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For his own idiosyncratic reasons, J.D. Salinger stopped publishing back in the 1960s, though he never stopped writing daily right up until his death in 2010, at the ripe old age of 91. Of course, given the perennial popularity of his novel The Catcher in the Rye and his short stories published in The New Yorker – later packaged in three bestselling collections – he could afford to. The point is, though he gave up on the world that worshipped his work, he never quit doing the thing he was born to do. These pieces are slated to be published posthumously, and maybe he always planned it that way.
We can’t all be J.D. Salinger in terms of success or power over our own careers. But as fellow authors, we share a common responsibility to our own innate talents.
My last published book, Hard-boiled Heart, was issued by Gutter Books in December of 2015.
I really thought that would be my final novel, published or otherwise, following some disappointing professional experiences, and the fact I’m not exactly setting the world on fire with my pulp fiction after a lifelong quest for success by my own standards, which are the only ones that should count for anybody.
Even though I started my own imprint, Thrillville Press, back in January after a small press that published some anthologies of my work suddenly folded, just so I could keep them out there on the market, I really didn’t think I had another book in me.
Then just last week, I woke up one morning and a title popped into my head: “Things I Do When I’m Awake.”
Granted, I was groggy and hadn’t had my coffee yet. But something about that title stuck with me, and one of the things I did while awake was start on a new book, most likely a novella, but we’ll see. My books tend to write themselves – once I have a title, that is. This is going to be horror-noir-erotica, I do know that much. Why? Because that’s the kind of thing I like to read.
That’s just me, though. Yes, I always say that. Because it’s true. I am not offering advice here. I am sharing my own experiences, which hopefully will serve as a vicarious learning tool for you, as a fellow author, aspiring or otherwise.
We’re all unique individuals, but sometimes it seems like much of the writing out there is being cloned. Be yourself. Yes, I always that, too.
Because it’s true. At least from my perspective. And that’s the only one I know for sure.
I Was a Teenage Author
I’ve always identified as “a writer,” since I was a teenager, anyway. This was in spite of the fact that for most of life, I earned most of my income doing many other jobs, from busboy to blood bank delivery driver to film programmer to band booker to doorman to dog walker. But I backed up the claim of my "real occupation" with actual work, even if it wasn’t published (and eventually, most of it was, both fiction and journalism).
Not all writers are or will ever become “published authors.” Some may not wish to be, or don’t have the confidence to even try.
But with all the DIY self-publishing platforms out there now, the only person really stopping you from sharing your work these days is you.
And if you’re not actually sitting down and producing any work whether it’s worth publishing or not, the same obstacle applies.
Sure, many writers suffer “blockage.” And it’s always a good idea to “take a break.” Even if turns out to be an “indefinite hiatus.”
But if you stop writing altogether, you can no longer claim to be “a writer,” anymore than a non-practicing doctor can claim to be a medical professional. You may have the skills, but if you’re not actually implementing them in a meaningful way, you’re simply wasting your own talent. Unless you decide it’s just not worth the effort anymore. And that’s totally on you.
Or on me, at least in my case.
"A Little Birdie Told Me"
Writers often feel a void inside. That’s either something they fill creatively, or else it’s a dry well from which no new work can be drawn.
But if you’re a “real writer,” you won’t be able to suppress that urge forever. It’s like the curse of the werewolf. There’s no cure.
You just have to wait for the right conditions. That may or may not be the next full moon. Most likely, inspiration will strike out of nowhere, when you least expect it. That’s where many of best ideas have come from: left field.
The important proactive thing for you to do if you’ve decided you “are” a writer – as opposed to was or will be – is to keep an open mind.
Because you never know what might fly in.
Then you need to sit your but down and get to work.
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO
New Orleans, LA