Literary Life, 3.0

I wonder if Steve Jobs ever felt this way.

(Yes, I’m starting this blog post by comparing myself to Steve Jobs.)

I wonder if, as he held the iPhone 4 in his hand and described the innovations and advancements, if he looked back at the original iPhone with a bit of a wince and grimace?

So far, the publishing side of the writing life has been a little like having the iPhone 4 sitting on my desk, and being asked to go out and hold up the first iPhone and say, “See this? I wrote this!”

Let me explain. In the last year or so, I’ve had four stories accepted for publication (all online, at this point). The four stories (Cop-Cop Cop, Solomon’s Ditch, Most Dead Birds Are Never Found, and Dudley’s Sacrifice) are all what I would consider to be Short Fiction 2.0. I have several other stories out for consideration that I would consider Short Fiction 3.0, and on my desk, ready for a new round of submissions in the new year, Short Fiction 4.0, with new features, better writing, more mastery of craft.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy that these earlier stories are finding literary homes. I don’t think they are “bad” stories, or I wouldn’t have sent them out for consideration. But, if I compare them with where I am today, they are lacking. It’s an odd thing to think about.

Ideally, as our writing life progresses, today’s work is better than yesterday’s, which was better than the day before. It is difficult for the perfectionist to accept this, but sometimes, we just have to let go, move on, and allow our earlier efforts to be mile markers on our road forward.

Sage Cohen, in her book, The Productive Writer, says there is a balance between perfectionism and sloppy indifference. It’s called professionalism: doing the best work we can do today, and knowing that our best work is yet to come. For me, that means celebrating the publication of some “earlier” stories that were important building blocks for improving my work. Cop-Cop Cop is a fun romp through a sci-fi landscape I rarely dwell in. Solomon’s Ditch is a bit mono-tone, like its main character. Most Dead Birds (forthcoming) is a self-contained slice of a much bigger picture. Dudley’s Sacrifice has a different tone than anything I’m currently writing. These are all fine stories, in their own way, even if they don’t represent my work as it stands today.

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5 thoughts on “Literary Life, 3.0

  1. It’s a journey and it would be boring if things didn’t change along the path! I’m sure many readers will be understanding of the changes they can detect in your writing….

    Are any of your books available as eBooks yet?

    • Hey Wes, sorry I missed this comment…I will likely release some single stories (with B-sides, sort of like old vinyl 45s) this summer, with e-book versions available. Until then, the online publication links are the only place to read the current work. Thanks for asking. Hope the Fryer Family has a blessed and merry Christmas.

  2. I think this is not only a discussion for writing or creating things, but for life itself. Who wouldn’t look back at what they did as a teenager and cringe at some of it (at least at the weird fads for clothes, hair, and pop phrases)? I’m still quite young, but I can barely stand to *think* about what I was like a decade ago – it is that uncomfortable.

    Still, it’s worth remembering the good points. That is the professionalism you refer to. Maybe your work would be better if you wrote it today, but that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace the good qualities in it… at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I come to grips with my first experience in a writer’s group.

    A very nice post.

    • Thanks.
      Obviously, we want to “get better” as we go. Now, maybe in YOUR teen years, you thought you were as good as you were going to get. I know I was never laboring under such a delusion.
      The difference with our writing, I think, is that at the time, the work seems so much better than what came before, and maybe we don’t yet see how things are going to improve, and we have a more, “Hey look! I’ve arrived!” feeling about the newest story or poem or article. It is good enough to submit. Good enough to get published, even. But, it’s just one more step toward a perfection of word we’ll never actually reach.
      Of course, I don’t write about this in a negative way. I wrote this because I’ve found this to be true of all writers willing to talk about it. Hopefully, fledgling writers will find comfort in knowing that almost every writer has that same experience, time and time again.
      best,
      esw

      • Oh, I never had THAT delusion! 🙂

        It was much more, of the “I’ve arrived!” feeling you describe. I knew (and still know) that I’m not the best I’ll be, but some of the stuff I was so proud of back then I look back and go, “Huh, I can do so much better than that now.”

        You said, “… at the time, the work seems so much better than what came before, and maybe we don’t yet see how things are going to improve…”

        My comment was simply that what you say about writing I have found to be a good description about how I feel about life in general (including writing, parenting, personal development, even rock climbing). Anyway, it’s the light I see my own life in, probably because the forward progress is hard to see but the rear-view mirror works just fine. You just put it more elegantly than I have ever been able to.

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