Sunday, September 16, 2018

When Your Friends Succeed and You Don't

(Image taken from: VideoBlocks)

This post mostly concerns writers, but it's universal. What do you do when your friends succeed and you don't? Now, I'm not saying when your friend succeeds in something that you don't have your skin in the game in. For example, my best friend works on Wall St., and if he makes a million dollars tomorrow I'll be over the moon for him. I'd tap him on the shoulder and say, I know you don't need me to buy you this, but this Bud's for you, buddy. Congratulations. Because if he's doing something totally different than what I'm doing, then success is neutral. It's just a thing. Good for him.

No. I'm talking about success in your own field. As a writer, I have a friend who just had their book published to rave reviews. It's called Severance, and I'm sure it's going to be an amazing book since the author, Ling Ma, is an amazing writer. I met her years back at a Journalism fellowship in Chicago and have been impressed by her work ever since. Definitely check out her book. It looks and sounds amazing.

(Image taken from: OverDrive)

I myself bought the book, but get this. I'm terrified to read it. it's not because of the subject matter or anything like that. It's because I know it will be better than anything I've ever written in my entire life, and it brings me to a place of shame that I've been writing for so many years now, and still haven't reached my goal. Sure, I do have books out, which you can find here and here, but that's not the same thing, and I'm painfully aware that it's not. It's because my books are self-published, and my friend's book is not. She earned her spot on the bookshelf, and I kind of elbowed my way there. It's clear as day.

Not only that, but my coworker's son co-wrote the screenplay for BlackkKlansman. And even though I'm not a screenwriter, that emotionally impacts me, too, since it's still within my field of writing. I really had to force myself to go see it because I knew it would be good (which it was), and watching it really made me view myself as a failure.

So what then? Am I just going to post about how inadequate I feel? Well, while many bloggers do just that, I can't just leave it on that note, and here's why. Even though seeing my friends succeed makes me feel like crap (I'm just being honest), it still doesn't mean I'll just lay down and die on the side of the road. What it does, is that it makes me really consider why I write in the first place. Of course a part of me writes so that one day, somebody will email me and say, "Your book changed my life" (I actually HAVE had somebody say that to me. So that's worth something). But the main reason I write is because I'm a writer, plain and simple. Just like a painter is a painter, or a race car driver is a race car driver, writing is not something I just do as a casual hobby. It's what I identify as. There are people who say, I'm a gay man. Or, I'm a person of color. And while I am the latter, I can honestly tell you that I identify more as a writer than as a POC.

It really makes me think about that famous quote that it's all about the journey, and not the destination. Sure, I get really depressed when I see people I know do exceptionally well (And I feel even more depressed when I realize how petty I'm being), but I also get pumped up, too, since I think, you know what? If they can do it, I can do it, too. And I will do it. When I initially got serious about writing back in college, I was hoping that I would be famous by my mid-20s. I'm currently in my mid-30s and have had middling success, if that. But I've also come out of it with a new perspective on life. Now, I don't really care as much for myself, as I do for my parents, who I hope are still around to see me succeed. For me, it really is all about the journey at this point, and seeing others succeed is just another internal hump that I have to get over. Because anybody who has succeeded earned it.

And seeing them do it means I can earn it, too.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Power of Pessimism

I have been a pessimist all my life. It could be a perfect day with no clouds in sight, and I would stare right up into the sky and think, you know what? I think we're due for a black hole sun any day now.

(Image taken from: youtube.com)

But ever since I started taking writing seriously, I have become a pessimist times ten. No, scrap that. Times a million! As soon as I send something out, I'm all like, nobody's gonna want this shit. You're a bad writer and you should feel bad. Why are you wasting these people's time? Your email is not worth the button click you just used to send it out with. Shame on you!

But here's the thing. Browbeating myself and thinking I'm worthless is actually the secret to my drive. A good friend of mine once got a tattoo beneath his waist line that says, "Failure". When I asked him why he would ever get a tattoo that would likely doom his chances with any future girlfriend, he told that he got it as a reminder of why he needs to push himself every single day. Failing is always a possibility, and it's better to be prepared for it than to ever hope things will turn out alright.

And honestly, I live by that rationale. Quite recently, I entered a writing competition called Pitch Wars. Now, if you don't know what Pitch Wars is, it's basically this really great community with super nice people who are willing to help you with pretty much anything writing related. I've already met quite a few people who have helped me and who I've helped in turn, so if you haven't checked it out yet, you definitely should. It's an invaluable resource and a great place to meet other writers.

But back to my story.

So, yeah. Every year, Pitch Wars has this writing competition where you can possibly get a mentor to look over your finished manuscript to get it to a much better place. Now, upon entering this competition, I was just coming off of this other writing competition called Query Kombat, which is another amazing contest with really nice people (In fact, in my journey to be published, I find that most writers are really nice).

So, being the Debbie Downer that I am, I of course never thought I would get selected for Query Kombat, because like I said earlier, I suck at writing and at life. It's a wonder I can even breathe and walk at the same time. But then, the unthinkable happened. I did get into Query Kombat. Not only that, but I also got pretty far. Now, if there's one thing you should know about pessimists, it's that you should never let them get a taste of anything remotely close to success, because once you do, that's it. The floodgates of hope open up, and you're likely to get flooded by optimism. I'm talking category four downpours of hope. Evacuate your town, people! Because this hope floats, baby. So when I entered Pitch Wars this year, I wasn't going into it with extreme pessimism. Quite the opposite. I went into it like the big man on campus.

(Image taken from: Amazon.com)

I was all like, just watch me. Things are gonna start to look up after Pitch Wars. I'm not gonna be some mook toiling away in my basement anymore with no signs of success. This is gonna be my big break. Hey, you want my autograph? Sure. Who do I make it out to? Didi? What a lovely name.

(Image taken from: Mortal Kombat wiki fandom)

But after a couple weeks of no communication from any mentors, I have to tell you. I crashed. Hard. I felt much worse than I ever did when I just flat out thought nobody wanted my stuff. And for a good two days, I was all like, is this real life? Is this reality? I burrowed deep down into myself like all writers do when we get depressed, and I punched the wall. Not only that, but I also kicked my chair. I was all like, take that, chair! Take that!

My depression lasted a little while, but afterward, I got a renewed sense of pessimistic purpose. I immediately got to work on a short story that I sent out to a respectable publication. I also went back into my folder of older stories that I haven't sold yet and gave them a spiffy new look, cutting all the crap that prevented them from being sold in the first place. I'm currently waiting for those rejection letters to fly into my inbox so I can find another home for them. And then, another. And another! Until eventually, these stories will find a place to call their own. Because no pessimist, no matter how little hope we have, is entirely hopeless. We do have hope, but we stamp it down as a coping mechanism. Because honestly, if I did have hope, I think I would be depressed all the time. So embrace pessimism, people! When you think nothing will go right, nothing can hurt you.

It's awesome.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Deception

DeceptionDeception by Philip Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here's my issue with Deception. It's a brilliant book, but you don't realize that until you have about 30 pages or so left of the story. What makes it brilliant is the title. Philip Roth, throughout his career was usually thought to be writing about himself in most of his stories. And this one is no different...but with a twist. I won't spoil what that twist is, but Roth definitely plays with the concept of fiction being reality and reality being fiction. It's a sleight of hand that comes at just the right time, but everything before that is really a whole bunch of, "Am I missing something here?" that pays off in the end, but it was a bit too late for me. But indeed, the reader is deceived in ways I couldn't imagine. Philip Roth was the master, plain and simple.

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Review: Dear Martin

Dear MartinDear Martin by Nic Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, I probably shouldn't have read this right after All American Boys, because I've been angry all week. It's not as good as AAB (Mostly because we don't really get "the other side"), but Dear Martin is still pretty potent stuff. Some of the truth is this book really is soul-rattling. There's a lot in here that I've felt about myself but never really articulated until recently in my life. Centered around police brutality and where black people (specifically black boys) fit into that spectrum, there's a lot here that just burns so hard it's almost hard to read. Powerful stuff. I highly recommend it.

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