rubber meets the road: I had a lot of people telling me I was good, and a lot of people publishing my work, so I thought I was good. But I wasn’t. If I was, then those people would have paid me for the work, and I would have had the courage to submit more to paying markets. As it stood, I was comfortable in those non-paying markets. They stroked my weak ego. And I wrote, not because I enjoyed it or because of the art of it or even because I wanted to entertain the readers. Nope. I wrote because I wanted my ego stroked. I wanted to feel like I was good at something I truly wasn’t. Believe me, I felt good about it for a while.

Then Reality Check #2 happened. Remember, I thought I was good. I thought I was great. I still thought I was the next Stephen King. I just hadn’t been discovered yet. What an idiot. I thought wrong.

I began inquiring about putting out a short story collection. I had a bunch of publications under my belt, and I was good. No. I was great. Everyone wanted my work. Are you ready for the sting? I submitted my query to a publishing company I respected. They put out good books, and the owner was fairly well known. I enquired about doing a collection with them. The following is the exchange in e-mails that took place after my enquiry:

Are you the A.J. Brown who has stories published in this anthology and that anthology and this anthology? (names of publications withheld on purpose)

My instant thought was, he has heard of me. So I responded. Yes, I am.

I waited.

And waited.

And never heard back from him.

You may say, that’s rude. You may say, maybe his e-mail response got lost in the ether. You may say, maybe he never received your reply to his question. That is well and good, but I am almost certain none of that occurred. What I believe happened is this: he knew who I was, but not for anything good, so when I responded with a proud, yes, I am, he already knew he wasn’t going to work with me. There’s no need for him to respond, after all, I’d get the message after a while, right?

Well, yeah, actually, I did. Though he never responded, I heard him loud and clear. After allowing myself a bit of a pity party, I stopped and looked at everything I had ever done up to that point. Most of it was just okay. Some of it was bad. There were a handful of pieces that were actually good.

That was in 2010.

It was then that I decided to take a hard look at my writing style and voice. Everything I had written up to that point was void of emotion, void of any real character development, void of good dialogue, void of good writing. A lot of what I wrote was the same regurgitated crap that everyone else was putting out. It was then that I made the conscious effort to become a better writer. It was then that I decided I was not going to do what everyone else was doing. It was then that I decided to be my own writer.

It was then that I began to get better. I developed the style and voice I use now. I stopped believing in plot and formulaic writing and said, ‘Hey, I’m just going to write and not worry about everyone else.’ I’m going to tell stories I want to hear.

Are you okay for one more truth? I hope so because this is somewhat of a confession that I think most writers will not make though I believe it to be true for the majority of us.

I do not write for you, the readers.

If you did not click the little X in the upper right corner, then that means you want to hear the rest of this. For that, I am thankful. If you have just a couple more minutes, let me explain my statement, which comes after having thought a ton on the subject.

I do not write for you, the readers. I write for me, the reader. I write what I want to read. I write the things that I enjoy reading. I don’t write like everyone else on purpose. And here is the truth within the truth: if I do not like what I write, then how can I expect you, the readers, to like what I write? That’s the bottom line.

Do I want to entertain the readers? Sure. Do I want them to like my stories? Absolutely. Do I write for them? No. I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m just telling you truth. It sounds nice to say ‘I write for the reader.’ It sounds noble. It is endearing to hear. It’s just not true.

Don’t miss this, though. As I said a couple of paragraphs up, I write for myself, I write what I like. Don’t miss this: if I don’t enjoy the story I write, how can I expect you to enjoy it? If we are honest with ourselves and you, then we will all admit that we write for ourselves, for our enjoyment, because we know if we believe it is good and if we truly enjoy it, then you will, as well. I repeat, don’t miss this, don’t miss how important it is for us, the writers, to write what we like and enjoy. By doing it that way the end product is so much better for you, the readers. If we do it the other way; if we write for anyone but ourselves to start with, then you get the same crap I put out for the first 10 or so years of me pursuing publishing.

Bottom line? I write for myself, so you don’t crap in the end.

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

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