Friday, November 23, 2018

Don't Compete. Play.

What advice would you offer a new writer wanting to get their first novel published in today’s highly competitive publishing environment?

I've been scarred by my use of other folks' wisdom in my life. For a kid who was raised to find good teachers and swear fealty to them, that produced a series of unbroken wondrous moments where I hard-earned a few nuggets, at least upside my head. It's why I'm pained to give advice, and even more confused about what it says about me once I do. What I can safely advise you with, as in, the types of trees within which you will lose the forest should you accept my advice, is competition is a bad idea. The worst idea. If you're competing, you've already lost.

Y'all, we're writers. We exist in a constant sea of self-motivation and self-delusion depending upon daily word count. We've already accepted that life. We'd all write for free, even if only upon reams of typing vellum in the alcoves of our imaginations as our fingers moved in toil to someone else's dream. We'd still ache and burn for it. We're all writers, already writing, and if everyone is doing what they want to do, then how are we competing, exactly?

What's so competitive about a market that has such an abundance of writers and publishing options, there aren't enough options to not be published and just be a writer, enjoying writing and being read?

In the schoolyard at McDade Classical School, over on Jeffrey, out Sout', we had one gigantic, oppressively gray wall blocking egress from the street into the schoolyard, obviously guarding Chicago's young brain trust. Picture a game, big, one of those scrums where there are, like, 25 kids but only one ball. OFF THE WALL. Literally, you got a hard rubber ball, bounced it high off the wall into the crowd behind you, and everyone would scurry to save it. Everyone wanted to catch the ball because everyone wanted a turn to bounce it back over the crowd, higher and harder than everyone else who came before. Everyone competes. Everyone exercises. Everyone returns to learning and growing after a great Chicago Public School recess period.

No one keeps the ball for themselves. That way, everyone wants it. That way, the game has a point, which is to bring together a bunch of playful kids with lovely creative energy who need guidance, and allow some of it to come through open and fair—and self-organized—competition. Toss a ball in with a bunch of kids, all who openly believe they're better than everyone else, or can be, and let them figure it out. Everyone is honest about wanting to be better than, so they can be the one to keep the game going. This competition isn't messy, although it is a bit sweaty, and to my memory, rather soothing.

I'll risk ending on digression by leaving you with an image I pondered. Carnegie. Rockefeller. Their ilk. Perhaps some good bourbon. A hard rubber ball. No one else around for hours. No one to think of them as titans and captains of industry. I bet the biggest, best part of that game would be the battle inside. Who can hold out the longest before leaping to their feet, grabbing the ball, and mashing it hard against a rigid, joyless surface designed as a barrier to entry, producing joy beyond measure? A joy that remains with you a long time, and reminds you what it means to play and grow the game so play persists, forever, as long as everyone experiences joy, no one holds anything back. So many powerful people, but it's really only about being the one to get to bounce the ball, to keep the game going.

I'd enjoy a game like that. I think we all would. I think we all should.


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.


1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

I like the analogy, although I think your Southside Chicago may have been more joyful than my Bethesda, where I always seemed to be the one to whisper about behind my back (my mother couldn't hold her liquor, to put it as mildly as possible). I hear what you're saying and agree completely. It always disappoints me when someone in our community gets bent out of shape because someone else got X.