(yes, I know that's Porcelain, but it's from the album Play :))
It's that time of year again. The reflective one. Last year I brought you both contemplation and a simple message: live. I've been thinking a lot about what to say this year. So much has happened from the extraordinarily good (Blackwell's favourite Oxford novel! Sell out show at Stoke Newington Literary Festival!) to the almost unbearable (my mother getting diagnosed with cancer, my best friend withdrawing altogether from the literary stage). Maybe there's a place for it all.
But that place isn't here.
Last year brought a simple message that remains as true now as it was then.
And this year's message is equally simple.
The best, and possibly the only valid, response to a year that might have left me (often did) more jaded than a Chinese art warehouse.
Last month I wrote what I imagined to be a provocative piece where I, um, might have not so inadvertently called pretty much every author on the planet a soulless hack. In fairness, my point wasn't to dismiss what writers spend much of their time doing so much as to encourage them to do something else. This was the core of it:
"Forget keeping your nose in “how I sold a gazillion copies of my ebook”, forget the endless round of commenting on everyone’s evangelical how to be an indie revolutionary blogs, forget the ambition to “get out, get anywhere, get all the way to the FBI” (but if my references seem just weird spare the time for a quick read of The Silence of the Lambs).
Spend a month remembering that nothing matters but the storytelling. And with that in mind, forget the words on the page and go find yourself an open mic or a bookstore near you and Read. Out Loud. To a group of real people. It’s how stories have been told for tens of thousands of years. It’s the most rewarding experience a storyteller can have. And if your kdp reports really mean more to you than following the whites of a person’s eyes as you drag them through hell and back again, for pity’s sake have the decency to call yourself a hack like any of the rest of us working 9 to 5s to make rent and don’t pretend to be a storyteller."
Now that's all pretty limited in scope. A month. Reading out loud. I want to open that up and get you to make a resolution with me:In 2012 I will not think, not once, about how to make a single penny from my writing. In 2012 I will devote myself to playing.
There, that was easy, wasn't it!
But wait wait wait. Why why why? Well, think of it as a sabbatical. Or a gap year. Or, go on, why not, think of it as just plain fun!! But you need to make a living out of your writing? Wow, you're making a living out of your writing, fabulous! The 0.2 people I know who can do that may be duly excused and head back to the desk job their writing has become. You see, that's one of the problems with setting out to have writing as a career. It may seem so much better than spending 40+ hours a week tied to a whatever and getting home knackered having to do all those other things you do at home and desperately trying to squeeze in a few minutes at the laptop - but the moment you make writing your day job money *has* to be your focus (unless you're lucky enough to have independent means, of course). And whilst that may incidentally involve all sorts of other fun things to make your writing more likely to sell, there's been a fundamental shift. Which is why I'll stick to the poorly paid job that almost covers my bills and not bring my writing into it.
If you're honest with yourselves, I think you'll find that most of you are in the same boat as me. Writing is your passion. You do it because you have to. Because you have a truth you have to express. A story you have to tell. Something you just have to lay before the world. Your aim. Your goal. Your dream. The thing that stopped you sleeping all those yeas and makes you catch your breath when you think about it. That's not "to bank some pounds from my writing in 2012." Is it? Really?
So, what I want you to do is write down what that was. That thing. That made you feel like a lovesick teenager whose hand has just been grasped, sweatily and expectantly for the first time. And devote 2012 to that.
Only make your devotion loose. Experimental. Have a kind of Bloomsbury-ish relationship with your goals. Be willing to consider anything once. Or twice. Out of curiosity that it may be useful. Last year, for example, I stumbled on cell phone novels and slam poetry and had a fabulous time. As well as learning things about editing and rhythm. And little handmade booklets. Whcih taught me about care and craft and space. And were fun.
Play at least once a month. Write something you wouldn't have considered writing. Go to a part of the web you wouldn't have considered visiting and say hello. Go to an event you wouldn't normally go to, or a gallery you wouldn't usually be seen dead at. Try teaching someone something writery (for free). Try volunteering for someting writerly. Try making something. Try leaving cards with a haiku and a URL on tables in bars.
Just try it.
Without expecting anything but fun and that goosebumpy anticipationy what-might-happen-nexty kind of excitement. By all means tell the world what you're doing. And by all means put your work out there on sale. Charge $100 a paragraph on Kindle if you like, but don't try and sell it.
Play not pay. There. Simple. Now, shall we have some fun together?