I have a truth to share with you – not because I want to, necessarily, but because I think it’ll feel good to get it off my chest. As it’s a deep truth, it’s going to take some getting to. It starts on the surface, like an itching on my skin: I’m afraid I’m running out of truth. I presently fear that I have nothing new to say to you or anyone, about writing, or the writing process, or life, its meaning, or the isness of it all.
Well, that can’t be. It just can’t be. The truth goes on forever. Meaning goes on forever. I know this; every writer knows this. It’s not a matter of depth awareness. I know what deep is – I just don’t feel so good about going there. But I promised myself I would tell you the truth – the true, true truth – and I will. Here it comes.
I’m afraid to admit that my brand isn’t working.
I mean, it’s there and all, and I can leverage in a modest way, but right now it feels so minor league, and in this moment that feels like failure to me.
There, I said it. And now I feel better.
But not much better.
Because if my brand is minor league, then it seems like my ambition outstrips my capacity – and my awareness of this makes my feelings go, “Ouch!” For the record, I’m hosting no pity party here; my feelings can handle an “ouch.” But the truth is, I won’t be as big as I want to, not in this world and not in this life.
At last. (Big sigh.) Finally got to the truth.
Because, you know, now I have to ask why. Why did I walk down this self-sell road and build this self-sell platform in the first place? Why am I a cottage industry and not a conglomerate? Is it that I don’t conglomerate well, that I have no interest in building a brand if it means having to build a business as well?
Sure, yeah, that’s part of it.
But it’s not the real truth. The real truth lies deeper still.
John, JV, Johnny… are you selling yourself short? Is your cottage-industry model really just designed to keep you from submitting yourself, your words, your plan, your vision, to someone who can legitimately stand in creative judgement over you in a particular way: someone who will give you big money for it?
That was a big, wild sentence, folks. I can’t justify it, but I’ll try to explain it. It’s a bit of “I want to reject them before they reject me.” Yes, I stand by my aesthetic and yes, I stand by my choices and yes, I’m happy working in my cottage, though I struggle with the industry part. But let’s be honest. I don’t send proposals. I don’t meet editors. I don’t deal with publishers or producers. I know that I don’t want to and I choose not to, and I know that’s partly because I’m afraid they’ll say no. I’d rather not ask than have them say no.
There! That’s it! I’d rather not ask than have them say no. Yay! I finally got to the truth! The true, true truth!
Or, wait, no, not quite yet. Gosh.
‘Cause now what? What do I do with the startling revelation that my modest footprint in the world – much more modest than my secret vanity would wish it – is actually kept small, literally retarded in its growth by my fear to put my work to certain hard marketplace tests? How am I to feel about that?
Truthfully, I feel good. Really, really good. Like, “Woot! Woot!” good. How can that be when I’m so terrified to write these words and have you read them? They’re so fraught. But I promised I would tell the truth. As a result I’m writing the truth, and writing the truth always feels good.
Almost forty years ago, I started my creative career as a singer-songwriter. I understood quite early on that standing on stage and singing my words was the most direct, most immediate way of getting the thoughts in my head out of my head and into the heads of others. I had, I thought, cut out all middlemen. But guess what? I had cut out all gatekeepers, too. No one stood in judgment of me but my audience. From the start, my aesthetic answered to no one.
Can I reflect back on this now and see the hand of fear? Did I release my own record on my own label because I wanted to control the aesthetic or because I was too afraid to try and get signed?
Am I doing the same thing now?
Honestly, yes. All these years later. And still for both reasons, one to control the aesthetic and the other, of course, fear.
Well, thank God we finally got to the truth.
Oh, wait, there’s one left.
Because the truth is, I don’t care if there’s fear. I can’t. I mean, I can’t assign a negative value judgment to that. If I do, then I have to look back on my four professional decades as failures and of course they are not. So my only choice is to accept the fear, and accept the role it has played in shaping both my aesthetic and my career.
Gracious, isn’t that enough truth for one day?
No, one more occurs to me now: This stuff is hard. It’s always been hard. I stood on stages and sang songs because, honestly, that was the best I could do back then. I indy-pub my books because, honestly, it’s the best I can do right now.
Oh, no, that’s not even close to the truth. Not by a giant stack of query letters is that close. It’s hard if you try, jv; it’s harder still if you don’t.
So: I started out trying to drill down to the truth and ended up at the outermost aphelion of its orbit. But I felt it was vital to put pen to these thoughts of mine, and guess what? I told the truth and it didn’t kill me. It never does. It makes me face things, but it always makes me feel better, too.
Acceptance is the key, the key to everything. I am where I am. You are where you are. We know there’s a gap between who we are and who we want to be – as writers, as strivers, as souls. We stand in judgment of ourselves. My idea is to try and be gentle in my judgment, and acknowledge that I’ve done such as I could with my gifts, even if it’s not as much as I want.
What unspoken truths would you rather not share? How would it feel if you shared them right now? What do you do with your fear? How have you come to terms with yourself?