Pure Writerly Moments - Part 4 - The Sage

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"I wrote a novel before I ever graduated from university," I say to Chester. "I wrote it because I was 20, and because I was chasing Orson Welles. Also, because I was convinced that most creative writing students were lazy. I would finish in a year...I would call it The Sage and the Scarecrow".

He's asleep. But he's not dead. He can't die yet. My story isn't over.

"I wrote this sloppy piece of shit novel and thought I could promote it out of the coffee shop where I worked. I thought I had this skill and energy that would fade with time. So, I published this novel using a print-on-demand publisher and hawked this thing all around South Florida. I was a fool."

He's still asleep.

"Imagine me going to all these little bookstores, trying to convince them to carry my book for free and getting turned away. I was embarrassed. Mortified. I finally understood how little I was and how much no one really cared. It was a humiliating and scarring experience."

He just lays there lifeless.

"I gave away maybe thirty copies. I sold maybe fifty copies, mostly to friends. And the worst thing. Well, you already know the worst thing...it was a bad book."

I think he's dead. I think my story has finally killed him. But I have to keep talking.

"Thirteen years later, I still wake up at night terrified that someone, somewhere out there has read a book by me that wasn't very good. I sold more copies after that. Another one hundred maybe. More people having bad reading experiences that could've been prevented. This was back before social media, before I could rigorously vet my readers. Imagine that...most of the people I sold my book to were the absolutely wrong audience for it. Dan Brown fans and Bible literalists."

He's dead. I've killed him. He's lifeless and I don't even see the nose hairs move from his breathing.

Now I laugh. "Then again, Harry fucking Potter was a success. And then there was that Twilight bullshit, so what do I have to be sorry for? And there were a few good passages in that book. A few good redeeming qualities. And to think of my 21-year-old self, some nervous kid giving it his best like he might not have another year to live." I smile to myself. I see the young man's passion and energy.

Now, I stop and think. And I realize something. If I had died the year after, there would have been nothing to regret. Because a part of me, however horrible, would have lingered in those people.

Chester stirs.

"I guess, I was smarter than I thought at the age of 20."

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