Which Way Do I Go, George?

Posted: May 28, 2012 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Like before, there is quite a bit of dust on the floor and furniture and cobwebs in the corners. Leave Herbie to take care of the place and look what he does.

First, I apologize for not updating Type AJ Negative much in the past month. Life has happened. I can honestly say this is the first time life has kept me from doing much writing and/or blogging.

Second, there is another reason for this. When I have sat down to write, I have struggled… mightily. I’ve never, ever struggled with writing the way I have over the last two months. I’ve completed one story in that time frame and have started only a handful of others.

Part of the problem is the conflict I have had between writing horror and my spiritual beliefs. No, the horror part isn’t the problem. The problem is the reality of storytelling. You see, in real life—the real life of the world today—things aren’t black and white and as easy to figure out as most of the fiction out there implies it is. They aren’t cut and dry and there are quite a few different shades of gray to fill in.

In trying to make my stories have a feel of realistic believability I’ve had to look at my characters from today’s standards. And that means a lot of my characters cuss and think things and do things that have become a direct conflict of my spirituality. I’ve been trying to rework that mind-think, but in doing so I lose some of the credibility of the characters. Once your characters lose credibility then so does the story.

When readers start saying things like:

Hey, that doesn’t make any sense.

Hey, he or she wouldn’t say or do that here. They would say &*$% instead of Golly whillakers.

For the record, I haven’t heard any readers say anything negative about my stories—I’m just having a hard time getting them to be realistic and keep all of the ‘nasty’ out.

I don’t like my characters to be one-dimensional cut outs of the real thing. I like for my characters to live and breathe just as if they were real. By doing so, many of them wouldn’t say darn or crap or any other non-profane word. And let’s face it some words just don’t have the same emphasis as a cuss word.

That’s only part of the problem, though. The other part is that writing has become so much like a business I haven’t enjoyed it as much as I used to. I remember a time when writing was enjoyable, when I couldn’t wait to get in front of my computer, my hands on the keyboard and I would listen to the little narrator in my head tell me wondrous tale after wondrous tale.

Now the narrator is tired. He sometimes yawns when I think about writing. That’s not a good thing.

There’s a reason for that.

Did you all know I used to draw and do the occasional painting? No? Well, now you do. When people discovered this gift or talent or whatever it is, they wanted me to draw them things and paint them things and they started putting deadlines on when they needed those things done.

I stopped having fun with art because it became more like a job. Here’s the thing about losing the joy of something: once that happens, you may as well hang it up, brothers and sisters.

That’s what I did with drawing and painting. I got tired of it and stopped doing it all together.

Then writing came along, showed me how much fun creating stories could be, and I was hooked. It was as much fun to create a character and put that character through some gruesome or life-altering events as it was to sketch a picture of a horse galloping along.

I’m not so much hooked right now.

Writing has become a business, and one I’m not too successful at. At least, based on publications and fans and being able to crack the big markets. If you base it on those things I’m pretty much a failure at it.

Now hold on a second, you say. Your book has received great reviews. Your zombie series has a lot of comments stating how good it is.

Yeah, I know. All those things are great. Ask the editors, though, and my stories are not as action packed as they would like. I get the same thing over and over again, right along with the rejection slips:

Not enough action. Not enough action. You need more action right at the very beginning of the story. Not enough action…

Action. Action. Action. That’s all the editors and publishers want these days.

Yet, the readers say just the opposite. The readers like the way I write—either that or they’re all lying to me. I would like to think that I am being told the truth.

Folks, I’m not an action, action, action sort of writer. I’ve tried it and I absolutely hate it. I’ve always let my stories develop themselves. I’ve always let that little narrator sitting in the center of the creative part of my brain dictate what I write and how the stories should go, even if some of them turn out a tad on the weird side.

There is a conflict of interest going on here. You see, if I want to be published on a much more regular basis (and believe me, I do), I need more action, less development—I need to get right to the point. Or so many of the editors say. However the readers—the people I want to reach—say just the opposite. They seem to like the dabs and dots of conversational writing—a style I enjoy—and character development. I don’t get complaints from the people who are most important: the readers.

I sat down to write this Sunday night—it was nearing midnight by that point and I was tired. I went to bed, having not finished it. When I got up today, I went through the same morning ritual I have on all of my days off. When I finished those things, I checked my e-mail. In it was one of those e-mail subscriptions that I, well, subscribed to. It’s called The Minimalists. Today’s topic? Too Much Branding These Days

Of course, this got me to thinking.

As a writer, if I force myself to write in a manner I don’t enjoy, then I’m not being true to myself or to you, the readers. If I try to write all action, action, action, then my stories will be flat, one-dimensional and just plain lousy. If I write for editors and publishers, then I’m no longer being myself and no longer writing the way I have come to learn the readers like. If I write to make money, then all I’m doing is branding myself.

I’ve always tried to be different in my writing, to not be like everyone else, to write the way I want to, to write the way I enjoy writing.

Where does this leave me?

Take a look, if you will:

Here I am, standing, not at a crossroads, but at a fork in the road. The one to the left has a sign on a metal post that reads For Editors and Publishers. It’s shiny and the sign itself is made of aluminum, and let’s say it has a green border and big black letters that seem to glisten in the sunlight. It’s definitely the prettier of the two signs. The road is paved and there are green dollar signs marking every few feet along the way.

The one to the right also has a sign, but it’s on a wooden post and the placard is a worn piece of plywood that’s seen better days. It’s painted in white spray paint by an unsteady hand. That sign reads, For Readers. That road is not paved, but red clay and there are very few footprints along it, as if so few writers were willing to go down that path. There are trees that line the road, their branches overhanging and blocking out the sunlight. There are no dollar signs; there are no brightly colored placards.

For most folks, they would take that sunlit path and run straight down it. They would do what the editors, publishers and agents say to do. They would listen when they are told to change your style or you’ll never get anywhere in this business, kiddo. They would sacrifice the truth and honesty that readers want.

Here I stand and that Y in the road tells me I have to choose or I can go no further. If I turn back (which I’ve thought of doing a lot over the last year) then I quit. I give up writing, shut down Type AJ Negative, let Dredging Up Memories become just that: a memory. I give up my dream of being, not only a published writer, but also one that the readers want to read.

I have to choose. I have to decide if I go left, right or turn back. There is no other way around it. Left. Right. Turn back.

Last year I submitted queries to several places about publishing some of my work. I received one response. It was a question, asking if I were the writer who wrote this, that or the other. I replied yes.

That’s it. End of conversation.

I never heard back from them. I’m okay with that, now. I’m okay with the editors and publishers saying, action, action, action. I’m okay with it because I’m not changing who I am, what I write or how I write for them. I write the way I do because I enjoy it. I write the way I do because you, the readers, have told me you like that style.

This also means I won’t be submitting much of my work to publications anymore. There are a couple of places I will still send work to, but not many. I’m not an action sort of guy and if they want action, then I’m wasting, not only their time, but mine as well.

While I’m here, let me say, keep an eye out for Southern Bones—it will be my first real foray into the self-publishing venture. And if it goes well, then there may be a novel to follow.

My stories will change some, simply because you’re not going to see as much profanity in them as before. It’s not needed. If my writing is good enough, then the words will ring true.

There’s a few other things that I want to write on, but I’ve already been long winded.

Thank you for coming along into the dusty halls of Type AJ Negative.

Until we meet again, my friends…

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Comments
  1. peggy says:

    I really understand AJ, I had to find ways around a lot of whats popular to write because of my views. But I played with lots of genres, found things the readers wanted but the editors didn’t. Thats why I do Amazon ebooks now. I am so amazed how many readers love goofy things, stories they can read without being embarrassed to share with the kids. Theres millions of readers out there, you need to experiment with new fun ideas. You write great, just expand your horizons. I sell every single month, without advertising, to complete strangers who email metelling me I make them giggle out loud, that’s my reward….imagine how great you’ll do! You are a much better writer than I, get ready for some fun, your not in a fork in the road you are walking into a buffet..all the words and stories just waiting for you, your readers waiting for you to give them what they want. Look forward to your adventure!

  2. Petra says:

    Aj. I call BS.
    Sorry for the blatant, get right to the point type of reply, but hey, that’s who I am. Yes, right now you are writing for your readers — your EXISTING readers. Let me explain.
    You brought up two points; A.) If you write more action, than your characters will be too 1-dimensional and B.) You’l be writing for the publishers and not the readers.
    Both are wrong. Let’s take A.) First off, I understand what you mean about writing in a more narrative style – you love the introspective angle to it, how you can go on and digress and all – but sometimes when you do that, you aren’t letting the characters take over, you’re letting the AUTHOR take over. And it gets boring. No offense, it happens to every writer who lets the author take over. You must be open to developing your skills. That’s not the same thing as changing your basic style. Action is the NUMBER 1 (or close to it) rule for a good story. I’m not saying blood and gore, I’m saying conflict and action. Stories that have too much exposition lose the reader. So you are wrong, action DOES NOT create 1dimensional characters…it does the exact opposite. Show, dont tell, it’s the basic rule of writing.and all exposition does is ‘tell.’
    B.) The first thing is, you have to write for YOURSELF. Not your readers. Not the publishers, at least not completely. Yourself, following the rules of above (A.) Yes, you have existing readers, but you don’t want to stay stagnant do you? You want to increase your readers. Remember, you aren’t going to please everyone all the time. So no, your existing readers probably aren’t lying. They just don’t know what they are missing from you. You’re not selling out if you change your narrative style. You’re just growing in your talents. Look through all you’ve writtten…note the exposition, the introspective parts of your stories. Look to see how action would maybe have pushed the story further. You won’t see it right away in a new piece. Only after you write the story, put it away and then take it out a few weeks later. You’ll see what you thought was good, could be made so much better by a little ‘here and now.’ 🙂

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