My decision to lay off novel-writing, since I could not work out the promotional end of selling the books, has led to a common (and predictable) reaction from many of my friends and relatives, to wit: Since I enjoy writing, I should keep writing anyway, just for my own satisfaction. The idea that creation is its own reward is ingrained in the thoughts of modern society, as well as the essentially honorable concept of the “starving artist.”
And though I, myself, bought into these ideas for years, I find that I can’t get behind them the way I used to. And it’s not because I get no satisfaction from creating; I do, in fact, enjoy the process of writing and creating a good story. But since giving up novel writing, I’ve found that I’ve had to cage up a tiny demon in the back of my head, one that has become a constant distraction to me. He’s not my creative demon. He’s my analytical demon. And he demands to know what I so thoroughly fucked up.
When I tried to sell books, I followed numerous pieces of advice from writers, readers, friends, strangers and internet denizens, all designed to spread the word about my books, price and market them attractively, and build my writer’s cache into a successful commercial force that would provide certain financial rewards (nothing monumental, you understand, but a respectable second income at least). To avoid rehashing the subject, I’ll just say it didn’t work, and I eventually decided to move on. But though I try to be outwardly at peace with my decision, I soon discovered that I had two voices inside me that are continually arguing about the whole episode.
One side of me—if they were tiny little creatures poised on my shoulders, I suppose he would be the one with the white robe, halo, wings and little harp tucked under one arm—likes to say: “Well, you did what everyone said would work, and to the best of your abilities, you did them well and honorably. If it didn’t work, it’s not your fault. Don’t knock yourself out over it.”
But the other side—the one in the red robe, tiny horns on his forehead and a pitchfork stuck up my ear—says: “Hey, if you did all that stuff that was supposed to work… and it didn’t… then you musta done somethin’ wrong! So: What’d ya do wrong, ya mook?”
The thing is, I can’t ignore the devil voice—he’s got a point. I mean, sure, maybe I failed through no fault of my own. But it’s probably more likely that I failed because I didn’t do something right. And as long as he’s there, reminding me of that, I find myself forced to commit countless brain cells in trying to figure out what.
And unfortunately for me, that guy has a particularly irritating and strident voice. And he never, ever shuts up. I’ve literally had to lock him away in the back of my mind, in a tiny little cage with blankets thrown over it, to try to drown him out… and he still makes a constant racket, rattling the bars, poking at the floor, and yelling, “What’d ya do wrong?” Whenever I see a promotional method that worked for someone else, or another independent writer who achieved the success they desired, the devil voice demands to know why they worked for them and not me. And the other guy tries to soothe him with nice harp music, assuring him that it doesn’t matter, it’s water under the bridge… but he just gets cussed out or pelted with feces for his trouble.
My devil has become a distraction, to the extent that I can’t even entertain the thought of writing another novel for hearing him screaming at me from below, demanding to know where I screwed up… and importantly, why do I think I won’t screw up again if I don’t figure out what I did wrong all the other times?
So, to recap: I can’t write novels anymore, because of the screaming meanie in my head that won’t let me think straight. I’m kind of hoping that eventually, he’ll develop laryngitis, get too tired to hold up his pitchfork, and leave me alone. But the damage is done, because as long as he’s back there—screaming the question, whispering it hoarsely, or just plucking feebly at the bars—I’ll know that, sooner or later, I’ll have to answer that question. Only an answer will shut him up for good. And only an answer will give me the peace I need to write again.