You guys have spoiled me. In the “spoiled brat” sense of the word, not like rotten food. It’s good, I think, but I hadn’t really noticed the extent of it until this week. I’m trying to submit a piece to a small literary magazine in New York. I haven’t submitted anything for publication since 2005 or so, when my writing style was completely different and I still wrote loads of (bad) fiction. Not surprisingly, none of these pieces ever saw the light of day. That’s probably for the best. Whenever I think of those being on record, I remember that Neil Gaiman’s first book was about Duran Duran. Mortifying.
I stressed and stressed for a couple of weeks about this one story I want to tell, turning it over and over in my head to try to find a way in. It’s a simple story that takes all of thirty seconds to say out loud, but I had a thousand words to play with and a bigger point to make. For whatever reason, and I really don’t understand this at all, it was like I had a Lego in my mouth. You remember what that feels like? All poky and clicking against your teeth and you want to bite down on it but you know you shouldn’t? This project felt like that.
Yeah, I know. But this is what it’s like inside my brain, all fucked up analogies and circus music all the time.
So anyway. I think I had accidentally worked myself back into that old headspace from when I was getting rejections all the time. Finally I sat myself down and said, “Listen, whinypants, this is only a thousand words. You write twice that every week and you do it well. Just write it like you’re writing a blog post. Go. Do.” And I did. It went fine. I told the story, told it my way, and I hit send. Crisis averted. Although there were some bigger ideas and comparisons I didn’t quite get to, but that’s because I ramble. So when I got an email back from the editor, I wasn’t terribly concerned because I felt good about the draft I had sent her.
She said that I took so many side roads from the story that it was hard to even find the story, and that it seemed like I was trying too hard to be funny. Now, that sounds harsh when you haven’t read the thing she was talking about, but it’s completely true. I assure you, she made all the cuts I would have made myself. It was good editing and she’s a lovely lady. My story was still all there, cleaner and tidier than it had been.
I wrote it like I write here, for you guys. I spoke directly to the reader and I used my normal voice. Those of you who know me in real life know that I write like I talk. Except that in meatspace I talk with my hands. A lot. That’s because I have a kind of annoyingly nasal monotone, which is actually because I had a little stutter as a kid.
See? Sidetracks, left and right.
But I’m comfortable writing like this, writing to you, at you. The real question is: am I too comfortable? And really, does it matter? I write about things I think are interesting or important. Most of these I would have or have had actual conversations about, so my conversational style makes sense here. I’m not being held up to anyone else’s standards here. That’s good. I can be open and honest and say things that I have to stand by. I’ve learned to find a way into every story, every opinion. Writing for you has never once felt like I have a Lego in my mouth (there’s the start of a shitty love poem if ever have I heard one).
What is all this writery anxiety, then? Am I just uncomfortable with branching out? It’s not the input of others. I’ve always taken constructive criticism well. I couldn’t have gotten my degree without that particular skill. Maybe my little blog bubble has just gotten so cushy and safe that it’s hard to switch gears anymore. Maybe I shouldn’t have to switch gears at all. I feel good here. I’m proud of (most of) my work. I look at some of the nonfiction writers I admire and one thing they all have in common is their unflinching dedication to being themselves, to writing in a style that suits what they have to say. And while I’m sure they keep a private side of themselves out of their published work, I still feel like I understand their voices. I’m quite confident I could sit down and listen to metal albums with Chuck Klosterman or have wine slushies with Jenny Lawson and navigate those conversations appropriately.
I won’t let this shake me up. I’ll continue to be honest here and maintain my comfort level without becoming complacent, but I’ve got to compartmentalize. It’s the other writing that needs work. I have to realize that those readers won’t be coming to that piece with two years of backlogged snark under their belts. It’s worth the effort, worth stretching my muscles in new and exciting ways, worth trying to learn something.
But one thing’s for sure, dammit. I am funny.