Five years ago, I created this column to research and discuss failure and success as a writer—a column without delusions or lies that presented strategies for working in an unfair business. It was meant for me and writers like me who were still swinging after fifteen years, nowhere near the bright lights but refusing to surrender. But it has dovetailed into psychology related to vocation and craft. Last month’s column ended with suicidal thinking. How do you top that
You don’t. I’m tapping out. This is the last FXXK WRITING.
So many epitaph articles are about joy, the good times, etc. Joy already infused 60 installments. It’s not our focus here. Let’s discuss FXXK WRITING’s impact on the external world before it dies, best that I can measure.
It made money, which I desperately needed while living below the poverty line. For five years, money was the only guarantee. FFO never stiffed me and was always on time with payment. For small press publishing, that’s a miracle I will miss.
With the Publisher’s help, I turned the first year’s columns into a book. People bought it. Students ask me to sign it. It has almost 3.3 stars on Amazon and 3.8 on GoodReads (where my little sister wrote a kind review). The book was put in a bundle that paid very well—thanks to other writers named Jeff VanderMeer.
Promotion for the column poked sales of my other books, measured in the dozens.
FXXK WRITING created haters. Most were writers. The common moan—Jay is a bitter loser full of envy and jealousy, his arguments are sour grapes, his column hurts writers . . . and that title is rude. These resentments came from three groups: young writers dreaming of becoming the 1%; peers who have had a little less or a little more success than I; and, writers with impressive paydays who suffer success-bias so bad they equate sales with quality. I found all of them amusing, especially when they retreated into public silence or private chats.
FXXK WRITING also generated fans. The numbers, like the haters, are hard to gauge. Metrics include LIKES on FB, YAYS in professional writing orgs, notes in the comment section (before it was closed). Some emailed me, including my then-girlfriend and future wife (“I love FXXK WRITING because it feels honest. You can tell the writer has lived in the real world”). Writers thanked me for saying in public what they felt in private. Some were peers, others have careers and works I envy. These fans enjoyed my message—keep going, regardless of rejection or other people’s opinions; keep working, learning, and getting the work out so long as you have something to say and a desire to say it.
And I had an outlier fan. A global rockstar loved my essay “The Workaholics Creed.” Yes! It is the one you’re thinking of right now!
The Publisher always enjoyed the column, and kind words were had with assistant editors, so patrons are still alive and well in the arts. No clue if others on the masthead read it.
None of these measures were sustained or substantial, just peaks and valleys I could never predict. For some writers’ orgs, announcements about my column were met with silence, or a handful of likes, or substantial feedback and good argument (the last, however, was rare). Beyond the above, there is little proof that FXXK WRITING created a dialog outside itself. No proof there was audience growth or retraction. The first column remains the most popular, according to Google, but the rest is speculation.
These facts land as my writing career returns to limbo during a troubling context. COVID. American Racism and proto-fascistic offensives taking lives and promoting hate while being contested by the oppressed and their allies. California wildfires jumping highways. Job instability. Economic turmoil. Election madness. And, on a tinier stage, publishing became more bizarrobananapants than ever—we can’t even rely on the old crazy anymore. And my current sales have raised doubts about future success. While these truths rage, the maelstrom of my mind pounds a drum within my skull. The rhythm goes like this: Talent? Worthless. Career? Worthless. Craft? Worthless. Sales? Worthless. You? Worthless. FXXK WRITING???
None of it is worthless. Not one fucking slice. My life is manifestly better than when the column started. Gone are the roaches, ants, and mice kissing my hair goodnight; vanished is the exposed toilet in the kitchenette where I cooked, shat, and showered; absent are the nights making peace with death by earthquake, stray bullets, or a sleep-deprived car crash. I am in a home filled with love, support, and belief in my worth as a human and writer. Yet even here creeps worthlessness.
For five years I wrote about rolling with the punches of the cultural marketplace and coming up swinging. Sometimes I do. Fuck, I did today. But too many mornings I end up punching my own face and screaming “Worthless.” I’m overworked and exhausted. Which is a very good reason to end this column. I must walk the talk. Make a hard choice. Find joy. Create what only I can make. But to do that now means letting some things go. It’s time to say fuck FXXK WRITING.
I’m proud of the column. It filled an empty space between repetitive advice to newbies and the 1%’s unreplicable map to glory. It was helpful, supportive, and affirming without slinging bullshit, magical thinking, or suckling at the teat of avarice. It did not lie or patronize the audience, nor did it pull punches. Best to split before becoming self-parody.
I leave you with my hope that FXXK WRITING did good I will never see. That it may reach people long after today and give words to feelings and hopes to keep punching up. That when my career is tallied, the column will stand tall as something valuable I created within a tiny corner of the arts. So I lay it to rest with the words of a dead man who thought himself a god.
“Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized.”
DR. RIDLER HAS GIVEN HIS LAST FUCK.
THERE WILL BE NO ENCORE.
To Shara Saunsaucie White, Nick Mamatas, Carrie Vaughan, Ann Randolph, Chuck Wendig, Mark SaFranko, Matt Coward, Kameron Hurley, and my wife for support and/or inspiration.
TO ANYONE WHO READ THIS COLUMN:
Thanks! You are both smart AND attractive!
TO FLASH FICTION ONLINE:
I hope you will miss me like I will miss you. Special shout outs to Samantha Sabovitch and Stewart C. Baker, but especially our intrepid Publisher Anna Yeatts. Anna turned my Facebook rant about Chuck Wendig’s bottomless advice-trough for new writers into a five year odyssey I had not fathomed. She believed in this column’s content, attitude, and fucking title since day one, and provided me absolute freedom. For all of that and more, I am extremely grateful.
TO THE GUTTERSNIPES AND WILLFULLY BLIND WHO STILL HATE ME:
Take solace that I am gone, and “Always Believe.”
© 2020 Jason S. Ridler