Will Hindmarch is a writer, game developer, and graphic designer whose work has appeared in the likes of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.
Some of my favorite Wi(l)ls are the Wils Wheaton. Those Wils are great. Wil the Actor, Wil the Podcaster, Wil the Host, there’s a whole slew of them out there, working hard. You know them. You dig them, same as me. One of my favorite Wils Wheaton, though, is Wil the Writer.
I’ve dabbled in acting and radio just enough to know they’re tough—enough to know I enjoy them more than I am good at them. So I can look at those Wils as an audience member with just a fine fiber of appreciation for why the work is difficult, even though I mostly don’t know what I’m talking about. I admire those Wils the way I admire a lot of my friends with jobs I cannot do well, by being grateful that other people are better at stuff than I am so that stuff can get done.
But Wil the Writer? I make my living as a writer, so I know the
racket territory. I come to Wil’s writing with the appreciation of the cobbler from across the way. I picked up Wil’s books and blog posts and admired their craftsmanship, from the stitching to the gloss, and I instinctively wanted to take them apart to see how they worked.
Here’s what I wanted to recreate: Wil’s capacity for sentimentality without syrupy additives. What the hell does that mean? It means Wil writes frankly about the feels without being being all cloying about it.
Sometimes he dances (barefoot) right at the edge of Sugarsville, but he knows what’s sweet and what’s too sweet and he’s got a honed knack for staying on this side of the saccharine line. He writes honestly. He finds the moments. That ain’t easy.
In 2008, Wil and I were both writing flash fiction at a website called Ficlets. The gist of the site was that you composed little bits of fiction within a limited character count and posted them where others could write prequels or sequels to them, turning any piece of flash prose into this potentially branching, sprawling narrative. (That site eventually burned down, but they built Ficly on the old lot. I wrote a few things at the new site, too.) I don’t know if Wil wants me posting stuff he wrote back when, but let’s see what happens. At the end of January of 2008, Wil wrote this passage of fiction called “A Godawful Small Affair:”
“I want to move to Mars, and open up a bar,” Gregor said.
Matti inhaled deeply, and let a cloud of pale blue smoke surround his head.
“What would you call it?” Matti said.
“Moonage Daydream.” Gregor said.
They sat together on a crumbling balcony, exposed rebar and radioactive dust, and waited for the rocket, three miles distant, to launch.
“What’s it mean?” Matti said. He flicked the butt of his cigarette over the edge, and watched it fall out of sight.
“It’s the title of an old song,” Gregor looked past the rocket, to a horizon he knew he’d never cross, “from about a hundred years ago.”
“Nobody’s going to get it. Why would you pick something that old?”
“Because back then,” Gregor said, “people had hope.”
The ground shook, and they watched the rocket climb into the sky.
Later that day, I wrote a sequel to that passage and called it “Too Small A Planet:”
“There’s still hope,” Matti said. He leaned over the butane bloom at the center of their little cafe table and burned off the tip of a fresh cigarette the color of undyed paper. “Just exported it to Mars is all.”
Gregor rattled half-dead ice cubes around in nicotine-colored scotch water and watched the inverted blue flame at the tail end of the rocket. The jetwash made layer after layer of perfect little upside-down bowls of white smoke. It all vanished into the haze over the city.
Matti exhaled over his shoulder, off the balcony. “Sedina’s up over on Mars, isn’t she?” Matti asked.
Gregor nodded. “Expat,” he said.
“If you’re going to open this bar, you’d need a cook, right?”
“Maybe not that kind of place,” Gregor said. He tried to suck scotch out from around the cubes. “Or maybe nothing that fancy.”
“Still,” Gregor said, slipping a stirrer into his mouth and chewing. “Hope on Mars, right?”
“Well. They send other stuff up there, too, you know.”
A few weeks later, when I tried to take up podcasting for the nth time, I took a stab at reading both of our stories (for some reason). I read the dialogue in Wil’s part over and over again, overemphasizing things, making it all way too big, underlining everything. I read it real bad.
So I quit. I decided it was too much work, too hard to do, and too much someone else’s skill set. I wanted to be good at it, but I wasn’t good at it—I know because I told me so—so I gave up. Just another thing that other Wils are good at but I am not. No big deal.
Except I’ve quit more than my share of things over the years because I didn’t think I was good at them. Sometimes I was right to quit. Sometimes quitting turned out to be temporary. As I understand it, Thomas Edison said that “many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Always I learned a lot about the people who chose to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I’ve been lucky to know a lot of talented, phenomenal people who Know How It Is and have pardoned my foibles and my doubts. I’ve doubted if water is wet, it’s a problem I have. But I am not alone.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about something Wil said in this episode of Storyboard, Patrick Rothfuss’s wonderful Google Hangout series for Geek & Sundry. The question (which was mine) was about learning not to give damns about negative opinions of your work. Wil pretty well nailed What It’s Like:
“Here’s forty-thousand people who tell you how amazing you are—all right. Here’s one guy who’s like, ‘You’re a shit pile and I hate you.’ [And you feel like,] ‘Oh my God, he knows! [...] He knows the truth! Augh! I’m terrible, I hate myself! Augh! How did he see through my cleverly crafted façade? It’s the worst thing ever!'”
The thing is, that wasn’t Wil the Writer talking. It wasn’t Wil the Actor or Wil the Host. It was Wil Wheaton. There’s only one.