In April 2006, I left the corporate world to go back to school. I didn’t know much, only that if I hoped to do what I wanted to do, I needed to be a better writer. For a long time, I had no idea how to go about becoming one. It’s not as though there are standards and qualifications and credentials, sadly. It’s not as though writing is the sort of thing one can study hard enough long enough and pass a test and be appointed one.
It’s not like law or medicine, in other words. It’s not like most things.
Still, I had, then, an inkling. I had a start. I had an idea that felt right, and so I left Jersey and went to USC. I was about to say I left everything I knew to embark on a new journey at the culmination of which–but let’s be honest, that’s overwritten, and I didn’t go to school to learn to overwrite.
Truthfully, I learned one of the best ways to be a better writer is to shut my trap.
USC felt galvanic, the sort of right decision that compels one to forget caution and take a chance. Any chance at all. So I did.
By then I had already joined MySpace, and this gets all wrapped up together, and sometimes I think is why I stop and start at this posting and maintenance thing.
Ah, MySpace. Sometimes I think that MySpace was the worst thing that ever happened to my writing, and it might be, but on the other hand it might simultaneously be the best thing, as well. MySpace is kind of like a zombie movie where so many of us had a dream vacation that went rapidly south because of some virulent outbreak that was caught–in opposition to dramatic theory–just in time, so we all left and quarantined the whole shebang, and now we smile about the memory of all those groups and a few of the bands that flashed there and then got a paragraph’s worth of coverage in Rolling Stone and some putz with a hat while simultaneously expressing relief that whew, thank goodness that’s over.
But boy did I lose sight of writing.
I think, in some ways, I realized it. When I think back, I remember I took a lot of breaks. I’d just check out for a couple weeks. I always have been sporadic when it comes to maintaining the sort of ever-constant vigilance building-a-readership-through-social-networking seems to require.
It was why I published my collection. Up until then, I’d talked a lot about writing, but I felt like I’d never really demonstrated I could write. I talked about theory and words, but never posted much because it was back in the day before Kindle even, and I was at USC where part of the requirements for some of my classes were to write query letters to send to on-the-cusp-of-obsolete markets. So one day, burnt out on worrying about rankings but still not wanting to share my best, I broke and thought, you know what, there’s really no market for short stories, anyway, and I’ve got a bunch, and it’s time. By then I had enough subscribers I thought it could work; I hadn’t yet realized that not everyone who subscribed to my blog–or followed me on Twitter, or friended me on Facebook, or “liked” something I wrote–was actually all that interested.
Don’t get me wrong. That’s not to say that I’m not grateful. I hope it doesn’t read that way. I know I’m lucky, just like I know somebody who reads this is going to remember “Everyone’s Favorite Blog, by Everyone’s Favorite Writer.”
So that book came out, and three months later it became the first ebook on the iPhone, and then another month or so after that I basically gave up MySpace because I got a job teaching at USC and didn’t want to be known to my students as that dipshit narcissistic douchebag from Jersey who posted pictures in tank tops.
It was a true demonstration of a dilemma I feel I face to this day. I’m a writer, but nowadays, that isn’t special. If a writer is just someone who communicates, who shares words, we’re all doing that–just like we’re all publishers and we’re all photographers and we’re all everything. We’re all–for lack of a more elegant way to phrase it–generating endless content our culture has absolutely no hope of actually ever parsing. Sometimes I think this is the reason for the success of The Jersey Shore, Sarah Palin, and James Franco; we know not so much that our attention spans have diminished but rather that our narrative currently requires sensationalism, and so we elevate the flashiest and most controversial stories because it’s easier to run hard for a minute than to run well for a day. And as such, so much of what we share–what we like and tweet and stumble, is the quick, the soundbitten. It feels like there’s less space in our daily lives for reflection unless it’s a picture of me flexing in my bathroom mirror taken from my phone and uploaded to Twitter–which has a new photo sharing feature did you hear it’s in their new app which might get an update or even be included in iOS5 along with a new iPhone that may or may not be announced on Monday because Verizon’s just came out like a month ago and the white one just came out a minute ago so it’s not likely but Jobs was actually at Apple the other day so chances are he’s speaking at WWDC and who knows what he might?
Maybe it’s that I’ve gotten so exposed to noise I’ve forgotten the sound of my own voice and so I can’t really share it with you in a way that means anything to me?
Hmmm. Not a bad insight. I hadn’t thought of that when I started this post.
But I was talking about that collection. And getting quiet. And teaching.
After I published my book, I realized I knew how to make a book but not yet how to get it to people. How to “connect with readers” as all the social-media gurus might say, but I’ve got to be honest, I see a lot of the people contributing noise, and so often that’s really all it is. Which was why my subsequent move to Denver was serendipitous; I considered getting a second master’s degree–this one in theology, of all things–but went to the information session and realized I felt more comfortable with business people.
Three years later, I have a degree in that, too, and in the process of earning it clammed up more. I moved to New York while in the midst of completion, in fact, and I’d have figured I’d start posting essays about fab new restaurants and haunts and all those wonderful late-night experiences, but then the fact of it was I got so wrapped up living them and enjoying them I tended to neglect tweeting them.
Maybe I like life slower? Maybe I like thinking, and enjoying, more so than worrying about how many people are going to “like” a status update. Because maybe it’s the marketing guy in me, or just the insecure one, but I do.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that, five years ago, nearly to the day, I drove to USC to become a better writer, and now I’ve got an office in a terrific university and I’m writing. And I’ve got a new novel coming out in just a month, and gosh I hope it does well, and gets enough likes on Facebook and enough ratings on Goodreads, but the thing is that I like it, and I’m proud of it, and that’s sort of new to me.
And I sort of like it.