My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Let The Fractions of Pennies Flow

If you intend to monetize your blog, the best time to do it is yesterday. The second best time is now.

I'm going to monitize this blog.
Soon, you too could be making ten of these
bad boys each and every single day!

I have to be honest here; this feels really pretentious. I've spent most of my life under the impression that people would pay money to AVOID reading my writing. Not only that, but I'm painfully aware of how bare bones this blog really is, so now it won't just be nothing and some words. It's going to be an ad for Viagra and some words. There isn't even a good picture of whales or starships or a fountain pen writing on a vellum scroll or a threesome or whales having a threesome or a starship threesome shooting fountain pens at whales or anything really that might take the curse off of the ads that will soon be there. At least when it was just words, I could cover up my computer ineptitude with some crap about simplicity.  Perhaps when my followers skyrocket into double digits, I'll worry about background art and stuff.  For now, I simply give my apologies.

This decision is the syncretism of a few bits of advice I've run into. In my business of creative writing class, every working writer we talked to told us to find revenue streams wherever we possibly could. Sell a story to pay a cell phone bill? Awesome! Have four part time jobs that give you the time to write? Perfect! The writer who dreams of publishing books and living off of royalty checks is almost as naive as the cliche of the girl on the bus headed to Hollywood to be discovered. Chances are, even if you get there, you're going to have several interim steps between "winning" Nanowrimo and that condominium  overlooking Central Park. So take everything you can get. I'm well on my way to shockingly eclectic amalgamation of income sources. I do supplemental instruction for ESL and developmental English students twice a week. I'm a househusband.  I tutor. I sell vital organs on the South American black market.  I do a little bit of manwhoring on the side. So if I can get enough followers here to be able to splurge on a box of Chiclets gum the next time I'm down selling organs, more power to me.

The other bit of advice came from research.  I was trying to figure out when to monitize a blog.  Should I do it at 500 followers?  A thousand?  Should I do it by subscribers or hits?  Do I do it at 10,000 hits or 50,000?

Mostly what I found out from this research is to monitize right away.

That's not because you'll make any money at it.  You won't.  It's because humanity is a fickle beast that hates change. You know how when Facebook changes, for a week after, all you hear about on Facebook is how much people hate Facebook for changing things. Or if Livejournal puts ads up for its free subscribers in order to cover the cost of their free service, suddenly there's a bunch of people who complain about how LJ is just in it for the money and there's a sudden exodus to Dreamwidth? It's kind of like that. As someone who has watched restaurant employees kvetch all night, every night, for a month about a change in the computer system that was better in every single possible measurable way, I sort of relate to this.

Symbolic Garth smashes the metaphorical mechanical hand with the allegorical hammer at the slightest hint of the change he fears.

It turns out that the biggest way to piss people off with change, though, is to involve commercialization of a previously free service. The way humans think, we can't really wrap our brains around big numbers, so the idea that providing a service to tens of thousands is different than providing a service to a couple of hundred doesn't really compute very well.  Think about the last time someone tried to make money off of something that had previously been totally free--even if it was just to offer a premium service for those willing to pay or to put ads where there once were none. Based on the reactions, you'd think Poland had just been invaded by a dude who needs to stop cutting his hair with a bowl.  Cries of materialistic greed and wanton avarice echo from all corners as if making money off of something that eats an increasingly large chunk of time is somehow evil. The funny thing is, it's the CHANGE that troubles people most. The relief of change causes people to care about things that they wouldn't normally even notice. In study after study almost none of those same people would have been bothered in the slightest if the ads had been there all along.  Very few people would see ads on a page and choose not to read the page. So the pretty clear advice out there is to monitize your blog right away because if you wait until you have five hundred or a thousand followers, you're going to lose a chunk of them immediately for being the evil Nazi sellout that you really are.

For shame you trying to make money off of something you put hours of effort into every day.  Who does that?  I mean really?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Trouble With Writing Short Stories

One of the major difficulties I’m struggling with right now is my natural proclivities in writing longer works and that I’m currently in a place in my writing where only one form of fiction—the short story—really gets me much traction. I keep getting into a spiral where I feel like the only thing I should write ought to be “useful” short stories, but I’m almost never in the mood to write them, so I get a little stuck trying to force it, the creative engine stalls, I stare at blank screen a lot.

I once had an instructor--Janusprof--sneer at me. He asked me what I was “dying to write,” and my answer was “longer stuff.”

"That's not an answer!" he insisted.

Unfortunately, he didn’t really get how genuine that answer was for me. I’m pretty sure, even at the time, I knew what he was going for some touchy-feely internal conflict that has torn me apart and drawn me to the page, if only for the chance to express it. It’s born of this “high-art” ideal about the nature of art, and expression and what “counts” and what doesn’t (and seems to be the reason that most MFA programs produce a laughably huge outpouring of literature about the horror of middle class childhoods). It’s like he never read a Xanth novel or something… Somewhere along the line while the “high-art” instructors are wringing out their souls for inspiration, passing judgment on what isn’t art with the sly invective of “commercial,” they forget that most students are there for an actual, marketable skill set—not to be molded into a cookie cutting of the same bourgeoisie aesthetic.

The real bitch is that the question could possibly have been a valuable one from one in the position of mentor rather than merely teacher, but only if said mentor had not had a predetermined sort of answer in mind--which Janusprof obviously did.

The problem was I was being quite honest when I said it.

I was dying to get back to writing longer works. I really was. I was tired of the short story format that is most convenient both for reading and writing in college. It always felt a little artificial to me—not the way my creative mind naturally works. I was learning elements of craft and filling my writing toolbox in a bit of a contextual vacuum. I understand why we write short stories for college writing workshops or why they are convenient for teaching elements of literature. They fit tidily into the classroom structure. I also know that most people (including me) could stand to learn how to be concise rather than verbose. And I appreciate the short story as an art form probably more than the next guy—unless I happen to be standing next to a Pushcart editor or something. But what calls to me, what I yearn for—both in reading and in writing—is longer works.

I love reading novels. I can’t even remember a time when I would feel the girth of thick books and marvel at their potential to suspended me within another world for as long as possible. I read Gone With the Wind before I had acne, just because it was the thickest book I could find. I gathered cans from around town for two days to scrounge up the money to purchase Stephen King’s It, mostly because I was aware that it clocked in at over a thousand pages. I even tried my hand at War and Peace just because its heft felt so comforting to me—although I must admit that one never got finished. My principle complaint with my Kindle is that I can’t hold a book like 1Q84 and feel how deliciously hefty it is. I particularly enjoyed series books where I could stay in a world and with a character. More than once I blew months worth of savings on a run of novels because I’d enjoyed the first and I needed to be able to pick a new one up as soon as I was done with the old without any kind of interruption.

Unsurprisingly, I gravitate towards writing the same. I imagine full and developed arcs based on childhood books and movies, and sometimes even picture epic quests that I cannot tell outside of a trilogy (or more). One of my bucket list works (writers bucket lists don’t involve places they should go; they involve things they should write) is an epic high fantasy chronicle that sits firmly ensconced in my head that would be no less than five or six books if I wrote it. I was also always “writing books” from about nine or ten on. I sent more trees to their doom commandeering notebooks and legal pads in order to begin some opus or another on than I will ever admit to a nature conservationist. In high school, the successes and the failures in finishing manuscripts all began as novels I shared with my friends. It never even occurred to me to write a short story.

When I got into college, I wrote a lot of stuff I didn’t really want to write, but I did it as best I could because I figured every lesson that put a tool in my toolbox was a lesson worth having and a skill I wanted as a writer. I didn’t go to college on the this-is-how-you-win-at-life formula right out of high school, so I lacked most young people’s apathy and self-doubt.

I wanted to be there. Bad.

If I was going to stop working in my thirties to give that much time and effort to something, I was going to suck the marrow out of it, even if that meant writing what I didn’t personally care for. I wrote poetry and focused on my concrete imagery and word economy. I wrote drama and focused on dialogue and conflict. I wrote stories that were no more than two thousand words and did the best I could. I worked around the “no genre” pedagogy of the department. But even though I generated perhaps a dozen short stories (and three times that amount of single-page work with elements), writing those shorter works never felt completely un-forced.

Whenever I read some down to earth writing advice, after every last one of them gets done telling you to write a lot and read a lot, almost all say some variant of the following: write what you would want to read. Forget the snobby lit sommeliers that haunt the Humanities buildings of college campuses and concern themselves with how “literary” something isn’t, uttering phrases like “worthy of fiction” in a way that makes it clear they are imminently qualified to determine that your writing isn’t. Forget the promotional guru who has come up with a Vinn diagram outlining various demographics and where the most “accessible” story possible would be located. Ignore the well-intentioned family members who tell you should totally do a book just like Harry Potter/Twilight/Da Vinci Code/Whatever’s Selling Like Mad. Ignore them all. Write what you would want to read.

When I see that advice—write what you would want to read—I only think a little about speculative fiction, and a little about literary elements I appreciate the most like strong characters and plot. (Oh yes, my friends, I emerged unscathed by the “plot based fiction” naysayers of the literary world). But mostly what I think about when I hear that advice is “Write books. Write trilogies. Write epics. Create worlds. Make people regret turning that last page like they would regret saying good-bye to an old friend.”

Though my instructor found my reply to be uninspired, I found it enlightening, personally. My answer was firm and immediate. It came out of me almost before the question was finished. I didn’t even have time to mull it on a surface level. My gut knew something I didn’t. I don’t think until he asked me that, if I knew just how much I was really tired of being forced into the square pegs of short stories or how much I really yearned to get back to some of the unpolished and half-finished manuscripts that hide in the corners of my Dropbox folder like Tribbles.

The trouble is that right now, short stories are much more useful for me to be writing. In terms of a “career,” even though self publishing has changed the game for some (though mostly only people already well-known through blogging or journalism) and publishers and agents occasionally take a chance on a first-time writer’s longer works, the best way to get the attention of an agent or perhaps a publisher that will take unsolicited work is still to have a cover letter with accolades of short story publication on it. If you’ve been published, it shows them you are serious. It shows them that you have the skill to write. Mostly, it just sets you apart from the dozens—even hundreds—of trash manuscripts they get every year. They’ll pick up a manuscript with a cover letter sooner and give it a more considered read. So the best thing I could possibly be doing right now is churning out a body of short stories for publication and submitting the shit out them. Ironic that if I want to be a novelist, I should get cracking writing short stories, but true. While the publishing world is changing, keepers are still in front of many gates.

I also might like to take a crack at Clarion, but I know they too will to put me to work on short stories. 

The problem of “needing” to write what I don’t really feel inspired towards and feeling almost averse to the kind of writing that is that’s stymied a lot of my creativity. It’s the kind of thing I can do under external motivation like a school assignment or paid gig, but that is amazingly difficult to self-motivate when the effort to reward ratio tips below a certain point. Of course, every artistic process has parts that are less fun. Every artist has days they have to push through feeling less inspired. You work through them for the money shot—that bliss that comes from creation. However, right now this onus of career-advancing short stories and what I “ought” to be writing is messing me up. It’s REALLY messing me up. I’m starting to dread the coming of that time when I retreat to work. I’m making up excuses for why I should take a day off here or there. When I think “fuck it, I’ll write a short story later” and go to one of my long works, I churn away for four or five hours happily blissed out of my mind, and stumble into bed as the sun comes up with a goofy smile plastered across my face.

When I say “okay, tonight I need to start a short story” I just sit there and stare at a blank screen.

Maybe I'm trying to tell me something...

[A revised version of this article can be found here.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First post

This is the first post. It is basically no more than a test.

I'm going to hit "Publish Post" now, and see if I blow up the Internet.

ETA: The internet survived.  I must try harder.

Further ETA: 

On several social media when I share posts, I share whatever post I'm writing for that day, and one "rerun." I don't share every tiny post I ever make, but I filter through more than just the best of W.A.W. too.

At one post a day, eventually my reruns catch up to where I am currently. It takes longer each time (for reasons a moment's thought should make apparent) but eventually I will always get to the point where I feel like, "Man I JUST posted this."

And that's when I go back to the beginning of Writing About Writing--2012.

Remember that this blog isn't just a collection of articles on writing advice. It also exists as a living, breathing "real-time" template. It's advice in deed as well as in word. It can give writers a realistic sense of everything from how much effort it takes to launch a full fledged writing career, to how their audience can improve over time, to how they can improve the quality of their prose with daily practice, to how much they can expect to make, to how difficult it can be for a working writer to grind out the time and energy some days, and working the ball down the field is much more important than the hail Mary.

So as we return back to the earliest posts of the blog, a careful reader will notice how the writing quality is lower than what I write currently. They will notice I make less than a penny a day rather than a few dollars a day. They will notice I'm excited about a few hundred page views instead of a couple of thousand. There are lessons here beyond the ostensible. A deeper level of writing about writing (about writing).