In marketing yourself online, the experts tell you to keep things light. Nothing serious. Humor your audience to grow your audience. Nothing serious. Nothing too personal. Nothing dark.
But what do you do when the point of marketing yourself is to market your writing, and what do you do when your writing represents depression and the dark and uncomfortable sides of the human condition?
I’ve tried to play this game, I’ve tried to humor people, I’ve tried to present myself as something in opposition to the tone and nature of my writing. And I haven’t succeeded, and so I’m done trying.
Here’s the thing:
Brutal honesty is my aim. Sometimes that entails shifting moods. Sometimes that entails showing sides that aren’t easy for readers to digest. So I’m going to commence with personal information and brutal honesty now. After all, if I don’t have a career, if I don’t have an “image,” then why should I worry about my career and my image?
Writing is in my blood. As far back as I can remember, I’ve written stories and comics, songs and poems, novels and screenplays. I’ve taken writing seriously since 1994, when I discovered Kerouac and the beats. Although my tastes have evolved, and I count more refined or advanced writers as influences, I still reserve a special place in my heart for the beats. If anything, their honesty is inspirational. And, as a writer, I operate under the assumption that honesty matters.
But it only appears to matter.
Entertaining people is what matters.
Near the end of “Naked Lunch,” William S. Burroughs declared, “I am not an entertainer.” I always felt an affinity, even kinship, with that declaration, and so my aim as a writer was to create experiences. The notion of entertaining people stopped entering my mind a long time ago.
To create an experience—the goal of every writer. But I sought to create experiences outside the norm: I didn’t want to make people laugh or cry, I didn’t want to scare them or keep them in suspense; instead, I wanted to jolt them; I wanted them to experience the sensations of feeling on the edge, always on the edge.
Personal information marketing experts would agree I shouldn’t share:
I suffer from bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder. In late 2013, a few days before Christmas, I was hospitalized in the behavioral medicine ward for three days. On suicide watch. While there, I received my diagnoses, and I gained insight into what I had tried for so long to achieve as a writer.
I’d suffered for years, and I knew that I wasn’t like most people I know, and as a writer I tried to convey my experiences so people could understand what it’s like to go through anxiety, depression, mania. Although I didn’t have names to attach to my illness, I understood myself enough to at least attempt to convey these experiences.
To do so, I found it necessary to break the rules of writing. To break the rules of writing, I had to know and understand those rules. So I spent years learning the rules, as well as literary theory.
In short, I found it necessary to jolt readers into uncomfortable positions by subverting their expectations, thus putting them into a position in which they might be receptive, on a non-conscious level, to the kinds of experiences I aspired to convey.
As a result, my writings are unorthodox, experimental, even avant garde. I embraced the risks and understood them. And I still do. I also understood that taking such risks would translate to making my writing a “harder sell.” But I felt it necessary to proceed as I had. I felt it necessary to play by my rules.
And I was naive—or stupid—enough to assume that, although my writings were a hard sell, I’d eventually find someone willing to take risks with them.
I now concede that I was wrong.
By cultivating an experimental and avant garde approach to literature, I trained myself to think in those terms on a non-conscious level—i.e., I non-consciously broke the cycle of thinking in conventional terms.
Complex and obscure novels bloomed as a result of this training.
And therein lies my downfall.
I want nothing more in this life than to become a published author. I want nothing more in this life than to play by my rules. I want nothing more in this life than to write what I want and how I want. And I want nothing more than to feel as though I matter—and that’s another piece of personal information: I am worthless.
I do not matter.
Those are perhaps the hardest pills to swallow, if I may use a cliche: I am worthless; I do not matter.
Nothing I say, nothing I think, nothing I write matters. My life doesn’t matter. I’ve done nothing relevant, nothing worthy of anyone’s attention.
I am nothing. I am no one.
I can’t get a single agent or publisher to read so much as a single word from one of my manuscripts. People I know who have agreed to read my manuscripts haven’t read them—and some of those people have been in possession of my manuscripts for years.
At this rate, my wife and my step sons matter to me, and my writing matters to me, and nothing else.
But as a person I define myself as a writer. As a writer, I’m an utter failure. So I, therefore, as a person feel like an utter failure. I feel worthless. I feel as though I don’t matter.
At the end of this month I’m losing my job—one I’ve held for a little over ten years—and I haven’t been able to find another one. So at the end of the month, I won’t be able to support myself or anyone else, which means that, at the end of the month, I’ll be more worthless than I already am.
I’ve tried to sell my writing, I’ve tried to offer services as an editor or a copy editor or a line editor, I’ve even gone into panic mode and taken the desperate steps of creating a GoFundMe campaign to buy me enough time to work on a memoir—and I’ve failed. To date, my GoFundMe campaign hasn’t generated a single penny.
I am worthless. I do not matter.
Yes, I’m throwing a pity party. Yes, I’m breaking the rules and sharing it with people. But what’s it matter? As I said above, I have neither a career nor an image—and after nearly two decades of constant rejection as a writer, I probably won’t have either—so what’s it matter?
I just turned 36 and I’m at a crossroads in my life. And I don’t know which road to take. I don’t know what to do. I only know that I want to feel worthwhile; I want to feel as though I matter; and yet I don’t know how to accomplish either of those tasks.