Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A box full of darkness




     "If you don't care about your writing," I tell aspiring writers, who, now that I think of it, I don't encounter much anymore, "then nobody does."
     What I mean by that is, you can't dog it, can't phone it in, can't half-ass your way to any kind of success. At least not in most cases. For every 6-year-old who finds internet fame and a book contract by posting their finger paint poetry online for a month, there are 100,000 other writers who must grind forward with all their might and not give up.
     That said, on rare occasions, a writer, if he or she is lucky, will encounter somebody else, a person not themselves, who also cares about their stuff. Best-selling authors are accustomed to this, no doubt, and come to expect lionization as a daily event, the general public tapping at their windows from dawn to dusk. Must be nice.
     But we mid-list authors, who sweat mightily just to find somebody to print our writing, have to catch at whatever passing shred of significance we may, cling to it, admire it, then use it to feed the guttering fire of our self-regard. Like recently spying my 2012 memoir, "You Were Never in Chicago," and in abundance, at the Chicago Architectural Association bookstore on East Wacker Drive. Still in the game...
      I considered revealing myself to the clerk, maybe offering to sign the copies. Increase their value! But the clerks seemed pretty busy, ringing up books that customers actually wanted to buy, and there are so many ways an offer like that can go wrong. ("Oh no, you can't sign them, because that might complicate things when we return the books to the publisher to be ground into mulch...") I figured better to savor the situation and not muddle things.
      So timidity is a stumbling block, but professionalism can also get in the way of cheesy self-promotion. I really wanted to tuck a plug for tonight's talk, "A box full of darkness" at 7 p.m. at Northbrook Public Library, at the end of a column in the Sun-Times, where 50 times the amount of people might read it compared to here. But the moment never presented itself. Doing so would mean trimming the column by a few lines, and I could never bring myself to undercut whatever point I was trying to make merely to ballyhoo an appearance discussing my most recent book, "Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery," written with Sara Bader. Should be proud or disappointed at that? I suppose a little of both.     

10 comments:

  1. How do you do, Neil, I’m an aspiring writer. I finished my MA in creative writing at Edinburgh Napier U this past August. I loved living in Scotland, but reading your blog (almost) every goddamn day reminded me I was connected to a wider world than whatever terrifying assignment was next coming due.

    Graduation happens to be scheduled for Halloween, aka Brexit Day. I’m going back. Maybe with a bit of luck I’ll be stranded over there a while.

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    1. Very nice to make your acquaintance; it's encouraging to think this is being read in Scotland. The best advice for a young writer I can think of is from T.S. Eliot: "For us ,there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." Good luck.

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  2. I for one am glad you care enough to write every goddamn day.

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  3. I came to your blog only after enjoying "You Were Never in Chicago" last year. Unfortunately for your bottom line, I found it at my local public library. Both the title and the cover drew me to the book.

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    1. Same story for me. I discovered your blog a couple of years after receiving "You Were Never in Chicago" for Christmas in 2014, and becoming re-acquainted with your writing more than two decades after leaving Chicago. Even then, I lurked here for a year--in order to learn what would and would not piss you off. I enjoyed the book immensely and still enjoy re-reading it. Today I opened it to the page containing this line: "Success in writing--or anything else for that matter--is like giving birth: you have to push." What are the odds?

      Born and raised in Chicago and its suburbs, followed by another 17 years of adulthood in the city and in Evanston. Now that all of my kinfolk have either died or moved away (or both), your blog and your column are among my last links to my native city (along with the Cubbie Blue blood in my veins). Time to find (and enjoy) a few more of your books.

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    2. What is the difference between EGD and the Cubs? EGD will disappoint you much less often than the Cubs>

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    3. I've been a Cub fan for sixty years now.
      A Cub fan sees diamonds where others see broken glass.

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  4. Reminds me of a quote that appeared in one of Anthony Trollope's novels: "Dogged is that does it." His autobiography, which could have been titled "Dogged is..." spoiled his reputation in that readers who expected divine inspiration were disappointed to be told that Trollope attributed his success to getting up early in the morning and writing at least 250 words every 15 minutes. He also kept careful track of how much each book earned him and so lost those readers who otherwise would have been enchanted by his ability to depict the thoughts and actions of people very unlike himself.

    john

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  5. I'm still hoping you get the fame and fortune and larger audience. The order of abundance, I hope you receive in the measure you desire.

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