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.

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