Posts Tagged ‘writers’

I’m No Longer Arguing That With Him: I Quit

July 14th, 2010

If you’ve had the fortitude to stick with this blog since my first post (I’m Not Arguing That With You) you may recall I was miserable with my pathetic career choices and fantasized about changing my life…essentially getting my groove back:

But holy crap it would be so nice to just walk in and…

Well, I finally did it.

I decided to start my own business. My wife was with me 100 percent. Sure, the economy sucks ass (thanks Mr. Bush and friends) but she believes in me. (She was also probably categorically sick of my bellyaching and wanted me to get my groove back, too.)

So,  for several months I planned my work and worked my plan…I ate my daily quota of shit, avoided mirrors (who needed the pitying look one gets from one’s self?) and quietly laid the ground work for my daring daylight escape.

The day finally came when I was ready. The new business incorporated, bank account open with a whopping $100, business cards printed. I even had some customers.

One task remained; one I both relished and feared.

I walked in to Mr. Waturi’s crappy little office, looked him in his piggy little eyes and told him effective immediately I was outta there.

“This life, what a joke. This situation… this room….you look like a bag of shit stuffed in a cheap suit.”

Okay, actually I didn’t say that. Instead I said thanks for a great opportunity, but I just wanted to try to do my own thing.

His mouth moved like that of a goldfish in a bowl, but no sound issued. His piggy eyes widened.

After what seemed an eternity he (and I am paraphrasing because he actually stammered around for twenty minutes–going through all the phases of grief) said:

“Please stay.” (He was stuck on the bargaining phase, I guess.)

I was totally blown away, and for a moment I indulged him in his promises to make things more tolerable; his hints at greater things to come if only I would give up another humiliating year or two of my career. If only I would let him feast on the rich moist center of my career meatloaf until all that was left was sawdust and ketchup.

But I did not waver.  Instead I agreed to stay on a few months to help ease the transition. (And earn a tidy nest egg for the business to boot).

That transition has now ended and I’m happily working away at my business. Now it’s up to me to make my own dreams come true. No more fantasizing about easy ways out, either.

I have to say…it did feel good to say farewell to Mr. Waturi. I’m no longer arguing that with him. Sure, I have a totally new set of fears to conquer, but at least I’m longer waiting for my real life to begin.

I gotta get my groove back.

Step one: Take back my career.

Status: Achieved.


The dumb ass.

BOOKLIFE: A Cure for the Post-Millennium Dilettante

November 15th, 2009

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer

My late grandfather was well known in very small circles.

As an author of historically accurate western fiction over a career spanning nearly fifty years, he wrote more than 30 published novels, dozens of short stories and a few unproduced plays. What I know of the writer’s life–of a writer’s discipline, I know from him.

Though acclaimed and award-winning, he never made more than a few thousand dollars per book, communicated with only a handful of his fans and had no idea how to market himself. What he knew was he loved the work. He loved the discipline. He loved putting the words together.

His days went something like this: wake at 4 a.m. or so–make breakfast and drink coffee. At 4:30 a.m. he set an egg timer and wrote on an ancient Brother typewriter until the egg timer went off sixty minutes later. Then it was off to the racquetball club for a quick game, a shower and then a nine-hour day at his job as an historian.

Discipline Over Easy.

Discipline Over Easy.

When he came home, he tended to household chores and whatever social activities my grandmother set for him. He would read, perhaps catch a little television, then sleep. The next day–everyday–he started again. If he wasn’t writing, he was researching.

He did this (with some minor variation) every day for at least 25 years. Prior to that he had other routines to keep his work going. This was my grandfather’s booklife.

I freely admit to being a dilettante up to about two years ago. I majored in professional writing in college after being praised throughout my entire educational career as being talented with words–spoken and written. But I did it easily. I slid by–not too hard with public school standards. I was lazy and thought hard work was for suckers.

Years of dabbling in writing novellas and a couple of full-blown (promising but ultimately unpublishable) novels were fruitless, because I was not learning from my failures. I wasn’t working hard enough, and I wasn’t taking anything seriously. My booklife was the equivalent of having a gym membership and going twice a year.

A few years ago, eaten up with cancer and literally on his deathbed, my grandfather told me in not so many words to get serious about my writing. I promised I would.

And I did not. At the time I was a promising, but ultimately failed political candidate. (Sensing a pattern here?) And when I wasn’t losing elections I was a radio talk show host or actor. My off hours were spent drinking martinis and getting laid. My booklife was on the shelf.

It took getting the shit kicked out of me by some bad personal decisions and a self-imposed banishment to the smallest town in the world before I changed. A story that had been knocking around in my head for two years came out. The characters took control. I wrote three hours a day after work for four months straight to crank out a first draft.

Even so, I never really linked my grandfather’s booklife to what I was doing until I read On Writing by Stephen King. That book made me truly appreciate the discipline and work my grandfather put into the craft of writing. I’ve read it five times and listen to Mr. King read the audiobook version on my IPod whenever I need a kick in the pants.

Researched, edited, tweaked, rewritten six times (I wrung out those adverbs, Mr. King!) my book is finished. Though 18 months later all I have to show for it are a stack of paper and virtual rejection slips, I’m proud of my book. I’m also proud of winning a modest short story contest. But that’s not the real nut of what I’m saying here–in my usual way I’m bleeding all over the keyboard and haven’t even discussed the main subject.

BOOKLIFE

Though I have not yet achieved even a scintilla of my grandfather’s success, I have achieved the discipline. I have my own Booklife, and had I read Jeff VanderMeer’s book of that same name years ago I think it may have saved me a lot of time and agita. Booklife is the Rosetta stone for twenty-first century writers. (I learned of it from Justine Musk’s Tribal Writer blog, and to her I am grateful.)

Subtitled “Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer,” Booklife isn’t just about the discipline–it’s about making sure the discipline doesn’t burn you out or make you crazy. Just as King did in On Writing, VanderMeer encourages, gently cajoles and flat-out kicks your ass when you need it.

Unlike King, though, VanderMeer gives a detailed roadmap on how to create a relationship with current and potential readers through social media. My grandfather never had that opportunity. His books sold okay, but I cannot help but wonder how different things would have been had he access to the internet. I imagine fan clubs and a hell of a lot more books sold. Today you can find some of his out-of-print books in secondary school libraries, rare bookstores and online booksellers. (A first edition of one of his books goes for almost $200 at a certain bookstore. I want it.) I also think of how amazing it would be if his work could be downloaded as ebooks–the direction my beloved, rejected novel is going.

VanderMeer’s style is laid back, breaking up topics into easily digestible bites. He even invites the reader to “dip into the book at any point.” I chose to read it straight through. Though I could arrogantly assume my day job as a PR man puts me ahead of many writers when it comes to promotion–therefore I could skip that section of the book–clearly VanderMeer’s advice on modern book promotion is indispensable.

Booklife is divided into the “Public Booklife” and the “Private Booklife.” The Public Booklife covers goal setting, self-discovery as a writer and ways to communicate with readers using today’s technology. It includes a sample PR plan that would have done wonders for my granddad and will certainly help me.

The Private Booklife “constitutes your core activities: the engine that drives your creative life.” Though I shy away from crunchy granola navel gazing about why I write, VanderMeer’s “Pillars of Your Private Booklife” are worth the lint farming.

Between the Public and Private is the Booklife “Gut-Check.” This is required reading:

“Booklife is as much about balance as anything else. Balance between your Public and Private Booklife–working smarter and more imaginatively for greater creative satisfaction and gain. Losing balance means losing perspective. When you lose perspective you no longer understand the real value of the elements in your Booklife. You distort the importance of promotion weighed against actual writing. You rationalize web surfing as ‘research.’ You tell yourself that all you need is one more push and you’ll be over the hill. You respond to email as it appears in your inbox rather than developing a protocol for response…the goal’s still on the horizon, and you’re expending a lot of useless energy.

Consequently, too, you’re probably not spending a lot of time in the physical world. A balance between the physical and electronic worlds is crucial here. My personal sense of balance requires at least a few hours of walking in the woods every week to truly reset my fragmented, overstimulated mind. As writers, we don’t enhance our skills of observation and intuitiveness sitting in front of a screen 24-7, and so an hour in the woods or out among people is about a hundred times more valuable to me than an extra hour for networking or other work situated on the ‘intertubes.'”

My grandfather knew this.

Though he didn’t have the distraction of the internet and the many “conveniences” of our age, he still had plenty of cul de sacs where he could have parked his creativity. He knew that writing was a job: a job he loved that rewarded discipline, respect for the craft and a healthy love of life away from the keyboard.

Among many other things, VanderMeer said something that sticks with me. It illustrates my grandfather’s booklife (and now my own):

“Ultimately if you’re not writing for yourself and because you believe that what you’re doing is in some way of use–that it means something–then just don’t do it. There are easier ways to make money.”

VanderMeer preaches that gospel for the post-millennium writer. This book should be on every writer’s desk next to On Writing and The Elements of Style. As a recovering dilettante, VanderMeer’s book has reinforced the conviction that I am among the converted.

My work means something to me…and of course it would be a nice bonus to be–like my grandfather–well known in small circles.

My grandfather’s egg timer is on my desk.

It is ticking.

Do the Work, Then Worry About Selling It (Damn It)

October 27th, 2009

Cory Doctorow tells it like it is. See below (excerpted from an interview here):

WHAT DO YOU MOST OFTEN TELL WRITERS WHO ASK FOR ADVICE ABOUT GETTING PUBLISHED?

I often get e-mails from writers who say, “I’m working on a novel and I’m really worried that the publisher won’t let me have a Creative Commons license and I’m going to have to have this difficult negotiation.” And I write back and say, “Well, how’s the novel going?” And they write back, “Well, I’m a few chapters in.” And I write back and say, “Well, you need to finish the novel first. You can’t sell that novel until it’s written.”

So, there is a lot of potchking—which is a Yiddish word that means fiddling around—that writers do. I think one of the ways you keep on writing is by pausing every once in a while and daydreaming about how nice it will be when the book is finished and published. That’s totally legitimate. It’s just like daydreaming about what the marathon will be like when you’re finished running it. It’s one of the things that keeps you running, right?

But it’s easy to tip over from daydreaming to making the daydream the main activity. Once you are taking the time you should be spending writing and using it researching technical questions about negotiating the fine details of your contract with your publisher—who as of yet doesn’t exist because the book isn’t written—you are no longer writing. You are potchking.

This is no different than Robert Heinlein’s advice to writers: Write, finish what you write, send what you write to an editor. Almost every writer who approaches me for advice is not doing at least one of those three things. And if you are not doing those three things, you are not on a trajectory to publishing work. If you are doing those three things, you may not ever publish your work, but you need to do those things, otherwise what you are doing is writing-related activity. You are no longer writing.

So write, finish what you write and send what you write to an editor. Everything else is gravy.

He’s so much more charitable than I am at the moment. If I had a nickel for every wannabe I read online who “has a chapter almost finished” and is already sniffing around for an agent…

I have a drawer full of crap “practice novels”; now, after working my butt off I’ve finished something I think is worthwhile and I can’t get arrested. (Hence I’m taking it to Smashwords. These characters deserve to see the light of day, even if it’s the light of a Kindle.)

So finish your damn book before you have the gall to bother a published author with silly questions. By finished, I mean get through more than two drafts. Really put some time in, then send it out there. Take your lumps. The best advice my late grandfather (who had more than 30 books to his credit) ever gave me was “work your ass off, and don’t expect anybody to cut you a break.”

Rant complete. Somebody help me off my damn soapbox.