My first blog entries have been oddly coalescing around past writing. I’ve wondered at the look backwards: “A Mule for Billy” and “Five Query Letters” from the 90’s, Total Annihilation: Camouflage! from my Rice days, “Case 9 of the New Fritening Experiences,” written recently in homage to 5th grade science fiction stories, and “Roadblock Zarreich,” rewritten from an 80’s story.
Is this an attempt to reclaim old energy? Finding jewels in the mud? Or am I just plundering my cache of old work, lazily donating to charity used shirts and pants no one really wants?
I’m getting the blog off the ground at a time when I’ve finally gotten clear about what I’m doing with my writing. And the thought has struck me that maybe the blog had to begin with an address to lost energies or the old path. That I’ve been putting up some old energies I should have published–somewhere–at the time. That I’ve needed to consider my path as a writer and what I’ve tried to accomplish with my work.
I’ve had various phases of seeking publication, then getting discouraged and going underground, all the while composing new works “not for publication,” then emerging to try again. Each of the below Waves of Publishing Attempts (except Wave 4) has been marked by scores of submissions and rejections.
Wave 1, after my graduation from Rice University, concentrated on stories and continued until “Space, Time, and Tania” was published in PigIron Magazine in 1977.
Wave 2 began with the early version of my second novel, The University of Mars, finalized in a decent (not great) 320 page typescript. But Wave 2 was marked by a Career Art stance, as I tried to get all sorts of mediocre little stories published in an attempt to gain credentials for the novel. The whole effort sickened me, and after twenty plus rejections on The University of Mars came my 1986 ambition crash, which lasted in various forms through 2008.
Wave 3 saw a flood of new and better novels, including Sortmind and Property. But after these two utterly brilliant works garnered their scores of rejections slips, I got mad at “the game” and declared that publishing was just like buying a lottery ticket. Did I really I consider my novels as just … cheap lottery tickets, no longer the glorious psychological exploration? At any rate, okay. I take my toys and go home.
Interlude: By the late nineties, I could professionally write the long, complex, necessary but flawed The Soul Institute, create a final manuscript along with a languid draft query letter, and … stick everything in my desk drawer for an entire decade.
Wave 4: I assemble, in both truth and delusion, a vulgar and messy Nonprofit Ladies, self-judged as perfect, from 2000-2003. The 15% token effort to send queries on the 2003 NPL hardly counts as a Wave, though.
Wave 5: During the last few years of reexamination, I’ve confirmed what I must have privately suspected all along: that despite some great initial ideas, my previous manuscripts were wordy, tangled, and confused, and of not much value to anyone else. I recall how shocked I was in late 2006, taking what I thought would be a leisurely tour through the “final” Nonprofit Ladies, and seeing just how sordidly off it was. But that was an awakening, and drove me to revise my major novels (including Sortmind, The Soul Institute, and Nonprofit Ladies) to accord with my new clarity. After starting to interact with the world of e-publishing, I feel I’m writing and submitting professionally, coming to the table with real contributions, not just lottery tickets.
The best thing so far about the sortmind blog is its mixture of essays and stories and art: creative work juxtaposed with ruminations on it. I want the blog to be a good overview of my writing and visual art, as well as the processes I use. An accessible repository of sample writing, drawing, and painting.
In no way do I conceive of this blog as anything like “social networking.” I can appreciate how blogs have developed as structured personal web sites with comment and networking capability, but I just want to master the game as self-expression, and see where it leads.
Don’t Dump Old Essays Here
I have a tremendous cache of personal essays written over the past couple decades, recently assembled into their own digital folder in preparation for the blog. I just counted ninety-six of them, with over 950 pages! But as I began the blog I quickly established that most of them–almost all of them–won’t work here. This seriously cuts down the data dump I’d somehow assumed would be easily available to fuel the blog. Not only were many of the essays written simply to get perspective on current novel projects of their time, but their personal nature isn’t the voice I’m looking for here.
And most of my essays are uncooked as far as publishing goes. In fact I’m beginning to realize that writing something is NOT the same thing as publishing it! And a blog IS publishing. I’ve found my journal and essay voices, and they’re not the same as the publishing/blog voice.
I’ve also found–as I’m sure many bloggers have–that I can’t start trying to produce blog entries according to a schedule, or think that someone out there is waiting for a post. The blog’s calendar structure seems to demand a consistent output. It seems that even if I want it to be a repository of a hundred pieces of writing and art, the only ones people are supposed to find worthwhile are the last couple weeks at most–everything else to be considered outdated.
But realize: 1) People who’ve read it so far are NOT breathlessly awaiting the next post; they’re too busy for such worries. And 2) This sort of scheduling is nothing that periodical editors and writers haven’t been dealing with for hundreds of years. In fact, I dealt with it as editor of the Wiess Crack at Rice. The deadline … what to say? What to put out there?
I foresee the blog gradually becoming a specialized body of work, and it should all be current, despite the past dates. Let it evolve on its own. Dare to make a few mistakes along the way.
And although the number of items I’ve rejected may seem daunting to my original plans, this is actually a beneficial purge of unwritable stuff, and means I must fall back on new and honest energies. I can’t just string together old stuff and fake it.
Universal Concerns / Voice
In cutting down much about myself, I focus more on universal concerns.
It’s not that I’m trying to hide my viewpoints, but that my personal history doesn’t need to be involved here–or at least not thrust forward as the primary thing. It seems silly to inflict my personal history on others, just blasting out older essays that were musings about my next writing, my past writing, my publication efforts, etc. That would be like the editor of Ladies Home Journal writing an intro piece for the magazine that veers off into all sorts of crazed worries and fantasies instead of trying to focus this month’s issue in the reader’s mind.
The blog is less personal than an essay. I think this is appropriate. However, my own character will still be in the blog. There is something proud about a blog post, like wearing Sunday clothes. It’s the same person, and the person isn’t lying or presenting a distorted self, but all the same there’s a fresh new level of formality and dignity.
It’s an interesting challenge, to both advance personal views while trying to be universal. I’m rather surprised that almost all my essays don’t have that universal quality. Trust and Is Abstract Art More Difficult? did, but even then they both required some adjusting of personal items for their blog versions.
The voice itself lives at the strange intersection of journal, essay, blog, and novel idea musing. It will be important to keep these functions separate, and not to get hung up on synchronizing them.
How can a blog post be heartfelt, true, interesting, and important–at least to some degree‑‑but not overly personal, confessional, or self-serving?
Super Colossal Mess Jungle / Actual Practice
I’m beginning to see how much I need to reevaluate this blog business. I think the main thing should be to have fun with it, perfect it aesthetically, and keep in mind getting involved with the Super Colossal Mess Jungle–any way I can. It’s quirky, humorous, and there is a focus to it all, however undefined. The structural limitations of the blog format somehow add to the quirkiness.
As long as the SCMJ is operational, all is OK, even some mistakes are OK, because I’m adhering to the foundation I first declared I wanted. I want to get some new essays written now. I do see a place for some of my older stories that never saw an audience when they should have, but I want to intersperse the old and new, and I feel I’m building up a self-portrait of myself as a writer.
I want exploration, homage to the entire writing journey, and a sense of ease to the process, not necessarily meaning “easy writing” of the posts themselves.
The blog now strikes me more as an art gallery, and the posts up now are things on the walls. I can interact with “the public” as I do at a gallery reception. It is public.
Although I sense a new resistance to doing the blog, at the same time I’m beginning to see that this is one of those times when I need to push through the reluctance in search of real energies, in the same way that there were certain English papers I’m glad I was “forced to write,” as they did clarify my thoughts. The blog is pushing me to develop more of a public writer persona, which I think I need.
Above all I don’t want to develop any pollution voice, writing for some imaginary audience. I’ve already been through that over the years, and I don’t think I do it anymore, but–there’s no guarantee I’ll never develop that mental skin rash again. I do write for an ideal reader, but that’s different. For I am also the ideal reader.
copyright 2010 Michael D. Smith