My confession

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Steven Lyle JordanI have a confession to make.

This is kind of hard for me, because I’ve been trying to hide this for so long.  I never felt fully comfortable in admitting it to anyone, for fear of the way people would look at me… judge me.  I can tell that the few people in my life who do know about it don’t look at me in the same way they used to.  I’ve tried to keep it to myself, afraid of how it would affect my job, or drive away my friends.

However, I believe I’ve reached a point in my life where I can no longer deny my nature.  And I am willing to stand up to the judgement of my friends, relatives and colleagues, free of shame or remorse.

I am an artisan author.

Oh, God… you have no idea how just saying that has lifted an incredible weight off my shoulders… one I’ve been carrying around for so long.  But you probably want to know how I came to be this way; so let me see how well I can explain myself.

First off, there was nothing unusual in my upbringing.  Honest.  Two loving parents, toys, good meals… all of that.  But I think my neighborhood was greatly to blame for how I turned out.  We lived in Montgomery County, Maryland… I don’t know if they’ve managed to change, but at the time, they had what was considered one of the greatest public school systems in the country.  If not the greatest.  And for good or bad, I was smack-dab in the middle of it.

Surely the most pervasive part of my education was the development of my English and writing skills; I was drilled on them constantly, relentlessly, until they became second nature to me.  I was forced to apply those skills in many other disciplines as well, using writing to answer questions, to write reports and essays… it never stopped.  Soon, I was able to talk in my sleep.

At the same time, I often found myself seeking refuge from all the writing, by secluding myself and trying to imagine myself in some far off land, or in the future, having adventures and probing the secrets and possibilities of science.  I’d discovered at a young age that there were manuals to help you imagine these worlds and their characters… I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned later that I was reading “books.”  Books became my escape from the rigors of English lessons… and soon I found I couldn’t resist them.  I began to read all I could, especially in the area of science fiction… though I was always wary of admitting this to anyone, as even then, I was aware of the discrimination and shame often visited upon other science fiction addicts.

I finally found my way out of Montgomery County’s school system and graduated with a 3.8 average (which meant something back then… today, evidently not so much).  I was clearly marked by then… you could hear it in my voice, or see it in anything I wrote.

My addiction to science fiction books continued unabated; I was helpless to stop… and I confess, at the time I didn’t want to.  When I started having trouble finding new novels to read, my restless mind found itself staring at empty sheets of paper.  Before I knew it, those habits that had been burned into my being so long ago took control of me, and I began writing my own stories.  Even the books I’d read impacted me, as I’d apparently discovered a lot about assembling stories by reading the stories of others.  Ideas, bottles up inside me for decades, just started pouring out, and the only way I could excise them was to put them down on paper.

It was easy.

It didn’t take long before I moved up from pen and paper to computers.  How could I resist?  They made the writing so much better, with their spell checks and editing tools.  I started writing all the time… neglecting things like television, illustration (yes, I’d dabbled in it in school… another bad habit that, as it happens, I finally grew out of when the writing pushed it out of my life) and even girls.  I was spiraling out of control.  I was becoming an artisan.

Yes, I’d heard the word applied to people like me.  It was a weird badge of pseudo-honor, something the so-called artisans were proud to proclaim… but everyone else just sneered at.  It was a PC-based insult, like calling alcoholism a disease; ultimately, only those suffering from it wanted to believe it wasn’t their fault, because everyone else was convinced otherwise.  Laughing at the poor deluded souls, nodding to their faces, oh, yes, you’re an artisan… then turning their backs and calling them hacks to everyone else.

But I didn’t know about all that, because I was too isolated from those who could have intervened.  I was content to write on my own, with no one to examine my work or tell me what to change to make it better here, or better there.  What’s worse, those few who did see what I was doing only encouraged me, giving me regular and consistent 4- and 5-star reviews for my writing.  Even now, my so-called “peers” rate all my work highly, and never—ever—suggest that I need to see someone, be it a proofreader, or God forbid, an editor, to help me see reason.

And so I’ve written, and when people around me discussed the essential need for every writer to have an editor to straighten them out… I’ve stayed silent, hoping no one would realize that I had no editor of my own.  And I’ve managed to struggle on without anyone’s assistance.  Sure, it’s been tough… don’t let anyone tell you that editing your own work is easy… and thank God I already had experience with Photoshop and HTML, it came in handy when I found myself in need of websites and book covers.

But I’ve come to realize that at least I can stand on my own two feet; I don’t feel like I need to blame anyone for what I’ve done.  I am solely responsible for my actions.  I am an artisan.  I’ve created novels… my own novels.  And I’m good with that.  No, they may not be perfect.  But they’re me.  They’re all me.  Take ’em or leave ’em.

You know, it’s okay to look at the novels and decide that an editor would’ve done this, or a proofreader might’ve changed that.  You can even tell me—to my face, if you want—whatever you think about their shortcomings.  But at the end of the day, I can sleep soundly, knowing that I created the best novel I could with the meager resources at my disposal.

And that they aren’t that bad.

Thanks for listening.

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4 thoughts on “My confession

  1. I regularly hear from editors who insist an author cannot work alone; that others (especially-ahem-editors) must help them. To which I now reply:

    “I have to rely on my 15 years’ computer and HTML experience, 30+ years graphics, illustration and Photoshop experience and a high-quality English background from what was known as the best public school system in the country, years of college and on-the-job report and documentation writing, and of course the knowledge from reading a few thousand books and graphic novels… and just do the work myself.”

    Like

  2. Guadalupe Barlow

    “Talent is a kind of intelligence,” Jeffrey Eugenides tells us in Middlesex , but all too often, writers’ faith in their talent’s ability to sell itself is overblown. Good writing does not sell itself anymore; when marketing even the best writing, talent, alas, is usually not enough. Especially not in the eyes of North American agents and editors, who expect to see some evidence of personality in prospective writers’ bios.

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    • I concur: My marketing skills—that is to say, total lack thereof—are clearly not up to the task of promoting my books, and that one fact probably dooms me to complete invisibility and failure in the market.

      They’re still good books, though.

      Like

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