So I wrote a bad book

So as I said in my last post, this summer will mark the ten year anniversary for when I started work on Machine, and while I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me it would take this long ten years ago, I’d have to say now that I’m not sure I would have done it any other way. You see, when I first finished Machine, I had written a fairly bad book. It wasn’t an awful book. It had promise, I was (and am) passionate about it, and it was very ambitious, but there were a lot of things that weren’t good about it either, and as a writer I had a ton of bad habits. I didn’t listen to criticism (sorry Mom, brother and sundry friends and family), I let bad writing slide, and I certainly wasn’t a good honey badger (see here).

Now, after nearly a decade, I can admit that. And even more so, I’m glad I did it.

See, Machine always has been and probably always will be my baby, but it hasn’t been an easy process, and I wouldn’t be the person I am now if it had been. Aside from the first book I wrote (which was so bad I hardly even count it), Machine has always been, in many ways, my weakest book. It’s the book I really, truly learned to write in and even more so, since it’s first draft, has been the book where I learned to edit. It’s where I learned to be tough, where I learned to be humble (or at least more humble), and all of my other books, all my other writing has come almost directly out of the dirty smelting furnace that has been my epic, my ball and chain, my profound little baby. Countless hours have been poured into this thing, hours spent alone or away, shackled from family and friends, and only now that I’ve spent the time honing my craft, thrashing my ego, only now after all these years can I start to see the true gleanings of my work, the pearls tucked in the mountains and mountains of shucked black shells and deleted words.

If anything, Machine is really the book I’ve grown up with. Cog and Rick are like family to me, always there, twin halves of myself, and it’s through this book, through this struggle, that God has shaped me into who I am today. Had I gotten published earlier, heaven forbid had I been famous, I wouldn’t be the me of today, and Machine certainly wouldn’t be the book that it is today either. I’d still be vain, I’d still crave fame, I’d still, possibly, think I was amazing. And sometimes I still do. I am at the very least a good writer to speak to the latter, naturally skilled, but it’s the work and time that has or will make my work great, and its the jobs, the growing pains and experiences I’ve had to have simply to get where I am as a human that have or will set the Machine of today apart from its sloppy, wordy and confusing self of the past.

Yet another way I find it so like myself.

And this isn’t to say that Machine is still bad. Not perfect, yes, but better, and possibly getting closer to the day when it’ll finally see the rays of the sun, where it will be a good book. No, this isn’t a post about that. This is to honor my book, to tell the world how much it means, even if we reach the end of this post and find I’m the only one who’s really still listening.

There are a lot of things writers don’t always tell you, and one of them is that most people simply don’t care. They may care about the person, that they’re doing good work, that they’re happy, but when it comes to the book itself, the hours spent slaving, the hours of thought, the nuances and pains, that’s when the average person on the street stops listening. It’s the same as with other arts, and, I suspect, with most passions of any kind. And that’s okay. We don’t all love the same things and it’s good that we don’t. I certainly don’t say this to shame those who have spent so much supporting me over the years or anyone else nor to belittle any and everyone’s more than generous support. But I’ve also spent nearly half of my lifetime crafting this book, and no matter who else is listening, even if once it’s published nobody cares, ever reads it, I love this book, I will always love it, and it will always matter to me.

Thanks be to God for this precious gift, this decade, and let it never be said that nobody, not even one person, ever cared for a book called Machine.

Thank you, my darling, for being so precious to me.

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Putting in the work

Hey all,

Sorry there was no second post in February (though if you think of it like a normal month with 31 days it’s kind of like I’m under the wire?), but I got sick about half-way through, basically had to stop life to get better and then had to spend most of the rest of the month catching up and preparing for some exciting things that are coming for me in March, one of which is a writers’ workshop I’ll be teaching on editing (March 19th in Madison if you want to come).

Now, as anyone who knows me knows, I have yet to publish a novel. I’m certainly working daily towards that goal, but for a variety of reasons, it just hasn’t happened yet, and since one of the topics I’m going to be teaching on is professional editors, I have to say I was a little intimidated while making my notes, to say nothing of the fact that I felt a little like a phony. Students trust that you know what you’re talking about when you teach a class, and here’s me, teaching on something I haven’t even experienced. I was pretty stressed about it (before I go too far, I will say that I did talk to the lovely Cara Luecht, who is published, so I’m not going to be making things up, and I will tell my students where I am in the process so they aren’t deceived or anything), but then a friend of mine said something that really changed my perspective. She said I was a good candidate to teach the class because I’ve “put in the work.”

And honestly, I have.

This summer I’ll have been working on Machine for about a decade. I still remember writing in a spiral bound notebook while volunteering for summer school the summer after my freshman year of high school. I remember dreaming up adventures for Rick and Cog during chemistry my junior year, and the thrill of writing the last page five days after Thanksgiving, 2009. Since then it’s been years of re-reading, re-writing and editing (and later, once the pride and naivety wore off, actually editing), and while it’s still not there, I have put hours upon countless hours carving, cutting and re-gluing to get this book where it is today.

And that feels really good.

I know it won’t change the world. I know it may not and probably won’t be the best book I’ve ever written. But I have put in the work, and as much as I don’t have any shiny medals to show for it, I do have the scars and blood and tears, and those are even better.

I don’t tell you this so I can feel good about myself, although despite the hurdles I still have to leap, I do. I tell you this so that you won’t give up on whatever it is you love. Everything I have ever accomplished that I have loved has taken work, and often times a lot of work that didn’t actually seem like it was accomplishing anything. But the longer I live, the farther I can look back on my personal journey, the more I can see that even small steps move you in a direction. Even tiny steps or detours are better than standing still.

Ira Glass has a famous quote about the creative process, which I absolutely love, and would like to share here:

 

What I love about his perspective is that you can acknowledge what drew you in about your craft in the first place. Not only that, but you can have grace for yourself while you’re in the gap. I want to be a good writer, I have always wanted to be a good writer, but now I can give myself grace for when I am not a good writer. Not that I will leave bad work as it is, or expect others to do the same, but that I will recognize that to get where I want to be I have to, you guessed it: put in the work.

A perhaps even better exploration of the concept is found with The Long Game series by Adam Westbrook, video essayist of Delve TV, included below. He says that the gap years that Ira Glass talks about above are not only normal, but almost universal of everyone we consider a “genius” today, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Van Gogh. And, if you think about it, that makes sense (especially in the light of video 2). They say it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at something (in fact, this man is trying to prove it with golfing), so in order to do something well, you have to put in the work. And, as I learned from my friend, the work is often the reward itself. I love writing. I enjoy the work, it challenges my thinking, and just doing it at all makes me happy. It’s an autotelic experience (see video 3 in the Delve series below), where the reward is the work itself.

And that’s important. So please, watch the videos, learn from them, share them if you want, and don’t give up even if your work isn’t good. Even if nobody’s listening, reading or watching. Find the thing you want to do and put in the work.

The Long Game Part 1: Why Leonardo DaVinci was no genius from Delve on Vimeo.

 

The Long Game Part 2: the missing chapter from Delve on Vimeo.

 

The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark from Delve on Vimeo.