Realize your foolish dreams (it’s so damn worth it)

Monday night, I uploaded the final elements required by Amazon to publish my novel, The Bialy Pimps, in the Kindle store.

Go over and check it out. I made it FREE for today and tomorrow — a decision I’ll tell you all about tomorrow — so while you’re there, be sure to download the book. (Oh, and if you’re not in the US, see the P.S. at the bottom of this post.)

(Do it even if you don’t have a Kindle, by the way… there’s an app for that, and you can even read without an app… just order the book, and Amazon will deliver it to the “Kindle Cloud Reader,” which will let you read on your screen right away. It’s easy.)

Seriously. Download the book. Do it now; I’ll wait. Consider it a favor to me if you must, but do it.

Now, it’s kind of ridiculous, from a business standpoint, that I’m publishing a novel. You don’t know me as a novelist. Nobody was clamoring for this, and until a few months ago, nobody even knew it existed. I do have some marketing and follow-up ideas that will keep me in the fiction-writing world and hopefully make me some money at it, but this businessy, entrpepreneurish, human-potential-personal-development niche I’m in right now is where I’m known, and where I earn my living.

So why does it matter that I’ve published a novel?

Answer: It matters because it’s AWESOME.

Awesome

Think about what you really love to do, and then think specifically about the things you’re proud of even though none of your friends or family members give a shit. I have a few of these things. One day I deadlifted 475 pounds and came home and proudly told my wife, Robin, and she said, “Huh.” Another day, Seth Godin agreed to speak for The Badass Project conference and I told her, and she said, “Huh.”

She cared more about the book than she did about deadlifting or Godin, but she could never care as much as I care. When I solved narrative problems that had been dogging me and told her about my solutions, she said a nicer version of “Huh.” My parents were interested, and a few friends nodded politely when they heard what I was working on… but that was it.

We’re human. We like validation. We like to do things that seem impressive and then have others tell us that we done good. When that doesn’t happen, it’s annoying, but here’s the rub: many of the truly important things in life are the things that bore everyone else. Those things are important specifically because nobody gives a shit, since that’s how you can be sure you’re doing them for you… and not for anyone else.

(Now, for context, I’m about to explain why my novel means so much to me. But in the spirit of this post, it’s likely that you won’t care. If that’s the case, you can skip it and resume reading at the “For You” subhead below. In fact, I’ll even give you a link. Click here if you don’t give a fuck. I won’t be offended.)

Below, in full, is the “Author’s Note” that appears at the end of The Bialy Pimps. The character names won’t mean much to you if you haven’t read the book yet, so just ignore them if needed and read for the big picture.

Author’s note

This book took me twelve and a half years to write.

Or, more accurately, it took me six months to write, then another twelve years to find the courage to “kill my darlings,” as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch put it.

See, this book isn’t a true story. That would be ridiculous. But it was inspired by real people and a real place, and those people and that place were very dear to me. I started writing this novel after I’d left the people and the place behind in college, begun grad school laboratory work, and started having some really delightful panic attacks because I had ended up where I wasn’t supposed to be, doing what I wasn’t supposed to do.

When this happened back in 1999, it felt as if in a mere six months, my life had gone from being filled with laughter and fun and camaraderie to having very little of any of those. Without the love and support and companionship of my now-wife Robin (to whom this book is dedicated), I think I would have lost my mind. I hated my new job in a way I didn’t think it was possible to hate something, but it wasn’t venomous hate. It was giving-up hate. I felt like I’d discovered that the best years of my life were behind me, and that the future I had to look forward to — at least the part of the future that comprised work, which was a lot of it once you factored in my 2.5-hour round-trip commute — was nothing but bleak.

I wanted to turn back the clock, to go back to college and the way it had been. But because Superman wasn’t around to scream in anguish and then fly rapidly around the Earth to inexplicably roll time backward, I settled for going back in the privacy of my own mind. So I started to write down the stories we’d shared back then, back there.

At first, the people I wrote into my new manuscript were as they had been in life, and the place was as it had been in concrete and glass. That soon changed, as “Bingham’s” became its own new thing and the characters began to blend and melt into wildly distorted, wildly exaggerated amalgams of the people I’d once known. The plot built itself, our for-real regular “Captain Dipshit” became a villain, Dicky Kulane materialized out of nowhere, and the characters began to think and talk for themselves. And what had begun as a kind of journal became the fully fictional first draft of what you’ve just finished reading.

But I still remembered who the people had been in real life, and I still remembered every small feature of the place that Bingham’s had been based on. There really was a chipped-out shape in the paint that resembled someone the place had once known. There really was a pothole in the middle of the office floor. There really was, once upon a time, a real-life Ghetto Phone.

I’d written this sprawling epic that was partially true, partially blue-sky fabrication — or inspiration, depending on how you see it. And because it was so important to me, I couldn’t edit it. I could nudge it a bit and clean up the wording and “punch it up” as the Hollywood types say, but I couldn’t address the biggest problems. I couldn’t remove the minor characters so that the reader would remember the main ones. I couldn’t remove my recounting of High Street’s many colorful characters that weren’t relevant, but that meant something to me. I couldn’t change the autobiographical truths of some real-life moments so that they made sense in the context of a fictional tale.

In other words, I couldn’t commit to the harsh rewrite it would take to turn something I cared very much about into something that others might care about — and remain interested enough in to read all the way through. The first, second, and third drafts of this book were filled with my precious friends and memories. They were filled with my “darlings,” and I couldn’t bring myself to kill any of them.

Flash forward a decade or so.

In November of 2011, a friend of mine named Adrian Varnam insisted that I read Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. He insisted, in fact, that he pay for a copy and have it shipped to me. I tried to protest, saying that I could pay for my own books, but he very firmly said, “I’m sending you this book,” and so I let it be. The book arrived, and I read it in a day. And after a week or two of letting Pressfield’s words rattle around in my brain, I realized something troubling.

I realized that The Bialy Pimps was still unfinished, no matter how much I told myself it was complete. I’d given birth to a major creative work, but I’d let Resistance stop me.

I went to my closet and pulled out the manuscript box containing the 180,000-word third draft of my ancient novel (on the box: “IT’S VERY GOOD! TRUST IT! DON’T MESS WITH IT!” and the codicil I’d neglected to add “… UNTIL YOU’RE READY TO KILL SOME UNNECESSARY DARLINGS!”), and began reading.

On the first read, I figured my task would consist mainly of excising the irrelevant parts. This was encouraging, because it meant I could do it relatively quickly. I’d lop out the sections that went nowhere and remove the huge, windy, introspective passages that were all about me telling myself that life was going to work out if I had faith. I’d put myself in the shoes of an objective reader and simply ask myself what bored me. And after a distance of twelve years — time during which I’d gotten and remained very happily married, had two delightful kids, quit the terrible job and created an online business that I enjoyed every minute of, gained some internet fame, and made many amazing new friends — I was every bit objective enough to do that.

But the job was far, far harder than I’d thought. My emotion at the time had masked major problems with the manuscript. Dicky Kulane, who was the only major character that hadn’t been inspired at all by a real person, read like a cardboard cutout. Dicky’s plotting and motivations were totally unbelievable. I cut-jumped around the novel as it suited me as a writer, leaving the reader hanging and confused. A lot of it was still very funny and very good to my older and hopefully wiser eye, but it needed a lot of work.

But I was on fire like I’ve seldom been. I rediscovered that place, now mostly fictional. I re-met those people, now personae in their own, imaginary right. From this, I found the energy for a top-to-bottom rewrite of easily two-thirds of the book, and did it on top of a full-load of “real, for-money business” I had on my plate. I got up early. I stayed up late. I squeezed in over six hours a day on the rewrite in addition to my work and family commitments, and in around seven weeks, the final draft was complete.

Well, almost. Until I published the thing, it would still be incomplete in the way that counted. So I told myself that no matter what happened with this novel, it deserved to at least see the light of day. It deserved, in Seth Godin’s terms, to be “shipped,” regardless of what would happen next. And I pushed through until that happened.

I hope you enjoyed this book, but if you didn’t, I won’t be offended because I didn’t write it for you. I wrote it the first time for me, and the second time for the book itself.

No matter what happens next, I’m proud of this book, and what it’s grown up to be. I’m pleased it had the courage to be born, and then to be reborn. I’m glad it was able to tell its story, and to become what it was meant to become.

For you

We spend a whole hell of a lot of our time doing the things that other people want us to do, or require us to do. Most people go to a job and do the work a boss wants them to do. Freelancers do what their clients want them to do. Entrepreneurs, who like to act like free spirits who are beholden to nobody, spend their time trying to do what the market wants, because that’s what’s profitable. We do the dishes because that’s what our spouse or roommate wants, we pay the bills because that’s what the utility companies want, and we play Candy Land with our kids because it’s what the kids want.

If you’ve got a creative endeavor in the works — no matter which form that “creation” takes — and if that endeavor is something that nobody other than you gives a shit about, then you must take the time to work on it.

You must finish it.

You must ship it, and get it out there into the world.

Maybe the world will magically start to care at that point, and maybe it won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve completed something that you did for you, and for nobody else.

I’d love it if the world fell in love with The Bialy Pimps and it became really popular, but it doesn’t matter if that happens because that’s not the reason I wrote it, and it’s sure as hell not the reason I took the time now, twelve years later, to spend hundreds of hours rewriting it and preparing it for publication.

I did it because it was my own foolish dream to write and publish a novel, and on Monday night I pushed the button that, after decades of dreaming, made that dream a reality.

And it was so damn worth it.

P.S: IMPORTANT NOTE… the book IS available at no charge on non-US Amazon sites, so if you’re outside of the US and these links tell you that you can’t get it, go to your local Amazon site and search for “The Bialy Pimps.” Here’s the Amazon.co.uk link, for instance.

P.P.S: Even though I’ve said I don’t care what happens, I do kind of care and would love if you’d download The Bialy Pimps (remember, it’s free for the first days) because then I get to watch the numbers go up. Even self-realized people who do things “for themselves” aren’t above shallow ego boosts.

P.P.S: If you have an e-reader that won’t recognize the Kindle file format, shoot me an email.


Now that you've read this post, go here:
WHAT DEFINES YOU?

Comments

  1. Jimelle says:

    Congratulations! It’s a terrifying, amazing feeling isn’t it?
    I just downloaded your book onto my kindle. The book looks great – sounds like it’s right up my alley, and I already know I love your sense of humor!
    I’ll tweet it in a moment for you, and try to remember to mention it in the Meet Our Authors forum on Amazon – it seems a lot of readers pick up on new books there.
    Thanks for sharing – can’t wait to read it!

  2. Lisa Young says:

    Woo hoo! So happy and proud for you – and all the folks you’ll inspire to get off their “yeahbuts” and just do it.

    Congrats, Johnny!

    • Johnny says:

      Ha, I don’t know if it’s impressive that I finished something that was in limbo for 12 years or sad that it took me 12 years.

      I’m kidding. I am, of course, awesome. :)

  3. Damn, here I was wondering, “What’s he up to this weekend. Wonder what he’s doing today.”

    Oh, just PUBLISHING A NOVEL. Ain’t no thang.

    I’m blown away. Oh, and I downloaded said novel and totally got sucked into it right away and now I’m behind on other stuff. Doesn’t seem to bother me though…

    Incredible. Good on ya, mate.

  4. Karl Staib says:

    Just downloaded it and read the first few pages and they are amazing. I love the attention to detail and the characters feel like people I know. Great job! I can’t wait to read the rest of it.

    • Johnny says:

      That was the most fun part. The characters were mostly based on real people to start, but they then started doing things I didn’t see coming. Both eerie and cool.

  5. Wendy says:

    Thank you!
    I love the concept, can’t wait to read it!

  6. MikeTek says:

    I remember you mentioning the novel a while back, maybe in Question the Rules, but probably even earlier. I’m a closet fiction writer myself, by that meaning my writing sits in the closet and doesn’t get touched and ends up nibbled by mice. And when you mentioned your novel, I felt a personal interest, somehow, in seeing you go back to it and publish it.

    I’m lifting this sampler bottle of Jim Beam in your cheer, sir. Book downloaded.

    • Johnny says:

      Well, I’m proof that those things in the back of closets CAN still be saved. It might be entertaining for me (and maybe you) to now go back and listen to that QTR session where Lee was pestering me to publish it…

  7. Stacie says:

    Because of you I discovered Kindle for Mac and downloaded the app on my iPhone just so I could read this book that I was too late to get for free.

    You stinkin’ interesting people really need to stop publishing digital books for $3! lol

    Just kidding. Don’t stop. I love to read. I love to read and learn at the same time even more (so long as it doesn’t bore me to death).

    Looking forward to reading your book :)

    • Johnny says:

      This is fantastic! I hope you love it (and I hope that once you do, you’ll go back to Amazon and give me a good review. :) )

Trackbacks

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