Why do I write? Why do I want to write?
This seems obvious, but it’s been bugging the hell out of me, and I need to find answers. I guess a few recent news items have sort of begged the question, and at the end of it all, I wonder, “what the hell am I trying to do?” And I don’t just mean writing this blog; I mean writing in general.
Here’s my thing: people write books so people read books. I mean, I guess you can write books and put them on a shelf and never let them see the world – I think Salinger was doing it for years. But books are a form of entertainment, and not only that, they’re a form of hypnosis used by a writer to instill a certain set of feelings in a reader. The plot of a book is nothing more than a clever psychological trick that slowly lowers you into a boiling pot of emotion and then makes it all make sense at the peak. So you write to get people to read. And to do that, you get readers. And then you enter this whole competitive world, where it’s you versus some guys in suits, trying to get past them, either with good work or good tricks, to get their cash. And how do people find out about a book to read? There are millions of them, and it somehow involves some sensationalism, some way that one person tells another person “you really need to read this.” Or even better, the news stories and hype and buzz make you see the book and think “I really need to read this.”
My problem is this: I am not a popular person. I had no friends growing up, except a few token geeks and nerds that were in the same boat as me. I didn’t have the balls to talk to girls and I didn’t have the athletic ability to get into sports and I didn’t have the mojo, the Q-factor to walk in a room and make people want to know me. I worked hard to get people to know me, and usually failed. People are wired a certain way, and I’m not wired in the way that I’m good with people. It’s humiliating to admit this, and it sounds a bit whiny, and I’m sure that even people with thousands of friends say they have no friends. But I’ve spent the bulk of my life alone, my nose in a book or a computer screen. And there have been many attempts to adjust this on many levels: new cars, contact lenses, weight loss, new clothes, old clothes, therapy, moving to new cities, going to good clubs, changing the way I approach things. But when it all came down to it, no matter where I ended up, I was still there. There is no magic bullet to change this.
I contemplated becoming an alcoholic for a while in college, and I spent some time going to dive bars, drinking through my liver and my student loan check, and talking to nobody there, maybe reading a book. I figured I would get through college, get a job as a computer programmer in some anonymous city, drink myself into a stupor every night while watching the tube, then die alone. It’s a family tradition, why beat it? But somewhere along there, I started reading more books. And I started reading stuff like Bukowski and Henry Miller. And I knew I could write – I spent years writing these long emails, either funny things trying to convince women to date me, or not-funny things trying to convince them not to leave. And I figured, if I just got a spiral notebook, and brain dumped everything during my 20 minutes between classes or hour of lunch between classes, I would eventually limber up enough to start writing short stories. And I did.
I don’t know whether you consider my writing good or bad. On most days, I consider everything I’ve written to be shit for various reasons, but I think there have been glimpses of semi-genius in there. Anyway, I started writing stories, took some classes, then got a story that I liked that slowly became a book. And after a lot of time wondering who I was in life, because I sure as hell wasn’t the productive member of society that could meet a wife and love his neighbors and pop out a few kids, I decided I was a writer. I wrote, whenever I could, mostly because I didn’t have a TV or many friends and no dating prospects whatsoever, especially after I moved to Seattle and away from a college campus with a bumper crop of new 18-year-olds coming in every year.
But here’s the problem. I think, once you strip away the bullshit, the reason I write is so people will not only read it, but that they will like me. I mean, I don’t write for money. I make more money pushing papers at a tech company than anyone but maybe the top twenty writers in this country would make. Money is not the issue. The issue is readership. I have no readers; I mean, I have no friends, and I am not the kind of sociopath that can go out and convince people to run off a cliff with him. People don’t read my blog posts or my books and say “holy shit, I have to tell my friends about this”. It’s like when I was single, in college, and maybe I had a friend who was a girl, and I would be moping around and she would say “Jon, you’re a great guy, you’re a funny person, and I’m sure there’s someone out there for you.” And I would reply with, “You’ve got like a hundred friends, can you at least tell one of them how great of a guy I am?” And the reply is always “Um, I don’t think so.”
And yes, I realize that the key to all this is going out and promoting myself: getting into chat rooms and cold-calling people and writing letters and begging for interviews and telling anyone who will listen that my stuff is the greatest stuff ever written. But I simply don’t have that social ability. I mean, if I did have the ability to walk into a room of strangers and walk out five minutes later convincing every single one of them that I was great, why would I write? I’d become an insurance salesman or work on wall street, and make millions and bang a dozen 20 year olds a week and buy a boat and spend half my time in the Bahamas. Seriously, I write because I am psychologically lacking, and I find out that in order to be a writer, you have to have exactly what I don’t have.
Sales numbers depress me greatly. Like I said, I don’t need the money, but they are proof that the market has spoken. My sales numbers for Air in the Paragraph Line #13 were absolutely, positively abysmal. And that’s something where, theoretically, the other people who submitted stories were supposed to tell their friends and get them to buy copies. I mean if I was a total leper, but the other writers had friends and had readers and they each convinced their fans to get a copy, I would have sold ten times as many as I did. So either these people see the zine as a sort of dumping ground for their shit they don’t care about, and expect me to do all the work of promoting the thing, or my stunning lack of social ability has let me to choose a dozen of the most unpromotable writers out there, and I’ll never be friends with someone who can sell stories.
The bottom line is, all of this runs through my head like a cancer, and I cannot write anything now. I have no half-done books in progress, I have no good ideas, and I simply cannot write. I wish I could seal myself off from the entire publishing world, and not know that people are selling hundreds of books a day on the Kindle. (AITPL#13, by the way, sold six copies total on the Kindle. All year. At a cheap price point, with a nice cover. And I haven’t sold 200 books on lulu.com in my entire run there since 2004 – including all of my titles, all of the zines, and the book I published for John,) I wish I could damage the part of my brain that controls this, so I could do nothing but sit at home and write novels that I think are great, that I enjoy, that I like to do. I wish I had a close circle of friends that would actually read my writing and enjoy it and tell me they like it and tell their friends “this is Jon, he is a writer.” Or I wish I could just reformat every hard drive of every computer, delete this web site, dump all of my books in the garbage, pull everything from Amazon, and find some other hobby that provides me any kind of relief: bowling, fly fishing, fixing up old cars – something.
I doubt any of you have read this far into the post, but if you have, please let me know what I should do.