Have you ever woke up in the morning overwhelmed with the feeling that you’ve done it all wrong? It hit me the other day like the line from a Talking Heads song: My god, what have I done!
I never should have self-published.
It was about seven years ago, feeling my life and opportunities were slipping away, that I gave up (too soon, I think) on the traditional path of a writer. So many authors before me have the shared experience of being rejected again and again, by agents and publishers and readers. But with relentless perseverance, they stayed committed to their work and goal of one day being published until, eventually, the stars aligned in cosmic inevitability and it happened – that one agent or editor, someone, saw something worthy of recognition in said writer’s words. I don’t know that I would ever consider myself a great writer, but I’ve always felt my work was good enough to someday be recognized as something worthy of investment. But I’m neither a publisher with their finger on the pulse of the market, nor an agent with an innate sense of an artist’s potential. I’m just a writer. It’s really the only thing I’m any good at, and I went and sold myself short.
So, what prompted this dark epiphany?
I was reading through a hardcover copy of The Quieting West, looking for a chapter to post on the Seattle Review of Books as part of a paid sponsorship, when I found three, count ’em, three mistakes. A typo (“Alhough”); an incorrect word (“past time” instead of pastime); and a formatting issue where one paragraph overlaps with another. Three in just one chapter. Hackneyed doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt, how I feel at this moment. What a joke. That’s the sloppy product I’ve given to the world? Especially after the hours, weeks, and months I put into laying out the book’s interior. What a disappointing headache!
Anyone reading this will probably respond with: So what? What’s a few typos? It’s still a good read. Let it go.
Sure, the writer part of me agrees, a little. But I’ve also chosen, erroneously, to be a publisher, and as such I’m embarrassed and infuriated. What hokey, half-assed mistakes.
So, fix it, you might then say.
That’s what is so overwhelmingly exhausting, and dejecting, and depressing: the prospect of going back and redoing…everything. I hate the “large” print of the hardcover versions of my books; another amateur mistake. ( See my post What’s the Point.) Gospel for the Damned reads like it begs for another revision; it shouldn’t have been published as it is. I’d want to revamp this website, which reeks to me of bush-league tripe, and make changes to my newsletter which doesn’t seem to offer much value to subscribers. But the idea of doing all that brings me back to the start of this paragraph – it’s an exhausting prospect. At 58 (a tired 58, at that) I don’t know if I have any “start-overs” left in me.
In Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, he explains that everything potentially falls apart – especially when we lie to ourselves. Is that what I’ve been doing all this time? Lying to myself, and others, about my writing and self-publishing. I thought I was past that, as I wrote in The Great Pretender. But it feels, as I’ve done with everything else, that I’ve been pretending about being an author all this time.
This is the part of the blog post where I’m supposed to outline some plan of attack to bring myself away from the precipice and surge forward with renewed purpose. Do I take a scorched-earth approach, tear it all down and build it back up? Do I stop self-publishing and go back to the traditional roots of being an author? Unfortunately, at this moment, the desire to let myself plummet over the edge – that is, quit writing – is greater than the need not to. I haven’t written anything for the past couple of weeks, and honestly, it has been sooo nice not to obsess over how one character is going to interact with another and why; how I’m going to market the damned thing if I ever finish it; and what I would do when the same people who didn’t line up to read my first two books don’t line up to read this one. I don’t feel I have very many chapters left in my life; I had always thought I would be enjoying a very long epilogue by now. I can only hope that this want of giving up is just another lie and will eventually, too, fall apart.