Resolutions born of the new year are always a curious breed. They’re often criticized as change-filled (but empty) promises born more of the tradition of the date rather than as something you should do daily as part of the normal growth-and-learning cycle of we hairless orangutans prancing about on this little blue green bouncy ball winging its way through space.
New Year Resolutions are perhaps like cards at Christmas: bought, filled with the rote script, placed on a mantle for a few weeks, then inevitably tossed in the bin with the other holiday trash.
It’s true, to a point. But, just the same: one year to the next, one date to another, is a mark in time. Artificial, but hey, all of human society is artificial and it’s no less significant for its invention by us. The year is a bone suddenly broken — snap. And in that sharp shock of transition, if what we get is an urge to change? So fucking be it. The ideal state would be that we change when we need to, not when the calendar suggests it, but let’s also remember that the holidays and the transition from one year to another are vital times to reflect. We build up to the orgiastic rush to Christmas, and then are left with a startling, almost shocking void — all that’s left is cleaning up the wrapping paper and throwing the Christmas Hobo on the bonfire. Ha ha ha, I didn’t say Christmas Hobo, you said Christmas Hobo. I said tree. Christmas tree.
So it is that we reach a time of the year that is indeed very good for reflection. In that reflection, it is reasonable to look back at the year behind us — littering the carpet like so much wrapping paper — and peer ahead to the year ahead. We mark time because it gives us perspective. And we make resolutions because sometimes that perspective yields the desire to be different.
Evolution does not always come on a schedule, but no reason we can’t give it a stun gun in the ass-cheek to get it moving. And so, here I am, once again considering for me — and, if you care to embrace and adopt it, for you — what changes, what evolution, what crystallization of This Thing That We Do, may come with the year 2015.
Writers and other creative folk:
This year, I want you to be big.
And, perhaps puzzlingly, I also want you to be small.
Wait, What The Fizzy Fuck Are You Talking About?
By big and small, I do not mean your physical girth or footprint — I’m not asking you to tromp about like an ogre, or fold yourself up into a paint can. What I mean is that I want you to embrace the curious polarities that often result in being a creative person. We are this very strange combination of preening Narcissist and trembling, knock-kneed fawn. Inflated senses of self, puffed up like a blimp and filled with a sucking void of lost self-esteem. I don’t want you to grab a hold of those parts, though — I don’t find much value in being a bellowing blowhard whose self-importance is so rock-hard (meaning: fragile like spun glass) that every negative review sends him into a paroxysm of pants-shitting rage. The goal here isn’t to become a monster, but rather, to find the power in those two warring aspects — to find function and truth and momentum in what it is to be both big and small.
You have to want it, and you have to mean it.
Writing a book and putting it out in the world is an act of ego — not egomania, but the willingness and decision to create a story out of nothing and push it forward into the world is a bold, brash, unflinching act. You say: this story matters, and it matters that I wrote it. It is a demonstration of your belief in the story and the belief you possess in yourself as a writer, storyteller, and a creator. It takes a rather epic set of genitals to write something that’s 300 pages long and then say to someone: “You’re going to sit down and you’re going to read this and you are going to love it the way I love it. You are going to take hours, even days out of your life to read the little ants dancing across the page, ants that make words, words that make this one big story full of people I just — I mean, seriously, get this, I just fucking made them up. They’re not even real. None of this is real! Can you believe it? It’s phantasm and ectoplasm and fairy-spun pegasus shit. It’s all from my own weird-ass brain. I cracked this massive egg, and now I want you to eat what spilled out.”
It’s you as a wide-eyed housecat, shoving forward a half-eaten mouse carcass, its fur sticky with your spit and blood, and you say with intense stare and low mrowl: I MADE DIS. YOU HAVE IT.
How amazing! How presumptive! How… totally fucking psychotic!
That’s you being big.
You get even bigger by writing the stories you want to write. By defying convention and eschewing advice and putting to paper the tale you want to tell. Own it! We worry so much about writing original stories that we forget about the one ingredient that will make all our stories as unique as a snowflake melting into the grooves of a fingerprint: you. You, your voice, your ideas, your experiences: those are the reagents of rare and powerful alchemy — as extraordinary as phoenix feathers! powdered unicorn horn! lightsaber crystals! — that go into your writing.
Be big enough to accept that. Be big enough that your books are your own. Do not flinch. Tell fear to fuck off. Don’t run from your own voice. Be your books. Have ideas. Anybody who runs a blacklight over your books should be able to see the blood and spittle and mysterious fluid spatter you sprayed over the whole thing like a randy skunk.
Be big enough so that the books are yours. So that the books are you, in a way.
But you must also be small.
You write this thing, this massive chunk of yourself, and then you offer it up on a silver plate — and here, you have a choice. You can say, this is my work, it is indefensible and perfect, and it is all that matters. Or you can acknowledge that you’re part of something greater. A square in a mighty quilt, a star in a celestial sky, a glint in the Christmas Hobo’s eye. (No, you said Christmas Hobo. I said… uh, something else. *smoke bomb*)
What I mean is:
Be gracious. Be humble.
This Thing That We Do is a right, in a way — but it’s also a privilege. A privilege to be a part of something greater. You’re not stepping on a new planet, here: other people have blazed the trail, tamped down the vegetation, hunted the monsters that would’ve disemboweled you in a heartbeat. Others have colonized your genre. They’re there on the shelves. You can be big enough to have your own voice and to write that voice while at the same time acknowledging that you are not alone: others have been here, are still here, and will keep on coming. Other writers who need your help. Other books that need your championing. Other voices not your own.
Be gracious to other writers. And editors, agents and other publishing professionals. Be appreciative of your readers. Be kind to booksellers and librarians and reviewers (both of whom will help you reach those readers that I just told you to appreciate). Yes, it’s a thing often said that all writers really need is an audience, and perhaps that’s true in the purest of sense — but that’s also incredibly short-sighted, like saying the only thing a Widget-Maker needs is someone to Buy The Widget. It forgets about the truck drivers, the shelf-stockers, the Widget-polishers — it neglects to remember the ecosystem. Writing and publishing is a powerful and weird ecosystem: full of wonderful people who honestly give a shit about books and stories. How amazing is that? They’re here because they love it. Because they accept the bigness of the act of tale-telling, because they respect the need for stories in their lives. Be good to them.
And be humble. You ripped a massive pound of flesh out of your own body with the certainty that it matters — but you can’t go around beating people about the head and neck with it. You’re not the only one doing this. You are indeed the special snowflake: one that forms a blizzard of so many other special snowflakes. The takeaway: you are not alone.
So don’t be alone.
Be small. Be the tiny, glittering, mad fractal snowflake.
Be beautiful on your own, but be part of the blizzard, too.
Eat Me, Drink Me
Be big enough to create a first draft, and small enough to tear that draft to pieces, to write a second draft, then a fourth, then an eleven-hundred-and-fifty-sixth if that’s what it jolly well takes.
(Translation: be big enough to be a writer, but small enough to be an editor. The writer and the first draft is the block of marble and the shape coming out of it. The editor and the resultant drafts are the chisel that chips it away. Big, to small.)
Be big enough to be proud of your work, but small enough to appreciate every reader who picks it up and every bookseller, librarian, blogger or anybody who shares your work with the world.
Be big and ask to be paid for your work, but be small and donate your time and energy and kindness to others — what we are paid, we can help pay back.
Accept that your words are important and that your story matters, but not to the extent that it drowns out the voices of others.
Acknowledge your successes while never letting them be the end-all, be-all.
Be small enough that you are willing and able to fail without letting failure destroy you.
Be big enough that that you stand tall for the things you believe in. But be small, too, so that you can be fast and flexible for when the time comes that you need to change.
Be the writer you want to be, full of power and might and confidence, but one who also is gracious and nice and part of something larger. Earlier I mentioned the stars in the sky, and perhaps there is no greater metaphor, here: each star is impossibly large, a massive shape of fire and gas and light. And yet, when seen at a distance: tiny lights across the night, like sequins cast on the floor, like holes pricked in a dark blanket with a prodding pin. Big stars, but small stars, too.
Be then like the star: both big and small at the same time.
Have a great 2015, folks.
P.S.: Art hard, motherfuckers.