Bryon Quertermous: Writing Without Fear
HEY GUYS IT’S BYRON QUARTERMOUSE — *checks notes* — okay, that’s maybe not how you spell his name? Whatever. Point is, he came to me and wanted to talk about guest posts here. We kind of ping-ponged some stuff back and forth and what resulted was this idea of “writing without fear.” It’s a vulnerable post, a post about vulnerability, which is interesting, I think — vulnerability is sometimes a virtue for writers, but it’s also a difficult one to manifest. If only because we don’t really like to be vulnerable, do we? And yet, sometimes our best fiction is written from a place of vulnerability. So, the question is, is writing without fear the way to go? Or is it really about having the fear and making use of it? Regardless, here’s BRIAN QWERTYMUSH, folks. *checks notes* Damn, still didn’t get it. We’re just going to call him “Pete Smith” from now on.
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I’m terrified of saying the wrong thing in person. You’d never know it because I talk A LOT. I’m just hoping that if I do say the wrong thing I’ll say so many other things after it that will cover up the wrong thing I said. That carries over into my writing as well unfortunately. For a writer, I’m not very precise with my words. I can be lazy or impatient with my writing and much of the time my desire for feedback trumps my desire for quality or impact and I send things out or publish them before they’re ready.
My first novel Murder Boy was published recently and it was the first novel that I truly wrote without fear. I never expected it to get published so laid myself bare in that sucker. Every fear, every hope, every conflict, and every flaw I had up to that point in my life went in the book. A lot of it still makes me uncomfortable to read because it shows what an ass I’m capable of being.
When I set out to do this Sorta-Kinda-Not-Really Blog Tour for Murder Boy, I had a bunch of topics I wanted to write about. Some of them were softball PR stuff but some of them were important, controversial topics. As of now, I’ve not written a single one of the important posts because I’m scared. I’m scared that readers will see a human still in progress. I’m scared my desire to write funny will overrule my desire to write honestly. I have a lot of flaws as a writer and as a human and I know how to cover them. But I don’t want to cover them. I need to risk being called sexist to be a better man. I need to risk being called a racist to confront my privilege and become a better citizen. I need to confront my weaknesses as a writer and write against those weaknesses to get better.
But I’ve seen what happens when people write without fear. I’ve seen writers far more skilled with words and empathy than I am shouted down for trying to help. I’ve seen writers open themselves up in their writing and then get harassed for it. I’ve also seen the good work and the great discussions that writing opens up. Before I can write that kind of work though, I need to be able to write a guest blog post that means something and teaches me something. If all I’m doing is writing to entertain myself and my friends I should just stick to bar stories at conventions. But I want my words to mean something. I want every book I write and every post I write, even a silly guest blog to promote my new book, to have an effect.
I’m writing the sequel to Murder Boy now and I have the opportunity to confront some of my ugliest tendencies regarding race and sexuality. I have the opportunity to write diversely and with meaning. But I don’t want to. I don’t want people to know some of the things I think and feel. It’s easier to write about people I know and people in my world and people in my experiences. I run less risk of saying the wrong thing or making a fool of myself or getting it wrong. It’s easier to cover my insecurity with jokes and distractions. It’s easier to like status updates and retweet insightful posts from other people than to write my own. That doesn’t mean I can’t start trying though. I don’t want people to read this post and I think that’s a good sign.
It means I’m writing without fear.
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Bryon Quertermous is the author of Murder Boy and the forthcoming Riot Load. His short stories have been published in a number of journals of varying repute and he was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award. He currently lives outside of Detroit with his wife and kids. Visit him at bryonquertermous.com and follow him on Twitter @BryonQ.