Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guest Blog: Why Do I Even Bother?

On the eve of the new year, I promised myself that things would be changing. One of the more major changes being this site. The first month of 2012 has come and gone, and I still haven't done anything with The Bloody Pen. Until today, that is. Enough is enough, I'm going to flip this thing on its head and start making things happen. The first of which is focusing on up and coming authors, or writers who I think have the chops to get published and make a name for themselves. My original plan was to focus on a new writer each month, but since we've already lost January 2012 to the sands of time, we'll ignore that plan. Besides, haven't you heard: February is the new January!

For the last month I've been mulling over who I wanted to feature as the first author of 2012 here on the Bloody Pen. It didn't take long for me to come to a decision. After querying Sci-Fi Guys for a review of his title, I received his book in the mail, and slowly began to devour it. When I had brainstormed for names to feature on The Bloody Pen, every single name that came up was this individual's.

So, without further ado, here's the first featured writer on The Bloody Pen: Paul West, author of the debut novel First Cause.

Paul West was born and raised in New York City; he currently resides in Harlem, where he has lived for much of his life. After graduating from NYU with a B.A. in History, he worked in the education and nonprofit world for many years before switching lanes and working in advertising and then fashion. First Cause was conceived as a screenplay idea in the early 1990s, when West was still an undergraduate; he shelved the project for nearly a decade, and began work again in 1999. Paul West is a sports enthusiast, student of people, lover of music, voracious reader and fervent believer in human possibility.

Febraury will see Paul sharing his opinions, and different aspects on the writing world, genres, and life in general on a weekly basis here at The Bloody Pen. And then somewhere along the way, I'll be doing an interview with Paul as well. But for now, here's Paul's first guest blog, entitled: "Why Do I Even Bother?"

Here it is, folks:

So after years of planning, writing, fretting, emailing, scrounging for extra money, event planning and brainstorming, I finally did it—I self-published my novel, my baby so to speak, First Cause. On one hand, I can’t believe I really pulled it off; I wrote a NOVEL, a full length novel, almost a hundred thousand words, with characters and dialogue and a beginning and ending and some ‘action’ and relationships and scenery and all that good stuff. On the other hand, sometimes I wonder why I bothered in the first place; there are SO many books written in any given stretch of time, so many of them good, so many of them bad, and if you spend much time at bookstores or chatting with ‘creative’ people (don’t get me started on whatever the heck that means), you might realize that the quality, passion, integrity or even marketability of a work doesn’t necessarily correlate with whether it gets published, ‘goes viral’, becomes successful, or even makes more than a little bit of money. So part of me asks: why bother?

Well, there really are a few different reasons—some more interesting than others—but really, what I first said some years ago and what still holds true today, is I wrote First Cause because I felt like I had to. It’s as simple as that, really, but then again, what does that MEAN? For argument’s sake, I didn’t HAVE to do anything; nobody held a literal or proverbial gun to my head, I’m not religious so I wasn’t compelled by ‘god’, so to speak, I’m not really driven by a desire to ‘be a writer’ in some lofty, pretentious sort of way, and in fact, for much of the time it felt as much like a job as anything else just to finish the dang thing in a manner that was to my liking. For much of the time during which I wrote First Cause, I didn’t have a personal computer; this meant that my edits & developments were largely manual, and as such, I had to find ways to get computer time so I could add them to my manuscript. All of this involved staying late at work to squeeze in a few minutes of typing; carrying around a floppy disk practically everywhere; carrying around a big frakin’ stack of papers everywhere as well, because in order to edit or add/drop words or ideas, I needed to have my manuscript handy as a reference point; saving, borrowing, or scraping together money so I could afford to purchase computer time at a copy center or buy paper at 10c a sheet at the local library to print when I needed to (not to mention the fact that it was sometimes hard to get sufficient computer time at the library in the first place)…suffice to say, there were times when the whole thing was flat-out tiring, and occasionally even a bit discouraging. So back to the original question, why did I bother? Why did I feel like I ‘had’ to?

The first answer is that I happen to believe, and have been told, that I’m genuinely a good writer. As such, I like the idea of being able to live off my craft, so to speak, to sustain myself doing something that I’m not only good at—but enjoy doing. This relates to the second major reason, which is that while I believe I’m a good writer, I don’t write (or speak, even, despite the fact that I can be quite a chatterbox when prompted) just for the sake of doing so—in other words, I can’t manufacture it (so to speak). So when First Cause came to me as an idea, and I bounced it around and developed it and began to feel strongly about it, it began to strike me as a huge opportunity—to live off my craft, without having to manufacture my writing in a disingenuous or forced manner. And this leads me to the last element, which is one of the main purposes of the novel: I wanted to inspire people to think more, and to care more, and to become more interested in, the human condition. For a long time, my favorite books, movies, and songs have generally been in some way concerned with trying to consider the human condition in general, or more specifically matters of social justice or interpersonal relationships or internal struggle or personal or societal evolution; reading, watching, and listening to these kinds of expression always inspired me differently than most other things, and I have long wanted to come up with a way to make a similar contribution to the world or art, thought and discussion. The thing is, once again, I didn’t want to manufacture it—do it just for the sake of doing it—without it being in a way that felt natural, that I didn’t have to force, that I wouldn’t feel was dishonest or pretentious…and I didn’t want to give the impression that I was overtly copying the style, methods, or even structure of any of the creative or intelligent people whose work I so admired. So again, imagine the feeling of having all these concerns, but wanting to find a way to contribute to the greater creative and intellectual and spiritual good, and then coming up with something that—while certainly flawed and limited in some ways—I could really channel my talent and insights towards, and write in such a way as to hopefully be happy with, even proud of, the outcome, AND moreover to have a chance at making a living based on the strength of this work. And furthermore, drafting it and planning it and beginning to write it and feeling pretty good about it and getting some encouraging feedback about what I’d done thus far.

You see what I mean? After all of the above, once I’d gotten myself to a certain point, there was just no way I could let myself give up on it. I HAD to finish it; I HAD to do my best; I HAD to pursue it. Fortunately, I received a ton of support from a ton of people along the way—moral support, financial support, creative support, and plain old love and genuine respect. Every hug, every pat on the back, every encouraging email, every email or phone call that said ‘hey, I love it!’ or ‘hey, I love it but maybe you should think about this/change this/add this/answer this’, every bit of help editing…every bit of all of it helped keep me afloat when I doubted my odds, my stamina, my resolve, even at some brief intervals my talent. In the end, I couldn’t give up on all of that any more than I could give up on the story, or myself, or my ambitions, or my desire to find a way to provoke even a small bit of extra critical or empathetic thought in my friends, readers, or anyone else.

So then, once again, I HAD to write it.

As for anyone else who’s considering writing as a pursuit, I offer this modest bit of advice: first of all, ask yourself, seriously, why you want to do it. Then consider your resources, your reference points, what you want to say, and whom you can rely on for support (again, that support can come in the form of a few lent dollars, a friend in the publishing industry, a patient set of eyes and ears, or a well timed hug; they all might factor in at some point). Consider what you want to say, why you want to say it, how you want to say it, and I think it’s imperative that you really be thorough in questioning and challenging yourself in this regard (and most others, but I digress—somewhat). And remember one thing: there are no guarantees, the publishing business is not any more fair or just than the world at large is, and you must be prepared—emotionally, psychologically, financially, and circumstantially—for the possibility that your dream of ‘being a writer’ might not come to fruition. But at the same time, if you’ve done all of the above, and can honestly say that you’ve approached the matter with a clear mind, a good heart, a sound gameplan, a fair amount of patience, and some sense of integrity and sincerity and conscientiousness—then if only for all of those reasons, you should never feel silly or foolish or misguided for putting all of that good and potentially extraordinary energy toward creativity and trying to inspire people. You just might take off, and be a bright shining star on many others’ horizons. And if not, at least you can take solace in the fact that you gave it a good shot—and if you’ve done so, in good conscience, you’ll always have something to be proud of. You never know who might be inspired by just your effort, desire and conscientiousness—even if your words only reach a few.

The only shot that never goes in is the one you don’t take, and if you honestly commit yourself to your best effort and intentions, then it works or it doesn’t, but you’ll at least have something in which to take pride.

So that’s why I bother, and that’s why, maybe, so should you.