DiLeo Writes—Chapter 6: It's the Journey
Welcome and thank you for being here. It's been a while since my last newsletter (that was way back in January when it was frigid, remember?), and there is much to share (including an opportunity for a free book), but before that, I want to briefly discuss the journey of creative endeavors.
But . . .
Before We Begin:
I'm getting published. Shortly after that January newsletter went out, my novel The Devil Virus was accepted for publication by Bloodshot Books. It is slated for release in early 2019, and I will share much more about that book when the publication date is closer.
ONE: Creative Living
If you've been a subscriber to the previous chapters of this newsletter, you know I believe in the power of creative living, of spending time writing or drawing or singing or building or simply galavanting through your imagination. Living this way enriches and colors my existence in a way I would never give up.
If you want more of that—and a healthy dose of inspiration to get working on your own creative endeavors—check out Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I've revisited that book numerous times since it came out two
years ago. Highly recommended.
The other day I tweeted (not for the first time) this quote from author Joe Hill:
"You better love it; you better write because you can't help yourself, because you can't quit. It takes that kind of excitement and will to carve out even the smallest space for yourself. Don't do it because you expect to make a living; do it because it's a charge, because it fulfills you in some way. When a writer of fiction makes a living, it's really only a symptom of their larger illness—just about everyone who succeeds in the make-believe business is a person who would do it even if they couldn't earn a dime at it."
I could add dozens of other inspirational quotes from writers and other artists, but Hill's quote brings up a troubling paradox: would these highly successful writers still feel the same if they'd never found success?
Of course they will say, "Yes, I would still be writing no matter if I ever sold so much as a sentence," but that's easy to say when you have sold a great deal more than a sentence or two. Easy to say when you've written a #1 NY TimesBestseller.
So, where does that leave us?
It comes down to a choice of perspective. If you enjoy the pleasure a creative life brings then that ought to be enough. Writing satisfies me in a way no other activity does. There's no equal to the pleasure of dropping into my imagination and discovering the characters and the story as if they were strewn on the ground waiting for me to pick them up, or buried in soil only I can till.
The pleasure of pen or pencil on paper
The joy of living innumerable other lives.
The satisfaction of creating something that I'm proud to call my own.
These things ought to be enough.
But are they?
Anyone who spends a significant amount of time writing, revising, accepting BETA-reader critiques, and revising more and more is someone who wants to enjoy even a modicum of professional success.
There's a self-deluding, self-aggrandizing voice in my head that insists I need to write a book that gets agents fighting over it and then publishers throwing piles of money into an auction for it and then millions of readers devouring it and praising my work to no end.
Perhaps I'm alone in this fantasy, the sole unpublished writer who dreams big, but I doubt it.
Will I ever know such grand success? Odds are very much against it, but playing make-believe is, at its core, an act of hope. Pessimism and cynicism are poisons to hope, and too much realism is as well.
As creators, we need to find comfort existing in a limbo that traps us between the aspirations of fame and fortune and the daily possibility of our work supplying joy and satisfaction to our souls, even (and especially) if no one else gives a damn about what we create.
We must work our day-jobs (and some of us are lucky enough to have jobs and careers that supply another form of fulfillment in addition to monetary compensation), and we must toil in our private worlds on our creative enterprises.
There are, of course, only so many hours in a day. We desperately want to create artifacts that others will enjoy and praise. Ambition alone is not enough. Writing that first draft is not enough. Writing that first fully revised novel might not be enough. The same could be true for the second, third, fourth, fifth . . .
I wrote my first novel when I was a freshman in college. That was in 1999. Since then, I've completed a dozen novels and twice as many partials. That's thousands of pages . . .
An oft-quoted piece of inspirational advice assures us that the day you give up is the day before you succeed or that if you stay in the game long enough you will win. Or at least get on base.
There's no way to confirm such feel-good motivation, but that is precisely the point: it is not the end that matters.
It's the journey.
Heard that before, have you? Yeah, one or two billion times.
And if I wanted to be really cynical right now, I'd say that the whole it's-the-journey-not-the-destination thing is nonsense. You go on vacation because you want to visit somewhere, not because you enjoy traveling cramped in a car, bus, train, or plane. The destination, and the pleasure it brings, is what matters.
Except . . . creative endeavors are not vacations—they are life-long excursions with uncertain outcomes.
Much like our actual lives.
And so, again, where does that leave us?
Warren Ellis, a highly accomplished writer and artist, wrote this in his recent newsletter:
“As a creator, please yourself first. An audience will show up or they won't. That's their call. It's on you to produce the kind of work you want to see in the world.”
TWO: The Reality of Such a Life
In one aspect, living this way is pure joy. I get up in the morning (around 4am on school days [I'm a high school English teacher, and the day starts at 7:30]), and that time when the house is dark and quiet is my playtime. It's time for me to be a kid again, playing on the floor with dozens of action figures all around me.
In another aspect, it's torture. Well, let me not be dramatic—it's NOT torture in the sense that I'm suffering from extreme mental or physical trauma; it is torture in that every outing is a new opportunity for discovery and joy . . . and disappointment and recognition that the work is not as good as I imagined it and the harsh reality that, most likely, the story I'm writing will end up published exactly nowhere. Or even if it is published, readers might not care.
Cry me a river, right?
I'm not seeking sympathy or even encouragement—I'm just discussing the importance of the journey.
Since January, here's what I've worked on during those wee hours of the morning:
Again, I don't share that to gain sympathy or brag. This is the reality of my life of living creatively. If I hinge my happiness on some fantasy of big contracts and bestseller-status, I really will be torturing myself. Maybe I'm putting in the time that will one day pay off big for me.
And maybe it won't.
Stephen King said in an interview years ago: "You can't sit down to write a critical-darling of a book just as you can't sit down to write a bestseller."
But what you must do--what I must do—is sit down and write.
There's no way around that. The most important trait a writer needs is discipline: get the work done. People might advise that you only work on stories or projects that ignite your soul, tales that burn within you and demand to be written. You should only write if you feel truly passionate about what you're writing.
I understand this, but it's the sort of advice that ignores the day-in, day-out necessity of actual creation. I should be passionate about the stories I write, but sometimes I have to work with "stubborn gladness" (an Elizabeth Gilbert quote). Sometimes I have to set a story aside and work on something else for a while, or even abandon an entire project. Maybe I go back to it, and maybe I don't.
[I will interrupt myself at this point to say, if you want to write a novel and have not yet, the best advice is to get it done. Good or bad, a completed novel will teach you more than you can imagine about story creation and, just as important, it will be proof you can do it. After that first book is completed, you will be empowered to know for future projects if you should keep going or if you should abandon them. (Case in point: I wrote a novel a few years ago that was the longest thing I'd ever done, almost 180,000 words, and there were major plot and character-motivation problems throughout but instead of addressing them, I charged ahead, writing fast as I could. What I created was a complete mess that I don't even want to revise.) So, while it is true that you can't revise what you haven't written, it is also true you need to listen to the work as you create it, and sometimes the work is begging you to stop and write something else. Of course, sometimes it's the Critic Troll, who finds fault in every story I write, every sentence I scribe, every word I pen, who's telling me to stop . . . Learning to identify the differences among all the voices in your head is a skill rarely discussed in terms of creative living, but it is essential.]
Write what you want. Write from passion. Write from stubbornness. Write because you want to. Because you have to.
Success will come, or it won't.
But the pleasure of the journey is there—you merely have to embrace it.
I spend too much time beating myself up, thinking Is this idea good enough to get an agent? a publisher? land on the bestseller list?
These things matter and they don't.
If I let those thoughts run rampant, I will be torturing myself.
When I write, I must please myself first, and I must write because it fulfills me in a way nothing else can, but if I want that agent, that publisher, that "success," I must remember the reader, and I must write to please him or her. I must be willing to revise, revise, revise. I must keep learning from other writers. I must go back to the blank page and start again. I must keep writing.
And even then the work might fall short.
There's another aspect to this, too, and that is experience. I've written a fair amount, and as Tim O'Brien (whose work is brilliant) says, "Writing doesn't get easier with experience. The more you know, the harder it is to write."
And that reality provides fodder for the self-doubt.
Although the movie was uneven and disappointing after the brilliant and viscerally aggressive Whiplash, LaLa Landhas a few moments that stuck with me. It's a story of two creative-minded people who fall in love, yes, but it's also about the struggle of creation, the self-doubt that such a life brings.
After six years of trying to make it as an actress, Emma Stone's character gives up and moves back home. When Ryan Gosling's character challenges her to keep trying, she repeats, "Maybe I'm not good enough."
That sentiment, ladies and gentlemen, has permanent residence in the back of my mind. It hangs out with the Critic Troll. They like to join forces, those two.
The world does not care if I'm not good enough.
And it shouldn't.
When I read a book or see a movie, I don't care how hard the author or director or cast worked to make it. I might think about that later, but only if I enjoyed what I read or saw. No one is under the obligation to like what you create, or even encourage you to do so.
Do it because, as Joe Hill says, "it fulfills you in some way." Not every story you write must fill you with a fiery passion, but the process--the journey—should.
Do it because living a creative-life textures existence in a way nothing else can.
Do it for yourself.
And be happy you are.
FOUR: Ideas and Hope
It comes down to putting in the time . . .
After this newsletter, I must decide what to work on next. What story-artifacts are waiting to be picked up or exhumed?
I have an idea for a supernatural thriller . . . and another for an is-this-girl-lying novel . . . and another about a father determined to make things right after his daughter's death . . . and, oh yeah, a novel about a group of 70-year-olds who battle a supernatural beast.
There's also this short story I've been thinking about . . .
It is easy, perhaps quite easy, to fall into despair, to see my writing as a waste of time, as a frustrating enterprise that will lead to nothing.
It is the journey.
While writing this over the course of a few days, I received two emails from agents: one a this-is-not-for-us rejection and the other a request to read my full manuscript.
Hope springs eternal.
You no doubt know the film The Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King's most famous work that people don't realize he wrote, and I offer you the final lines from the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, published in Different Seasons:
I find I am excited, so excited I can hardly hold the pencil in my trembling hand. I think it is the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man starting a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.
I hope Andy is down there.
I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.
FIVE: Books Available from DiLeo
Several years ago, I self-published a handful of books under the name J.T. Warren. I did this because I had just started teaching and didn't want any of my writing to affect my status as an educator. Perhaps I was being overly cautious. Either way, I'm now starting my thirteenth (lucky 13?) year teaching, and I feel comfortable reissuing some of those books under my real name.
Here are three (one co-written with author Scott Nicholson), all available now:
Three teenagers must defeat the evil in Hudson House or be its next victims.
Trapped on a mountain, a young woman must escape a psychopath. Bloodthirsty mutants go on a rampage at a camp for troubled teens after an infection spreads. Adapted from Scott Nicholson’s original horror screenplay.
Read a sample of each book on Amazon.
SIX: Want a Free Book?
Continuing with reissuing revised versions of some of those self-published novels, I will soon re-publish an extremely dark, twisted book: Calamity. The book is the equivalent of watching a car wreck in slow motion and being unable to look away even as you know the worst possible thing is about to happen.
Here's the longer description:
Grief is the deadliest emotion.
In the wake of his child's death, Anthony Williams is desperate to save his family from imminent collapse. His wife is distraught and lost in drugs. His eldest son is tangled in the clutches of youthful lust. His youngest boy is on the verge of doing something unspeakable out of a misguided belief that it will cure his family's troubles.
When a strange religious cult infiltrates the family under the guise of salvation, Anthony must discover the truth behind this cult before his entire family is destroyed.
Yet his quest may make him an unwitting accomplice to things more horrible than he ever feared . . .
Told in alternating points-of-view among the family, CALAMITY is a dread-filled journey into the darkest corners of the human psyche.
An excursion the reader won't soon forget.
I'd love to give away pdf/ebook files of this book to anyone interested in reading it. I ask only that you post a review on Amazon, be it one star or five. If you would like to read the book for free, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter @authordileo or Facebook.
I hope a few of you will take me up on this opportunity.
In the meantime, it is back to the blank page I go.
Filled with hope.
And happy to be on this journey.
Recommended Books, Movies, and Music:
That's all I have this time. Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best.
Be well, be happy, and be kind,
P.S. Yet another Stephen King quote: "Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."