“Novelists sit cloistered in their rooms, intently fiddling with words, batting around one possibility after another. They may scratch their heads an entire day to improve the quality of a single line by a tiny bit. No one applauds, or says ‘Well done,’ or pats them on the back. Sitting there alone, they look over what they’ve accomplished and quietly nod to themselves. It may be that later, when the novel comes out, not a single reader will notice the improvement they made that day. That is what a novel writing is really about.”
Haruki Murakami, Novelist as a Vocation
If you’re on the wrong path, or at least if you feel that you’re going in the wrong direction, the only logical thing is to stop, and try to figure out where you took the wrong turn.
But, to do that, you also need to know where you’re going, or as Cheshire cat would say: “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.”
It’s an odd thing to take advice from an imaginary cat, or any other cat for that matter, but what else is there to do?
8 years ago, I finished my one and only novel. Ever since then, I have been struggling to finish the second one. I was writing, not all the time, but most of the time during these 8 years, but I never finished anything.
Like Alise, I’m just wandering around this strange world trying to find my way back home, where I belong, but whichever path I take, I end up at a Mad Hatter’s party, or at least it seems like one.
It seems to me that I definitely don’t know where I’m going. But I knew it once, that’s why I finished the first novel. What happened then? How come that I lost my way? And how can I go back?
When I was writing the first novel, I was entirely living it. I painted my room in the colors of the room of my protagonist’s room; I was visiting and revisiting places described in the novel; I was paying attention to every single detail, every single piece needed to not only fit in the puzzle but also to actually be the part of that puzzle; I was discussing it with other people; I was dreaming about it; and I was thinking about it all day long.
Day by day, driven by the thought that I’m making a piece of art, a good piece of art, I fueled myself and I wrote diligently.
And then, when I finished it, because I knew I was focused on making a good piece of art, I expected it to be a good piece of art, and it was a good piece of art, at least according to my readers, but it didn’t provide me enough to live on, because I didn’t have enough readers, which lead me to choose a different path; a path of: I need to market this thing better. I need to open it up to a wider audience. I need to translate it to English.
And then it all started. I spent another year translating my novel into English, into my bad English, I pitched it to every single agent there is, and they all rejected it, and then I did the last thing there was to do, I put it on Amazon and nothing happened. Nobody was reading it, even though I was giving it away for free.
I started blogging about writing and building a newsletter list because if a writer is not writing stories, he is writing about writing, but it didn’t bring me more readers. But nothing happened.
Then I started a YouTube channel. It also didn’t bring me more readers. I started another YouTube Channel and it also didn’t bring me more readers.
And all this time, while trying to build an audience, I was also writing the second novel, and the only product which came out of this journey is the fact that day by day, blog post by blog post, video by video, I switched my focus from – “How to make good art?” to – “How to get more people to see this?” And, I spent more time and more energy promoting the thing in making then actually making that thing and we all know that you can’t promote the product which you don’t have.
And, this chase of building a fanbase by doing other things like blogging and making videos, by building a brand out of myself, reflected on my fiction as well. The sole reason my second novel is not finished yet is because I’m not happy about it, and I’m not happy about it because I wasn’t thinking about how to make this thing better, but how to make this thing appeal to more people and the logical flaw in that thinking is the fact that I’m not attracted to what most people are attracted to and therefore I’m not attracted to my own work, and if I’m not attracted to my own work, there’s no bloody way that I’m gonna do it.
Just to be clear, I don’t think that making a brand of yourself is a bad thing, but what I learned during all these years is that you cannot make a brand out of yourself, if all you do is to try to replicate what someone else has been doing. Just because it worked for them it doesn’t mean it will work for you, and even if it worked, you wouldn’t be yourself, but you would rather be someone who’s a pale copy of someone else, and for all these years when I was branding myself I was trying to take shortcuts, by taking advice from people who specialized in teaching others how to make successful YouTube channels or blogs, by using keywords, and titles, and thumbnails, and click baits and all sorts of things which go a long way and it didn’t work.
The only way to build a brand out of yourself is to be yourself, and that is one of the hardest things in the world, at least for me, and at least when my goal is to appeal to other people and to gain a following and to live off of this amazing thing called the creator economy.
You can’t succeed, if you’re trying to be someone else, and the irony is that all the people that I follow and whose work I admire have only one thing in common and that’s their uniqueness and all these years I was trying to be unique by being like them.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly fine to learn from someone else, and take the parts which you like and modify them, and give it your personal touch, but that’s the key; the key is in YOUR personal touch. Show yourself, open up yourself and build something truly unique.
Nobody can guarantee that you’re going to succeed, but at least you will have something of your own, and if you do succeed, it will only be because of that uniqueness.