The first book I ever wrote was ugly as hell. It was raw, disgusting, weird, and twisted. In fact, when I first started writing it I didn’t even know what it was. I thought maybe it was a memoir, because it was all about a certain period in my life, but I could also see that it was so fragmented and exaggerated in places that thinking of it as an actual linear story was quite a stretch, even for my imagination.
I worked on it every week for two years but I kept it a secret. I hid the pages I wrote in a locked desk drawer and never looked at them. I was too embarrassed, and ashamed. I knew the writing was bad, that was one thing, but I also didn’t want to look at the demons that were showing up. I didn’t want to know what those demons were trying to tell me.
A few years ago, in 2015, I hit a wall with writing. I had just given birth to my son a few months before, I was completely exhausted all the time, and I had been querying on multiple novels for years, with no success. I had done everything I thought I was supposed to do. Joined and founded writing groups, worked with beta readers, steeled myself through harsh critique, edited and revised my manuscripts until it felt like my eyes were going to bleed, and still…nothing.
I felt like a complete failure.
Today’s guest post is from Phillip McCollum, who many of you might remember as the author of The Pros and Cons of Being an INTJ Writer. Phillip has been blowing my mind for the past year as he’s written a new short story EVERY WEEK for 52 WEEKS. Today’s post is all about what the process taught him and how it helped him become a better writer.
52 short stories in 52 weeks?
It wasn’t going to work. I just knew it. It would be a colossal waste of time and I would be stuck in the same damn rut 52 weeks from now–a hard drive filled with innumerable half-starts and unfinished tales.
First of all, I wanted to write novels. Short stories were OK, but they weren’t novels. I’d been indoctrinated by countless ‘writing experts’ that the two styles were as different as house cats and narwhals and if you wanted to do one of them, you should absolutely, without a doubt, completely ignore the other.
You are such a fraud.
As a writer, how many times have you heard your inner critic say that to you whenever someone compliments your work? What if your work comes up for an award or you get an awesome review from a total stranger?
How about the times you hear that phrase just because you dared to say out loud to someone that you—yes, YOU—are a writer?
For me, it has been thousands and THOUSANDS of times.
Every time I tell someone I write transgressive fiction the first question I get is, “What’s transgressive fiction?” If we’re talking in person, I explain it as best I can (usually not very well). But if we’re emailing I send them the definition cut and pasted from Wikipedia:
Transgressive fiction is a genre of literature which focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual or illicit ways.
Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressive fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sexual activity, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime.
That definition is actually a very good one. It definitely covers all the bases. However, every time I send it to someone to explain the kind of fiction I write, I feel weird.