Writer, Author, Purveyor of Bland Chocolates

I’m supposed to be writing about plastic right now, but I got distracted by numbers.

This has been an interesting year for Why It Matters, numbers-wise. The little blog that makes no thematic sense cracked the one million view mark this year, which isn’t much in the internet world but it’s still a significant number. Imagine a mosquito bite. Now imagine one million mosquito bites. See? One million is a lot.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of numbers the pieces I’ve written for hire have racked up, or my submissions to little literary magazines that probably don’t attract much more traffic than my home base here gets. I’ll never know, so one million WIM views is all I have with which to gratify my tattered self-esteem. (Spoiler alert: It remains tattered.) Besides, I don’t take much pride in my work for hire. Those essays are just lumps of chocolate on Lucy’s conveyor belt, manufactured confections meant to be consumed quickly and forgotten. As for the short stories I’ve published elsewhere? They just embarrass me, for the most part.

I am not emotionally equipped for an author’s life–the endless rejection, the self-promotion, the occasional arguments over money, the “constructive criticism” from surly editors who aren’t very good readers. (Note: The overwhelming majority of editors with whom I’ve worked are very good, but now and then you get that guy.)

Early this year I was approached by a small press who wanted to get into the music book business. I went back and forth over email with one of their editors for several weeks, brainstorming an elevator pitch and listening to nice things about me. Eventually I met with one of their senior editors, and it became clear very quickly that it wasn’t me they wanted, but rather my social media reach and my music industry contacts. When they realized that I wasn’t a turnkey solution–Joe Self Promotion who could plug into some imagined hype machine and sell thousands of copies of the proposed book without them lifting a finger–the phone stopped ringing. It was quite discouraging to be reminded that it’s not how well one writes, but how well one sells that matters.

I think that’s when I realized that I am not emotionally equipped for an author’s life.  An author would take that experience and run with it. He would double down on building his social media platform, fattening his network, on and on. As for me? All I could think was, “Thank God I don’t have to invest a year of my life in writing a non-fiction, music-themed book that even I wouldn’t read.”

Yes, and that’s when I realized (or rationalized, perhaps) that while I’m not a particularly good author, I’m a fairly well-equipped writer. I think about writing almost every minute that I’m awake. I read with the intent of writing better. I carry a stack of index cards with me and jot down scene ideas for the book I never manage to work on. I keep a small journal with me for story and essay ideas, and a large journal where I develop those ideas. I go to sleep working writing problems, and I wake up to new ones. Even when I’m talking with someone I’m capturing words, phrases, cadences that I can steal for dialogue. And if it’s true that writers are expert procrastinators, I see a Nobel in my future.

Writing is an act of creation. Publishing is commerce. One is art, the other is business. I’m a cruddy businessman.

That’s where this modern world benefits somebody like me. With Why It Matters I can write and not have to deal with the business of writing. Of course I still submit work occasionally, but I’ve eased way back on writing for hire. Maybe I’ll go back to that someday, maybe not. I’m pretty burned out on making forgettable chocolates for the assembly line.

Anyway, numbers: WIM hit one million views over the summer and today it set a new annual record for views, and thinking about that distracted me from writing about plastic.This means I’ll spend another week thinking about plastic so that I can post an essay that nobody reads yet satisfies my need to write something on the topic.

A new annual record. That’s pretty exciting news, almost enough to make me want to be an author.

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