Part 1 To Boldly Go Part 2 Mutant Saga 4- All it takes is one good backstory to really flesh out a character.
There is a quote about characterization that I've heard from a number of Creative Writing instructors about the full character being like an iceberg--only 10% of their backstory ever comes onto the page, but all of it informs who the character is. The instructors always want to put the quote in the mouth of their favorite writers, so I've heard it attributed to Hemingway, Woolf, and even Orwell. One guy was absolutely sure that he was the one who came up with it. (I'm pretty sure he also was so narcissistic that he thought he invented toast and the question mark though, so let's not take him too seriously.) I don't know who actually said it--even the crowdsourced wisdom of the internet disagrees on the particulars of who said it and exactly how the quote goes, but the point is that you think about the life of your character even though it may never come onto the page because it will still inform the way they behave, the choices they make, and their reaction to certain kinds of events.
A lot of people hear this advice and write down lots of information about their every character. They have thick dossiers on anyone important enough to show up more than a couple of times that include everything from favorite color to hometown. They have codexes of a character's every minutiae.
I'm not even kidding. I talked to one woman who knew where her character (from a 15 page short story) was ticklish and where she wasn't. All the places. I asked her if her character got tickled a lot in her story--or even at all--and she just looked at me like I was an idiot. "No," she said. "It's one of Berstromanifitch's 1500 questions that fully flesh out a character."
But fleshing out a character simultaneously goes beyond, and is far easier than, filling out a technical schematic on their every trivial detail. Facts and figures about phobias, education, sexual kinks, odious personal habits, and whether they prefer asparagus, Brussels sprout, or kale flavored yogurt might be useful, but what you really need is to think of a good past experience and how it might affect your character. And here's the kicker--it really only takes one good one. The reduction of a character to facts and figures strips it of the flavor and the meaning. The gestalt of a single good memory does more than all those diagrams.
Sunday day it was my honor to take part in one of--if not the--most spectacular LARP experiences I had ever played in. The Storytellers really took the time and effort to create something magical. All the effort that goes into making a good LARP, they had managed threefold, and it really showed through.
The basic premise was Arabian Nights. It started with someone (Scheherazade, I'm guessing) telling her husband a story to avoid death, and the story was us. We were in a generic middle eastern country experiencing our Arab spring. And when the tear gas landed, we all had a dream. In the dream I was a jinn trying to earn his freedom so he could be with his love. We were forbidden by our human master even to touch. The game unfolded with secret desires, hidden and mistaken identities, and dark forces at work to undermine everything. The storytellers have run the game three times, so they're not likely to do so again, but JUST IN CASE....I wouldn't want to do too many spoilers. Let's just say that the way we managed to play out the plots, my character ended up free with his love and when we touched, we shifted into our natural forms of Wind and Fire. (Clearly Earth was back at home, setting up the disco ball for our return.)
And when we touched, it was HOT.
Like lava....on the sun......in a heatwave.....during a really dry summer. Yeah.
(Image credit is unknown, but I would love to give proper attribution, a linkback, and mad props.)
At the end of the medieval plot, we woke from our shared-consciousness dream and walked out to discover that the winds of the revolution had changed direction. So the game was a dream within a story within a game, and much like Inception, it just kept getting more awesome at each level and making more denouementastical resolution as we came back out. They even had some costumes so that non-costuming shlubs like me who have played everything from Indiana Jones to aliens to dark elves in jeans and a t-shirt would actually look the part. Usually unless someone lends me a costume of some kind (which happens from time to time), the only question is if I'm going to wrap a shirt around my head or not.
Though the game was absolutely amazing, the interesting thing to me as a writer was how everyone changed from having had the experience of the dream. Timid people found their courage about certain issues. Priorities shifted for better or for worse. One character gained the strength to stand up to her father. My character became less interested in just hanging out with his friends to make sure they don't get hurt, and more aware that freedom is the most precious gift--also that I really wanted to ask the reporter with the fiery hair to coffee. One learned that some people need to be protected from the truth even if that meant lying. But we were all far more fleshed out as characters when we moved forward...because of the single backstory. We had gone from flat characters of empty statistics to something real.
We were all still holding the exact same character sheet as earlier in the game. We had the details of who we were--facts and figures. A strength. A weakness. An ally. A problem. What changed us into interesting characters instead of a collection of statistics wasn't a more extensive biography, a medical history going back three generations, or any sort of clinical list. It was a moment--full of flavor and life and angst and emotion and how we felt and how we burned (literally in my girlfriend's case) for what we wanted to have. For what became apparent to us. I almost was still a petty jinn by the end of that game, but I realized that the person who set me free and reunited me with my love was about to lose his own freedom...and for the act of granting me mine. That was the moment I changed. And that's not a fact or a figure, or something you will find on a post it note inside a dossier.
The writer from the above example could have had a much more meaningful time imagining just one moment where tickling went too far and what happened, and how that affected her as a person than to decide whether she was equally ticklish on the bottom of her feet or her armpits.
So to writers filling notebooks with every detail of their characters' lives: that's okay--especially if you enjoy it--but be careful that you aren't just creating reams of detailed flat characters. And be super careful that you're not just giving yourself one more thing to do that is NOT writing. Fleshing a character out doesn't come from the addition of further sterile details. Because the most detailed character is still flat if you're fleshing out the wrong part. Consider instead that imagining the genuine emotional crux of a single moment within their life that affects who they are as a person may help you characterize them infinitely better than thirty pages of where they did their postgraduate work and every phone number they've had since they were three.
THE FINAL PART--It's okay if your world breaks the rules if it does it consistently. My Little Pony review.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Friday. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. And don't be afraid to throw your friends under the bus for the entertainment of...hundreds.] Don asks:
I have a lot of friends who want to be writers but they don't read very much. Maybe few sci-fi books from time to time and blogs or zines that do video game and movie reviews. Mostly they watch TV and movies and talk about them all the time. They seem to do pretty good analysis of character and narrative arc--kind of like I've seen you do here with Inception, but they keep telling me that it's not as important to read books if you learn to "read" movies and shows. This goes against everything I understand about being a writer, but they are adamant. You are one of the only blogger/writers I know who will answer questions, and you do reviews of movies and stuff, but also say that reading is important, so I figure you are going to have a fair answer to this question. Am I right or are they? My reply: [I added the link to "Inception" in Don's question above.]
I'm assuming, Don, from the way that you asked your question, that you're planning to point your friends toward this in an attempt to win some sort of longstanding feud, so I'm going to save the abject mockery for another time lest your friends hunt me down. (Actually you also might not like my answer that much.) But if it makes you feel better, there will be some juicy "neener neener" fodder at the end. Especially if your friends are hoping to be the next Suzanne Collins, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling.
First of all, let's make something mountain-lake, sparklingly crystal clear. I'm not here to tell anyone if they're a "real" writer or not. That's a question best left to....well mostly to people arrogant enough to judge and label others.
I'm not saying it should be left to them, but haters gonna hate, and some people seem to feel better about themselves if they spend a substantial portion of their time and energy deciding who is a writer and who isn't. (I get an e-mail from one of them about once a month informing me that I am not a real writer.)
As far as I'm concerned, if you're earning your ER, you're a writer, and that goes for your friends too. An individual is themselves the only person truly equipped to make that judgement, so if your friends say they are writers, who am I to argue? Do something like ten gagillion people call themselves writers and barely write? Of course. Do they need to buy a dog and name it clue, so they can say they have one? Probably. However, I'll leave tracking them down and exposing their self-delusions to the Writer Police.
By the way, the Writer Police are total assholes, so never be one.
I also don't know what your friends want out of their writing. Do they enjoy writing as a hobby? Are their stories mostly for themselves and the joy of making it, or maybe their friends and family? If so, they can probably get away with just watching TV and movies and enjoying the act of writing. On the other hand, do they want to "make it" as a writer? Does the rejection of their NaNoWriMo manuscript by both publishers and Hollywood cause them confusion and angst? Do they want to be successful--even famous? Bestsellers on the shelves? Books that are made into movies? Then they probably have to take their craft more seriously.
Also, if your friends are more into TV and movies, maybe they should think about TV and movies as an art medium instead of prose fiction--either screenwriting or directing or whatever they're interested in. (I know....it seems like this shouldn't be a thing, but you'd swear it was rocket science.) A lot of people who are really into movies and TV are actually a lot more interested in writing for movies and TV (go figure), and in that case, exposing themselves to the art form that they wish to create within is absolutely useful. I can't imagine being a good screenwriter without watching a zillion movies.
(Which should probably set off your analogous-o-meter, by the way.)
That said, your friends still probably ought to crack a book or two if they want to be good writers--even if they really would prefer to be screenwriting. The best movie and TV writers (Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Niel Gaiman, Stephen King, Simon Beaufoy, and Chuck Lorrie to name a few) are EXTRAORDINARILY well read. I know this without them saying so (except in the case of King and Gaiman) because of how they write. One of the reasons their writing is so engaging is because they can pull in so much great material, play with English, and bring in mythology, allusions, and story ideas from some of the greatest works of all time. So it won't hurt your friends to read even if they would rather be screenwriting. But is it also useful to watch a lot of good audio/visual media? Totes, yo.
[I'll throw a disclaimer in here because it's such a common (and Hamlet-caliber tragic) trend within the writing community (I think I met eight or ten such folk in my CW program out of only about 50 or so): if your friends are trying to write fiction as an "inroad" to Hollywood because they think it's easier than breaking into show business, they may want to give themselves a wake up call....with a bat. A young, aspiring writer in Hollywood trying to peddle a script might be hopelessly cliche, but writing fiction when you'd rather be writing a screenplay is only marginally less cliche and also pretentious. The number writers famous enough to be involved in the process of turning a book into movie out of is tiny. The number of writers who get creative input in a movie of a book they sell is so small you wouldn't need to take off your socks to count them. Most writers are basically paid off to have a Coke and shut the fuck up while their story gets mangled. (Lawnmower Man, anyone?) Writers who get to write the screenplay generally already have screenwriting experience. Writers like William Goldman or Nora Ephron who do both fiction and screenwriting are quite exceptional, and usually very much want to be writing different kinds of writing. They don't do one kind of writing as a means to an end.
But, holy flaming Pope balls man, sometimes it's hard enough finding the motivation when you're doing exactly the kind of writing that you absolutely want to be doing. Slogging through the years of ignominy while doing something you don't really enjoy? Fuck that! And I don't mean some sweet John Denver, socially acceptable "lovemaking" either. I'm talking about pounding death metal....with a diamond bit chainsaw. If your friends really want to be writing screenplays and making movies, they should follow their passions. The internet is an exciting place for independent film efforts--maybe they could gather a following on Youtube and turn it into a career. That's what art is about. The only way to get through the unpaid, unappreciated hours of doing art and to do the parts that feel so much like work is to love the holy hell out of it. But trust your Uncle Chris when I tell you that breaking into Hollywood might be hard, but I PROMISE that it isn't any harder than being a successful fiction writer who doesn't actually like writing fiction.]
So can watching TV and movies help someone's writing improve? It absolutely can.
Oh yeah. I said it.
Especially quality TV or film that is watched with a discerning eye. Or really bad TV or film (like Prometheus) that stands in sharp relief as a reminder of what not to do. Plot. Pacing. Dramatic tension. Engaging dialogue. Character development. These are all vital elements of TV and film. (And frankly, most "high art" literature produced in MFA programs could seriously benefit from an injection exactly those things.) A writer can glean no end of good insight from TV and movies.
And the more they're paying attention and "reading" the media in question, the more they will get from it.
I know a lot of creative writing teachers. One thing that many of them have in common is that they have expressed surprise at is just how good young writers are at writing fiction with a background of primarily TV and movies. Right out the gate, they have many skills that the teacher would have thought would be lacking without an extensive background in reading. Whether the writer is literally young or just trying their hand at creative writing for the first time, many come into these programs without having read a gagillion books. But they still write in a way that demonstrates they understand irony, subtext, pacing, and storytelling.
And this is a big but....
(By the way, Don, here is where you want to point your friends while you strut around the room or whatever.)
TV and movies won't be enough. They just won't. A writer simply has to read...a lot. It's the cost of doing business.
You know how I can tell when I've been watching too much TV and not reading enough? Other than the fact that my brain feels a little bit like it's been eating potato chips and ice cream for dinner? It's when I have an idea for a scene in my head, and I picture it cinematically. I know exactly how I want it to go and what I want everything to look like, but when I sit down to write it, the words feel clumsy and thick, like I'm trying to tie my shoes wearing mittens. Whenever I've been reading prolifically, the idea for scenes comes to me in words. I don't think of how something will look, I think of how I will describe it. I think of how I can phrase things and what concrete imagery and significant detail I will focus on.
A writer deals in language. A writer deals in words. A filmmaker has to create every exacting detail of a setting or a costume, but a writer will put his readers into a coma if they try to do that (as Anne Rice has demonstrated a number of times). A writer has to choose which details to reveal and which to let the reader fill in. This is true within description, clothing, physical features, setting and even action. A filmmaker can set the tone with camera filters and a soundtrack. They can cut dramatically to another character or pan slowly across the room--each to different effect. Writers don't have these tools. Their tone has to come only from word choice. A writer doesn't have camera angles or special effects or actors who are themselves highly trained to show the required emotion. Everything comes from words.
The words are life. The words must flow.
In case you didn't get that joke, here's a...clue.
So a writer that doesn't read....prolifically...simply does not have the exposure to language that they need to hone these elements. They have to have the vocabulary to choose the right word instead of the not-quite-right word. They have to see words and see them used together in context to have a sense of how they evoke images and emotions. They may be good at certain aspects of storytelling that A/V media uses, but their prose lacks the ability to put those elements into the heads of their readers. Their writing is banal, perfunctory. It covers ground, but in a lumbering, dry way. It's like reading the back of a shampoo bottle. As Stephen King says, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." Or as an old professor of mine puts it, "Saying that you write but don't read is a little like saying you only breath out." Which is much more poetic than what I say: "How in the name of Zeus's ANAL SPHINCTER can you possibly write well if you don't have a frame of reference for what that even means."
It's an absurd sort of pretentiousness that writers have something of a monopoly on. It is laughable to imagine a musician who doesn't like music, a painter who doesn't like to look at paintings, or an actor who doesn't like to watch others' performances. Yet for some reason would-be writers spring up like dandelions who don't really like reading. Why writers corner this market is beyond me (even the garage band that's "totally gonna make it" but only practices once a month still LISTENS to a lot of music), but non-reading writers are legion.
Now....I'm not saying this because I feel like I have some kind of authority. I don't. I have less authority than the guy who sweeps the floors at a fast food place. But I pay attention to those who do: successful, published, great, even famous writers. And believe me when I tell you that the successful writers across the ages haven't agreed on much of anything, save two things: you have to write a lot and you have to read a lot. These fuckers will argue about how much to write, when to write, what position to write, what makes good writing, dialogue attribution tags, the number of drafts, the temperature of the room, how often devil's triangle threesomes should be incorporated into the writing process, and the color of the goddamned sky, but they agree that you have to read a lot.
That should tell you something.
I should also add (and I'm not trying to disparage your friends, so I hope they don't fly into a murderous rage when you point out this article to them, grab pitchforks and torches, and march on Oakland)..... more to the point, I've never known a writer of even moderate success for whom reading was a chore. I've never known a writer who ducked reading or made excuses or talked about movies like they were an adequate substitute for reading. I've never known a writer (of any success, I should be clear) who didn't want to read.
It's really not something you should have to wag your finger and chide a writer about. ("You should read more!") Most writers--most I can think of who ever published, and all who achieved any real success--simply love books. LOVE THEM! They may watch a movie but they're also excited to get back to the book they started yesterday. They love reading. They love words. They love language and the power it has to move and shape worlds.
They make excuses TO read, not excuses to avoid it.
So if your friends are actively trying to eschew reading, especially if they don't actually ever seem to get around to doing much writing, maybe they ought to think about how realistic that particular path is to them. I mean if they're just doing it for fun, then they're getting what they want out of it then that's fine--awesome even--but if they are imagining that they will be successful authors, they should probably either consider the wisdom of that particular path to fame and fortune, or face the fact that they need to read the ever loving shit out of everything they can get their hands on.
Amanda Palmer is in the news lately for her poem A Poem for Dzhokhar. Amanda Palmer is both an artist of whom I should ever be so lucky to ever have a fraction of the talent and simultaneously an artist that people either love or really love to hate. And even if you count yourself among those who hate her art or just hate her, she has some pretty intense and wonderful things to say about music, sharing art, and about asking for help. She believes that art on the internet is going to shift from massive commercial followings of a few major superstars to smaller groups of more intimate fans who support less-well-known artists.
This clip is a few seconds shy of 14 minutes, but if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. She talks about her job as a living statue before her performance art career took off as well as her experience giving away art and asking for money instead of working at more and more inventive ways for technology to force people to buy it.
She nails it with the part about how awkward it is asking. It makes me feel kind of uncomfortable to pass the hat here at Writing About Writing. That's why I try to limit it to once every couple of months and give people lots of options for other helpful things they can do. Maybe I'd be better if I spent a few years being a living statue. I always feel like your skeevy uncle with the drinking problem asking you for money to pay the hooker that's passed out from heroin in his RV.
Those of you who support Writing About Writing bring tears to my eyes. I know I have to turn in my Manlydudebro card in order to say that, but they really do. (I was already on probation after watching The Iron Giant.) This month has been better than any before it, and it's not the $9, I've pulled in from Adsense either. It's the incredibly generous donations from a handful of peeps who take my breath away.
It's all of you.
The numbers are still very modest for something I spend 30 hours a week doing (it looks like I'll make about $35 dollars this month between donations and ads), but the growth trend is encouraging. I have to focus on the 40% growth over last month and not the fact that I'm making a quarter an hour (or I will cry.) I'm optimistic about my ability to continue to offer all of my writing, including longer fiction works for free online. That means if the trend continues, there will be more articles (and a little less fluff), more fiction, and generally more awesomeness. With two other jobs beyond writing that take up about 45 hours a week, there is still plenty of opportunity to devote more time and energy to W.A.W. if it becomes viable.
But....dangling future offerings of fiction is still not asking. And like Amanda Palmer says, asking is hard.
So...here's me asking:
A few dollars to the Paypal link (upper right menu) would really be amazing and amazingly appreciated. I can't share a meaningful look at you, but I will send you a thank you note (and I've promised at least one person that a character who survives the zombie apocalypse in one of my stories will be named after them). Most contributors give about five dollars. Some people give me five or ten dollars each month--I call them my patrons without the slightest sarcasm. (They're usually the ones causing me to endanger my Manbrodude card.) One guy gave me the cost of a movie because he'd had more than two hours of entertainment here. Paypal takes the first thirty cents, so a few dollars is better than one or two, but no amount would ever be unappreciated.
I would really love it if you would turn off your adblocker for the chrsbrecheen.blogspot domain (which will leave it on everywhere else online). I want to make it clear that I'm not asking for anyone to click on ads just to "help me." [It can actually hurt me.] But if your blocker is off, maybe someday you see an ad for something you're interested in.
If you see an article (or especially if you dig up an old article) that you like, I would very much appreciate it if you helped me proliferate it. I only have so many friends, and they pretty much have decided if they are interested in what I am doing or not, but friends of friends and further social networks are readers I can only get to with your help.
And of course any sort of social media strokes (+1s, LIKEs, Upvotes, etc...) will help me in the long run.
But whether you give me ten dollars a month like one particular angel/muse/patron or just take the time to comment on an article once in a while, you are appreciated.
I should probably be doing more link pimps here. There's a lot of good stuff out there. Of course, some of it I want to shamelessly steal for my own articles, but there's still enough left over that I couldn't pilfer in a lifetime.
So you should totally check them out...before I "disappear" this post and pilage its contents some day when I can't think of anything original to write.
Why Fiction is Good for You- There's a real question about the utility of storytelling. But humans are storytelling animals. Find out why fiction is good for you.
9 Arbitrary Ways to get Your Writing Rejected- Some of these are very random (like a protagonist carrying around a battered copy of Dostoevsky) but some are worth being careful of in one's own writing (like lots of description early on without an action in sight).
10 Life Enhancing Things You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less- I'm a firm advocate that good writing comes from stepping off the merry-go-round of this insane culture's pounding distraction of artificial urgency. Take a moment and remember that you really aren't defined by the features in you car...or even your car.
What It's Really Like to Be a Copy Editor- Just because I don't like people who are obnoxious about prescriptivism doesn't mean they're wrong. (Just insufferable.) But unless there's an artistic reason for breaking a rule, you gotta trust people who dedicate their lives to this stuff.
25 Reasons Writers are Bug Fuck Nuts- A hilarious list of reasons that writers are completely bat-shit insane. And I laugh about it because if I don't, you'll notice that my voice is wavering and my eye has begun to twitch.
I had the next part of my Dundracon write-up ready to go. There were some notes. I had a good quote and a tangental story I was going to put in. I had begun to work on some of the language. But events in my life cascaded into an epic-phail on the write-article-in-timely-manner front, and you'll be getting this instead. Oh, I'll still put up the Dundracon post--hopefully later this week. The Arabian Nights game was perhaps the best LARP I've ever played, so it must be praised in copious, gushing terms under the guise of dissecting it for writerly wisdom. But Cathamel took a left turn this morning after all the fail had dominoed and decided she didn't want to write about Dundracon.
This is not a personal journal. I write about writing, not about my chosen family or my love life or my friends. While a careful reader will be able to identify the trajectory of my life--like what conventions I'm likely to attend or if I had a good time during a given weekend, and someone willing to untangle certain magical realism metaphors (like the presence of two identical girlfriends with antithetical temperament or a house filled with more super heroes than The Justice League) might be able to figure out a few personal details, generally I stick to the writing. However, there are unavoidable overlaps of those worlds in certain places. This is a little free form--a little stream of consciousness...maybe even a little messy.
Apologies all around for that.
But I think it's important that writers see the foibles in their colleagues--that they see the times we fall on our face. They see the things that don't work. They don't compare their own behind-the-scenes to other writers' highlight reels. And they witness other writer's failures not just as sound bites after the accolades of success roll in, but as living and breathing moments of true setback. This is one reason I love Anne Lammot so very hard. She has never pulled a punch in describing her own difficulties with writing. And if anyone thinks I'm breezing this blog out without some pretty epic stumbling, I want them to know how wrong they are.
If I could fight one demon on the storm-soaked rooftops of a metropolitan skyline, our dramatic moments highlighted by flashes of lightning, that demon would be Time. Or I guess time would be some aloof personification that couldn't be concerned with the meddling of mortals, and the actual demon I would fight would be my perception of time.
Me and time just don't get along. We never have. If I don't take some time to myself, I feel stressed out and pressurized. If I do take time to myself, I feel lazy and neglectful of other obligations. If I take care of everything I want to do, I have no time to write. If I make myself write, some aspect of my life suffers. When I am nailing my writing goals, I watch the dishes in the sink metastasize and my waistline do horrifying stretching exercises. If I take care of everything, I notice that I haven't really had quality time with my loved ones in days. Something is always behind, and I'm always playing a shell game trying to pretend that sacrificing the four to six hours a day I spend writing wouldn't be the solution to all my problems.
And pretty much every day I think to myself "I need to be reading more!" Seriously the amount I'm (not) reading is shameful, really.
There is a lot being written lately about how the balanced life is a myth when it comes to art. People with obsessions make it in art and entertainment and those with balance in their lives end up with a nice hobby. To a certain degree, I am always willing to deal with this as a motif in my life. You just can't go off and do something that isn't work or sleep for hours and hours and not have every other thing in your life suffer. (Everyone who's ever gotten addicted to World of Warcraft can tell you that.) But some days my need to write causes more tensions than others.
I can sit and write at any time because I take daily writing seriously, and I've been doing it for twenty years. But we all have times that work best for us. Mine, unfortunately is in the deep stillness of the late night and early morning. Unfortunately, that time is completely impossible logistically.
My roommates don't really get the idea of working at night. I mean they theoretically understand that it means I work when they go to bed, but the corollary parts about me sleeping during the day seem to be tougher to grasp. In this old Victorian with it's hardwood floors, they sound like a herd of thundering bison in the morning when they get ready in the morning. If they don't wake me inadvertently they will sometimes stop to have loud conversations outside my door to make sure. I have a white noise maker that helps me sleep, but Unsupportive Girlfriend doesn't like sleeping with it--pretty much guaranteeing that any night she sleeps in my bed, I am going to be waking up when Uberdude starts his morning expenditure of decibles, to say nothing of the fact that his nickname on the Serengeti was Thunderhoof, and most of the time he can make more noise than the noisemaker can drown out. And if my waking doesn't happen organically, Unsupportive Girlfriend will help the process along by playing Noisotronics Blaster on her iPad next to me. Then when my crusty, bloodshot eye cracks open and I stir with a low grumble, she says something like, "Oh, is this bothering you?"
Usually what happens next involves one of those squishy stress balls, and I end up saying, "That little sucker just saved your life."
So invariably I regret ever trying to adjust my schedule. I start losing sleep, and I end up going back to the house schedule just to stay sane. Turns out homicidal rages are frowned upon around here.
There are other problems that sort of follow a similar trajectory. They aren't really anyone's fault--they just sort of exist. I don't really have "A Room of One's Own" so I constantly deal with interruptions unless I have the house to myself. It's not like the din of a public place, but actual interruptions aimed at me or the television in the next room playing something that is hard to tune out. Four days of the week I am not alone in the house during the day, nor do the "see-above" problems really make it feasible to write after everyone has gone to bed. Leaving the house is a possibility, but it tends to add time to an already overcrowded schedule of three jobs.
Unsupportive Girlfriend loves to knit, and she usually watches TV while she knits since reading isn't really feasible. She always invites me to sit and watch with her, usually tempting me with the prospect of turning off the forgettable sit-com reruns she happens to have on at the time for something she know's I'm into watching with her. It's not that she is trying to derail me or wants to tempt me. She just likes spending time with me. I sit down and suddenly one episode of Downton Abby has turned into half a season.
(And yeah, I know that last one is really on me.)
You can kind of see how some of these difficulties combine. Apart they are minor annoyances that probably have solutions, but they sort of join forces like the Wonder Twins and end up being the metaphorical ice javelin shoved by the metaphorical gorilla into my metaphorical face.
I end up looking at a game like Skyrim with hundreds of hours of play time, and of which I really want to do a literary review, and feeling a bit like I just took on some chore of Sisyphus. And when you're feeling frustrated that you "have" to play Skyrim, you know something has gone very, very wrong.
And the problem, believe it or not, isn't that I don't have enough time. The college where I work is constantly on some break or another. I just end up wasting more time. My difficulties swell or shrink to fill whatever container they are in--which is why I know the problem is with me and relative rather than absolute.
So here I am...I've lost all my "lead time" on articles. I blew a weekend and though the kitchen looks clean, I feel like I've wasted it. I woke up to morning noises after five hours of sleep (about three fewer hours than I need and the last straw in a weekend of not being able to sleep in). And I have a gnawing at the pit of my stomach about needing to go to work, clean the house, weed, and that I'm going to lose pretty much an entire day of productivity tomorrow because date day with Unsupportive Girlfriend suffers no productivity to live. I have a gnawing at the pit of my stomach. I feel like a failure.
I'm not saying any of this this to complain. My first world, artist problems don't hold a candle to things like "I can't make rent" or "I've just gotten terminal diagnosis." I've got no one to complain to about my time management but a mirror. If I said no a little more often (especially to myself), had some better boundaries (especially with myself), and wrote more efficiently in a shorter time instead of doing the post-college life equivalent of turning everything in at the last minute, I'd probably watch half these problems go away.
I'm saying it so that people know I struggle. I'm not perfect at this--I'm not really even that great. I love writing and want to write and manage to prioritize it, but everything else is just a cavalcade of failures, mistakes, and character flaws. I don't always succeed. In fact, most days, I'm just trying to fail with some style. I get (very) frustrated. This doesn't come in some effortless wind to me.
The fact that I am able to put out an article at all some days is an act of defiance, will, and resilience as much as it is inspiration, creativity, and unicorn burps. Some days I look up at the time and I just want to beat the shit out of the clock or something. I am constantly running out of time or falling behind on whole chunks of life. (Most recently, I discovered I had gained about 15 stealth pounds since the last time I checked.) I am constantly trying to make new schedules, keep up with things, and failing miserably. I am constantly confronting the fact that I might manage to get an entry up once a day (.....usually) (....sort of), but it is often at the price of so much other stuff that's going on. I'm often frustrated with life and myself because I'm not better with time and writing is basically messing up the rest of my life.
Worth it? Oh absolutely. But effortless or painless? Not even a little.
I think that's an important thing for every writer to know about every other. You might not see what happens "backstage" but you probably shouldn't imagine it's all the ecstasy of creation and problem-free logistics.
Hi all! If you enjoy visual art, or have always wanted to help a local artist (well....local to me, I guess) then this is the entry for you. You can get the work of a talented artist and earn yourself some great karma for prices that are ridiculously reasonable.
Most artists don't live the high life on the French Rivera that you see on TV (or even that struggling but plucky life in the huge warehouse apartment you see in movies), and the "bohemian life" loses its romantic glitter pretty quickly when the first bill for a root canal or broken bone lands in the mailbox. Most artists work really really hard and make much much less than any "normal" job.
I'm invoking one of the (few) perks of having a blog, and boosting the signal for an artist friend named Lydia Rae Black. (I'd rather have threesome invoking powers, but signal boosting will have to do.) She is a struggling artist as well--a little further along in her professional career than I am in mine--but one who didn't use my insane strategy of renting a Spartan room, having no car, and never having kids. (Cause...you know...that's lonely and it hurts your feet.) In the case of Lydia's family, the bill looming on the horizon is for the clutch on their car, and they could sort of use a small miracle right about now.
No one is asking for a handout, but now would be a really wonderful time for a couple of her paintings to sell. And these aren't refrigerator magnet art pieces either--in both form and content, they explore the tensions between what our society finds desirable and what it finds unwanted or no longer useful. For the talent and skill on display, and the complexity of themes being expressed, they are priced at an unreal bargain. So if you've ever wanted to help a local artist, invest in some fine art before the artist's renown made it crazy expensive, or just hang something aesthetically pleasing and really cool on your wall, you could make this particular struggling artist very happy if you did it today.
Facebook questions. [Remember, keep sending in your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Friday. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.]
All of today's questions have to do with either my Facebook page, which is dedicated to promoting Writing About Writing. Of course anyone is welcome to join W.A.W.'s Facebook page. I always love new followers. I don't recommend Facebook for reliably following W.A.W.'s updates, but it got a lot of memes and comics and such.
You're posting a lot of non-blog stuff on Facebook. Do these social media efforts work? I'm trying to find ways to promote my own blog, but I'm not sure a facebook page would be worth it.
I'm not sure it's worth it either, Mike. The verdict is still out.
Right now I'm still in an experimental phase with much social media and exactly what it can do for me and how. Some of it is obviously instantly awesome like Stumbleupon. Stumbleupon immediately gets me hits and if someone who sees one of my posts gives it a little thumbs up, that post immediately goes out to even more people. I have literally gotten five thousand hits over the course of a weekend because the cascade effect of people liking it didn't slow down for days. However, Stumbleupon has an internal ad blocker so while it's good for exposure, it doesn't really help any financial numbers unless those people come back. Some of it is long term awesome, like G+ where the immediate reaction is very small (even if someone shares an article) but affects regular Google searches (in a way I do not understand) and is far more likely to get me a steady trickle of hits.
And some are clearly not going to be worth the time and effort that they would require to be effective....like Reddit. Reddit is where social media dreams go to die. Not just a quiet death like Grandpa Jenson who fell asleep after a nice night with the Kendlebrooks and never woke up; no they die like the lawyer in Jurassic park; ripped to pieces, screaming, and covered in shit. The games people play on Reddit to get positive karma so that their "real" posts will be seen by more people require a lot of time and effort to keep up with. They are the stuff of legends, and about the furthest thing from writing that someone could possibly do without doing some one handed web-surfing if you catch my drift.
I just can't quit you, Facebook.
Facebook, though.... Facebook is its own particular kind of animal. It's like Mark Zuckerberg wakes up every day with two new ideas. One to make his product more vital to anyone who has an online presence, and the other to make that same product epically infuriating to those same people. I can reach more people through a page, but they black out posts to most of the page giving you a much much higher glass ceiling and much much slower progress than just posting something on a personal page. I can promote a post, but only if I pay the same amount as a multi-billion dollar corporation. Facebook gets W.A.W. just enough hits that I wouldn't want to just give up the effort (about 7% of my total traffic), but not enough that I imagine a "full court press" on Facebook pimping would be useful.
It's like country music or the smell of gym socks. I want to be repulsed, but it is.....strangely compelling.
I activated (and reactivated) that page for one main reason: I didn't want my personal page to be annoying. Posting a couple of links to my blog a day was bothering some of my friends who sprained their scroll wheel fingers and really wanted to get on to the pictures of kittens and facile gun control arguments. So I tried to "ease the burden" of my posting by throwing in lots of funny images and stuff I found elsenet that I liked. Well, the end result of that was friends asking me to ease off the throttle a little.
Some friends want me to post less blog. Some friends want me to post as much as I want because it's what I'm up to and they're interested in what I'm up to.
Some friends complain if there are too many memes and not enough what's really going on in your life. Some complain if there are too many high text updates that they don't want to read.
Some friends complain if they don't hear from you. Some complain if they hear from you too often.
It's like your friends want only to see exactly as much of you as they want and the aspects of you that they want and will insist that it is your problem to adjust to them if you color outside their lines.
They won't be.
And it's not really helpful to get crotchety and
remind them how their fucking scroll wheel works.
I had a name for those kinds of friends growing up. I called them....
You know what, I might be a little cranky about this. Maybe I need a nap and my ba-ba.
In the end, rather than tell everyone to fuck off and die if they didn't like what I posted, I figured I could take my enthusiasm for writing (you know....since that's such a small part of who I am as a person) over to a little corner of Facebook where those who were interested could check it out if they wanted to, and those who weren't interested could still pretend they care about what's going on in my life enjoy the parts of me they find a little more engaging. Each morning upon waking up, I make a butthurt vs. willpower check to see if I'm going to call my page's fans my "real friends" for the duration of the day.
I fail that check. I fail it a lot.
The problem isn't "can/could I make this work if I put enough effort into it." The answer to that seems to be a tentative yes. If I want to go all Batman vs. The Joker on it. When I take the time to scour the net for quality stuff, and post about every hour, my analytics improve I'm slowly gaining new page likes that aren't folks who are already my friends. The problem is I don't want to spend my days promoting myself on social media--I want to write. And every moment I spend doing the former represents a theft of time and energy from the latter. That shit is time intensive and it gives me this feeling that I've been on the computer all day, even when I haven't. Posting memes and staring at analytics isn't writing, and given how integral the internet is to my particular approach, that brand of "not writing" is a slippery slope I have to pay especially close attention to.
Right now, the results of my Facebook page are discouraging, but like so much of Facebook, just un-shitty enough to keep trying. Yes, of course I want to be like George Takei and get 50,000 likes when we post the color of my sputum after a sneeze, and make about $10,000 every time I mention that "Oh by the way, I wrote this book." Reality though it's more like "Oh look, I got a new fan this week. I shall give myself a gold star!"
Ultimately, it's a bit like writing itself. If you like it and enjoy it, you probably will find it to be work but rewarding and enjoyable work. If you don't like it, you will find it tedious and unrewarding.
Will you put your Facebook photos into photo albums? Like a Star Wars album and a Reading album and a Motivation album. That'd be great!
You know I can't read that particular turn of phrase without thinking of Bill Lumbergh from Office Space with a cup of coffee in his hand, looking in on a cubicle. "Yeeeah hi. Hey, Chris.....what's happening? Hmmmmmm....listen, if you could just go ahead and put those photos into albums, that'd be great. Oh. (~pause ~) And if you could go ahead and make Puns album and a Star Wars puns album, that'd be terrific. Thanks a bunch, Chris."
Sorting 500 pictures into albums sounds like something that would be very time intensive, and very boring. I will do that if Facebook ever becomes a real boon to me. Right now I have 87 fans--74 of whom are friends of mine (and of THOSE about 20 of whom liked the page because I asked them to and who don't really use FB). If/when I ever get a larger audience over there, one that pulls people here who wouldn't otherwise have come, then I will respond with a sort of equivalent effort on that page. Right now though, that might just might push me over the edge, and I will snap and post nothing but interracial lesbian threesome porn until I get banned for life.
Which might be kind of fun, but it probably wouldn't bring my blog more pageviews.
This page* is hilarious. You should put all of these into a series of Potpourri posts. I bet they would get lots of traffic! *Facebook Page
I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. I'm afraid that is something I cannot allow to happen. Along with opening the pod bay doors.
Well, except for THIS Star Wars pun.
Wait for it.....
I'm not a copyright lawyer, but I know posting a lot of that stuff on a blog where I'm hosting ads and making money is just asking to get pwned by man eating lawyers. I've heard one of them even jumped out of a pool and grabbed Samuel Jackson in the middle of a speech and dragged him off to where other lawyers tore him apart.
Sharing a meme on a social media site where I also happen to do some self promotion is....well it's not completely kosher but it seems to be pretty common. If they're going to scourge Facebook of all unlicenced images, a little page like mine will probably have enough warning to protect myself. Lots of pages/groups do it, and some like George Takei have created a bit of a phenomenon doing so. I know many of these pages would start getting "Cease and Desist" notices if they got too big. (Some companies like their proprietary property becoming viral and essentially getting free advertising and some don't.) I know if anyone claimed an image or asked me to take it down, I would in a heartbeat with profuse apologies. But I do also know I'm already on thin ice.
Now, if I am making money off of any of these images, that is completely inappropriate--even if it weren't technically against copyright law--and even if it's just a fraction of a cent. So putting them on the blog is both legally and morally shady--far more so than just sharing them on a social media that is rife with that shit. I mean...if 20th Century Fox (or I guess Disney these days) wanted to crack down on Star Wars memes, that would be their right, and I'd gladly pull them all, but man what royal fuckwads they'd look like. However, it's a lot more reasonable for them to have a problem if someone's making money off of those memes.
As it is, there are still Potpourris (and entries) that are back from before I was really getting more than double digit traffic and before I had ads with images that I need to remove. That's why I've been consolidating some of the older Potpourris into newer, bigger ones and getting rid of the old ones. I'm slowly attributing or removing copyrighted images from the early days. I just wasn't as careful back then, and it's a big deal. I'll put a meme in my blog if it's not obviously a screenshot from a movie or TV show and if I can't find any copyright information on it, but anything that is obviously proprietary, I steer clear of. Certain incredibly ubiquitous memes (like the Dos Equis guy or Willy Wonka) I may still use, but I consider that towing the line pretty close as it is.
I also DO post an occasional copyrighted image with attribution because hypocrisy and rationalization are part of the human condition and I am nothing if not spectacularly human. But they would have every right to demand I remove them too. (And to sue me if they thought I were making a lot of money off of their creative effort.) So I may split the hair mighty fine, but I do try to avoid gleefully leaping off the cliff with a cry of "Fuck you. I'm a dragon!"
Posting tons of such images is just inviting trouble. And not like "Hey trouble, we're all going out later, do you want to come?" I mean like handing trouble an invitation with frilly edges and embossed lettering and everything.
And as someone trying to break into a career in which I will almost certainly lose a non-trivial amount of money to piracy, not being careful about this seems extra douchy.
So all those Star Wars pun memes and Dr. Who memes and stuff, you'll have to go to my Facebook page to enjoy.
I've noticed most days you do your regular post and an old post. Why do you do the old posts? We've read them all.
Well, maybe YOU'VE read them all (and just the idea of that makes me swoon with appreciation), but not everyone who is here has been around or paying close attention since last February. I pick up about one follower a week on either G+ or Facebook, and that means one person who hasn't seen ANY of my old articles. Most people who start to follow my blog probably aren't gong to go back to read through the 464 previous articles. But one at a time is a little more feasible.
So to generate some interest in older articles, I put one up each day along with the new article. New articles usually get about 100 pageviews in the first 24 hours and then settle down to a trickle or a dribble depending on how popular they are. The "rerun" posts usually get about 30 pageviews before they settle. I stick with what you might call the "best of..." when it comes to reruns.
Think of it like introducing a new friend who really likes Serenity to Angel and Buffy or one who loves Tennant as Dr. Who to the old Tom Baker episodes.
What's the deal with all the puns? They aren't exactly about writing.
Words, my friend. Words. The writer's bricks and mortar. When you build all day with them, you start to see them in a different way.
If they don't hurt a little, you're not doing them right.
It's hard to find a word nerd who doesn't love to hate (or hate to love) groaning from bittersweet punishment of a good paranomasia. Sure some want to expunge them and find their scent the worst kind of pungent odor, but a lot of their compunctions come from the fact that they are just no damned pun. The more someone reads and writes, the more likely they are to appreciate a punny meme, punctuate their lives with such humor, and find a good play on words or punctuation shift to be the punniest kind of humor around. It's not that the punsters pundits are punks. They're just punitive. Punchy pungineers puncture our brains with delightful impunity.
And if you don't know how to love them, then get thee to a punnery.
Artists in general, and writers in particular, have to look at the world from a different point of view of the rest of us. It's one of the most frustrating aspects of creative writing for those who have mastered the technical skill of it that the artsy part still eludes them. They run around asking authors "where do you get your ideas," and fall into Vicodin addled dispair. It is the artist's vision that delights its audience by making the familiar fresh and new and the exotic seem banal. Creativity at its rawest is bringing something new into the world from one's imagination, and many writers struggle with creating something more than a "cheap knock off" of a story that has come before.
And yet...no story is truly original either. All stories recombine elements we recognize with a dash of the unexpected. Any truly (truly) original story would be strange and unrecognizable to us as it would involve characters we couldn't relate to, situations we couldn't fathom, and settings so alien we could not stretch our imagination to picture them. Thus what we need is not wholesale originality, but simply an original perspective. Like that crazy copy-cat Shakespeare, who only wrote ONE of his plays from scratch, we take a classic tale and reframe it. We bring ourselves to the writing of course. No matter how we tell any story, unless we are simply plagiarizing, it will be uniquely ours and will echo with our style and voice. But we can also simply choose to look at the familiar from a different point of view.
Prompt: Consider one of your favorite stories. It could be a fairy tale or contemporary fiction, a novel or a short story. It could be as simplistic as Star Wars or as convoluted as the continuing effort to keep the Legend of Zelda/Link games in a single line of continuity.
Tell the story in a different way.
It's your choice how you want change the story. You could tell it from another character's point of view (perhaps even from the point of view of the antagonist as Gregory Maguire has made a mint doing). You could tell the story from the non-typical gender's point of view (as as been done with Mists of Avalon). You could also retell the story in a different linguistic way, perhaps adding street slang to Beowulf. Or take a story that you know as a fairy tale narrative, and deepen the characters while adding dialogue. Make it be the same exact story...and yet totally different.
Obviously this prompt can get a little long if you let it, so there's no upper limit, but try to hang in there for at least three to five pages.
Concord, Ca. Mt. Diablo in the background.
Ironically the number of people here who have actually read
my blog is closer to four.
It's a moment that I've watched approaching with a strange sort of awe and more than a small amount of excitement. Even more than passing 100,000 pageviews, this moment seems to be on my radar as a significant one.
The reason may strike you as strange, or possibly even stupid, but that number has seemed bigger in my mind, more real in many ways, because of its association.
There isn't really a ritual of manhood in most of U.S. culture. I couldn't tell you when I "grew up," and if you listen to my uncle Peter (the guy with heart disease at fifty telling people how they ought to live), I still haven't. I left Westwood, California where I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with four other guys who were all going to UCLA while I was working as a night security guard because it gave me the chance to get paid for eight hours of reading at a stretch. When a friend invited me up north to a little city called Concord, I jumped at the chance. (I was very unhappy in Westwood due to a crisis of faith I was having within Islam and U.S. Muslims' interpretation of it--but that's another story.)
Concord became the place I will always associate with young adulthood. I had my own apartment there. I had to give up the pittance pay of graveyard shift security, and even though I went from that to waiting tables, it was "real"er money than I had ever made. I got married there. I walked off a job that didn't respect me. I got promoted into a management position there. I (poorly) made a choice between a love interest and a friend, and faced the first of what would be real and lasting consequences for my mistakes. To this day I work right on the boarder of Concord and Pleasant Hill at the community college there. Concord looms large in my brain as a place of major significance.
It is a place where shit got real.
There was also this event. A strange sort of serendipitous event. I was playing Sim City on Play Station, and when I reached 100,000 population, my city demanded an airport. A couple of days later, I was driving along Marsh drive to pick up my girlfriend and I passed the city limits of Concord and saw the population sign. At that time I think it was around 110,000. Well, I thought about my game denizens demanding an airport at such a mere 100,000 population city and how stupid it was. Why, I thought, if that were accurate, Concord would have an airport. (I was still pretty new to the area.) But Concord was a little Podunk suburb that certainly didn't have any airport.
That's when I looked over to my right.
Anyone who knows the area is probably chuckling already. Marsh Road runs along the west side of Buchanan Airfield--Concord's airport. So I literally had the thought that Concord didn't have an airfield as I was turning to look at it. That always sat in my mind as one of those almost-a-sitcom joke moments. (Like when the characters talk about someone who's standing behind them or insist something doesn't exist that is in the shot with them.) And with it came the thought that Concord had reached some sort of "real" demarkation line as well. Concord had an airport. It was a "real" city.
Concord's shit just got real.
But the unintended side-effect of that moment and that video game and seeing the airport during the exact moment I was thinking that Concord didn't have an airport, is that I can't help looking at the population sign every time I drive into Concord. It's like how you always think of that one person when a certain song starts to play. So I have always been extremely conscious of the population of Concord. And with Concord being associated with so many "adulty" transitions in my life, it is hard not to have a soft spot for it. It's population feels like it's the first sized city that makes for a "real" city. For me, that number--124,000 currently--is intimately connected with a sort of "legitimate" size. In Concord boys become men and little towns grow up to be great big cities with airports. Concord is the demarcation line between fake and real.
I told you it was stupid.
So watching my pageviews go up into six figures and driving into school maybe once every couple of weeks, I started to put those two numbers together in my head. Getting as many pageviews as that city--the city where I became an adult--is kind of a bigger deal in my head than even the nice round number of 100,000. Getting to the point where I've had enough readers that every single person in that "really real" city has read my blog (at least by the numbers) is pretty damned cool.
Of course, as always, when I hit a milestone, I don't think of myself so much as my readers. Yeah, I know that of those 124,000 people, most have probably not stayed to read, but it still makes me very grateful for every one who has. You guys are absolutely amazing.
So you really do love writing. Really. What's next?
You're not just looking for a way to fame and fortune that's more plausible than your unerring ability to quote every line of an MST 3k episode while watching just the movies. You don't just like writing "a little" or think that it beats a root canal with rusty gardening tools. You love it in a way that makes the neighbors whisper and your friends give you that look where they suck their lips in and make their mouth as flat as possible when you talk about it. You're writing because you genuinely love it, not just because you're good at it and you have a guilt complex about wasting talent. Not because grandma told you you were brilliant and that it would be like pinching a deuce into God's face to not do what you were good at. And you love it for its own sake, not because you dream of the sophisticated and classy life of a published writer. (*cough*) You write every day, or at least with extreme regularity, as if writing is a skill that could decay if you sit around not doing it, and you don't just when the spirit moves you to write like some great inspiration from on high or when it makes you feel great or when it doesn't feel like a chore. It's more than just a dilettante hobby you do for the fun parts. It's okay that some days it might feel like work or like a chore. You know that pushing through those parts makes the words flow when you want them to, and you have this insane obsession that makes the "chore" parts of writing better than the good parts of most other things you could be doing. (With the possible exception of oral sex and cheesecake--but only both together at the same time.) Even when you hate it, you love it. You love it enough that you want to be better at it. You want to be great at it. You'll practice–well....train really–and work on the parts that aren't always enjoyable and fun in an effort to improve. Hell you put on "Eye of The Tiger" right before you power type out a paragraph with mad character development and symbolism.
Well, what now?
But here's what the real question ought to be: must there be a next step?
Writing is a strange sort of activity. Almost no one does it just for fun. People may have fun doing it, but writing seems to be the means to an end, and rarely its own end. This is why every prompt I write has a disclaimer not to worry about turning it into some finished product for submission. Otherwise everyone thinks that everything they ever write will eventually be worked into a story that they will sell/submit.
Think about how many people have a manuscript or half done manuscript. Now how many of them have said they wrote it just for fun, and they're done? On the other hand, how many have said they intend to finish it, clean it up, revise it, have it professionally edited, and get it ready for publication? Probably pretty close to all of them. If you're anything like me it's pretty much all of them, and I know a LOT of writers.
Quite literally, if you gathered up a hundred writers working hard to improve their craft, you'd probably be hard pressed to find even half a dozen who didn't have their eye on the prize of writing for a living....some day. Oh a few writers blog regularly or keep a journal and really try to improve without ever hoping that it will burgeon into a career, but they are the exception, and are heavily populated by people scratching other itches like exhibitionism or passive agressive communication Almost everyone is hoping to one day transform their efforts into "hella scrill."
Cause writah gots ta get PAID! ....apparently.
I have one friend--one--who writes, loves it, works at her craft, enjoys publishing her work online but holds no ambitions of one day cultivating her presently fallow career. Every time I talk to her I'm blown away by her self-awareness. Unfortunately I'm also struck by how unusual it is for someone to love writing but not want to be a famous novelist.
It's a singular sort of preoccupation that you don't see in many other activities. When it comes to skills, crafts, and even other arts, there are often huge swaths of people who pursue their passions just for fun. In fact, that's how most people pursue most things except the singular activity that they earn their living from doing. I have actually heard people say, "Why would I write if I'm not going to make any money?" Oh I don't know because yesterday you said that it was "better than sex" and you "loved every second of it even more than the three-way turned seven-way." Maybe.
Oh I like writing more than orgies.
I also don't do orgies unless I get paid.
I know. I know. Sheer madness.
People who like ballroom dancing, practice their steps, learn new steps, work hard to better and go to dances just for fun--most never once think that it's leading to a career as a professional dancer. Bug collectors enjoy learning about new bugs and growing their collections without ever a thought that they are destined to make a mint off of selling their wares. The recent rash of women I know who've signed up for roller derby did so without the slightest expectation that they would become professional athletes making big bucks endorsing kneepads and deodorant. Even so, they train damned hard to improve. The gaggle of knitters who fill Supportive Girlfriend's social circles are constantly trying to learn how to do new stitches and knit progressively more complicated patterns without the slightest thought that the endgame of their efforts will be to knit in the world knit circuit. Even people involved in other arts like acting, and music often practice and perform just for kicks, not to make money. Painters paint just because they enjoy painting without ever thinking to sell a painting. But for some reason when it comes to writing you see very few who simply write for the sheer joy of it.
It's okay to write just for fun. Really.
Making any money at all through creative writing is considerably harder than most people realize. Constant rejection, incredibly small numbers, the entire business end of writing with it's gatekeepers and their persnickety rules. Everyone imagines they will be the next Jim Butcher or Suzanne Collins (and that only if they are at least willing to admit that it is unrealistic to expect that they will be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King), but the vast majority of those published regularly and pretty much everyone ever who only gets published once isn't making enough to quit their day job. It can add an unpleasant dimension of banality to something that is otherwise fun. You can't just write–no, you have to also submit and go through scathing editing and deal with people who want to make changes that will "sell" and back and forth with copy editors about your FUCKING OXFORD COMMA and deal with greedy publishing to negotiate contracts and promote your book or watch it disappear in the first two weeks, which means you have to do promotion stuff like book signings and panels that are fun to think about for five minutes but actually every writer describes as pretty unpleasant and grueling after the initial novelty has worn off (especially when people start telling them what they should have done differently). The business end of writing turns out to be a lot of stuff that isn't actually writing. And a lot of stuff that isn't very fun.
And I'll let you in on a dark secret. There aren't as many groupie threesomes as I've lead you to believe. That's more of a running joke than anything. I know you're shocked.
The decision to write for fun doesn't even have to be about not being published either. Not worrying about monetization can be liberating when it comes to pursuing venues for publication--you're far more likely to be published in a venue that cannot pay (as Casey has discovered). And this is really only if you have some sort of need to see your name in print on physical wood-pulp paper. The internet provides anyone with no particular interest in making money with a venue for being read by far, FAR more people than any print media. Here at writing about writing we have readers from all over the world including Jordan, The Philippines, and Turkey--you're never ever ever EVER going to get that from some graduate MFA program's literary journal. (Except maybe the Iowa review or something.) Not needing to have a paper publication that garners a price-per-word payout can actually open a lot of doors.
Though maybe they're all hate following me, I don't know.
Ten hours of strangers telling you about a missing comma in chapter 3 is probably less awesome than it sounds.
It is even possible to do as I have and fuse SOME monetization (like ads and donation buttons) with a general open policy of publication. It's sort of a mixture of doing it for fun and doing it for money, but it's not as if I am exactly rolling in cash. Nor would I stop if the money did. I would just cry myself to sleep every night (and probably take Thursdays off). And....oh I already mentioned crying.
No scrill? No poems. Cause Emily gots ta get PAID!
That is if you even wish to pursue publication at all. It is actually even possible to simply write for fun and enjoyment and not show others the products of your efforts. Of course, Emily Dickinson did this--most of her work was published posthumously. Lots of people just do their art or craft or skill and tuck it away, better and more fulfilled for having done it. They enjoyed doing it, and that was enough.
It's really okay not to expect to turn a love of writing into the ambition of a career. Really.