Believe me, I’m aware of the staggering irony in that headline.
Here’s Nick, writing about not writing.
Here’s Nick, intending to post it on his blog intended to promote his writing.
Here’s Nick, writing this on his 6+ year old netbook, sitting in my local Starbucks; the two staples of my writing “career” for over half a decade.
It’s been almost two years since I wrote anything substantial. I’ve said many times that I considered giving up – or already gave up – on writing. I don’t know what happened. Maybe writing this out will help me figure it out. So, let’s go on a journey into my fractured mind.
Because I feel like a failure as a writer.
In terms of work available for public consumption, I have a fair bit: seven short stories, two novels, this very blog, the script for a YouTube channel, and three YouTube video essays of my own. Open Minds Quarterly asked to republish one of my short stories – The Never-Ending Battle – in a special issue to be used in schools as a resource for lessons on mental health. Unpublished, I have many short stories in various states (finished, unfinished, crap I’m unhappy with). I have two completed drafts for new novels (a third Armadillo Mystery and my first crack at a young adult novel). I tinkered with a memoir about my inner struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts (to date, about 13,000 words written for that). Hell, my first two books were turned into audiobooks!
When I tell some people that I’ve written four novels to completion, even if only two are published, they’re impressed. They say I should feel accomplished for that alone; that many aspiring writers don’t even finish a book, let alone published one.
And I just don’t feel that way. Sure, it felt surreal holding a copy of my published work. That made it feel real. But it doesn’t feel like a success just like getting my diploma from York University didn’t feel like an accomplishment because it took me 12 years to get a useless 4-year degree. One therapist held my book up in front of me and straight up told me that this is an accomplishment. All I did was disagree.
I didn’t expect to be an overnight success; or even a success at all. My novels are admittedly niche. The general public isn’t interested in a mutant armadillo private detective. I thought I could tap into the nerd culture market that I’m a part of but that never happened. In fact, nothing happened. I didn’t even make a blip.
I thought I could get my work on bookshelves in stores. That’s always been my dream: to have my name shared alphabetically among my favorite authors, ideally in the sci-fi and/or fantasy sections. But because Pro Se is a small, print-on demand publisher largely supported by e-book purchases, it was a herculean task.
The best I could do was buy multiple copies myself at a discount and try getting consignment deals. I managed to do that a little with my first book, The City of Smoke & Mirrors. The Chapters in Fredericton gave me a book signing (where I sold about ten copies) and kept a small stack of my books in their “Local Writers” section for the allotted so many weeks. When the rest didn’t sell, they gave them back. But the Local Writers section was mostly populated by non-fiction or locally flavored fiction. I don’t think I saw a single fantasy or sci-fi book among them. No way could Dill find an audience there. My local comic shop in Fredericton, Strange Adventures, took a couple of copies, but they didn’t really sell, either, much to my dismay.
In the end, I saw one – maybe two – cheques from Pro Se for my first book. Plus, however much I made through consignment or selling it myself. Maybe $200 total, if that.
My second book, The Dame was a Tad Polish, was a complete disaster. I’d moved to Halifax when Dame was completed and released. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone at Chapters for a new signing or consignment deal. Local bookstores, including Strange Adventures (who have a store in Halifax as well), wouldn’t take it. One owner said it was because Pro Se used CreateSpace, owned by Amazon, whose big business practices are destroying local bookstores. So, thinking I could repeat or improve my previous success, I wound up sitting on about fifty copies of Dame that I’d bought myself (on an author discount), selling them sporadically to friends. Most of them were given away as gifts. I still have 5 copies left. I didn’t see a single royalty cheque, either. My publisher said he was surprised it didn’t sell well, given the first one did relatively well. To date, I have not made a single cent on The Dame was a Tad Polish, even though I believe it’s vastly better written than my first book.
On top of that, I failed spectacularly to self-promote on both books. For the first, I’d managed to send review copies to a handful of people, but many of them wouldn’t accept a digital copy and I couldn’t afford to send physical copies. It then took months before they read the book and posted a review, so it never gained traction or momentum. One tip I often hear about promotion and reviews is asking as many friends and family as possible to leave a review. I would plead on public posts that anyone who bought the book to please leave a review. Few did. In fact, I’m not sure how many people even read it at all.
Often, after I’ve lent or sold my book, I hear one of two things: “Oh, I read the first couple of pages.” Or the worst thing a writer can ever hear when wanting feedback: “It was good” or “I liked it.” Which not only tells me jack shit but makes me think they didn’t read it at all and they’re just being polite. Sadly, I’ve become so bitter about my writing that I just assume the latter now. When they say, “I read the first couple of pages,” all I hear is “I stopped reading your book because it’s garbage.”
I tried promoting on some message boards I frequented and some Reddit communities, but it just never felt right to me. I don’t like being pushy and I hate when people obnoxiously promote something. It always feels impersonal to me. Like some writers on Twitter who, immediately after you follow them, they send you an automatic, uniform message “THANKS FOR THE FOLLOW, BUY MY BOOK” which is the most annoying thing I can think of.
I’m not blaming my friends, family, or even my publisher for not helping me to promote. I blame myself. I can’t self-promote. I don’t know how, without being obnoxiously pushy. I didn’t (and still don’t) know how or where to find and tap into the right market for Dill. When I’d describe it, friends who had family would say, “Oh, my kid might like that!” but it’s not for young kids. Teenagers, maybe. The books are filled with violence, debauchery, and innuendos. Could I rewrite them to make them more kid friendly? Maybe, but then it wouldn’t be Dill.
And then there’s the republished version of The Never-Ending Battle. I’m ashamed of it. When Open Minds Quarterly asked if they could republish it, I of course was honored. But I wanted to tinker with the original story (then over 10 years old) and fix it so it’s more “up to snuff” since I’d improved as a writer since then. They agreed, though I only had a week to resubmit it. So, I reedited it in a rush. But after I submitted it, I realized there were glaring problems with the first paragraph: one sentence is complete nonsense and I used the wrong version of “its” or “its.” I don’t know which makes me more upset. So even though I should feel proud and honored that my work was republished to be used in schools, all I thought was every student who might read my story will notice that mess of a first paragraph and laugh at the terrible writer. I never show my contributor copy of the magazine to anyone. I tried contacting Open Minds multiple times to see about fixing it, but they never responded.
It also doesn’t help that I hate my first book. I think it’s poorly written. The plot is all over the place. There are way too many unnecessary characters. The villain motivations are forced. The resolution comes out of nowhere in a near deus ex machina moment. I think it’s a clunky, grammatical mess. I feel like the second book – while not without its own problems – is substantially better. And I think the third book is even better than that, though it needs work and editing. But I’m ashamed of The City of Smoke & Mirrors, to the point I tell people just to start at the first one. The second book is better, but I don’t think it’s good, either. I kind of like the third book, but not enough to give it a proper edit and publish it. The young adult novel is a complete write-off (pardon the pun) and needs basically a complete overall and re-write. I don’t like it at all. A friend tried brainstorming ideas for it, to flesh out the world-building. He wound up systematically tearing apart every aspect of the mythos to the point that I thought the initial idea was stupid and not worth revisiting or reworking. Or that I wasn’t good enough to even try. And therein lies the other problem:
I don’t think I’m a good writer. Not good enough to read. Not good enough to be a valuable contribution to the creative community. Not good enough to be noticed or make at least some money. Not even “make a living” kind of money. Just something. Anything. If I hadn’t seen some mild success with City, I wouldn’t view Dame as a failure. But it is. Plus, having that poorly written version of Never-Ending Battle being seen to a wider audience than I could hope for. And so, I feel like a garbage writer. I don’t see the first book as a success because it’s horribly written. I don’t think the second book is a success because it was a sales bomb.
Last year, I had the idea to republish the first two books in a “2-for-1” double feature in order to promote the third Armadillo Mystery if I finally tried publishing it. The head guy at Pro Se liked the idea. I asked if I could maybe edit the first book, intending to just fix little grammatical things. He agreed. When I started, though, I wound up rewriting a lot of it. Still keeping the core scenes and characters intact, but reworking the sentences, cleaning up dialogue, improving on the comedic timing, adding bits of characterization I’d “learned” about the characters from later writing. And…I liked it. But I only reworked the first two chapters. I haven’t touched it since. That brief spark was a flash in the pan.
Whatever spark or joy I had from writing feels missing. It’s not just finding the motivation to write. It’s that energy in creating something new. I can’t muster the effort to brainstorm a new story, scene, or character. In the past two years, brief embers of that joy appeared, only to fade away. I’d skim the third Dill adventure and thinking, “You know, this isn’t entirely terrible” Or I’d get new ideas for my unfinished memoir. Or I’d discuss collaborating with a friend (like an idea for a comic with my best friend). But whenever I considered getting back into writing in any serious, substantial way, crippling insecurities would block me, and I couldn’t break through.
It doesn’t help that my mental health has taken some big hits in the last few years. I’d attempted suicide on New Years Eve 2017. As of this writing, I still live with my parents, which makes me feel like a failure because I can’t get my life in order to live on my own. I turned 40 last year and crippling insecurities about my future – or lack thereof – pulled me down hard. It’s still pulling me down even as I write this. I don’t feel like I have a future for anything. Not just as a writer, but as a potential husband, or maybe as a father, as…anything. I feel like I’ve wasted my life and there’s nothing left for me. I don’t have hope for myself or my future. And my hopes as a writer have especially been stomped on because of how I feel as a failure. I don’t feel like I have what it takes to be a writer, no matter how much people tell me that I’m a good writer or that I should feel accomplished.
And yet…I keep coming up with ideas to use with my memoir. I still ask artists to sketch Dill. I recently bought a subscription for Office 365 in the hopes I might use it for…something. I’m considering getting a new laptop; one that’s a 2-in-1 table (possibly a Surface Pro). Why? Why am I torturing myself like this? Why should I bother writing if it’s just going to bring me more disappointments and a sense of failure? The only reason to write more Dill is pretty much to entertain myself at this point. Why bother putting any work into that if no one’s going to read it? Why bother writing a ridiculously self-indulgent memoir? It’s not like it’ll be some big hit where it’s suddenly listed on Canada Reads and I’m interviewed by CBC Radio (two more unreasonable dreams that will never happen).
What do I have to offer that other, much better writers can provide, instead? The answer I keep returning to there is “Nothing.” I don’t think my writing has anything of value to offer; to myself, to readers, to the public, to anyone. I don’t think my work is worth reading. And yet, here I am, twenty-three hundred words later, still ranting and whining about how I’ve failed as a writer and yet simultaneously writing about it! What kind of disgusting irony is that?
I just don’t know anymore. Every time I post on social media about giving up on writing, I just imagine anyone reading it rolls their eyes and sighs, “Oh, not this pathetic shit again. Just give up and stop posting about it, you big baby.”
And maybe I should. I just don’t know. I thought writing this out would help me come to a conclusion, but it hasn’t. It just makes me think I’m wasting my time and everyone else’s when I should just give up.