Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Long Haul


Often when I'm doing a question and answer session I get some questions I cannot answer. Well, I can answer them, but the answer is one of ignorance.

"Why do you write?"

I don't know.

"Why do you write horror?"

I don't know.

Seriously, I just don't know. I always fear investigating too deeply into why I write and why I write the kinds of things that I do. Because I enjoy writing and I've always felt that if I analyze it too much it'll lose its appeal. Basically, the magic might go away. So I don't think about it too much.

I just write.

When you're self-taught at writing, as I am, you make a lot of mistakes. I do have a tiny bit of an education, but it's a poor one as far as official schooling goes. I attended the public school system in my native state of Georgia. Even at the time I was attending public school in that state I knew that the quality of education that I was receiving was absolutely awful. If not for the fact that my parents owned a bookstore and I had access to hundreds of thousands of books; and that my parents were both avid readers and independent thinkers, I shudder to think how I might have ended up. If you're poor and live in Georgia, you're going to get a really shitty education at the hands of the school system there.

Yesterday, going through some boxes, my wife found a small stack of short stories that I had written about the time we first go married. That was when I had gotten very serious about pursuing a freelance writing career and I was trying to teach myself how to write short stories. I'd written these things on a typewriter. Back then, I didn't even have a basic word processor, so it was all typewritten and then off to the local print store to make copies. Of the stack of stories that she found, I could only recall having written one of them. Until I glanced at the others, they had been completely forgotten.

And for a valid reason. They were flat freaking awful. Just terrible. I think they would have made even an HP Lovecraft fan gag.

 Writing is one of the few professions of which I know where the practitioner doesn't know jack-shit about what he's doing when he begins. At least in most other jobs you go through a guided apprenticeship and have a while to learn before you take the reins of your chosen occupation. Not so with freelance writers. With those fellows you mainly have introverted sorts who have secretly enormous egos who think that what they're doing is great. Even if it's not worth--in the words of my dad--a good goddamn.

It took me a couple of years of writing before I was even passably good at it. I'm amazed that I was able to start selling short stories so soon after trying my hand at it. For a while I was selling a lot of them and they were going in quick order as I typed them out. I sold to magazines, anthologies, and comic books. These days that's a lot harder to do, since most fiction markets are floundering or already dead. These days the young writers trying to learn their craft are no longer submitting work to the kinds of magazines and anthologies who bought my early professional-caliber stories. These days, people self-publish the kind of crap that should never see the light of day.

Looking at those early stories are a good lesson in and of themselves. Today, I realize how awful they are. I don't even see anything in them to mine for new material. Yeah, they're that bad. But what I do like about them is that it showed that I was trying like Hell to learn how to be a writer. It shows that I had energy and the kind of tenacity it takes to make a legitimate go of it in the writing game.

In the long run--looking at those awful yarns--I learned how to do it right. I learned how to create a work of fiction that's worth a good goddamn.

Speaking about Writing.


MarkGelbart said...

I don't agree with you about the education system in Georgia.

I think the Georgia educational system offers a wonderful opportunity for students, if they take advantage of it.

I'm really impressed with some of the textbooks the Richmond County School System makes available.

It's not the teacher's fault, if the students are stupid, lazy, and/or poorly behaved.


What's wrong with Lovecraft? I know he's kind of hard to read, but I like his stories. One of my favorites is "The ReAnimator." Much better than the B movie that shared the name.

HemlockMan said...

I'm willing to amend my comment, then. The system was horrid when I was in it.

I love HPL. He was great. A true artist. But he's an acquired taste, I think. Or something you pass as you go through a phase. Most of his fans (including me) latched onto him when they were teenagers.