Taking Creative Risks, Or, Matt Considers Giving Away His Book

I started writing when I was about fourteen. I decided I wanted to write a novel and made two of the half-hearted attempts a young teenager makes when attempting a lofty goal. First, there was a horror novel about a serial killer who skins people alive that I called The Fur Trapper. I hadn’t yet seen Silence of the Lambs, so the comments about how it sounds just like that movie mystified me at the time. I think I wrote about two chapters, with each chapter being under five pages. Then there was a fantasy novel titled The Dragon’s Amulet that I never actually got beyond the conceptual stage, but I assure you, had it been written it would have included all the clichés and tropes of the high fantasy genre since that’s exactly what I would later do when I did write a book.

In the summer of 2002, I was deeply addicted to the video game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The game had such a deep and complex lore that I couldn’t help but be inspired; I wanted to tell my own stories in that universe. I started writing about the backstory of my character, the dark elf assassin Ardryn (although, in the interest of honesty, the name Ardryn came later; originally he was Jango, having just seen Star Wars Episode II. What can I say, I was a teenage boy at the time). I worked on my story until it hit about fifty or sixty pages, which was far longer than anything I’d ever created. I wanted to do something more with it. I wanted it to be more than just fan fiction. I wanted it to be my own novel.

So I went back and took out all the details from the world of Morrowind and replaced them with a fantasy world of my own devising. It still ended up looking exactly like every other fantasy world, as it was a world of magic and wilderness with a snowy, inhospitable northern realm ruled by the evil frost elves who were constantly at war with the forest elves of the south. There was also an evil artifact and a good artifact that were in constant opposition to one another. And a prophecy. And a love interest. And so on.

That story became my first novel, Of Dawn and Dusk, (which, yes, sounds more like a romance novel than a fantasy book). I actually completed a roughly 90,000 word manuscript and sent it to exactly one publisher. It was rejected, of course. I wrote about 70,000 words of a sequel and had some notes and rough chapters for a prequel, but the years wore on and the story that I wrote when I was fifteen no longer enamored me as it once did. So I decided to abandon it.

Eventually, I would pick up NaNoWriMo as a thing and on my second attempt, I completed a 50,000 word draft that I would then spend another six months working on until I had a 125,000 word completed story. This novel is my story of fallen angels and the Apocalypse and the title is Unrepentant. Because it began life as a NaNoWriMo, however, large parts of it were completely terrible and I spent the next few years revising that draft while working on other NaNo projects and basically continuing a tradition of starting projects but never seeing them through to completion.

Why am I telling you all of this? There are a few reasons.

First, it occurred to me that, outside of the critiques I did during my Creative Writing degree, I can count the number of people who’ve read any of my novels on less than two hands, and that sounds impressive until I mention that the total number is about six, so I’m really not even using that second-hand. I’d like to say that my reason for showing so few people my work is because I don’t like showing work before it’s done; certainly, my many drafts and projects are in rough shape and need proper editing before they deserve to be shown.

Except that’s not entirely true, either.

I finished Unrepentant last summer. I completely rewrote the novel and stripped out tons of stuff that was messy, wandering, or just plain bad. I streamlined the text, trimmed up the story, honed it as best I could and sliced down my 125,000 word first draft into a trim, sleek 90,000 word second draft. I finally considered it worthy of trying to publish and so I’ve been sending it off to agents ever since. My last submission before I lost momentum was in January or February and it was the tenth time it’s been sent out. Since I’m not currently plugging a book deal here, you can surmise that it was never picked up.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I have it in me to publish Unrepentant. Publishing a book is hard. It’s really, really hard. You need to know a lot about who you’re writing to, who the market is, how to sell it, who might like to read it, and so on. And that’s the thing; I don’t really know who Unrepentant is for. It’s a book about angels and demons and fallen angels and the Apocalypse, but it’s not a Christian Fiction book, because I don’t talk about Jesus. But I also started it during a time when I was fascinated by Paradise Lost and John Milton, so it has those vibes far more than it does an urban fantasy or paranormal romance. I don’t know who’d want to buy it, even though I think it’s pretty good.

Originally, I’d decided to just shelve it and make it yet another trunk novel. Trunk novels are those works that writers complete but then abandon, locking them in the bottom of the trunk because we can’t bear to delete or throw away something that we worked so hard on, but also can’t or won’t try to release. Sometimes, trunk novels are better than their author’s give them credit for and end up getting published later on; Stephen King penned a trunk novel under his pseudonym Richard Bachman that was eventually published as Blaze, which was really good.

So Unrepentant is a trunk novel. And I’m off to new things; I’m really focused on my cyberpunk novel because I feel like I have a lot to say and I have a lot of knowledge about what I’m talking about in a way I don’t with fallen angels and such.

But I keep thinking about the fact that no one ever reads what I write, because I don’t give them the opportunity. Because I don’t give anyone the chance to read what I write. And my reason for doing so is based on fear; if you don’t ever get a chance to read my work, you can’t hurt my feelings by hating it. I’m immune from criticism. I’m safe.

I think that safety is one of the enemies of creativity. When people talk about creativity as a scary thing, this is what they mean. It’s putting yourself out there, stripping away all the armor, lowering all the defenses, and allowing people to shit all over something that means a lot to you. And not fighting back. And asking for this to happen over and over again.

Or at least . . . that’s what the Dark Voice tells me. I’ve mentioned the Dark Voice before; he’s the guy that started talking to me around the beginning of middle school and never went away. He’s the person on my shoulder reminding me of every possible insecurity, every possible mistake, every single failure. He’s not my Inner Editor, because the Inner Editor is at least trying to be helpful by making my work better, even if he’s killing it in the process by preventing it from being born.

No, the Dark Voice is mean and hateful and nasty and wants very much to make sure that I fail and that I’m miserable and that I don’t ever listen to anything other than him. He’s all the anxiety and depression I’ve ever felt in my life. It’s the entity that takes root inside your head when you grow up a little strange and you realize you’re not cool or popular and you’ve never going to fit in, not really.

The Dark Voice is the reason that I can be funny around other people; it’s the reason why sarcasm and dry humor are my default responses, because if I make people laugh at something I do, then they can’t laugh at me. Laughing at me only proves that the Dark Voice is right.

I really don’t like the Dark Voice.

And I think that putting Unrepentant in the trunk is listening to the Dark Voice. I think it’s a good book. I learned a lot writing and rewriting it and I put a lot of effort into it. But I also don’t want to focus on the same project forever. I want to move on to new things so that I can keep growing. And right now, that means setting my old work aside.

But here’s the thing: I also have this blog here. And even though I tend to disappear for weeks at a time, my blog is never out of my thoughts. I’m always wishing that I had more to post, more to say, more to do here. And I have a novel that I’d like to allow people to read, if they wish. And slowly, I begin to imagine a solution.

So, here’s what I’m thinking right now: I’m going to start posting chapters of my novel here on my blog every Friday. Since the book is already done, once the updates are scheduled to roll out, I can move on to the next project while these pieces are released. I don’t have to worry about schedule slip (the bane of so many serials and webcomics) because the entire story is already finished.

Originally, I thought about just posting the entire book as one big file and inviting anyone who wants to have at it. But I also know that I wouldn’t read that if someone else did so, because in the past when blogs I do read have released books for free, I didn’t read them. There’s something about seeing the entire work posted all at once and getting intimidated by it, thinking about how much time it will take to get involved. It’s why I’ll never start watching a show on Netflix these days if it has more than two seasons, because the time investment is just too much.

But a chapter a week, released as a blog post? That doesn’t take much effort to dip a toe in. And maybe that will be enough to spark your interest. And if not, that’s okay too. Honestly, I don’t really know why people keep reading this blog, even though WordPress assures me that you’re all out there. It’s not going to hurt my feelings if this doesn’t catch on. It’s just something I’d like to try.

The Patreon account is the second part of this idea. Patreon is a little different from Kickstarter, which you’re probably more familiar with. In Kickstarter, you back a project and pledge some money to help fund it, and you get charged if the project reaches its funding goal. This, then, gives the creator the funds needed to get a project created, the idea being that it couldn’t exist without those funds.

But for me, the blog is already online and the book is already written. So I don’t need funding to make anything. Instead, it’s a way for me to find out if it’s worthwhile to release fiction in this manner. For so many years, I’ve had my eye on the traditional publishing route as the only way to release my stories. And don’t get me wrong, I still desperately want to secure a traditional publishing deal, at least once in my life. But I also want to focus more on creating and sharing work, even if only five people ever read any of it.

The Patreon model is, as its name suggests, a patronage system. A patron who wants to support a creator pledges a small amount of money each month (I’m imagining something like a dollar a month, with the book’s run taking about two or three months to be released fully). At the end of the run, if there’s been any interest in this model, I’m thinking about doing some more stuff, such as recording the book as an audiobook or releasing it as an e-book on my own. A lot of this is me thinking out loud right now, coming up with ideas as I type. But here’s the bottom line: think of it as a tip jar. I’m going to release my novel here on my blog for free, for everyone. If you read it, if you like it, if you think it’s worth it, consider pitching me a dollar.

This won’t create the kind of money that will allow me to skip having a day job. But if I make a dollar off this, I’ll consider it a success. If I make fifty dollars, my story will have paid for my website costs for an entire year (domain registration and keeping my blog ad free, which is something very important to me as a personal and philosophical point). That’s enough of an enticement for me to try.

And if it doesn’t work? I’ll have the knowledge of knowing that I took a risk, tried something new, and didn’t let the Dark Voice win for a while. And that’s a win for me no matter what the Dark Voice says.

So look for details for the Patreon account in a day or two, once everything is all set up. And get ready for the first chapter (or chapters) of my novel to go up on Friday.

Taking creative risks. That’s what it’s all about.

Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Taking Creative Risks, Or, Matt Considers Giving Away His Book”

  1. This sounds like a great idea to me! I’ll definitely be reading along (and by “reading” I mean I’m going to use a script to convert it to an audio file that I can listen to on my walk to school).

    1. A brilliant solution and one I’ll be glad to support… not least of which because it’s a solution I’ve considered for some of my own work. (gmta?) I wish you the best with this.

    2. That sounds really cool, pun not intended! I was actually thinking of trying to do something with audio; I created a podcast for a college course a while back and I had a lot of fun doing it. Maybe this is something I’ll investigate further if there’s enough interest?

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