WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 24 – Jeremy Robert Johnson
(The JRJ masterclass)
Jeremy Robert Johnson
We’re back after a few months off! Time to get straight back into it…
So, I think there’s always a danger with a project like ‘Words from the Wise’ that the authors you ask to take part will start covering the same territory (the last thing that’s useful to a young struggling writer is when his elder-statesmen start reiterating platitudes). It seems almost inevitable though, to overlap. I mean, how many times can you say “never give up man!”, “keep writing, keep rewriting” or “try your best to find your voice”? This kind of advise gets thrown around too often to ever be interesting or thoughtful.
That said, I think so far we’ve managed to avoid any glaring re-treads, but there have been some (we are 24 guest posts in guys!). Jeremy Robert Johnson is one the best writers of his generation (I mean that sincerely, ‘We Live Inside You’ is one of most haunting and significant books you’ll maybe ever read). Jeremy is fearless but humble. He’s also something of an indie-lit darling these days, but there’s still no trace of an ego. He is someone to truly aspire to. Like his fiction, his ‘Words from the Wise’ post is genuinely insightful and avoids platitudes like British royalty avoid taxes.
Here’s the JRJ masterclass…
Expect nothing from a writing career, but appreciate anything good that comes your way. Stop in that moment—first short story sale, first good reading, first time you don’t want to kill yourself after reading a final draft—and look at it and be grateful. Buy yourself a beer and a burrito and just be happy for a second before worrying about whatever the next thing has to be (and dodge the search for too much outside validation, as this can turn an actual achievement into a bummer). Writing is a career which features wildly intermittent reward, so recognize those tiny moments and ride that wave for as long as you can. It may help you through the horse latitudes.
Use reason when absorbing advice. Accept wisdom from only those proven capable in the field of which they speak. I don’t know Joe R. Lansdale, but his interviews and career are a guiding light to me. I stop before major decisions and take into account the following question—What Would Joe Lansdale Do? I sincerely believe this methodology has saved me from many stupid decisions, and boosted my day-to-day writing production and discipline.
If you’re going to marry or shack-up with somebody long term then sure, romanticize writing on the front end, but before the relationship goes too far it’s best to hit them with the truth: the odds are against you being rich, famous, or even read, and your job mainly involves you sitting still in a room, sweating imaginary bullshit and mumbling to yourself. Also be honest with yourself about how long the other person in your life might be willing to tolerate a bohemian lifestyle. Having a day job and writing ain’t impossible, it’s just harder. And there’s no solid reason your life shouldn’t be harder. Struggling’s no insult.
A couple pieces of advice which frequently pop up in my head are as follows (and are clearly paraphrased—I can’t replicate either writer’s wonderful syntax).
I don’t care if you’re on the smallest press or coming out of New York with the best publicist money can buy, you have to have the mindset that you are the only person on Earth who gives a fuck that your book exists, and act accordingly.—Tom Piccirill
Every word you leave on the page should have killed and drank the blood of five other words to have survived.—Cody Goodfellow
Don’t be afraid to take literature far too seriously and brood and fuss and wear the tightest turtlenecks. Don’t be afraid to take it as a lark and have fun and find joy in it and do readings where you wear colorful wigs. Either way’s fine. Do look for the balance between those modes, if that suits you.
Internet’s full of psychic pollution. It’s always good to check your own emission levels and adjust accordingly. Buy My Book Bots and jealous grumblers and posturing dilettantes and obvious troll reviewers are a few of the Hummers of our shared mental roadways. (I’ve got plenty of online behavioral regrets—I can mostly move past them but they like to come back around at 3AM and remind me of all the dumb shit I’ve done. Feels like the internet’s a hard place to be human, but I think it’s worth a try.)
Whatever you think you shouldn’t put on the page—whatever you’re afraid of folks reading—is probably the first thing you should write.