I did it! I came back here to type something before letting another, entire year pass!
You may not see that as an accomplishment per se (especially since it’s been a few months 🤫), but in this fishbowl life I now lead, I’m counting every remotely positive act as a win.
I actually came back here because I realized I hadn’t updated my Publications page in a while (and I actually had things to add to it 🙌🏾). But doing so immediately stirred a bajillion thoughts into activity. Among them?
How well does my old work hold up?
Why is it so hard to allow artists to change?
Why is it so hard to allow people to change?
Why does a greater number of publications inspire faith in that writer?
What kind of writer/person am I really?
While that last one is maybe a bit too involved for this platform, it won’t hurt to briefly consider those other nuggets. FYI, I don’t expect to make any major breakthroughs here; I’m just recording my thoughts as they slide by.
How well does my old work hold up?
I don’t think many writers consider the “timelessness” of their work as they’re writing it, which can actually be quite useful. Most of us have enough weighing us down during the drafting process without the added pressure of the possible ways in which our work will be scrutinized by future readers.
We can never predict the turns the world’s thinking will take years down the line. Besides, not thinking too hard about the zeitgeist you inhabit allows for a more authentic portrayal of it. Readers will get a peek at the concerns of the day, even if you’re writing something fantastical, as the most prominent anxieties of the world we’re living in tend to creep in whether we want them to or not.
It’s also beneficial to view past publications as a scrapbook, not only of where you were as a writer at the time, but of what was going on in your life & head when you wrote the piece in question. This is actually how I treat my tattoos. I can look at any one of them and remember exactly where I was emotionally, and why I chose that particular image. When viewing our work as a time capsule, it can be amazing to see how far we’ve come since. However, it can also be cringetastic to come across constructions, methods, and (worst of all) ideas that have become outdated in your work, especially when you consider yourself open-minded and forward-thinking.
When this happens, there are one of two paths you can take after interrogating these old ways and ideas. You can either grow and change/realize how much you’ve grown and changed, or you can double down. This is not to say that whatever the prevailing opinion is at the time of review is necessarily the right one. Whether it is or isn’t depends on you, and who you are now in relation to who you have been. Have you found better ways to communicate your ideas? How do your techniques/ideas/etc. affect your readers? Are you excluding other people’s experiences? Why and to what degree? How important is all of this to you? It’s completely sensible to operate on a case-by-case basis and consider these questions accordingly.
Why is it so hard to let artists/people change?
We’ve all heard the term “sell-out,” right? Sometimes — when someone has gone from producing something soul-bearing and gorgeous to pooping out “products” that are barely as substantial as a sugar cube, only to make millions off the latter — the term can feel spot-on. But I actually think this term has been hella misused, and is often more indicative of our demands on others than of any disappointing behavior on that person’s part (at least if we’re talking about creative output). I have often encountered people who use the term “sell-out” as soon as someone stops making things that resonate with them. Entertainment, no matter what form it takes, is generally something we use to comfort ourselves. What strikes a chord with us is hugely dependent on our emotional state and the experiences that have made us who we are. We can grow apart from our favorite creators in much the same way that we grow apart from the most important people in our lives. It doesn’t have to mean that either one of us has betrayed the other — we’ve simply evolved in different directions.
When a story, song lyric, painting, or other piece of art hits us just right, it makes us feel seen. Known. This stranger, who we will likely never meet, somehow knows the truest version of us without our having had a single conversation. This experience can have the effect of forging a one-way bond between consumer and maker, which can then lead to the illusion of ownership. Because we have invested money and/or (more importantly) time in the consumption of someone’s craft, we as consumers might start to believe that we have the right to dictate the path this person’s artistic evolution takes, and that we have the final say on which output of theirs is “good” and which is “bad.” All of this (for me) leads back to that strange phenomenon of a person centering their own experience of something as the MOST valid.
This gets more complicated when we look at two-way relationships with people we actually know. When someone hurts you, it leaves a deep impression. Logically we know, from the experience of living our own lives, that people might do things that they later regret once they’ve experienced more of the world and broadened their way of thinking. However, we experience a palpable disconnect from this fact when we’re on the business end of regrettable behavior. Regardless of how much time has passed, if we see the person who hurt us again, the very first memory that will leap to mind is likely of the pain they caused. Even if they appear to behave differently, there will always be that little, wretched voice in our heads that says it’s only a matter of time. Any mistake they make from that point on will be judged as a reflection of who they truly are rather than a negligible error any normal person might make. I’ve been thinking more about this lately. It can be difficult to balance emotional maturation with not wanting to be made a fool of.
Which brings me to the tendency to withhold forgiveness. From creators of things we love to the people we love (or once loved)… What is it that allows us to acknowledge our own growth while rejecting everyone else’s? The ego as protector? Sure. But there is (of course) a lot more to all of this, and I don’t have the space/time/etc. to go into it properly.
Why does a large number of publications inspire faith in a writer?
This is an easy one, I hear you say. It’s because if multiple bodies have deemed this person’s work worthy of publication, that must mean it is worthy. And obviously, even if that’s true, the inverse — that anyone who isn’t widely published isn’t worth reading — isn’t necessarily true. Duh, I also hear you say. Yeah, I know. But as a writer, that second part is a thought my brain snags on every once in awhile. Here’s a PSA for me and for you: It’s OK to be where you are in your publishing journey.
I used to have this little disclamatory (I totes made that up) phrase at the top of my Publications page: I’m working on growing this list but, for now, have a look at what’s here so far. I noticed it while I was updating the page today, a forgotten apology to anyone who might stumble across the paltry number of offerings listed there and scoff. The expectation of a good writer is that they will be published often, even before they’ve published a book. But some writers don’t submit to many literary journals for reasons that are entirely their own. Or maybe a writer has submitted to tons of journals, but those journals weren’t the right fit for one reason or another. Or maybe the writer was abducted by aliens riiiight before they clicked “send” on a piece they were planning to submit. We can only judge the work available to be read as either good or not good based on our own parameters, but that judgment is ours. We can never know all the reasons why there isn’t a great, big, fuck-off list of credits to someone’s name, even if they try to tell us in as honest and self-aware a way as possible. No need to feel ashamed if you notice that someone else has published more often than you. I’m sure you have your reasons. And, you can always decide to hunker down and start blasting out submissions at a higher rate (once you’ve found the right places to submit to). Before you know it, your list of pubs will be something people have to scroll through. Or you could decide not to, because doing so is not every writer’s style or mission.
Basically, the moral of today’s post, kids, is that we’re all complicated little squiggles whose lines overlap endlessly. All you can really do is give people — and yourself — the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best. And keep writing.
Please keep writing, no matter what.