Opening the Can - Publishing in 125,000 Easy Steps
Chapter 1: Difficult
Well, what's the hardest part, anyway? The writing?
No. Writing isn't difficult. You can write anything you want.
It doesn't have to be good. It doesn't even have to
be interesting. I happen to be writing right now. See?
To be driven to create—I suppose you need that. But then
you have to bother doing it. I decided to dive into this medium
about 4 years ago. It just made a lot of sense. I had done some
illustration and cartooning and painting, but I was untrained.
I was unskilled. Most of all, I lacked the drive. It was the whole "one
percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration" thing.
I liked coming up with the ideas, but the rest of it was so mundane
and tedious. Carrying out the ideas took away too much of the time
I could have been spending on the generation of more ideas. To
me, it was all about the stories and the messages being communicated,
So I abandoned all efforts at any kind of visual art, and I gave
up on all my future plans to learn an instrument and become a rock
star. (Glad I didn't sink any time into that.) I can see
how the mastering of another skill such as painting, illustration,
film or music could one day bring me to a point where I was nailing
down what I wanted to accomplish, but it would take so long to
get to that point, and I could see how easy it would be to get
lost along the way, lost in the craft, in the production, in the
refinement or in the collaboration. All excuses, I suppose. Mostly,
it just didn't fit. I didn't want a tedious hobby.
I wanted something to do with my life. Writing felt a lot closer
to the source and the inspiration. I wanted to be closer to the
There is something different about writing, and I would be delighted
to hear a lot of people disagree with me about this: Anyone can
do it. This is not to say that just anyone can be "good" at
it. But we all have the capability to speak words and to write
them down. For some reason, it's something I feel like doing.
I have no formal training, and I really don't read that much.
But I guess none of that matters. Everybody has to start somewhere,
and I have no illusions of future fame, or notoriety, or any kind
of developing brilliance—just a bunch of stories and stupid
jokes. I enjoy doing this.
I think it's time to do some of that stuff I don't
feel like doing. I have to put forth some percentage of perspiration,
because it's time, it's something that needs to be
done. I want to take a big chunk of what I've been doing
these last four years, and put together a collection of my material.
Like, in print. You know. A book-thingy. People do that. Serious
writers and silly ones, too. Everybody does it.
I don't care about success at this point. But I don't
want to waste anybody's time either. Especially mine. So… I
have to go back into the archives. Forty-eight installments of
the Tin Can, the column I have been forcing out onto the Web every
month. I have to look at just what the hell I've been doing.
Good God. I have to read all this crap again.
Can of Worms
Yeah. I started thinking about this thing two years ago. A short
novel, featuring a couple dozen of the emails I received from
my future self. But I had to go back and sort through over a
hundred of them, and pick my favorites, and then go through the
notes that I had written along with them, describing my personal
experiences during that time, and … it was all kind of
daunting, you know? Okay, maybe not. It's just reading
and proofreading, right? Well, let me tell you a little something
about my "craft."
Mental Contagion has always published on the first of every month.
This provided me with a valuable opportunity back in 2002, if Karen's
offer from the previous year was still open. It's called
a deadline. I knew that when I committed myself to writing a column—this column—that
I would have to come up with something every month, no matter how
crappy it felt, or how hurriedly I slopped it together. And that's
just what I did! Every 28th or 29th of a month, I would begin to work
on my column. In late 2003, I started helping with the production
of this online magazine. All that work turned out to be valuable
and enlightening, as far my recognition of the craft goes. Since
that time, I've been co-producing, knocking out the HTML, "editing" all
the staff columns, and launching the magazine, usually on time.
At the beginning of 2006, I added an interview/conversation feature
to my workload, called The Shovel, another great source of inspiration
So, you see how a workload can build up. There's also the
wife and kids and other interests. My life is about as busy as
yours. But I love the writing, and I love MC and the people who
are a part of it. Unfortunately, the challenges have caught up
with me. Each month has been a scramble to do everything else,
and my column, my work, was becoming an invisible sort of stepchild, ignored.
The work was getting squeezed. I had forgotten why I was doing
this. The whole point was for me to be writing, to keep writing,
to build up a body of work and perhaps even refine my craft along
the way. And it's not like I didn't try to spread it
out over the entire month. I've come to learn that anything
I compose between the 1st and the 28th is simply lost, scrapped
or forgotten. I don't even want to look at what I did two
weeks ago. I don't care! I have to launch in a day or two.
What I was thinking about a half a month ago is totally irrelevant
and can never be unearthed again.
Which brings up this other issue: How am I supposed to go back
over the last four years of my life and analyze what I have done,
when I can't even stand the thought of reliving what I was
up to fourteen days ago? See, that's just stupid. If I can't
get motivated enough to churn out any sort of final product during
the first 28 days of any month, then why don't I use all
of that time to do something else? I started the previous couple
of paragraphs with the full intention of describing to you how
I haven't had time to work on the book. Because I'm
too busy "immersing myself in the creative process." How
could I find even a single spare moment of time during which to bother myself with all
of this crap that a traditionally published writer is forced into doing against his or her will? This stuff just absolutely ruins their lives, doesn't it? Or does it? What have I been avoiding?
Where was I going with this?
No. Where AM I going with this? That's the question I have
to ask. I'm queasy with ambivalence. I feel like Woody Allen
bungee-jumping on acid … with a feral kitten in his pants.
I can't explain it. It's just neurosis, for crap's
sake. We get worked up about things for no reason. Things like
doing our taxes or cleaning the toilet fill us with dread, but
they only take a few hours or minutes. But then, there are the
things that really mean something to us, like becoming less fat,
or learning Spanish, or getting up off our asses and doing something
of real value, anything… We can get frozen in our
I don't buy this "fear of failure" or "fear
of success" thing. It isn't that. Deep down, I think
we all want to be spending ALL of our time doing the meaningful
things that fulfill us the most, but there is something—some
kind of sickness—that drags us down. We like our couches
and our shows and our drinks and our pills and our anger and our
fear and our ecstasy and our comfort. We like the quick fixes in
our lives that make us take our eyes off the prize. Neurosis? Thank
goodness it's all in the mind.
This is supposed to be about publishing. It can be. I
am nobody in particular, and my work may amount to nothing, but
if you put me on the witness stand and ask me if I can do
this, I have to tell you,"Yes." Self-publishing a book
to be printed on demand is something that anyone can do, with a
moderate amount of effort. That's the backup plan. I am going
to drag you through this process along with me. I have never been
published in print before, unless you count a couple of comix I
drew in Chicago about 15 years ago. I can contact agents. I can
contact publishers. I can talk with friends and acquaintances.
You're gonna hear all about it. I bet a lot of what happens
is going to suck, and that I am going to think about quitting several times. You'll
hear about that too. But look what I have just done. I have committed
to this project, right here in public. I have to do it
now. I've tried a trick like this before. It works.
Step One is over and done. I wrote and revised almost 50 columns,
and I published them on this site once a month. The next step is
to smash everything together into one file. I started doing that
a couple of weeks ago. I meant to finish by now, but I didn't. I really
wanted to show you some progress. But I had jury duty last week.
Civic duty has officially been designated as this month's
excuse for falling short of my goals. But I'm over halfway done. Columns from November 2002 through January 2005 have been
condensed into one long HTML file. 75,000 words so far, with about
20 more months to put in. I'll finish that task soon enough.
Of course, then I have to read every single word. I think I'll save the first draft and
post it somewhere. I revise and
edit compulsively, so as soon as I begin reading, everything will start to change and take on a new shape. I'm going to try really hard to give it a once-over before I touch it. Make a few lists, catch redundancies and inconsistencies and so forth.
The only issue that puzzles me: I have all of these messages from
my future self. Is it ethical to correct punctuation, and perhaps
leave out the parts that are boring?
It's not like I would
be changing someone else's work. I am still me. One can't really offend one's self.