The performative part of being a writer

They say that every person has a book in her—a painful state of affairs which, if you happen to be a writer, often feels like nursing a mental gallstone.

I’m working on my sixth book, and believe me, the process of writing and self-publishing your own books does not getting any easier after the first one.  It doesn’t get any easier after the fifth, even.

But, as I say in today’s video, what sustains you through the years is the knowledge that, if you persevere, a day will come when you can literally hold your thoughts in your hands.

There’s a certain magic—which I can only equate with holding your newborn child—in the sensation of being able to weigh your words in your hands when you at last see your thoughts, the lightest and most ethereal of things, crystallized in a beautifully bound book.

I’m dreaming of that day with my next book, my sixth mental child, but maybe you are dreaming of experiencing the soul-deep satisfaction of giving birth to your first one.

You’re nursing the book within yourself and you would like to get it out.  Maybe you even write in secret, but you dare not knight yourself with the holy title of ‘writer’.  For you, writing is a hobby, and you feel shy about even sharing the fact that you are ‘writing a book’ with family and friends:—for everyone knows how hard it is to write a book, and you know that, behind their polite smiles of encouragement, your nearest and dearest are doubtful of your staying power.

As I say in the video above, writing and publishing a book is like ‘climbing a mental Everest’, and most of the time that you are climbing it, you still feel as though you are pottering around base camp.

The writing life is more than simply putting words on a page—and what if the words you do manage to put down are no good?

Probably the better part of writing is not writing at all but dealing with rejection—the rejection we make of our own bad writing; the slighting sneers with which our grand ambitions to write a book are greeted by family and friends; the politely deprecating rejection slips which dismiss our entire efforts.

Paradoxically, writing is a rather introverted activity, and yet it is one of the most self-exposing activities an introvert can perform—and therefore one of the most fraught with potential rejection.

But despite its introverted nature, there’s a certain ‘performative’ aspect to writing.  Indeed, being a published ‘author’ is the performative side of a writer’s life.

Your book is the stage upon which you enact all the parts, so it’s perfectly reasonable that you should feel a little ‘stage fright’ when you turn up to the blank page.  If you’re feeling ‘writer’s block’, it’s simply the writer’s stage fright, the dread of giving a bad performance.

Fortunately, self-publishing allows you the greatest latitude to control your stage and your performance.  In the video I state my earnest belief, which has attended me since my earliest days as a writer, to wit:—that the book (to borrow Richard Wagner’s term) should be the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’—‘the total work of art’ of its author.

To continue the Wagner analogy, self-publishing allows you the scope to make your book your Bayreuth—not just a stage, but a whole theatre devoted to you, one in which you can control every aspect of the production.

But the problem with having such scope for total control is that most writers don’t have the requisite skills to handle it well.  Despite its venerability, the printed book is still the most technically complex analogue knowledge technology humanity has ever produced.  As any writer who sets sail on the hazardous seas of self-publishing for the first time will attest, the number of things you have to consider, the number of choices you have to make when publishing your own book is intimidating.

There’s the editing and revising and proofreading, the layout and formatting of the text and illustrations, graphic design and typesetting.  Dealing with the vexing issue of the cover alone will take you almost as long as writing the book—and is just as important as the words behind it.

Indeed, the two categories of problem which the virgin authorpreneur typically faces may be filed under two heads: ‘words’ and ‘images’.

As an Associate Member of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), I can handle the words, bien entendu.  But what makes the Artisanal Desktop Publishing service I provide to my clients original is the instinct I have for the visual, for the ‘readability’—(as important as the legibility of the words on the page)—associated with good graphic design.

It would seem in life that one is either more orientated towards words or towards images, but rarely are the two combined.  Yet the ability to think about a book visually, in terms of its graphic and material design, is key to the successful communication of its ostensible content—your writing—to the reader.

As I explain in this video, I’ve been making books since I was a little boy.  It’s what I always wanted to do, so it’s perhaps natural that I should be able to think in both dimensions.  And certainly sharing your work in a supportive environment with an editor who is not just a fellow writer, but is someone who understands the total process of self-publishing your book thanks to long experience of his own, gives you confidence that all aspects of your performance will ultimately do you justice.

I’ve been to the summit of that mental Everest five times now, and I’m slogging my way up the slope for a sixth pass.  As a genuine introvert and someone with a reputation for being a ‘perfectionist’ when it comes to grinding out diamond-cut words, what I find the most ‘performative’ aspect of being a writer is releasing my inner Flaubert momentarily, swallowing my stage fright and allowing you to see inside my Artisanal Desktop Publishing process in some of my videos.

In Brisbane and at Docklands I shared with you a couple of excerpts from my current work in progress, words which are less than perfect by comparison to future versions of same I may share with you in revised drafts.  But I think it’s interesting as a document, particularly in the video format, to see how those impalpable and ethereal things, words, evolve into a plastic object you can hold and weigh in your hand.  I plan to bring you a third instalment shortly, exposing yet another sin-tillating aspect of the erotic (mis)adventure I’ve been tantalizing you with.

What do you think?  Do you find it hard to share what you are working on?  Do you feel as though you will never get to the summit?  Or are you looking forward expectantly to the day when you can finally hold your thoughts in your hand?

I look forward to hearing how you’re going with your own writing in the comments below.

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