One of the things I find most interesting about writing is the experiencing of improvement.
As you get better, the same sequence of words appear to you in different ways. A draft that once read really well to you six months ago looks like absolute shit now. This isn't a bad thing, it means you're getting better, seeing your words in a different way - in an elevated perspective, one that sees mistakes that used to be invisible, one that understands rhythm in a way that was once impossible.
If your old work doesn't read poorly, it means you're not getting better.
And yet, there are passages that hold their quality over time. I'm nearing the endpoint of revising Beta Male for the final time, and the overall rhythm, the overall fluidity of the story is (I think) congealing in the way I had originally envisioned. I set out to write a very specific story, and I feel that I've accomplished that. The critical passages that I wrote a year ago have held their value over time.
Soon, it'll be time to release it, put wings on that motherfucker, and watch it FLY.
My good friend asked me today whether I'm happy. I'm not sure that I am, at the least, I'm not unhappy, but I think a focus on happiness can be toxic. A focus on happiness in an inherently inward-facing frame, one that prioritizes your own hedonic experience above all.
Happiness, then, becomes just one more metric that we track in our lives, and in the very act of constantly assessing it, we pull ourselves out of the present, comparing the current moment to a litany of past and future ones, perpetually asking ourselves - is this good enough?
Instead, I think gratitude is a much better frame. Instead of pursuing happiness, pursue gratitude, giving thanks for all the things that you do have - whatever those things may be. I'm grateful for the people in my life who love me, and for those I have loved, for my health, for living in a country like Canada, for the opportunity to make art, for the gift of having found something (writing) that animates me, that breathes vitality and purpose into my life.
The final draft of Beta Male, after about five years of work, is finally congealing, crystallizing into its final form. I'm cutting the fat, eliminating the dialogue where characters talk like mouthpieces (this isn't something people do in real life), paring things down to their essentials. It's work that I'm truly proud of, something I can point to with pride and say - I made that. The ironic thing about my novel is that even though it's about a broken, hateful person, it was made with love.
No matter what happens in my life, no matter what ups and downs go on, I take solace in art, in the act of making good art, of making something that can move another human being. To see the craft of something, to appreciate the way it rings clean and true: this is a privilege, the privilege of work.
The key to work that you love is finding work that gets you into a flow state - into the zone. I was reading Luke Muelhauser's blog a couple of months back, after he'd quit his job as the head of MIRI, a friendly AI research institute. It seemed like a bizarre career move until he went over his rationale - his job, although rewarding, didn't get him into a flow state, whereas other types of work did.
This is why I love writing so much. Its the kind of work that makes me lose track of time, the kind of work where the contents of my consciousness can seamlessly pour out of my fingertips and onto the screen. When I write scenes, I'm not just writing them. I'm living them, I'm feeling them in my head. The joy of creation is a real thing, and I realized recently, after a brief period of self doubt, that I've never going to stop doing this. It's not work for me, it's just pure, unadulterated joy. Sure, there are moments of writer's block, problems in the narrative that take time to be solved. But when I really get into the zone, there's nothing I've done that can really match that. And I'm grateful for finding this.
So it's official:
I failed to get an agent for my novel.
After querying about 110 different agents across the United States, the UK, and Canada, I got a full manuscript request from two of them, both of whom declined to represent my work. There's an off-chance an un-agented press might take a chance on it, but it seems unlikely.
The funny thing is, after four and a half years of writing on-and-off, I'm not nearly as crushed as I thought I'd be. I always knew that the transgressive content of the novel would probably preclude it from being published through a major publishing house, and even if it did get an agent, it'd be very difficult to slip it through the narrow band of tastemakers that filter out works that're deemed unacceptable. A first-person novel through the eyes of a White-supremacist-misogynist was always going to be a hard sell, so I'm not really surprised that it wasn't picked up.
Although I'd definitely fantasized about getting an agent for my first book and finding traditional literary success, I'd also drawn up extensive plans for self-publishing the novel. Someone who really inspired me was Jack Cheng, a writer who ran a Kickstarter for his first novel after failing to get it traditionally published. It's a successful model for sharing your work with others through circumventing the literary gatekeepers. I'm still undecided on whether or not I'll take this route, and it'll ultimately depend on the success of the associated film projects I'll be undertaking in the coming year. A group of my artist friends have banded together and we're looking at telling the story of the novel in snippets through a series of short films, which is a project I'm super excited about.
In the final analysis, I failed, but I don't feel bad about failing. I don't regret the hundreds of hours I spent writing and re-writing this book, because I loved almost every moment of it. Making art brings me a level of joy and fulfillment that almost nothing else does. At times, I wasn't sure if I was going to write a story of the calibre that I wanted to, but eventually, I was able to meet my own internal bar of quality and I'm proud of what I accomplished. I always finish what I start.
So is this the end of Beta Male?
It remains to be seen. I'll probably sit on the manuscript for awhile before deciding whether or not to self-publish it. Even if I don't, I may attempt to find a publisher for it several years down the road, if I manage to sell another book instead.
After all, I've already started on the next one.
A friend commented on my book recently, and said she liked the story but didn't like the prose.
I thought this was an interesting thing to think about. How can you like a story but not that words that make it?
There's two ways to look at prose: either as a purely utilitarian device or as an end in and of itself. Jake Seliger often talks about the importance of having the text of a novel advance the language in some way, either through structural innovation, or beauty alone. The concept of a poem is this idea personified. But why, then, are novels so clearly a different form than poems?
It's because the story is what bleeds through. The words are like windows into the narrative. Sometimes, even if you think the window looks like shit, you still want to peer through, staring into the other side.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis