I was thinking about writing a novel about roller derby using The Lord of the Flies for a structural model because I had made the half-joke more than once that the derby community is sometimes like an all female LotF. I decided to listen to the audio book and take copious notes to understand what made it tick. But it turns out that Lord of the Flies is far too simplistic to do justice to an organization as complex and powerful as a roller derby league. Maybe it’s because LotF is about a bunch of little boys stranded on a desert island and hoping daddy will save them whereas roller derby is an island of women who reach out to one another and give each other shelter in a sea that offers them no rescue. Either way, someone has decided to make a new LotF movie with an all female cast, since re-casting things with women is kindof a trend right now. That’s cool, I guess. A bunch of people are predictably mad about it, but so what? People can be mad about anything, and some things just aren’t worth the energy. It turns out, after re-experiencing the novel as an adult, I find the original to be … unoriginal? Look, I guess Golding was the first to do what he did, so it was original then, but the story isn’t actually that great. It’s annoying, honestly? Like, I am a grown ass lady, listening to 12-year-old boys argue their ego shit for pages upon pages while everyone is needlessly mean to the one boy with a goddamned brain, who also happens to be a clear stand-in for the women who are otherwise missing. Furthermore, Golding’s boys live in an ego/fear-based society. That is, their conflicts are primarily ego driven, and their decisions are rooted in fear. That kind of society is more or less what the majority of modern Western society is already doing, and it’s not working out so well for us. On the other hand, roller derby as a community is pretty different. It’s connection/overcoming-oriented. People don’t just play roller derby. They join a community and they overcome fears and other limitations to achieve something on both a personal and a communal level. Or maybe that’s just me. That’s more interesting to me than the old model of schoolboys on an island, so I guess it’s not an exact match. I’ll have to retire that joke.
I’ve been doing this weird writing/art experiment lately. I was in a bit of a writing slump, so this was just my attempt to try something new. When I start to explain it, I trip over my thoughts and ruin it, so I’ll just share a bit here without too much yammering.
Sometimes I outline a whole essay on Post-Its. They don’t always translate well to regular text. I think that’s because the colors, sizes and placement have become part of the text. That or I’m not a very good writer. Totally possible. Sometimes it evolves in interesting ways. Here we have moisturizer, makeup brushes, donated makeup, and a gridded Post-It pad. Several of my friends have donated makeup they had just lying around, and I’ve been pulling from my own stash as well. The truth is, I hate wearing most makeup, so this seemed like as good a use as any for it. I got a lot more offers for makeup than I needed, considering that I don’t actually know what I’m doing with the stuff, but I’m starting to get some ideas. If you’re thinking about giving me makeup, please do not purchase any on my behalf. I intend to waste it, and I’d feel like an asshole if you spent money on that. Turns out makeup is not the greatest to draw with (that is, it doesn’t make my mediocre drawing skills look any better), but it can make for interesting paper textures. A bit of moisturizer helps eyeshadow cling to the paper.
This was my only semi-successful attempt to draw with makeup. I’m sure someone who understand make up and drawing could do something really fancy with it, but I’m not that person. My sister could probably do it. Me? I require words.
I honestly don’t know what the end goal is with all of this. It’s just fun. Ellie suggested publishing it, and I do have some ideas about that, but I’m not ready to share them because I will scare myself out of it if I speak too soon.
I’ve been thinking about the place of self-publishing in the creative nonfiction (CNF) world since last summer when I participated in a round-table discussion on publishing in which my perspective as a self-published blogger was not well received. Granted, I was flustered and may not have represented my point well, but it seems that while fiction writers are embracing self-publishing a little at a time, the CNF community largely rejects it and sees any writer who pursues it as naive, vain, and delusional.
There’s a belief among CNF writers that association with a traditional publisher lends us credibility. Obviously, credibility is essential to anyone who writes nonfiction. Additionally, we believe that being accepted by the publishing establishment proves our worth as writers. I don’t know why we still believe this because I’ve seen plenty of truly awful books published the old fashioned way, but we cling to this idea like a middle schooler trying to believe in Santa Claus.
The flip side of our over-valuing of traditional publishing is that we believe self-publishing devalues our work. We believe if it were any good, an editor would have picked it up or that if the writer were not so lazy, she would have shopped it around. These are self-defeating assumptions rooted in intellectual classism, which tells us someone Up There, some overdressed academic in a sky scraper is a more qualified judge of our work than we are.
This may be vain of me, but I disagree. It’s true that writers get attached to our favorite sentences (no matter how awful they are) and everyone can use editorial help, but if we decide what’s good writing based on what’s popular, then it’s no surprise mainstream literature is going the way of pop music. Hint: Incredibly innovative and beautiful music is still being made every day, but you’re not going to hear it on your top 40 station.
Some writers will say, “aim high and work your way down,” a piece of advice I heard repeated many times at Goucher last summer. I get it. Everyone wants to publish big. Everyone wants a book deal. I want to be paid an advance and have a publisher finance my trip around the world so I can write about it, but those opportunities are increasingly rare. So you can pursue that, and that’s great because sometimes that path works out for people. But it very often doesn’t work out, and even traditionally published authors suffer from low sales numbers and awkward party conversations in which you have to explain your book to people who have never heard of it and are only pretending to be interested. So if that path looks miserable to you, pick something else.
Self-pub is equally difficult and lacking in guarantees, but it’s no less valid. Yes, there is a risk of entering a flooded market, but there’s also the possibility that your audience will find you where a publishing house wouldn’t have reached them. Maybe they wouldn’t have given your weird book a chance. Maybe “that’s not selling this year.” Maybe they just don’t think anyone cares about your story. But if you care enough about your story to write it, you should write it. And if it’s important to you to publish it, you should publish it.
If you want to be a famous writer and sell millions of books, I can’t tell you how to do that. I’m not even sure I’d want to do that if I knew how. What I do want is the ability to write what matters most to me and reach people in a meaningful way. Self-publishing gives me the opportunity to do that and the control the do it in a way that’s sustainable for me. And by sustainable, I mean it doesn’t make me hate my life. That’s goal number one.
At the end of the day, it’s up to writers to decide the future of publishing. The more we cater to “what sells,” the more mainstream literature homogenizes just like pop music. Independent musicians, film makers, and fiction writers have taken it upon themselves to do their work and publish it regardless of the nod from on high, but for some reason, the CNF community can’t do that. The only reason I can see is fear:
- fear that you lack the credibility and validation supplied by a publishing house.
- fear of being seen as a lesser writer by your peers.
- fear of having to explain self-publishing to people.
- fear that you’ll never sell enough books to make any money.
- fear that you will publish something terrible and no one will have the heart to tell you.
- … or that they will.
- fear that you will negate future opportunities by marring yourself with the sin of self-publishing.
In other words, the CNF community still believes that self-publishing is not for serious writers, so I think it’s time we clear this up:
If you write and you’re serious about it, you’re a serious writer. If you write and you laugh about it, you’re a humorous writer. If you write and you’re a judgmental jerk about it, guess what that makes you. 🙂
Write about My Little Pony and Smurfette. Write about bath products stores. Write about having to walk down the diaper aisle to get tampons. Write about the 16-year-old stock boy who asks if you need help finding anything. What the fuck are you gonna help me find?
Write about feeling self-righteous in the checkout line. Write about “I’m not judging, but…” Write about the shit people talk about, how they try to sound like sitcoms, how everyone acts like a celebrity on Facebook.
Write about the things you can’t say out loud. Write about the things that don’t make sense. Find the cracks in your understanding and repair them. Write about that.
I couldn’t write last night. I put on my headphones and tried, but it didn’t work. I kept staring off into space, space being the window in front of my desk which was transformed into a creepy mirror thanks to the dark night outside and the lamp on my desk.