Kill the pig!
Cut his throat!
Kill the pig!
Bash him in!
As writers, we grow easily seduced by tribalism. I get it. I know why this is.
It’s because writing offers no guarantees. It’s a creative pursuit and a financial shot in the dark. Success in this industry is wildly subjective and personal, and that means it’s unpredictable.
Ah, but we don’t like unpredictability, do we? We don’t like dark corridors and flickering light bulbs. We are not a fan of shadowy corners — while a shadowy corner might secretly contain a bag of money with a comical dollar sign stitched to the side, it could just as easily contain, I dunno, a cyborg-bear who needs human blood to fuel his mecha-parts. We want bright lights. Well-lit hallways. An easy path with a dotted line on the floor and a map in our hands.
So, we seek answers. Not possibilities or options in potentia, but rather, conclusive results. As if one’s writing career is the inevitable summation of a well-known equation (which it most certainly is not).
Then, sometimes we find success as writers. We discover our equation and are pleased with the sum we achieve and — well, let’s just say our hearts are in the right place. We figure, we want to help. We want to draw you a map! We want to fire up the tiki torches and light the way! And when we see you start to drift toward the darkness, listing like a ship in a rumbly-tumbly ocean, we’re like, “Hey! No! That way lurks the cyborg-bears! Come this way! Come toward the light, Carol-Anne!”
It’s a not unreasonable inclination. And not entirely unhealthy — certainly what works for some will work for others. Lighting the path is fine. Handing over the map is a good thing.
Where it starts to become problematic is when we assume that our equation must surely be yours as well. That the anecdote of our existence is tantamount to universal data. We become less concerned with offering help and more concerned with being right — soon we start to see others who do differently not as fellow travelers on this weird wild journey but barbarians at the gate who want to storm in and take their big angry hammers and smash our One True Way to bits.
Thus we establish our tribes. And we invite those who agree with us into our echo chambers where we can all tickle each other’s pink parts and hurrah and high-five and sloppily bang each other until we’re all a bunch of ideologically in-bred meme-mutants who are slaves to the notions we once owned and controlled.
Any who don’t do as we do are viewed as somehow lesser. And if they claim success by way of their aberrant methodology, well, pfft, pbtt, fnuh, surely that must be an attack on how we do things. Right?
Let’s get shut of that.
Let’s hike down our Wonder Woman underoos (well, what undies do you wear?), pop a squat over false dichotomies and One True Wayism, and then spray our foul musk upon them.
Let’s burn down the camps. Let’s scatter the tribes. Let’s all intermingle sexually.
Wait, maybe not so much that last part.
Let’s look at the warring tribes —
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Do you favor print publishing or digital?
Kindle versus Nook?
Genre versus literary?
Sci-fi versus fantasy?
Word versus Scrivener (or the deeper more froth-inducing argument, Mac v. PC)?
Present tense versus past?
Don’t edit as you go versus edit every day’s work?
First person versus third person versus — gasp — second person?
Getting an agent versus going without?
Scotch versus Bourbon?
Coffee versus tea?
Self-pub versus indie-pub versus small press versus non-traditional versus traditional versus Kickstarter versus IndieGoGo versus Createspace versus Lulu versus me yelling my books at passing trucks?
When does it end?
If I do something my way and achieve success and you do something your way and achieve success, what’s the problem? Why do we need to shank each other in the kidneys? Are we competing?
It’s time to recognize that “success” has no metric. Success can be emotional, financial, spiritual, whatever. It can speak to your wallet. It can speak to your pride. We’re all trying to find success but what that means to each of us, individually as writers, represents a many-faced creature. Don’t jam your success up my ass and I won’t cram mine down your throat. Thus creating some kind of bizarre human centipede-esque creation where we recirculate success along with last night’s meal of Chunky chicken soup.
If I were to truly advise people to do as I do, I’d start them off at age 18, I’d get them to publish their first short story with a discerning editor who helps make the story a helluva lot better, then I’d tell them to, ohh, hang out a few years, get some bullshit jobs where they pretend you’re a writer but you’re no such thing, then lose faith a hundred times, then get a break in the pen-and-paper roleplaying game industry and, ohh, do that for ten years…
See? You’d go mad trying to follow the road I cut through the jungle. All those zig-zags and switchbacks and jaguar pits. And yet, no regrets. Because hey, fuck it. Here I am. Doing what I love.
For every person who does Thing A, you can find someone equally successful with Thing B, and C, and probably X, Y and Z. For every person who claims self-publishing is the one path, you can find plenty of evidence on the other side that says big publishers and small publishers can offer a writer measurable success, too. For every successful outliner there’s a successful panster. One bestselling author uses Word. Another uses Scrivener. A third uses Pages, or his iPad, or he urinates his manuscripts into the December snow. Every writer has his own crazy story, his own nutty way of finding success and satisfaction.
Do what thou wilt and find satisfaction within. If you’re not satisfied or don’t believe you’re achieving that what you want to achieve: change it up. That’s the nature of this thing: each subsequent story can earn its own fresh approach. You have multiple ways to attack and you’ve no reason to eschew the mighty power of diversification. You don’t need to be hemmed in by a single approach. You don’t need to separate yourself into camps — you just need to know your way of getting shit done. If it helps you get shit done? Keep it. If it prevents you from getting shit done? Ditch it. Re-examine, re-address, but don’t return to empty tribalism.
Do what thou wilt.
That’s empowering, isn’t it?
So go on, now.
Put your foot squarely in the ass of your penmonkey destiny.
And tell the zealots and fundies and all the other assholes that you don’t need their approval, thanks. We can all put down the conch. And we can all stop trying to push Piggy around.
And that is the end of that tenuous Lord of the Fliesian metaphor.
Please to enjoy.