Confessions of a Failed Writer

Daulton Dickey.

They say “write what you know.” Sometimes I find that boring. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes when I hear that, I think, “How are you supposed to learn anything if you stick to what you know?”

For years now, I’ve extended beyond the simple forms of fiction, and I’ve tried to imagine new forms, or at least to re-imagine the old forms. Some people might call it pretentious or arrogant, but I simply tell people that that’s how my mind works, which is the truth.

I can’t write formulaic fiction. I’ve done it and it bores me to tears.

If I as a writer can’t generate enthusiasm for a book, then how can I expect anyone else to feel enthusiastic about it?

So I break forms or change them or alter them to generate enthusiasm, to retain and sustain my interest.

My books are puzzles to me; I write myself into a corner on a daily basis and then torture myself by trying to come up with solutions to the problems I’ve created. If I have a process, then what I’ve just described is it.

Whenever I try to write a straightforward novel, my brain gets the best of me and derails it. I simply can’t break away from my ambitions, and my ambitions are simple: to figure out new ways to tell stories.

To me, the point of telling a story is to create an experience, to manufacture one, and to manipulate emotions to heighten that experience.

But the way experiences are manufactured, the traditional forms used to manufacture experiences and to manipulate emotions, don’t work for me—as a reader and as a writer. For whatever reason, they simply don’t work for me. And so as a writer I attempt to write what I’d want to read, and considering the paucity of new novels that excite me, that turn me on, I set out to write one. Over and over and over again.

I don’t pretend to be a perfect writer, I don’t pretend to be a brilliant writer—I’m just a different writer: different in the sense that I can’t produce the kinds of fiction other people produce. For whatever reason, I don’t have it in me.

And that’s what has doomed me. Although I have many novels written, I can’t get anyone interested in them. There’s no market for them, I’m told.

So then why do I bother?

Writing is woven into the fabric of my being. I cannot separate myself from writing. It is as much a part of me as my RNA and DNA. I was born with letters and words and sentences in my bones, not marrow.

Everyday I don’t write I feel as though I’ve committed an act of self-destruction; and when I sit down to write, I torture myself, spending more time berating myself for not writing than I actually spend writing.

For years, writing was enough. Writing fulfilled me. But now, after twenty years, writing no longer fulfills me. It no longer fulfills me because I feel as though I’m shouting into a vacuum. Few things are disheartening as feeling you have something to say and having no one hear it—or, in my case, read it.

It seems as though there is no interest in experimental or avant garde fiction, which is the only fiction I’m capable of producing—it’s the only fiction I want to produce, it’s the only fiction that interests me. And it’s the form that few people want to publish. And it’s the form that few people want to read. Or so it seems.

Perhaps the way I approach agents and publishers lacks finesse. Perhaps my books are too radical or different for consumption. Or perhaps I’m an awful writer who produces rubbish and has somehow convinced himself that this rubbish is worthwhile.

Whichever answer is correct—and perhaps it’s not the case of an either/or—one thing is certain: I’m a failed writer. And since I define myself as a writer, I feel as though I’m a failure as a human being. I feel as though nothing I do is good enough. I feel as though I’m incapable of being the person I want to be; instead, I’m the one thing I’ve always feared: a complete and total failure.

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