One of the things that has come to me, by being tested, is my focus. At one point, I was simply about getting things down. The two pages, two to three poems, blogposts would be hurtled out there with a speed that I look back on in bemusement and envy. Now, my output is less but it’s not sourced in apathy or disinterest.
It’s focus. When I write now, it’s informed by the lessons from a number of teachers:
- Reading. Reading. Oh dear god, I would rather read than anything. I like to binge watch Netflix, play videogames and such but I always feel a vague guilt about the latter, because it won’t necessarily advance my purpose. I read voraciously, both as a reader and as a writer.
- Failings on previous projects. When you have to highlight and edit your previously generous hand in terms of using the word ‘and’ or ‘then’, it bites you hard. You feel that bite when you’re working on the next thing. Some measure of idiocy will bite you on the next one but it becomes useful to fail brighter and harder each time out. You only fail if you quit, and I’ve learned a great deal with each project. That means I’m paying attention to the micro, even in the exploratory draft, which is sometimes the equivalent of fingerpainting or air guitar, you just do it and feel self conscious afterwards. Or not. I play air bass, fingerstyle not slapping. Never miss a note, either.
It’s not as immediate as writing something and posting it within thirty seconds, hopefully to immediate acclaim. In my case, it’s four likes and a comment once in a while but I know I’m not reciprocal in that. I do read your blogs, but my focus is always going to be the book. This journeyman/apprentice stage of things is demanding, especially when I want to get myself to a point where a legacy publisher can determine whether I am worth betting on. Without being an adult colouring book or a YouTuber offering make up tips, that cuts my odds already and so I put more into the work because it is the only thing I can control. I don’t fetishize failure or rejection but it’s the risk you take when you put your work out there, either direct to an audience or through distribution and publication channels.
It gets me, in the literary discourse, that white men are supposed to fall on their swords for less represented people to make their art. I find that a great deal of this rhetoric ignores the issues of class and wealth, because I’m working class (blue collar) and I don’t often myself reflected in the literature I read unless I’m some broken teeth wheezing second act threat or it’s written in a patois that doesn’t bother to capture the humanity. I work as hard as I can to make the best possible art, and I won’t stand aside, I won’t quit. We’re not in competition with anyone other than ourselves. I don’t know the barriers in publishing for different people, I only see what’s in front of me.
It’s patronising to think that anyone needs permission to do it. Self-appointment, determination, discipline are universal traits and if you deny a particular group those in your projections, it says more about you than it does them. If you want to make art, fucking make it and keep putting it out until someone notices you. A guy was paralysed and could only communicate by blinking, he managed to write a book. Stephen Hawking speaks through machines and is confined to a wheelchair but he managed it. I don’t, in the face of that, have an excuse and neither do you. I read what I think is good, I enjoy being surprised and I want a diverse array of experiences represented because there’s an insecure kid or adult who yearns to see themselves looking back from the page. I get that entirely. The thing is, you have to fight for it and you don’t push yourself up by putting other people down. Life is difficult for everyone, it’s blithe to assume otherwise and we should be kind to everyone we meet or interact with.
People are people, with all their joys and sorrows, different in each way but all still the same. We’re the same species, all apertures through which the light of the universe shines through.
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