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.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fooling Around for National Poetry Month

I'll bite. Poetry, yeah, I read it. Write a few. Wish for inspiration. Here's one I'll share, and then offer a shorter version, maybe better, leaner, more core.

Hawk Song
In the woods, a hawk spoke.
She wanted to sing together.
“Sing,” she called, and we threw our voices.
Circling in my sky,
she flew endlessly as I wandered,
as I sought a different ending.
Like the hawk, I must call out, must circle,
must crease the air.
Difference is,
the hawk lives in the now.
The hawk never questions.
When I go, she becomes the woods.
If I am silent, her song spins on.
Difference is,
I need more than the hawk needs.
I need someone to hear.

In the woods, a hawk
She wanted to sing
"Sing," she called
Call, circle, crease
In the now
Becomes the woods
Song spins on
More than the hawk

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Bane of Earnestness

Earnestness and writing may appear to go together, when in fact the opposite seems to breed success. Too many writers gyrate themselves in the public social sphere and succeed at selling their work. Do reclusive introverts, the loners at home with their dogs, make best-selling writers? Only the damn good ones -- the really damn good ones who spend the end of their lives in seclusion, writing backstories for all their famous characters, while hunched over manual typewriters in wooded shacks, down the hill from the main house where the fifth spouse does laundry. Okay, maybe that's a hair exaggerated.

Not happening for most of us. It's a new age. Get your platform-on, sister. Jesus, I hate that word. Platform. It doesn't really mean anything. I wrote a damn book, and then another, and a few other things, and by God, my brain wants me to write a few more before my wrists give out. But I'm freakin' earnest. I'm probably not going to crank anything resembling a marketing machine into something viral.

Ego is a good asset to have to market a book. When you have a big one, it doesn't matter if pieces fall together or apart because the next sales trick will work, and so what if it doesn't? You're a genius, or so your ego says. It induces a bolder-is-better attitude and license to TRUMP the message. BUY MY SNAKE OIL.
Dog in Space.

I'm sitting here writing poems between novels (poems, for God sake) because they give me a sense of accomplishment. I can finish one in a day, an hour. Novels are gangly and complicated. (I'm sure a few poets would argue with me.)

Ariel Gore, an earnest writer who's earned literary success for her memoirs, says after her books reach the 100-page mark, they become harder to manage. The story can't be read in one sitting. It can't be diagnosed and fixed easily. That means more time, more thought, longer stretches between publication, unless you write full-time like mad. Unless unless unless. Ego, madness, kinda go together.

My next project? I'm thinking sci-fi. Why? Because the story can be out there. It can have space monkeys. But damn my soul, my book idea is stricken with earnestness. The protagonist is left behind on a dying planet with a dog. Hmmm, life and art track oddly close together.