Thursday, July 14, 2016

Why Writers Need Each Other

It's official. I now have more writer friends than any other kind. Bully! This means maybe, just maybe, I have a chance at making it.

Here's why: Writers pull other writers outta the gutter, the place we trip into regularly, absolutely sure that's where our work should be, and, oops, there we tumble over our shitty drafts. Once we're soaking in the sewage and our pages are illegible, sometimes we feel that's just where we should stay. But it stinks in the muck. Then look up, and lo, see all the other writers who just climbed out of the same stinky gutter but were cleaned off by a good, hard rain. They're offering you a hand up. Jeez, thank you.

Take the help. Squeeze the mother-loving milk out of it and wait for the next rain to rinse off the stench. You'll need that gang of travelers again and again and again. The gutter has a funny gravity and the road won't be any less slippery. My turn comes to extend a hand.

This year, in addition to launching a micro-press, I feel a need to start a patronage circle for working writers and artists in my community. We all need help, usually in the form of money, and wouldn't it be good to raise a few bucks for CREATIVITY'S SAKE?  Not for a political agenda, or a church, or a disaster fund, but for people who make art and take risks to expose the human condition, entertain us, and make life a lot more interesting.

Nina Hart is our guinea pig. Nina and I met years ago in a group called Women Writing in Asheville. She read these wonderful vignettes that elaborated on quirky characters and situations the likes of which I had never imagined. Her quirky stories of strangeness usually left us all a little excitedly befuddled and wanting more. She kept working on her craft and decided to start her own business,, to encourage other creative writers. She's been at it for three years now and wants to go to the next level by taking an intensive, yet expensive, training course. I say, let's help. We'll be having a party for her in the coming months. We'll drink, be merry, talk, recite some lines, and generally make life easier on some level for Nina.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Er, Cat Therapy?

Two months ago, my kids convinced me to adopt a new pet. The day-long search ended by bringing home two new pets -- litter mates. We renamed the long-hair domestic feline beasts Fish (gray) and Slayer (black). At the intro of the new cats, my two-year-old short hair, Ollie, made noises we'd never heard before. Deep, unhappy, throaty growls. We immediately began an on-the-fly program of assimilation. One set of cats on the kids' end of the house; the other younger cat on my end; wet food inbetween. We've seemed to survive Ollie's incessant, instantaneous grumbling phase. Now, he just deals, snout in the air. The cats have formed an uneasy alliance. The dog slinks about, trying not to get in their way.

My project list has evolved into a similar state of d├ętente. I have papers in various forms stuffed in folders and anti-version-controlled computer files (anti-version-controlled is my way of saying, if I bother to open it, it must be the right version). One box holds a memoir. On the desk, a folder barely keeps the loose contents of a precious novella. Another stack is marked non-fiction book. An unfinished novel hasn't even justified the ink. Each book doesn't cross territories. I kinda wander in and out of the words, and generally watch passively as they decide whether they want me to pet them.

At some point, all those projects were something like therapy. Good for the gut and brain to spill out. The stories, whether real or made up, had a point and a purpose. Then they become something else. Real objects to consider. Revisions to undertake. Thoughts to apply.

I watch my cats instead. They're easier therapy. I know what to expect out of the fur fatties and their short lifecycles. The books, less so. I'm still trying to define their territory. Maybe I should just kick them out of the house. Tell 'em to make it on their own. I'd done with you, manuscript! Just get out in the world already. Leave me to my cats. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Truth About Improving Your Wordcount

Blogging can be a responsibility. I believe that if my words carry any weight, it's because I've chosen to write the truth. Many bloggers take different approaches. Some offer helpful advice and expert opinion. You can spot those blogs because most of the titles will read something like "Five Ways to Improve Your Wordcount." Sure enough, in the post, you'll find five ways to improve your wordcount, delineated by a pithy intro and subheads for each pointer. And the phrase "improve your wordcount" will be mentioned about ten times in the course of the post.

This isn't that kind of blog. A few of you already know that.

I tell it like I experience it. And writing for a living is not an easy road.

First, let me divulge the truth. I don't make enough money to "live" off of my writing. Very few writers (who write fiction) do. Here is my educated guess on how many writers in my creative, artistic community of 80K do: seven. Seven writers who write full-time and have sold enough books to dedicate their lives to writing other books. This, compared to the 200 to 250 fiction/non-fiction writers (or more) in my community. I'm ballparking these figures because there are no reliable stats. The majority of us struggle to finish/edit/sell a manuscript. Most of us, if not retired, have other jobs. Even though I write for magazines, I still don't make enough money to support my family as a writer.

If you don't feel a little down-hearted now, good for you. You know what you are in for. If you are feeling down, that's normal. Writing is a difficult road to success, recognition, credibility. The last one will come before the other two. I say this because if you stay serious enough about your writing, you will be considered a good resource for other writers seeking guidance. But credibility doesn't pay for buttered toast. I like buttered toast. I like coffee. I like to go on the occasional road trip. But a few years ago (after the publication of my first book) I abandoned the idea that this is the road to making a "living." It's a road to a lifestyle, and in many ways, this must be enough.

You will meet intriguing people. You will read and hear some fine and not-so-fine writing of others. You will write some fine and not-so-fine writing about many topics you thought you wouldn't write about. You will experience moments of ecstasy, for a passage or a project, and it will make you so high that nothing will seem impossible. Success will seem possible. Big success. And then, you'll crash. You'll feel the rough bottom many times. Experience the kind of self-doubt that most ordinary people with ordinary jobs don't understand. You'll have friends who understand, friends who will ask politely but not understand, friends who never ask you a whit about your work. It will become your "work."

You won't write. For months, maybe years at a stretch. This will release you from the burden of having to produce but also shadow you with a tinge of melancholy.

And you'll get fan mail. From that one perfect person who "got" you. You'll love
Solenne Poltier, my perfect fan.
them and wish for more like them. Or, maybe you'll never publish. And you'll come to terms with feeling satisfied that at least you wrote a book, something most people in the world will never say they've done.

In other words, your wordcount will suck and soar.

I wish I had some pithy ending for this post. A silver lining. Another cliche to throw out at you to make it all better. That your journey will be worth it and satisfying by the time you finally put away your pen or laptop for good. But, I'm not there yet. I'm still on the road.