Everything changes (except one thing) – T.J. Brearton

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By T.J. Brearton

The only thing I know about writing is that everything changes. My writing career is like a person who looks different, sounds different, and acts differently as he or she ages. Sure, there’s some core DNA there, but the blood recycles, the environment shapes attitudes and ideas. What I thought I was as a writer when I was younger is not the reality now. My relationship to writing is different; my process always evolving. What inspires me changes. ♥

Much of this is obvious, because you’re always growing as a person, right? You get married, you have kids, you write more about marriage and kids, maybe. I used to write horror and sci-fi and speculative weirdness and bad poetry; now I mainly write police procedurals and everyman thrillers. This genre fluidity reveals my changing interests, environment, and needs, but of course I’ve been influenced by the market, too, and by editors servicing that market.

Certainly there are rules: Show, don’t tell; write using an active voice; open with a bang; be specific; say it once, say it right. Rules, though, are meant to be broken. Don’t use plural pronouns with singular antecedents? The hell you say! Even the basic foundation of a sentence – subject-verb-object – is protean.

Writing was something I once did without thinking too much about it. There were no routines, there was just sitting down and writing whatever I wanted, whenever I felt like it. That went on for years, and then I “got serious” and wrote a novel. I wrote book after book, never really thinking too much about them, half-heartedly attempting to publish them, and ultimately abandoning them to write more. When I wrote something commercial enough to get published fairly quickly, it was also done without too much thinking.

But that has changed, and I’ve become more deliberate. And as writing has earned me some money, and become my day job, I’m more regimented. I might have learned a few tricks, but they’re easy to forget. And while I may try not to repeat the same mistakes, sometimes it feels like I’m learning how to write with each new book.

What also changes is that the bar continues to climb higher. Like any artist, writers chase a certain creative narcotic bliss, but once publishing and feedback comes into play it’s easy to also start chasing greater levels of validation. Oh! I got published. Validation. Oh! One of my books has done pretty well. Validation. Oh! Someone I know just got a movie deal for their book – now I need one of those, too…

I continue to question what’s right. Part of me thinks that writing and publishing is just ego gratification. Another part of me thinks that since I’ve been doing it for so many years, and it’s putting a roof over my kids’ heads, aspiring to write successful books is pragmatic. There’s a battle between wanting to be an artist just following the muse and an artist who’s not starving, but making a living, and figuring out how to keep doing that.

So, what is it? What is this thing called writing, and what does it mean to you? What it means to you is probably not only different from what it means to the person next to you, but will also be different several years from now. Maybe even different tomorrow. Is there anything changeless about it? I think people will always want to read compelling characters. I think they’ll always want to find truth in the work. And I think each writer has a sort of inner diving-rod to get to those compelling characters and deep truths, but there are lots of detours along the way, myriad distractions, resistances, over-analyses, and so on.

The universal thing about writing, then, is probably the constant effort to strip all that away, to keep renewing and recommitting oneself to the work. And the work is in finding the truth – in yourself, in the world, in your characters, in their stories – no matter the external variables, no matter the outcome, no matter the chorus of capering spectators, whether they’re out there in the real world, or juried in your own mind.

T.J. Brearton is the author of eleven published novels, mostly crime and mystery. His books have been on the Top 100 list for Amazon Kindle and are published by Joffe Books and Bookouture. He lives in the Adirondacks of upstate New York with his wife and three children. His latest novel, Gone Missing, is out today.



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