I’m not a great writer. I’m a capable writer who possesses enough self-doubt to know where to improve. Self-doubt, applied correctly, can work wonders. It’s what keeps you from accidentally poisoning your lover with under-cooked chicken or leaving the house with a gnarly booger hanging from your nose. It’s being able to check yourself periodically to ensure you aren’t making a mess and blithely presenting it to the rest of the world as “no fucks given.”
You have to give a fuck or two.
But give too many and you end up never finishing or publishing anything. You’re too worried about what the reception will be, how everyone will scrutinize you:
- Is the villain in his book really an ex he’s getting his revenge on?
- The sex in this book is so explicit! The author is a ho!
- How dare this book not reflect my specific politics, values and principles and include characters who represent all of my intersections to the most granular degree? Let’s launch a petition!
This is one of the reasons I started the Brown Likka Book Club. (Is it defunct? Might be!) There isn’t much I frankly respect about so-called “urban fiction” as a product but I have tremendous respect for the hustle. The sentiment is cliche but hear me out. Plenty of people were composing works of questionable quality at a furious pace, finishing them, and getting paid for their work while I sat here judging, not completing anything and sure as shit not getting paid for my actually decent storytelling. Reading those books was penance for never getting my ass in gear and putting words on the page.
Self-doubt, I got in spades. But hustle? But discipline? Nope. The “work” part of this creativity thing is a beast.
I don’t need that big a reach with Gorgeous. I’m treating this like a bucket list item instead of a career move, which is much more feasible for me right now. I don’t want fame or much beyond breaking even on minor self-publishing costs (although it would be nice to have some extra coins to set aside for Hawaii). I don’t have the bandwidth now to treat this like a major event by going on marketing blitzes and tweeting links to the book every five minutes and spamming strangers. That kind of exposure isn’t in my immediate interests.
What I’ve always wanted was to tell a juicy story that compelled readers to recommend it to their friends. That’s it. For me, it’s all about grabbing someone’s attention with a story so provocative and entertaining their only choice is to rave about it to someone else. Best case scenario: the merits of the story itself do the work for me. Self doubt reminds me what I’m up against, that the kind of eyeballs I’m competing for are regularly engaged with issue-of-the-moment social media, trashy VH1 reality shows and Shonda Rhimes productions, and they all move faster than light.
The biggest thing I learned writing this book is that I should have done this a lot, lot sooner.
Gorgeous would not have happened had I not come down with a case of the shingles in the Spring of 2015. I had about half a first draft done at the time, and it probably took me over a year to get that far because I wasn’t dedicated to it. Being stuck at home for two weeks with what looked like a tumor growing out of my head got me back into the groove. Eventually that first terrible draft became the second draft and here we are. The prospect of multiple drafts seems daunting and laborious in the beginning, but I realized it only makes things easier. I came into the second draft more assured and excited about what I was doing. Everything I had ever read about moving into the second draft proved to be true.
With the second draft comes a sense of freedom. It is not a burden. You’ll have to trust me on this.
Another holdup was, as much as I told myself that I’m intentionally writing trash, there’s always the possibility that readers will assign to this work some redeeming social or educational value. It often comes with the territory when you’re a creator who is Black or gay or both — the burden of representation. It took a lot of self-coaching for me to get to a place where I decided I deserve the freedom to tell the stories I want to tell and, for now, challenge myself.
The function of this book was to satisfy a few challenges. Chiefly, going through The Process — multiple drafts, revisions, formatting, publishing, standing at the center of the town square to receive merciless feedback. I need to know what it all feels like, so I can go into the next endeavor with fewer fucks at stake.
The second challenge was to exercise some characters that have been with me for a very long time. I recently looked through my files and realized a version of this story goes back as far as 2009, with characters I’ve conceptualized and re-versioned since 2001. I had to get them out of my system. They’re pests. The character of Linc went through the most iterations. I could write a book on Linc’s evolution alone. He’s my most realized character and I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about him.
The third and most important challenge was to see how I could shock the reader. This is what energized me throughout the entire process. Get in touch with me and let me know how you feel once you reach The Gag.
Gorgeous isn’t highly conceptual, so explaining what it’s about has been one of my biggest challenges, especially since it’s also not that complex.
The story focuses on four friends, but not four archetypal friends trying to “find love in the big city.” It’s not Noah’s Arc or Sex and the City. It’s set up in a way that suggests that’s the direction it’s headed but this is a different thing entirely. The two main characters are William and Todd, two men who project perfection in their own way. One is polished and successful, which draws the envy and desire of everyone he encounters. He’s aspirational in a way that’s almost too good to be true. The other embodies physical perfection, but it’s a shell. On the inside, he doesn’t know who he is, and he’s unsure how to navigate his adulthood.
But what happens isn’t necessarily what a story is really about. There are themes, mostly having to do with how to shape your personal image as a man. Nearly every character at some point wonders if he’s doing things the “right” way, if his version of manhood or adulthood is following the correct course. It’s something I hope to continue exploring in my work, and hopefully that exploration becomes more sophisticated as I tell more stories. I don’t think there’s any “right” way to be a man, but I think we have a responsibility to ourselves as men to be authentic, and a responsibility to the people we love to be consistent and reliable. From there, everything should be by our own design.
And then there’s The Gag.