Recently, I read an interesting piece over at the always-wonderful Brain Pickings, titled ‘Show Your Work: Austen Kleon On the Art of Getting Noticed’. It was described as “a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion.”
I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say I hate it, but it definitely makes me uncomfortable. And I’m certainly guilty, to some extent, of keeping my stories and planned projects close to my chest. It’s not because I think the ideas are so brilliant that some nefarious individual out there will feel compelled to steal them and write the book/comic/TV show before I can, so much as it is that I think of writing as a fire.
Each story is a spark, is its own flame, and I have found that when telling friends and fellow writers what new blaze has sprung up in my mind, that some of the heat is let out. I lose some of the compulsion to tell the story because I have, in fact, just told it to someone. The act of telling itself has its own importance, and even though I’m only summing up, or running them through the structure, each time it seems the story itself is just that little bit more pallid when I next consider it — that little bit dimmer.
Of course, that’s not always the case. I’m always reassured when a concept, a character, continues to burn bright long after I’ve let a little of it out into the world. In that way, they can even act as true fires and expand with more air and fuel, as opposed to being kept in the darkness of my chest, to exist as my own private constellation of stars. Sometimes, I’ve even used this unnecessarily-prolonged metaphor as a good thing, a tool for productivity. When some unruly new story comes along, dazzling in its freshness, its recently birthed light, and demands to be told, demands I stop telling that old, now boring story, I can casually describe it to a friend and feel the compulsion fade just enough to keep working.
And yet, contrast this with the feeling of elation I have when sharing some minute success with friends — as with having my short story selected for the upcoming anthology Strangely Funny II— it’s not just elation, it’s as though I’m expanding. Nor is it just for successes either. It’s far more important for the failures, for all the times I fall. That sense of community, of shared struggle, is incredible, a true gift we don’t recognise anywhere near enough. Or at least I don’t.
And so, this is me recognising I need to be more open in all areas. Although I’ll talk about all these things more in-depth in future, I figure I can at least introduce you to what I’m doing and where I’m planning on going from here:
1) While I currently live and work in Sydney, I’ve just applied for a working holiday visa to Canada. I’m anticipating–should it be approved–moving to Toronto sometime in the next few months or so. Why have I quit a stable, decent job to relocate halfway across the world? Why set a grenade beneath the carefully built life you’ve led over the past few years? In short: because I’m hoping the blast is powerful enough to propel me further toward my goal of becoming a published author.
People look at me as though I’m mad when I tell them I’m going so far just to live and focus on my writing. Just for the joy of it. I want–for as long as I’m able to financially– to write a lot and work a bit, instead of work a lot and write a bit, as I have been for the past few years. That necessitates leaving the rut of full-time work behind, and taking the leap into the unknown.As Ray Bradbury said (and he’s yet to lead me wrong), “jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.”
2) I’m working on a Young Adult novel that could be described as Gangs of New York with magic, set in a surreal alternate future. There are a million things I want to describe right now, but if it’s pared down to its most fundamental elements, it’s a story about a boy reeling from more wounds than he knows he has, trying to survive on brutal streets, and the choices he faces along the way. The rest is just window dressing (really interesting, evocative, magical window dressing with outstanding characters packed to the brim with hope and horror, myth and wonder).
3) Said novel has stalled, if I’m being honest. The current draft, while easily among the best writing I’ve done, was written because my novel-writing professors last year told me to push myself, not because I had a plan. The previous draft had a clear plan and I zipped along it with purely functional writing. Whereas now, despite the higher quality, I am adrift. I need to take some time now and really outline a coherent structure for this new direction, because this story, this world, continues to excite me –as it has done for years now.
I’ve gone on for longer than anticipated, so I’ll leave it at that. There’ll be more details and things to come, I hope — maybe even an excerpt or two — and in the meantime, I continue to potter about with new ideas, poems, and short stories. It’s never-ending, this storytelling disease, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
Until next time, happy writing!