Tag Archives: appalachian

On writing, and going forward into 2021

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of personal blogs, reflecting on, well, whatever the hell I want to reflect on. A lot will no doubt be on politics, though I plan to migrate most of that writing to Medium where it can pick up more traffic and make a little money. (And I do mean a little; most pieces bring in pennies, and no piece has netted me more than $25.)

Over the past several years, with rare exception I have avoided writing much about my personal life. As I have gotten further into my 30s, my desire to mine my own trauma for clickbait has diminished. This is partly because I have come to realise first person narratives are only so interesting, at least to me. My interest has moved decidedly more towards analysis. I suppose this is where it was originally; my degree is in history – that is, the history of other people, of civilisation – and not psychology or creative writing.

So don’t expect a lot of “why my college boyfriend ruined me for other men” blogs here. Although, perhaps not coincidentally, that might be a piece you see in the New Year. Undecided.

In truth, I don’t know what content might end up on this blog going forward. This will be a place where I dump what doesn’t fit anywhere else. If I can’t sell an article and don’t expect it to do numbers on Medium, it’ll end up here. I suppose that makes this a dumping ground for my spare thoughts. Not sure using a website in my name as a rubbish heap is a wonderful idea, but sod it. Here we are.

One thing I do anticipate writing more about here is writing. As some of you may know, I have been working on a novel for the past year. Well, novels. I started off with an idea about a single gay father, which then got sat aside for an idea about a gay Romeo and Juliet, which then got sat aside for an idea about several thirtysomethings returning to their college for homecoming, which then got set aside for, got set aside for, got set aside for.

In truth, I am very good at planning and plotting, at worldbuilding and character creation. I enjoy it. Where I seem to lose myself in anxiety and self-loathing is the actual writing bit. Sitting down to craft the narrative is a frightful undertaking, one that fills me with dread. I have the most painful imposter syndrome whenever I try to craft a fictional sentence.

Why is this? I have a few ideas. One is that I come from a working class Appalachian background where my family – God love ’em, they meant well – instilled in me that things like pursuing dreams and writing books and taking risks were for rich people. When you come from generational poverty like I have, success is defined differently. It isn’t a book deal or a blue tick on Twitter, it’s putting food on the table and having a roof over your head.

I don’t mean to make out as though I grew up Oliver Twist. My family was decidedly lower middle-class or working-class (choose your own descriptor) by the time I was born. But my grandparents, who raised me, were born and raised in abject poverty. My grandmother remembers the first time she got electricity, in the 1950s. Those of you who’ve seen Downton Abbey will know that was about 50 years later than most. But then, the mountains are often left behind the times. Not always by choice, but also sometimes by choice.

That is a different essay for a different day. The point is, I think my upbringing – one in which I was taught to aim low and avoid disappointment, but which a more generous interpretation would be to always find job security and never take risks you can’t afford – has, if not stifled my creativity (I have plent of ideas), stifled my self-belief. I am working through this. I’ll update you on how once I’ve figured it out.

But I also think there is something else to be said here. Writing a novel requires a very different skillset to writing the 800- to 1000-word opinion pieces which have become my calling card. From the start of my career, I have pitched an idea to an editor, gotten a yes within two hours (if it was a yes – more often it’s a no), and had to turn it around in another two to four hours. And, at risk of sounding cocky, I am very good at this. I work well under pressure and am able to form coherent arguments strung together in decent prose very quickly. I credit my history degree for this – those final exams consisting solely of essay questions really prepare you for a life of writing hot takes for the internet.

This is, needless to say, a very different skillset to planning, plotting, and writing a 100,000 word novel. To begin with, they’re not even the same type of writing. Nonfiction – or at least what I write – is relatively straightforward. Sure, I aspire to be as punchy as Marina Hyde or Suzanne Moore, but so long as I get my point across I feel I’ve succeeded.

Not so with a novel. You have to be clever. Not smart or intelligent, though obviously those things help, but clever. Witty. Lyrical. You need to know how to write vibrant, vivid descriptions, how to make each character sound and move uniquely, how to paint with words. I don’t need to explain what Donald Trump looks like, how he moves, how he sounds. We are all painfully aware. But you have no idea how The Lady Grierhannon, Regent of Lastlight speaks or walks. I have to tell you. And that’s harder than you might think.

The Lady Grierhannon, by the way, is an actual character from a novel I have started and stopped at least three times this year. Actually, if I have my way, it’s a series of novels: a fantasy story I describe as “Game of Thrones meets Pride and Prejudice.” I am excited about it, I love working on it, and I think I can eventually finish book one. But then, no one wants to publish a fantasy series from a first time author. I might have a small but proven record of being a successful opinion writer, but no one – least of all I – know if my fiction will sell.

So, I’m wondering if I should even continue working on that book, at least for now, or at least in earnest. I think I’ll always work on it; I enjoy it, and it’s my passion project. But, maybe I should try to write one of the other novels I have floating around in my head first. You know, a one-off to prove I can, in fact, do this. Prove to agents and publishers, of course, but also to myself.

I also need to spend more time pitching and writing for money, because I need more money. 2020 was good to me. I never hurt for cash. Part of that is my circumstances – I am living with my grandparents, and they have been kind enough to let me stay here with minimal expenditure. That can’t last forever, though, and now that I have health insurance (I tweeted about this), I need to make more money each month than I was. So, expect more pitching, more hot takes, maybe some reported pieces. Who knows? I’ll write anything for a buck or a quid. I accept both currencies. (I accept others, too, but I don’t know a fun colloquial word for them.)

Anway, that seems like a fine place to leave off now. Who knows what will become of this blog, or my novel(s), or me, or you, or anyone in the new year. Coronavirus has shown us how pointless it is to plan and predict the future. I’ll take it one day at a time, doing my best, hoping for the best, and we’ll see what happens.

Oh. I guess if you have any blogs you’d like to see, let me know. Don’t imagine you do, but I’m open to suggestions.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan