Posted on February 23, 2011 by Eric Pollarine
I was half way through with it, my first real attempt at writing a novel, I was so close.
I had typed, roughly, 40,000 words. Real words mind you, not these contrived little things that you see on the screen in front of you currently, but real actual words that were going to tell a real actual story. And then I had to stop, give up and start all over again. Because they weren’t the words I needed to say, or write, or put on the paper. They were the words that I was trying to say, or write or put on the paper. And it just wasn’t F-ing happening.
That’s how my novella “A Man of Letters,” released by May December Publications for Amazon’s Kindle (And other ebook formats) happened. It’s a weird tale; a weird, cautionary tale full of stimulants and cigarettes and long nights staring at a screen and lots and lots of brand new shiny F-Bombs. Sure some of the F-Bombs were used, and some were even kind of dull, but still, most of them were right off the shelf, bright and colorful.
So when Matt suggested that I write a design article on how “A Man of Letters,” came about, what my thoughts and experiences in writing it were, the process, the nitty gritty, well I didn’t jump right away. OK I did, that was a lie. Its promotion and I won’t turn it down. But I really had to think about what I was going to write. Because I wanted the article to be as truthful as the novella was.
So here goes.
I want to say that writing is like this or like that and have you believe me, really I do.
But writing to me, not that I’m a writer or that I’m trying to pass myself off as one, (As I simply consider myself a very accurate typist who sometimes gets a chance to tell a story) but to me it’s about telling the truth. You have to write a story that’s truthful. Not that it has to be a news report mind you. Not that it can’t be an epic fantasy or supernatural thriller or moody weird literary piece, that’s not what I’m saying at all; in fact you can tell a truthful version of all of those things. You just have to know that what you are writing, the characters, plot, theme (if any) and dialogue is all yours, it’s all truthful to you and to your characters and plot and theme, etc. That you aren’t lying to yourself and pushing the words around because “Vampires” are hot or “Supernatural Romances” are hot, or Zombies or blah blah blah.
It doesn’t matter. Nope, not in the slightest.
Because people, consumers, readers, those that will inevitably buy your book, novella, story, poem or what have you, will see through your writing. They’ll look at it, sure. They might read it and some of them might even finish it and say “Hey, wow, this was, well, it was something.”
But they won’t believe you and they won’t want to spend more money on you and they won’t look at you ever again. You’ll be fighting a losing battle, schlepping out mediocre stories that won’t resonate with anyone, but you’ll be published. Because if this experiment has shown me anything, it’s that even accurate typists who ingest far too much coffee/caffeine for their own good and smoke far too many cigarettes, can get something published. However, to get something truthful and full of you, something that doesn’t lie to everyone just to catch a ride on a wave, published… well that’s the real trick.
So I had to come to the conclusion that I wasn’t really being truthful with my little symphony and that what I was writing wasn’t working. I had to find something else and that something else turned into, what I hope, is something people think is truthful.
The small stuff is controllable and unique; every writer has their own way of actually doing the work of writing. I write hunched over a laptop, to a soundtrack of loud thumping dark electronic music, with either several energy drinks or a huge piping hot cup of coffee on my desk and a seemingly never ending supply of cigarettes (most of the time). I have a small white compact laptop bench that I use, its beat to hell and every time I hit a key or letter the whole thing shakes, but it’s where I do my best work. I write better in the mornings and not so much in the evenings, I like to write in the very early mornings if I can and if I’ve hit on something really great, then I will go and go and go until I’m done.
I get terrible writers block. I have days that I write nothing at all, days when I write 5,000 words. It’s a weird existence. I hate deadlines and abhor timetables. I hate restrictions and loathe responsibilities. I would much rather get up at six in the morning and start writing than six in the morning to leave for my day job. And yes, I love to read and interact on social media, so that gets in the way sometimes too. But for the most part its caffeine, nicotine and the slipstream of music and tap tap tap of the keys when I’m on the warpath.
But the big thing is that, when I write it has to be truthful. I can’t lie to myself. It’s a lot like the saying, “Write what you know,” but it’s also different. I know a great deal. I’m not tooting my own horn here, I just like to be connected and stay connected. I like to learn new things all the time. But I couldn’t be truthful about all of them. Which is why I will now amend that saying and say, “Write what you know is the truth.”
That’s why, when I started the idea portion, the brainstorming for “A Man of Letters,” I made sure that I write a truthful version of my main character Paul Rogers. I know and can tell you the truth about working in a call center. I know and can tell you the truth about loathing every single moment of every single waking hour that is spent tied to a desk, answering stupid silly questions about stupid silly things, like insurance. How it feels to get your work back with a “Thank You F-You,” note attached to it.
I can truthfully tell you what Akron, Ohio is like. And yes, if you read the book you too can find out how wonderful a place I think it is (ha ha).
The horror and violence comes from a place that is (hopefully thought of as) fictional. But the subtext of it, the awe and wonder, the brutal, visceral panic, the feelings of insecurity, terror and shear absurdity, well, those are all truthful to me, to the character and to the story.
Also, stimulants add to paranoia, and paranoia is by far something that I can be truthful about, everyday. Even right now, I’m being paranoid, about how this will come off, like I have more to say than to actually write.
But the key I guess, the real reason as to why “A Man of Letters,” came about and not my 40,000 word Zombie/Survival Horror tale got published, was that I was writing something that was truthful and that connected to my publisher, and that publisher thought that it would connect with an audience.
It’s been just over a month since it was first made available, and it’s done fairly well. I haven’t recouped the entire amount of the advance that I got for it, but it’s sold fairly well I’m told. I’m not the best when it comes to gauging these things.But the feedback on Facebook and etc has been positive enough to keep me in the game.
So that’s it. There’s my big secret. Write what you know is the truth, and fill in the parts that make it entertaining with the truth and then edit the portions out of the work with the truth (that’s another very, very hard part of the equation, as most writers tend to think everything they write, at some point, is F-ing golden) and then submit, submit, rework and submit. But most of all keep with it, and don’t compromise what you know is the truth just to get published. Because then you’re not creating art, you’re not weaving stories and working in aetherics and mysteries, you’re just a typist, without much to say.
Now go buy my book so I can eat. Seriously, I’m hungry.