Making It Ugly

Recommended listening:

Do What I Do



You may remember my post from some months ago, [When To Start Over].

That post was the quiet announcement that I'd begun to rewrite a literary project called Sydney West. You see, I've had quite a time unraveling bad habits. One of them is being somewhat vague in the hopes that I won't attract certain types of negativity. Relying more on eloquence to mask what I'm saying just enough that I can feel good about finally having said it, but no one really knows what it is on the surface. I am, by no means, conflict avoidant, but there lies the vicious paradox.

There's still part of me that was taught that I have to avoid the ugly. Even if I'm standing up for something, even if I know there's going to be a fight, I still try to make it pretty, and polish it off. If it's unattractive, then there's somehow more basis for me being wrong. Some of this can come down to gendered parenting, but a lot of it has to do with the culture-specific definition of "clean."

For about two and a half decades, I was taught that the authority to call something ugly will never rest with me. It has to glance sideways at the list someone else has made, to make sure it measures up. I was also taught that ugly is the same as evil, unless there were caveats which, of course, I didn't write. How could I, who knew nothing about it?

Ugly attitude.

Ugly emotions.

Ugly words.

Sydney West is the first part of three -- a story I started one night when I was snowed in and avoiding human contact. I was being "ugly" and avoiding socialization I had no interest in.

With the battery on my laptop slowly ticking down, I sat in front of the fireplace, and then in the dead dark, because I'd hit on something I couldn't explain at that point. All I knew is that it was important. I'd set aside a huge, six part fantasy outline to write about people coming in from a blizzard to get their coffee, and what happened after that.

A lot of things happened after that, in case you couldn't guess.

A year or so later, I self published it. But it wasn't mine, not really. There were still pieces of Sydney West on the floor, and I'd swept it under the rug, afraid. The hesitation was in the suspicion, based on things thus far, that if I said it in a certain way, I wouldn't be allowed to say it at all. It had already happened in the first project, I couldn't take as many risks. It was all watered down, made unthreatening and "clean."

There, however, still in the middle of a space where I had to avoid ugly at all costs, it was a version of the story I wanted to tell, but wasn't really it. The real story is much bigger, much deeper, and much uglier, in a way. It's not "dirty," but it wouldn't pass most of the previous "pretty" or "clean" tests, either. That's because those tests were rigged.

Over the last few years, I've gained a new appreciation for the ugly.

That is, the certain kind of discomfort, the certain flavor of aversion, that makes something worth so much more. That's not to say it's a medium for every artist, or it has a place in every genre or form. I'm saying that we shouldn't shy away from it, as a tool, and as a complement. Don't shy away from using black as well as color.

The payoff is not never feeling awkward, or unsettled, or seeing characters who wouldn't be your choice in friends. The payoff to a good story is what it makes you feel and think, and if that matters to you or not.

I've never viewed myself as writing "adult" books, or explicitly YA either, and this is no different. The original had several reviews, giving both high praise and criticism, sometimes from the same person. Some comments were that it was considered a "clean" book. Other words used were bizarre, strange, manic, fun, unusual, darker, and one of my favorites, " Sydney West is truly like nothing I have ever read."

I've always supported the idea that if the book you want to read hasn't been written, you should write it. It's what's driven the vast majority of my creation, literary and otherwise.

I'm still the same person, and much of the same writer. I just don't care any more about passing a rigged test.

I want characters to be rude, shocking, and selfish from time to time. I want to show people who are good on the surface, and horrible on the inside. I want characters to make grave mistakes and hurt people and truly come back apologetic and changed...or not. I want readers to be afraid for people, so that being happy for them means more.

I want my books with some ugly bits.

That doesn't mean "bad," or "dirty," or "evil."

It means there's more than one color to everything.

You can track the progress of the rewrite with me {here}, on Twitter. I'm trying to reflect the shift in my efforts on social media, particularly connecting to the writer's community there.

And, if I still have you so far, you can find the original copy of Sydney West available here. If you're curious what's going on, and can't get to Twitter, you can support me for the price of an e-book. It's not much once it gets to me, but it lets me know people are interested even if they can't say it directly. There are things in it, and on it, that I'm sure might spark some curiosity. If so, I'd be happy to hear any questions.

If you have read the previous version of Sydney West -- I'm working on answering the questions you were probably left with from that, as well.

For now, I'll leave you with a new addition I'm thrilled to finally have the ability to write:

“Who would you be if you weren't afraid of anything? I mean, don't – you don't actually need to answer that. What I mean is like...just think about it. If you woke up tomorrow with no consequences for being who you want to be, no fear of what people would think, and you knew it didn't matter if people didn't like you, or told you no – what kind of person would you be?”


27 views0 comments

Subscribe to Blog