Existential Angst and a Smart Bomb

Editing sometimes brings out the worst in us. Believe me, I know. I have yet to undergo an editing process for a novel that didn’t involve some form of feeling like a total failure and/or fraud and/or consider retiring altogether. I think it’s just the nature of the beast, and the real crux of the editing matter is just getting through it.

Last week I found myself despairing just a bit, feeling discouraged about the direction of Room 3. In short, I felt as though patching one hole in the boat would cause a new hole somewhere else, and sooner or later the whole boat would sink. I couldn’t help but think that none of this would have happened if I had deliberately chosen easier subject matter – the whole closed room/two people approach is a difficult one for even the most seasoned of writers. What was I thinking?

I’ll tell you what: I thought I wanted to do something challenging. In many ways, while Corridors of the Dead might have seemed complex, that was right in my wheelhouse and not especially challenging. I wanted to do something more difficult to help myself grow. So now I find (or found) myself facing the essential artist’s dilemma: Which is better? Challenge yourself in order to grow and perhaps fail in execution, or write the safe stuff and get more sales? This goes beyond just the writing…it’s a fundamental question of how I want to spend my life: do I risk boredom to write commercially safe stuff or risk failure with more challenging stuff? At this point, my free time doesn’t allow me to write both styles of book. I have to choose.

A friend pointed out that the former might be more rewarding, but you have to be willing to put with negative reactions/receptions/reviews. Framed that way, the answer became clear: negative reactions won’t deter me – I’m ultimately doing it for my own personal growth, and any “success” is secondary to that. This helps me to realize just why I’m doing this: to grow as an artist and try new things. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be able to make a living at this, but I have a pretty good job that I enjoy. I can afford to push boundaries a little more. I just need to be an advocate for that approach in my own work.

Now, I’m not somehow saying that I’m blazing new literary paths, or saying that you plebes just can’t understand my genius – good lord, no. I would never be so bold (or arrogant). I’m purely referring to challenging myself, to seeing what I can and can’t do. Pushing the boundaries of my own abilities, as it were. I’m going to continue down that path. If I lose readers? Well, at least it will be an interesting method of failing.


And now for something completely different: Found Music has updated again! The blog rolls on with a new domain, found-music.net, and a new artist this week: Fairfax, VA band Smartbomb.

This week I’m excited to bring you a chunk of pop punk/power pop goodness from Fairfax, VA band SmartBomb. I’ve known about SmartBomb from the early 00s, probably 00 or 01, when I stumbled across them thanks to friend Bryan Smith of the bands ebo, American Giant, and the Vicious Martinis. I don’t remember exactly how Bryan was tied to this – ebo might have played a show with them, I’m not sure, as they ran in the same circles. But I ended up picking up their fairly wide release, Yeah Well Anyway. I liked it, but was a little baffled that it didn’t contain  the songs that I had heard from them.


Well, turns out they had a much smaller, limited indie release, “Here Comes the Slapback”.

Head on over and check it out!

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  1. Do writers need to choose? Huh. That’s an age-old question, and one I doubt will be answered to anyone’s satisfaction.

    My two cents: Write honestly. As long what you believe in what you’re writing, you’ll produce the best you can do. And that’s really all anyone can ask. Forget about chasing the market. It’s fickle, elusive and besides, you may actually catch it and realize you didn’t want it in the first place, but you’re trapped by the expectations of others, and then what will you do?

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Well, I don’t think all writers do need to choose. I probably should have clarified. For some people, their “passion” genre intersects with what sells. I would never begrudge such a writer their success; as you said, they’re writing honestly and it’s clear that their hearts are in it, and they’re clearly challenging themselves as well. I just need to keep that in mind. Thanks!

  2. My suggestion is to finish Room 3 to the best of your abilities, then put it in a drawer while you write another book or two, and then revisit. You will continue to grow as a writer and may be able to solve whatever problems you perceive after more practice. Once it’s published, it’s hard to do major revisions.

    It’s a terrific concept with interesting characters. It deserves a chance to ferment 🙂

    • Jonathan D Allen

      You’re not the first person to suggest that. I’m mulling it over. It would suck to get this far only to shelve it, though, and I love the cover. I have the prologue to City of the Dead pretty much ready to go (well, need some beta and editing, etc.) so there would be something to fill the gap, it’s just…I don’t know. Thinking it over.

  3. Jonathan D Allen

    True, Marie. Honestly, I feel like just dropping the story right now. I’ve come to hate it. That’s a sure sign that it needs some breathing space.

  4. While editing I keep reminding myself of what Dean Wesley Smith says: keep yourself in creative voice, not critical–it’s that inner critic that is the bane of writers! (not saying we never need to be critical, just don’t let it get the upper hand!)

  5. This is an age old question for the visual arts as well. After the first painting sold… Do you paint it agai. Knowing someone might buy it? Or instead do you paint what moves you? Listen to your heart, it knows the answer. Of course there is no right or wrong, just mental anguish over the mighty morals. I prefer to live another day to find beauty again rather than all my eggs in one basket.

  6. In my world, to be a artist is to be always pushing the envelope, to make more of the unknown, known. As human beings, we’ve been given an immense territory of possibility. The arts teach us how to operate in such an amazing existence. Whether our choice intersects with popular demand or not, only something about which we are passionate will give us both the drive and the courage to push further out.

  7. Was the writing ever about making sales? Think back to before you first published your work. What drove you to write?

    If it was to make money, I think you have one answer.
    If it was because you had no choice but to write, I think you have another answer.

    I’m sure there are wilds of options between those two, but going back to my ‘first spark’ always helps clear away the haze that has developed in the (very short!) time since my publication. I also have a mission statement to guide the business aspect of my writing. In it, I made sure to include my original motivations for writing, so as to always have a writer’s compass, as it were.

    This is all personal, I know. Don’t feel as though I’m asking you to answer these questions in a reply. It’s just my way of sharing how I’ve faced the same question.

  8. If the problem comes down to the difference between the current work and your previous body, have you considered using a pen name?

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