Who Do You Write For?

I was out hiking the other day, and I started thinking about audiences.  About the “how” and “who” that every writer is supposed to keep, at the very least, in the back of his or her mind as the words pour onto the page.

Hey, these are the kind of things I think about when hiking in the middle of a blizzard.  Wait…what…you’re surprised by that?  Shit, I write entire scenes in my mind as I hike!  Now, whether I manage to retain them or not is another question entirely…hence Rule #1: you write it, right away — you always write it.

Ahem.

So, audiences…

I suspect I’m not alone in my instinct to “just write”.  Just write the words…just write the characters…just write the emotions and thoughts and needs, and let the rest of the bullshit take care of itself.

Look, I’ve mentioned before the questions that irk the hell out of me — well, one of the biggest of those is, “Who are you writing for?”

I’m writing for me.  There ain’t no other answer in my little corner of the writer-ish universe.  In the words of my current protagonist, I write “for me, and for my ghosts.”

Why the hell should I worry about who?  Why the hell can’t I just write the damned story that lives in my head, and let the chips fall where they may?F35DD251-9923-4993-84FD-B837448F60E9

*sigh* Apparently, even writers have to adult sometimes…

Okay, so when I get over my artistic snit, even I have to admit that your audience matters.  A story written for my high school senior niece would, of necessity, be pretty damned different from one written for my brother…and different yet again as one written for my parents.

Your audience matters.  It matters to the tone, it matters to the plot, and it sure as hell matters to the characters, and how you portray them.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone who has read this blog for more than a couple of posts will be surprised by the fact that I’m nothing more than a big, arrested adolescent.  I’m a twelve-year-old with a car and a job, as a friend once told me.  And, believe me, I like it that way.  I also write that way…err, maybe not as a twelve-year-old*, but most definitely as an arrested adolescent.

*There is far too much abuse of booze and drugs in my stories for that, not to mention far, FAR too many uses of various versions of the word “fuck”…

I didn’t set out to write in the YA space, by the way.  Hell, I didn’t want to write in the YA space.  I just wanted to write stories about the lost and broken, about those ground under the wheels of progress and success.  I just wanted to write stories about the darker realities of life, and about the underside of the future that I see coming.  That those stories all center on the young, on those we would normally call “innocents”, is more an outgrowth of my own life and history than it is a coherent choice.

The problem is that as of now I’m stuck in that space, at least from the point of view of the publishing industry.  That means I have to keep in mind the norms of YA, and the ever-changing unwritten rules of YA.

Shit, I write about drug addicts and prostitutes.  I write about hopelessness and depression.  I write about suicide and murder and nihilism.  I write, when you get right down to it, about the death and (hopeful) rebirth of hope.

Err…

Umm…

“Do your characters have to curse so much?” one editor asked me.

“The story is great, but can you get rid of the drugs and sex?” asked another.

Yes, the fucking well do.

No, I fucking well can’t.

*sigh*

So much for adulting as a writer.

I will prostitute the hell out of my soul for success in the writing game.  I will sell pieces of my anatomy, and of my family’s — little does my brother know, but his left testicle has already been traded to a publisher for a deal on a couple of articles! — but I won’t sell my story’s soul.

Well…shit.

When I set out to write this post, I wanted to talk about how we writers have to keep in mind our audience.  How we have to be like salesman in that we have to always tailor what we say to our audience.  Then my own pride — my own soul — proceeded to undercut the shit out of that argument.

Maybe that’s why I’m an EX-sales-monkey.  It certainly is why all my writing deals seem to be lacking the number of zeros that would truly make me financially secure…

But…well…shit…

My brain hurts thinking about this crap.

Shit, I’m a writer.  I just want to write stories.  I want to write the stories I want, the stories that live in my head.  However many — or few — folks out there who actually want to buy those stories is, well, secondary at best.*

*Sorry, Dad, but I’m just never gonna bring those old business and sales skills to my writing life…

Okay, I can hear the demands in my head — the following group of pictures were all taken in that famous blizzard-driven, winter praradise of JUNE:

 

Cockeyed

My life is cockeyed.

No, really, I’m being serious here!  The RV site Yellowstone gave me is all packed dirt.  Well…what happens when massive amounts of snow melt right across all that dirt?

Yep, you guessed it: it’s mud season for me.  The sad, unexpected (by me, anyway) outcome of this mud season is the fact that the blocks leveling my trailer are…well, they’re doing their best Titanic impression right now.

Okay, so it’s not the worst problem in the world.  It is, in fact, pretty much the very definition of “first world problem,” to be honest.  I mean, crap — no one’s shooting at me, I have all the potable water I need, I have heat* and electricity, I have a “pantry” full of food…if the worst problem I have is that shit rolls off my counter from time to time, I’m pretty sure the world ain’t about to end.

*Screw you Big Sky RV, and your cheap lie about filling my propane tanks!!

But it does get you thinking…

Well, it gets me thinking, anyway.

My life has been cockeyed for a very long time.  One could argue, I suppose, that all writers’ lives are at least somewhat cockeyed and out-of-kilter.  Shit, what insane idiot would choose a life where fulfillment and happiness are driven by words and sentiments that you basically have to prostitute your soul to make a buck with?

I don’t how many others out there share this experience, but for me that lack of balance, that skewed vision, is what makes it all work.

I was balanced and even as a sales monkey.  I was locked firmly in the glide-path for the standard, traditional American life: a nice house, a new(ish) car, a comfortable retirement account…

And I was miserable as hell.

I had six weeks of “vacation” every year from my company, and every year I used every single second of that.  Partly because — as you know from reading this blog — travel and adventure are the most fulfilling things in the Universe to me, but mostly because I hated that which gave me that vacation time.  I hated the drab, tan-and-grey corporate decor … I hated the unending meetings that bred faster than any rabbit could dream of … I hated the pretension and hypocrisy of the company, of many of my coworkers, of many of our clients … I hated, when you get right down to it, every single day that I had to put on a mask and pretend to be someone I was not…

As I wrote once before, a few years ago: the clothes I wore didn’t fit my soul anymore.

In between then and now there is a great deal of water, and quite a few bridges…some of them burning, and some still beckoning to cross back.  There is a failed business — and all the problems and heartache and exhaustion that you can imagine that comes with that — there are failed relationships, there are personal problems, financial problems, problems of every stripe…

And then there are my friends.

More specifically, there is the suicide of yet another friend.

I have stood in front of far too many caskets, said goodbye to far too many friends “too young to die” to not be changed by it.  One is far too many, and I’m way above that number.

The last of those was after the failed business, after the failed romances.

I asked myself, finally, in front of my friend’s coffin, just what the fuck was I doing?

Why was I putting off — denying — that part of my life, of myself, that lay at the core of everything?

Why was I living someone else’s life, someone else’s dreams?  Why was I working so hard to follow the roads so obviously laid out for me?

Why was I keeping the words to myself, the emotions and meanings and realities?

Why was I not being me?

Robert Frost famously wrote about the road less travelled.  For me, it is the last two lines of that poem that really says it all:

I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

My life is cockeyed, and I like it that way.

No, that’s not quite right — as hard as it can be for family and friends to understand, I need it that way.

Write or Flight

Fight or flight.  Along with “sex or food,” that is perhaps the only biological constant that holds true no matter the species, no matter the environment, no matter the situation…hell, as a sci-fi guy I have zero doubt that those two hold true no matter, even, the planet or star!

Well, for those like me, those of the writerly bent, that evolves into “write or flight.”  You either have something to say, something to write, or you don’t.  Or, more to the point, you run away until you do have something to write.

It goes back, honestly, to that old and overused bit of “advice” we’ve all heard or read: writers write.

If the number of people who said they were writers actually wrote, we would need one hell of a lot more bookstores…

“I’m a writer, you know.”

“Cool, what was the last thing you wrote?”

“Well, I don’t have an agent or a publisher yet.”

“That’s not what I asked.  What was the last thing you wrote?”

“Err…  Umm…  I don’t have an agent or a publisher yet…“

“*sigh*”

Screw overused, it really is true: writers write.

Okay, sure, Dickens pimped his ass out for a publisher from the get-go, but Twain wrote his best stuff long before anyone ever thought his little nom-de-plum was worth a damn…

The Tale of Genji was hand-copied a thousand years ago…

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch was passed by samizdat* long before Khrushchev ever let it go “officially” to print…

*A uniquely Russian word — and concept — for the underground press.  Mostly it was individuals copying a work on old-school mechanical typewriters and passing it along to a handful of others in the “chain”.

The Outsiders was written during high school classes, with no thought or dream of it ever seeing the light of day…

The Aeneid was written as pure propaganda-for-hire….okay, so that one really was written for the publisher, but it is the exception that proves the rule!  Or something!

My point is this: if you have a good idea, if you have a good story, you write it.  Period.  That’s it.  Once it’s written — err, once it’s been revised and revised and revised and perfected — then you figure out how you’re going to make money from it.

Writers write.

Whether it’s good or bad…whether it’s publishable or not…whether it’s “acceptable” or not, writers write.

When you come to that point where you have a choice…

When you come to that point where you just don’t know…

When it comes to that point where you wonder just who you are…

You write it.

You always write it.

Screw the rest of it the bullshit.  Screw all the nonsense and advice and random worries, just write it.

Anything else will make you miserable.

And, by the way, if it doesn’t make you miserable to not write, then maybe you ain’t cut out for this life in the first place…

They Lied To Me!

The folks I bought the trailer from ran through a checklist for me of all the stuff they had done to get everything ready.  One of those things was, “filled both propane tanks.”

Ahem.

I ‘bout froze my testicles off from that one!

Look, I know I should have checked the damned bottles myself, just to be sure they really had filled them, but…well…headed into Yellowstone for six months like I was, I had a lot of other crap on my mind at that point…

533F3DB3-8CFE-4EFE-A781-761C2CA49D53I should probably point out something about Yellowstone in spring: it ain’t really spring until summer starts.  Look, it’s May 2nd as I write this and there is 3 feet of snow on the ground.

Well, a few nights ago, the temp dropped to -10 farenheit* and…okay, I think we can all guess what happened then…

*For you Celsius folks, that’s freaking COLD — that’s something like -23 C

Yep, you win the prize!  My freaking propane ran out!

Do you know what happens when the furnace in a 28-foot trailer conks out in that kind of cold?!

Tears, that’s what happens!5F48ECD4-0D02-47A5-AB69-DF75CE577593

The bastards lied to me. They had half-filled one tank, and ignored the other entirely. That deserves a major HARRUMPH!

I would be more pissed, I should add, except…

Except…

Except…I’m back in the middle of the damned wilderness.  My house may be small, but my backyard is fucking awesome!

The baby bison — called red dogs, and cute as hell — are just being born right now…

The wolf pups are cautiously coming out of the dens with their parents…

The bear cubs are going absolutely nuts, playing in the snow…

Everything is hungry as hell right now, from the bison down to the chipmunks, so they are all out and eating everything in sight.  Just this evening, in fact, I already had my first close encounter with a grizzly. He was a small one — barely a juvenile who had just recently struck out on his own — but it still was a great reminder just how NOT on top of the food chain I am in this place.

8CFB9B28-9B56-4FD2-8DFC-0E5A4744BF04It was also a majorly cool reminder not just of where I am, but why I’m here.

I can feel the chains falling away, and the words coming back.  I can feel the rhythms and cadences of sentences and phrases and scenes.  I can feel the emotion, and the truth, that is the best driver for any writing.  I sat already, I should add, in a place I wasn’t technically, umm, allowed to be, and the words and images just started to flow on their own…