Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why not write

Why I'm giving up on writing.

Because I gave it a fair shot, and it doesn't seem like it's something I'm good at. And since it's so time consuming and emotionally draining and difficult in a lot of ways And since I don't get anything back from it. And since nobody else gets anything from it.

I'll elaborate.

I made it to the age of thirty six without knowing anything at all about proper english. I still don't know much, but when I started writing my first book at age thirty six, I had to look up things like comma usage, and dialog quoting. -I'd simply avoided any sort of formalized writing training. (except for technical writing)

I was writing that book on a suggestion from my sister. I was unemployed, and offhandedly she said I should use the time to write a book. So I hung up the phone and I did. Next time I was in touch with her it was to give her the book. Took six weeks. It is somewhat the story of my life that I'll try anything. And not in the fear factor sense, but in the sense of I'll put a lot of work into something that there's no good reason I should be doing. Like my own plumbing, or math classes, or music. (I have a reputation as being good at these things -now- but in all cases, this is the result of stubborn doggedness and huge volumes of time and effort winning out over any innate talent.) ...So writing a book was just another of these things. I wasn't any good at english skills, I had no grounding in literature, and I really didn't have any burning desire to write. I just did it on a dare, to see if I could.

And these many years later, and fourteen books, lots of short stories, some poems, and a huge pile of unfinished somethings, I'm still trying to see if I can.

I mean: I know I can do it, and a lot of people think that's an achievement, but it's not, I found. Typing a book out may be the tricky part (it seems anyway) for MFA types, but for most people, the act of typing out a book really isn't all that hard. A typical correspondence email is about 500 words (I guesstimate, but I'm good at that). So: if you're a typical person and you type emails, if you put that effort into a book, you can have one typed out in a month or two. I guess that's an achievement, but as I found out, what you then have is a burden. Because the trick isn't to create a book, it's to tell a story, and further: one that people will like and will want to read.  And that 80,000 words you typed out is likely so far from a book that people will like, that you just have to scrap it and start again.  Or take on the gigantic task of fixing the pile of crap.

Anyway: there was a halfway step for me: figuring out what the constituent parts of a book are. This was my first five books or so. Books that I wrote speculatively, seeing if I could get the hang of it. Eventually I got this down. I think I'm pretty good at this. I can write properly, books with characters and plot and punctuation and so on. Figured that out somewhere in books seven eight and nine. Starting with book ten, I started trying to figure out how to make something worthwhile. Something that people would want to read, that they would like in some way.

And this is where I'm at now. And in fact, I've lately decided that I may not have what it takes. And at the same time, I've come to realize that it may not matter. Because: at this stage of my development, the only metric that matters is audience. (Books sold, reviews, etc...) And the problem there is that I have a creeping feeling that the world has moved on from books, from stories. And so there's no way I'll ever find out if I'm any good. I can't progress. So I'm quitting.

And to explain my due diligence: Over the past few years, I've made a solid attempt to garner and interact with any kind of audience I can, and it's reached futility frustration. Over the last three years, I've written five books, all of them have been available and I've pushed them whenever I could, however I could. Here's the stats:

I've sold seven books. Seven copies. Total.

I've heard about twenty responses from people who have read my stuff, about four of them from my mom. -Less than half a dozen of these were in any way illuminating (something other than: "oh, it was very nice!")

That's it.

I've spent a solid six months of my life in the past three years writing and editing, and a like amount of time trying to publicize what I do, and that's the result. Not much. And I think some of the stuff I've written is quite good. Really really good. In some cases transcendent. But I can't be sure, because nobody reads it (statistically speaking). I've tried everything I can think of, along the lines of accepting responsibility (i.e. nobody reads it because it's crap) and fixing my work, but like I said above: I've tried everything I can think of and without an audience, I can't progress. It's out of my hands now.

Maybe to illuminate, or just show that I'm not somehow clueless regarding publicizing my work (and this issue is also informing my opinion of things): I also do photography, as you may have picked up. I take a lot of pics, and I 'publish' about five a day. On any given one of those pictures I publish, on any given day, I get more feedback than I do on any of my books, ever. This one, for example:

So a picture that represents about two hours of my time, in one day, garners more audience than a book that took me two months or more can garner ever. And it's not just fleeting things, ephemeral things. It's real stuff. People pay money for my pictures. People pay me to take pictures.

Relatively speaking, taking pictures is a lot easier. And in reality (mine) it's more rewarding on a grand scale. I hear from people that the writing is nobel, and more elegant, but the truth is, those people don't form an audience, or a customer base. In reality. Nobody buys books. Nobody reads books. --Statistically speaking.

My books are better than my photos, by the way. Just to make you curious. And I'll keep trying to sell them, but I'm done trying to reach an audience that apparently doesn't exist.

So: Why? Why is it that nobody reads? Is there something I'm missing about the world? Why are pictures of my cat more valuable than my novels? I don't know. I welcome feedback. But I don't expect any.

Thanks for reading,

Dave DeHetre


  1. Heya Dave. Considering your affinity for both writing and photogrophy, have you considered short films? Off-hand I'd say, that for most people nowadays, reading is a chore - who has the time? Visually, photographs are in some ways a cheat, or shortcut for the creator to convey a message or idea to the viewer, who, using their own language, draw their own conclusions based on their experience and vocabulary to describe what it is they see and feel. As a fellow creator, (nowhere near the same league as yourself), I find it intensely disheartening when your audience, and critics, offer nothing more than passingly positive affirmation. I want to know if people understand, or if what I create evokes any emotion -- but I'm not certain that it's wise to attempt obtaining genuine satisfaction from these kinds of activities. People in general are terribly self absorbed and generally unreliable for any sort of valuable feedback -- if that's what you're looking for. If one can enjoy what they create, I suppose that can -- and should -- be enough. Stay awesome, Brother.

  2. you're the fourth person this month to suggest the films idea. I dunno, never had any real desire for it, and I don't have much expertise. It could be yet another crazy thing that I sink a chunk of my life into only to have it go no-where.

    I don't know that I have the kind of ideas that are within my means to translate to films. I think I'd need budget.

    I generally don't think of my pictures as being artwork. it's more something I do as a hobby and as documentary or communication. who knows...

    I'd actually be okay with not so much feedback, if I knew that people were in the audience, but as near as I can tell, there's just no audience. and if it's for me... well, I've got fifteen books, that's probably enough.

  3. Dave, I've been in your shoes. I reached a point where I had pretty much given up on the idea of being a novelist or short story writer. My stuff wasn't being picked up, and I didn't see the point in putting more time and energy into it.

    The funny thing is, taking a break from writing helped me realize what I really enjoyed. And it was writing.

    I'm not saying the same will happen for you. I think you have a passion for photography, and there's nothing wrong with pursuing that dream, too. Just be open to the possibility that some day you may find yourself wanting to write again. When that happens, you may love it again.

  4. Thanks KB. I do still love writing, but I don't want to keep writing the same things if those things are no good. Like I said above, I've already got a bunch of books, and until I can figure out a way to improve, I don't see the point of replicating them. The last couple of books are the very best I can do. To my eye, they are perfect, and I don't know where else to go.

    I do like photography, but it isn't an alternative to writing in any substantial way (there's a bit of intersection, I guess). They don't take up the same mind-space, or available time. The major difference for me is that with photography, or visual art, there is no dream to pursue. It's just something I do.