Peter John McLean
On Writing Most of Our Jugs Are Empty Part Three (Writing)
I’m still not finished writing about writing my first book. I figure if it took me two years to write a book, I should at least be able to get a few blog posts out of the experience. I was talking to my line editor recently, telling her how once I had contacted her I started getting anxious all the time (especially before I went to sleep) and concerned that there was something big that I’d forgotten.
I was coping with finishing my book in much the same way you might cope with giving a big speech or presentation. The closer I got to the moment of truth, the more real it felt, and the more concerned I became that I had hopelessly ruined everything.
I’m sure it’s all fine. Sort of.
I told my editor about this and she said, “that’s probably normal,” and added that as I write more books, I will probably adapt that concern into my writing process. So instead of writing whimsically and developing ulcers later when I realize other people might not like it, I’ll begin the process knowing others are going to read it eventually and spend a little more time thinking about how they’ll take it.
But what I’m really concerned about is letting that fear hijack my writing.
Writer vs. Audience
People talk about writing for an audience and learning from input and so on and so on and to some extent they’re right…but to some extent they’re totally wrong.
In an ideal world you write exactly what you set out to write and everyone loves it just the way it is and you have no problems. You write what you want, your audience reads it: everyone wins.
But what about when you’re creating the projects you care about but your friends think it’s weird or some readers complain that inflatable cows that drive people crazy don’t make sense or that porn addiction isn’t the greatest way to fully realize a character? Do you soften the porn addiction and inject some tweenage vampire drama? Do you give up trying to swagger jack Donald Goines and try to rip off Hugh Howie instead? No hate towards Hugh. Wool was dope, fam. But I don’t want to write another Wool. The last one was great.
This isn’t a new concern for me.
A few times I read over the draft I had of MOOJAE and wondered if it was as unapologetically written as Blood-Vomit and the Sinking Bathroom, which, sure, probably could use with a more thorough edit, and has flat simplistic characters, and is based heavily on hallucinations and soiled pants, but was exciting to me.
I feel like the more I edit a draft, the more its soul is splintered and processed. And if you push that too far you end up with a cured ham, where once you had a wild boar with a penchant for stealing your pants. Maybe I’m crazy. Writing is rewriting after all. Unless you’re Donald Goines in which case writing is writing and rewriting is writing the next book.
Unlike the last two parts in On Writing Most of Our Jugs Are Empty, I don’t have a cute platitude to end on about how writing without an outline is superior or balancing creativity and engineering (a recurring theme, clearly). Instead, I wonder if writing for your audience is really what developing writers should be doing. It might help you understand where your intentions and their understanding disconnect. And that might help you communicate your ideas better.
But maybe it means you get railroaded into normalizing an otherwise exciting and weird story because it didn’t fit conventions that a lot of readers expected. And maybe, just maybe, then it would be better to hold out for the readers who will read your unconventional book and love it.
Just a thought.