WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 19 – Seb Doubinsky
There isn’t a lot about Seb Doubinsky I haven’t said a million times before.
He is an aberration – a writer of considerable renown who is humble, kind and seems to enjoy sharing his (akashic) knowledge of the creative process with budding writers more than witnessing his own success.
He is based in Denmark, of French extraction, speaks better English than I do, and teaches at the University of Aarhus. Seb has time for everyone, I mean EVERYONE. I’m convinced there is no one more accommodating in the alt-lit community. What’s the point of this gushing preamble? – He is a real friend. Someone I both trust and respect. Someone who, I believe, has my best interests at heart. Seb likes to see other writers do well. He lacks basic human foibles like jealousy or spite. You need to surround yourself with people of a similar constitution. Here’s Seb’s Words from the Wise –
The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”
SD – First of all, don’t trust any writer who gives you advice. Never. Each writer has a personal experience and career that is unique, as well as working methods that might or might not work for others. Probably won’t, as a matter of fact.
First, about feeling unsecure: true insecurity is the best way to write good things. Pseudo-insecurity is the most dangerous for talent, because it actually is a narcissistic way to fish for compliments. You don’t need compliments if you’re a good writer. And you don’t need insults either. What you need is solid friendship and respect – you need a small crowd of people you trust (not necessarily people you love, either), but people who can tell you things you don’t want to hear without making you angry or wanting to kill yourself. These people are people who focus on what is written, not what they think should be written. What I mean by that is in “constructive criticism”, the most important word is “constructive”. If you don’t get real constructive feedback, don’t ask again. Ever. It’s no use. Your friend might be good to go out drinking with, fooling around with or travelling with – but not evaluating your manuscript. And it’s perfectly OK. My wife doesn’t care much about most things I write. I love her anyway – or, should I say, she loves me anyway.That’s the important part. As for my own works, I am lucky to have people around I can trust and who give me the feedback that I need (Chris Kelso is actualkly one of them, by the way). I don’t need to hear that I’m a genius, or that I completely suck: I need to hear what works in the story and what doesn’t. Period. The rest I can read on Goodreads, Amazon and blog reviews.
Friendship and respect are therefore very important, in my eyes, in the construction of the writer self. And they always have to go both ways. Don’t be a prick: help others too, the same way you have been helped. I have never forgotten the great people who have read my stuff in the beginning and treated it with respect. “It” – not “me”. That’s very important: you are not your work, and your work is not you. People who compare works to babies should be shot. A work is a work. A book, a short story, a poem, whatever. And you wrote it, yes. But when people read it, when it begins to circulate, it becomes itself and you have to accept that. If you have many readers, then you will have many readings, and you’ve got to chose which ones YOU find adequate. Don’t defend your work if it’s attacked, don’t justify yourself, but listen to good criticism and to good compliments. You’ll know what I mean when you hear them. I can’t tell you. I am not you. I will never be you. Remember? So you have to find out for yourself.
At the same time, you should also know, deep within yourself, at the core of your bleeding heart, that yes, you’re a fucking genius and that nobody can take it from you. But keep it to yourself and only use it when you’re thrown on the ground and that nobody will help you back on your feet. Use the secret flame only when yiou need it – otherwise it will poison and destroy you. Many famous writers have fallen to its charm, and many unknown assholes too. So you be careful with that flame, but it’s OK to blow on it once in a while, when the winter night gets really cold.
Second: publishing. Ah – yes. That is a very difficult question right here. I am going to be very honest with you: there are only two main factors in getting published. The first one is who you know and who can help you. To have good friends who are already published is the greatest help, not to mention those who are publishers. This why the friendship and respect part mentioned above is so important. Writers do help writers, if they’re not assholes. (But yes, there are a lot of assholes). Networks, in the positive sense of the term, are therefore essential: get in touch with other writers you feel close or related too, join poetry clubs, get in contact with magazines, online or print, go to readings, if that is possible… – in a word, move your ass and get out there. That’s how you will meet people, get read and eventually get published.
The other thing is luck. Pure and simple. Many famous writers are famous because they were born in a literary network, or went to the same school as other famous people, etc. That is where Fate is tilted from the start, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But luck is blind, and you’ve got to believe in your lucky star. That’s actually what happened to me – and still is. To meet the right person at the right time, when you’re the least expecting it. It’s like love or a white shark. Except a white shark is generally considered bad luck. So be ope to everything and take your chance when you see it. The old Greeks said that everybody meets a God in disguise in his or her life once. I can tell you it’s true, and that it can be a God or a Goddess. And I’ve met quite a few, now.
Finally, don’t get sucked into the romantic vision of “being a writer” only if your book sells well. Books don’t sell well if they’re not calibrated products. Period. I don’t sell well – and yet, yes, I am a writer. Absolutely. I even have some fans. Selling books is the necessary consequence of being a writer, but the number doesn’t matter, unless you want to live off it. But you’re not THAT naive, are you? You’re going to keep your day job, right? And your night job too? Promise? You are still a writer if you do other things than write for a living. Hell, you can be an asshole and a teacher. Why can’t you be a writer and a teacher? Or an asshole and a writer and a teacher? Mono-identities are for losers anyway.
OK, I guess that’s it. As I said in the beginning, you can take it with you, or throw it in the garbage can. I don’t know you, what do I care? And yet – strangely enough – I do care and I want you to make it. Big, Huge. Enormous. So you can eventually, in your turn, help other writers.