Modern Writers Rock!

Modern & Futurism

I’m completely in awe of the modern writer.

When I began my writing career dinosaurs were still roaming the earth. This was well before the age of computers. Longhand was the preferred way of drafting, typewriters were the critical tool. Manuscripts were sent back and forth by mail. My agent and I would talk by telephone or the occasional letter. Later, we both mastered email and thought we were very modern. Publisher meetings were face-to-face. Now, all of this feels so archaic, so yesterday. Those days may seem romantic to some, but they are so used up. It’s good to move ahead.

Back then, writing was a solo business. I worked alone, out of contact with others when I was writing novels. For nonfiction, I beat the streets and the telephone. My contacts were limited to interviews, mostly. There was no need for much social interaction, except for the occasional conversation with a fellow writer. Today, everything is different. The modern writing life demands more dimension, greater diversity, and involves more skills. Today, the recluse writer cannot make it in the business.

I like the changes. I think today’s writers are more rounded, more complete in working their way through the perils and pleasures of writing. They are involved in the real world, not just the closed universe of writing. They are members of a large and vibrant community that stays in constant contact. The writing life is no longer a static landscape. It’s alive.

It’s also obvious that social networking is critical to modern writers. This is a big change from the old days, and I think it’s a major step forward. Writers are now expected to crawl out of their dens and interact with the real world. Communicating with others is critical to successful writing. Gone are the days of the unsocial writer. This is great for both writers and their readers.

Today’s writers need to understand more about the publishing end of the business than my generation ever considered. That’s also a plus. Publishing used to be quite a secret society, penetrated only by successful writers who had good contacts in the business. Now, publishing is an arm of writing, a part of the process that modern writers need to work through and accommodate. It means that good writers also need to get a grip on important business aspects of their careers. Another step forward. Modern writers play a critical role in their own success. Yesterday, they were rarely more than bystanders.

Back in the day, marketing was mostly the purview of the publicist and the publishing company. Today, it’s the shared responsibility of the writer. So, the modern writer is closer to his or her market, more familiar with how book visibility can make or break a career. This means that writers can directly impact their sales in a positive way. That couldn’t happen back when. Us dinosaurs waited around to see what happened, for better or worse.

Today, there is a demand for many important skills necessary to succeed. The modern writer has new tools of the trade, powerful ways to network, insanely easy software to help at each step along the way. These tools are critical to a writing career and the modern writer knows how to use each of them. In the dinosaur days, these tools didn’t exist. We all fumbled around, trying this and that until we hit the right combination. The power that these modern tools bring to today’s writers wasn’t even on the radar yesterday. Back then, our skills were much more limited and our eyes never turned to the power of networking.

The list is a long one but the point is simple.

Our modern writers have tools and opportunities that weren’t even in dreams back then. Of course, this also means more work for the writer, more competition and much more involvement. All of this is a good thing, I believe. Today’s writers are more well-rounded, more outward-looking, and have much more business sense than my fellow dinosaurs. In other words, they are more complete individuals.

So, I’m in awe of today’s writers. They bring much more to the table than the ability to sling words together in a pleasing way. They bring completeness to the process. These writers seem more whole, less cloistered, from the geezer-writer point of view. As individuals, they seem more balanced, involved and approachable than my fellow dinosaurs. I like it.

Forget the nostalgia of the recluse writer of yesterday. Give me the modern writer and I’ll show you someone real, involved and aware.

Why Don’t Blogs Die?

Blog of the day once again

Not everything dies. Most things do, I guess. I suppose even a rock dies, although it might take some time. But, it seems to me that blogs never die. They go on forever, suspended in the timeless clutches of the infinite Internet. This troubles me, a bit. It just doesn’t seem natural, not in accordance with the ordained order of the universe.

It’s creepy.

Since I’ve been a writer my entire life, I’m naturally drawn to the blogs of other writers or blogs that discuss their work. For whatever reason, I was surfing with one thought in mind: Why are so many writers considered eccentric? A strange search, yes, but not so uncommon. It was something that caught my interest for the moment. I’ve been accused of eccentricity, often by my literary agent as well as family luminaries.

While drifting around the Internet, I stumbled across a post entitled, Are All Good Writers Eccentric? The title was enough to get me reading. However, what I read took me off in an entirely different direction. I was left wondering why blog posts don’t have a shelf-life, a discreet period of time after which they die and are forever forgotten. Where is the self-destruct button, just in case? Some posts, some blogs, just shouldn’t go on forever, despite our wonderful, powerful technology. They should succumb to the more natural course.

This post didn’t answer my original question about eccentric writers. Rather, it gave me yet another reason to really be sure about what I publish, in any form.

Here is the post, which is short. I’ve left it unedited:

I think that all real writers are eccentrics and loners even when they have familys. Not all bloggers are writers some fill there pages with pictures of there friends and family or places they have been. Some are clever with the graphics that melt out hearts to look at and make us want to go back to look again. I would like to combine graphic art and my poetry but at the moment this will have to do. But waiting in the wings is some one i know who does magical graphics who as told me when i am ready i can download some of her magic onto my pages and how proud i would be to do that hopefully in the near future. Thanks mary. To work together with some one like Mary to add the beauty that she creates to my pages of poetry would make for a magical site i would be proud of. 

To be a writer you need a good imagination you just have to look at jk Rowlings, pages full of exciting things nothing dull, always some thing new and exciting, C.S Lewis and Narnia another wonderful example of a great imagination with a spiritual lift to it. Catharine Cookson my favourite author of adult stories writes from real life, earthy deeply involved stories of life in the north of england.

So, you tell me. Are good writers eccentric?

Writers Workshop: The Anthology Ripper

Ripper

Here’s a real-life story, borrowed from the pages of a writer friend’s journal. It should probably be filed under the True Crime/Ripper genre.

Yep, you know what’s coming. It’s time to give publishers another good spanking.

Imagine you’re a writer. You have the opportunity to contribute to an anthology that’s targeted to your favorite genre, True Crime. The publisher, a well-known and large house, is planning to sell the anthology to libraries. It’s not intended for the broad trade market. The publisher knows that anthologies in the public square usually don’t do well. Libraries, on the other hand, are this publisher’s dream come true, especially when their workload and overhead is tiny.

So, as a writer, here are your requirements:

  • Prepare a top-notch essay of 5,000 words.
  • Stick to the publisher’s guidelines, which can best be described as “anal.”
  • Add proper footnotes and references according to publisher specifications.
  • Finalize the essay in print-ready format with tons of technical specifications.
  • It must be perfect, which is what you also want to achieve.
  • Be a flawless copy editor or buy those services yourself.
  • Make modifications in accordance with the Editor-In-Chief.
  • Be ready for those last minute technical changes sure to come.
  • Repeat as necessary.
  • Always take all responsibility for all work. Do so without complaint.

OK, you’re ready to go, right? Well, not quite. The publisher has a few other, small requirements. So, get back to work.

  • Write a bio of 300 words according to the publisher’s “anal” requirements.
  • Complete a questionnaire of some three pages for the publisher’s use.
  • Supply an appropriate photo/image of the proper size and specification.
  • Have a Twitter account.
  • Have a Facebook page.
  • A website is STRONGLY suggested, encouraged, nearly demanded.
  • Fund these and all future marketing projects out of your own pocket.
  • Agree, in writing, to participate in the publisher’s marketing strategies, no matter what they may entail.
  • In fact, just become the marketing agent for the publisher.

Contracts

In the heat of passion, you have already signed the contract. It was a more extensive, detailed series of publisher demands and requirements. Oh, plus all those disclaimers that will forever prohibit you from making a dime on your efforts. Did you read the fine print? No? Well, you should have delved into the minutiae before you began this arduous journey.

Too late. Carry on.

Now, it’s reward time, eh? Let’s look at the bottom line for your efforts.

  • You will receive zero payment. No advance, no royalties. Ever.
  • You will receive one copy of the anthology.
  • You will receive the promised exposure, to all those library-buyer powerhouses. Wow!

Well, my writer friend, have you made a good deal?

The Editor-In-Chief will make some money on the deal. That’s appropriate. It’s hard work to put this kind of project together and make it appealing. The publisher will take all the profits, which seems appropriate since they did none of the work. It’s the zen of publishers these days.

Dirty Harry

In the words of Dirty Harry, “Go ahead, make my day.”

You would have received better exposure by carefully placing your words into appropriate blogs, online magazines, websites and the like. Hell, put it on cheap paper and pass it out at your favorite shopping mall! That’s exposure. Forget the fact that you received no compensation, whatsoever.

But think of the time and effort you could have saved by writing for a different venue, in a different media and without all the publisher hoops. Woops.

Did you do yourself any good with all this trouble? Are you happy that a few libraries have given you such far-reaching exposure? Maybe there are a handful of real readers out there who will actually buy the anthology? So, what? Won’t do you any good. The publisher would like it, though.

Next time you consider such an “offer,” you owe it to yourself to also consider the alternatives at your disposal. If you are willing to give your work away, do so in your best interest, not for that oh-so-generous publisher who comes calling.

Remember Dirty Harry.

Traditional Publishing. And The Odds Are . . .

Assouline at the Plaza

For most writers, traditional publishing remains the gold standard for literary success. With it comes recognition and rewards, and the bonus of many unexpected opportunities. But the publishing industry has been in the throes of chaotic change in the past few years. Writers are no longer tethered to the agent-publisher maze done New York style. Many publishers have closed their doors, a few have been absorbed. Cutbacks are the order of the day. Reaching the gold standard has always been tough but, these days, it’s a monumental task.

When it comes to traditional publishing, the universal question that writers ask is, “What are my odds of getting published?” It’s an understandable question, and one that goes to the heart of why many writers write. The confusion is not in the question, it’s in the answer.

There really is no precise answer to the question, nothing a writer can rely upon. There are only opinions and the experiences of writers, agents and publishers. However, it’s obvious that agents and publishers are not running a lottery. It’s not a random process. Talent and marketability matter. Publishers are trying their darnedest to make money and stay relevant in a marketplace that they can no longer dominate. From a broader point of view, everyone involved in the writing business understands that the odds of being published in the traditional way are long. In fact, they are very long.

Here are a few opinions to consider. They reflect a consensus view of agents and publishers in today’s marketplace:

The odds of getting your book published by a legit New York house, the kind of contract that gets your work on the shelf at Borders, are about the same as someone setting out to play on the PGA or LPGA tour. In a word, miniscule. More realistically, in 2.5 words, almost non-existent. (Larry Brooks, StoryFix.com)

Here is a quick summary of what Rita Emmett wrote on RitaEmmett.com:

  • Agencies like mine typically reject 99.5 of everything they see.
  • Editors take projects (only) from agents.
  • An average, overworked editor publishes a maximum of 24 books in a year.
  • According to reliable sources, we publish only about 65,000 books a year. 2/3 of that group are text books, professional books and fiction. That leaves approximately 12,000 books available for you to become one of.

Editors and agents are often asked about “the odds.” I’ve heard different numbers given, and I’ve given them myself, to try to get across the difficulty an author faces when sending out manuscripts and hoping to get published. All of them are in the ballpark of 1,000 to 1 or worse. Where do these numbers come from? No one knows . . . (The Odds of Getting Published Stink – and Why You Shouldn’t Care. The Purple Canyon Blog.)

Editors and publishers agree that the odds of being published are only 1-2%. That is, they only accept, and publish, one or two out of every hundred manuscripts they receive. (The Odds of Being Published. Fiction Writers’ Mentor.)

About 95% are rejected right off the bat (most get form letters, a few promising authors get personalized notes stating why the manuscript was rejected). Of the 5% left, some are queries for which the editors request entire manuscripts. Others are manuscripts submitted in their entirety, and these go on to the next stage of the acquisitions process (get passed around the editorial department, presented at editorial meetings, perhaps looked at by sales staff to get a sense of the market for the book). The end result is that 1-2% of unsolicited submissions are actually purchased for publication. (What Are Your Chances of Getting Your Book Published? FictionAddiction.net)

The market is glutted with manuscripts, and only a limited number of books and stories are being published each year. The struggling economy has generated hordes of first-time authors adding their pet projects to the slush piles. At the same time, in order to save costs and streamline their businesses, many publishers are lowering the number and variety of books they publish each year (or even closing their doors for good). Hypothetically, an agent might receive 15,000 query letters in a year. Of the 15,000 novels in question, only a few dozen might be accepted and forwarded to a publisher, with only 15 or so to be accepted by a publisher for printing. Thus, in this example, an author has only a 1 in 1,000 chance of being published. (The Odds of Being Published. WritersType.com)

The bottom line is one of long odds, probably getting longer each day in terms of traditional publishing. No one can say what tomorrow will bring except that publishing houses are undergoing unprecedented changes. Traditional publishing is quickly becoming less powerful, less dominant. However, long odds are tolerable if you are truly committed to writing. It’s just another step along the path. And, today, there are many viable alternatives for the unwavering writer. The odds are not a good reason to give up.

It’s not always the most talented writer who succeeds. It’s often the most tenacious, the writer who is not afraid of long odds.

Blog Comments and Knicker Hitching

AmarcordWhen it comes to blogging, I’m still trying to get my knickers hitched up properly. I’ve been at it for less than a year. Since I’m an old fogy, blogging came very late to my game. After 45+ years of writing, it was something new to try, a fresh way to exercise and exorcise my muse.

I’ve come to really enjoy the experience. Reading other blogs is fun and doesn’t take up much time. I’ve seen some great talent out there and, well, some lesser luminaries. My collection of “must read” blogs is tight but the quality is outstanding. When I don’t have the time to cruise through my blog list I feel as though the day has slipped away too quickly.

My favorite part of the blogging experience is reading the comments following my posts. I’m not much of a stats person. It’s not the kind of thing that yanks my tail much. The “likes” are fun because they give me a chance to check out a new blog. But it’s the comments that always make my day. They are pure prime rib for this carnivore.

AmarcordMy blog is meant for writers, mostly. I have a secondary character (Gregor) who makes social commentary and tries to deliver humor. But Gregor also talks to writers. So, most of my visitors seem to follow suit. They are typically writers, and some very good ones. When these readers are moved to leave a comment, I feel as though I’ve done a good job and that my fellow-writers have found some value in my words. It’s easy to push the “like” button but it takes a bit more effort to leave a comment. When a reader leaves me with a word or two, that’s a big payoff.

I’m also very impressed with the quality of comments. These are sharp folks, who can express themselves clearly and in a limited space. I like that. They often bring a big sense of humor along with them, especially when it’s a comment to one of Gregor’s blatherings. They banter and tweak, which makes my day. They thrive on fun and they’re not afraid to show it out loud. It’s a feel-good thing. I appreciate the smiles and chuckles.

Then there’s that geography thing.

Call me naive in the ways of blogging but I’m blown over by visits from across the world. OK, I’m severely provincial, so it’s a big deal in my quiet life. Better still, these folks can handle English with aplomb. Hell, I could never get past Pig Latin 101. The truth is that I’ve never been that good at my native language. I’m impressed that so many of these commentators are bi-lingual and so articulate. They remind me how small is my world, how absent my grasp of languages and other cultures. I admire these folks.

AmarcordMostly, these reader comments show me a strong sense of community, a gathering of people with similar interests from different places and perceptions. I like that. Since I live in a very rural area, these commentators open up my world in a big way. I suppose I could gain much by traveling more frequently, but I’m an old geezer and lazy by nature. Home is just fine. So, I travel through the world with the folks who take the time to comment on a post. They share their unique view of things, they give me a chuckle, they tell me about their world through their words. They are my teachers.

I thrive on these comments and appreciate them. The bottom line is that these short sentences are my reward for writing. They are gifts given freely and with a genuiness that is inescapable. There’s no better way to begin the day.

Thanks to all of you who have commented on my posts. You’ve made my blogging journey fun and endlessly interesting.

(Images from Fellini’s Amarcord. If you haven’t seen it, you have a real treat to come. It’s a writer’s movie, a lesson in real character development. It’s also very funny.)

The Long and Short of Sentences

English: SVG rendition of the infamous Gonzo fist

I’m blogging. Give me a tight, snappy sentence. Let me move on, quickly.

I’m working on a new fiction novel. I need those longer, more polished sentences, the ones with choice, moving descriptive words and a tantalizing flutter that carries me deeper into the story line.

Get it?

They’re both good. They both have their right place. It’s one of the profundities and pleasures of writing. You can change it up, mix it around, make the sentences keep a rhythm and count that pulls your readers along the story line. Both work well. It all depends on your audience and the kind of reading experience you’re offering.

I’m not an experienced blogger but I am an experienced journalist. I thrive on short sentences. I enjoy the rapid movement, the pitch of motion they imply. I want my reader to move along quickly, get the point, heave a chuckle, whatever. I’m not looking for the lingering reader when I write an article. That’s for the novel.

Either way, tight is right when it comes to any sentence. Give it just what it needs but no more. Each word should count. If it doesn’t, blow it out of there and stay tight with your reader. There’s no bigger turn-off than a sentence that ho-hums around, drags itself on for too long, bores the reader. Reading cannot be work. No matter how deeply you’ve fallen in love with your words, be a vicious editor. Slice and dice with abandon.

On the journalistic side of the business, short sentences set the pace for your article. If the sentences move quickly and easily, so does the reader’s mind. Content and motion are the key elements. Set a quick pace, a snappy tune, and carry it through to the end. Make your point and move on. No lingering.

I suspect this also works best for most blog posts, excluding poetry or longer pieces. When I cruise through various blogs, which I do often, my eye is caught by the snappy, tight first sentence or two. If it moves, I jump in. If it drags, I pass on the post. Perhaps this is nothing more than a journalistic hangover. Not sure. But, for me, tight writing and quick sentences make all the difference for blog reading.

For longer fiction pieces, I tend to dump the snappy rule. Longer sentences work, so long as they feel snug and meaningful. My favorite writers mix and match both short and long sentences. When the writer wants to move me along, the sentences become shorter, the read quicker. I can feel the tension and pacing pull me along. When the story line calls for it, the same writer can let me catch my breath with longer, more polished and intricate sentences. They dance together well. They keep me following the story line.

So, is one better than the other? No, of course not. But, from a traditional blogging point of view, from the eye of a journalist, snappy, well-paced sentences will always catch my eye. When I want to get into a serious novel, the rule changes a bit, though I’m still looking for the shortest way home.

See Tight is Right for a little more about this subject. It’s a predictably short read.

You Want to be a Writer? What!

cow in mouth (who's crazy ?)

You want to be a writer, eh? Better think about it for a while. Consider all the reasons why a writer’s life is, uh, very strange.

You want to be normal. If that’s your goal, stick to your day job. Writers are nuts. You have to be a tilty-boogle to pursue this course in your life. All the writers I’ve known over the years, and they are legend, are a bit wacko. Some more than others. I know. I’m a wacko writer. So, if you’re after the American dream of normalcy, try something else. This is not the life for you.

You want financial security. It’s the wholesomeness of a regular paycheck, the backbone of social progress, the lynchpin of stress-free living. Forget about it. If you want to write for a living, dump the idea of security. It just won’t happen. Sure, you may do well. You may also starve. Either way, you better lose the idea of ever achieving a “fixed income.”

You enjoy the quiet times. If you’re a writer, things are never quiet. Your head is constantly thrashing around, usually on the fine edge of implosion, always noisy. Sure, it may be peaceful in the sanctity of your writing space but it’s always chaotic in your head. Have you ever tried to get away from your head? Hard to do.

You don’t want to be weird. You can’t be serious about being a writer unless you’re seriously weird. Writers just don’t think like normal people.

You like regular hours. Yikes! A writer’s schedule is like drinking colon-blow with your coffee. Maybe you’re one of those lucky writers who can stick to a predictable writing schedule. I’ve heard about these folks, and I envy them. It’s just never worked for me. Day becomes night, morning follows evening, the calendar is all funny-looking, watches are never set correctly. Only deadlines matter.

English: Crazy stuff

You like to control stuff. Oops, that’s it. Game over for you. Writers control nothing, not even their own characters. Actually, the characters take over and usually lead the writer around on a leash. You can’t control your time, your income, editors, publishers, publicists, readers, media, any other bump or any living entity in the entire golly-bang universe. If you have control, you’re not a writer.

You value your ego. It doesn’t matter what you write, someone is going to be upset. Maybe most of your readers are happy and enthusiastic. Still, there are always a few out there who will launch doo-doo all over your head. Nature of the beast. If you want to write for a living, give your ego a regular dose of sleep aids and keep your head down. Better yet, forget the prophets of doom and gloom, the critics, and the forever malcontents. They’re just along for the ride. There’s no point in trying to impress others since you’ll never be able to pull it off.

You want to be understood by others. Nope, not going to happen. Try some other profession. No one understands the career writer, including the writer himself.

You like to dress well. Maybe a few writers can pull this off, but I don’t know any of them. Writer’s don’t do well with fashion. I have no idea why this happens.

You like parties and social events. These are the worst for most writers I know. Chatter, chatter, inane dialogue, noise, boring and repetitive yaddle, whatever. Give me some quiet!

You like to work with others. Writing is mostly a solo business. I mean, who wants to get inside your writing head and crawl around? People can be very distracting. They can be fun when you’re creating characters or doing research. After that, they need to go away and let you get down to work, by yourself.

You are secure, well-balanced, well integrated into society. So, by definition, you’re not a writer. See the “normal” argument above.

Still want to be a writer?

Writers’ ROI (Return On Investment)

Spurious Causality

A number of years ago a friend approached me with a compelling idea. Would I be willing to write a book (under a pen name) that his organization could use as a fundraiser? I suppose this idea had been used many times and in countless ways, but it was new to me. My friend knew that I was interested in the cause he represented so it was an easy sell. It also appealed to me because I could keep my writing sharp while lulling through those “between project” times. There was no downside to the idea.

Fast forward. I’ve done this same thing a few times in the intervening years and found it to be a terrific experience. I loved the projects because I believed in the causes. As a writing workout, it had everything I wanted in terms of interest and freedom. I got to choose the topics, present them my own way, and know they would be appreciated and used in a positive manner.

When this kind of writing was still new to me I did some fumbling around to find the right formula. It took a little time, but it all finally came together. Now, I’m a true believer. My hope is that other writers will take up this kind of project for their favorite causes.

Here’s what I learned about this type of writing. It’s a personal formula, so there’s lots of room for improvements and tweaks. Just some highlights.

Be ContentMake no pitch in the book. It’s only necessary to add a single, discreet line to let readers know that your book will funnel all profits to the chosen cause. I like to add this as a brief line in the Introduction and within the traditional back-cover teaser. This seems to work best. There’s no reason to beat the drums. If you do a “hard sell” in the book you risk a big turn-off with the reader. Not good.

It must be relevant. Obviously, you want the topic to be relevant to the cause. There must be a clear tie-in that the reader cannot overlook. If you’re trying to fund-raise for a hunger project there’s no point in writing a tome about aircraft design. This is the point at which you work closely with the cause folks to come up with just the right idea.

"Timeless" Clock 時計 Sign, Asahikawa ...

It should be timeless. These writing projects need to stand the test of time and go on for years to be really effective. Time-sensitive topics don’t work well when you’re doing a fundraiser. What does work well is a topic that remains relevant over a long period of time. You want the book to have a strong shelf life.

It should not be unnecessarily long. With this type of writing project, the usual rules of novel length do not apply. In fact, I’ve found that a rather short book with tight, easy to digest chapters works well for most readers. It’s not necessary to spend thousands of words on character development or story line meanderings. Simple is best. Also, the book must move along.

Chapters need not be sequential. It’s OK to write a book that a reader can pick up at a moment’s notice, turn to any chapter, and begin reading. This seems to work better than creating a work that demands linear reading, front to back. The formula I prefer is to create a book in which any chapter can be read as a standalone piece of work. Obviously, there must be an overall tie-in that holds everything together. Readers seem to like this technique.

Graphics are not always necessary. Although graphics can enhance any literary work, they are not critical to this type of writing. Graphics help, but a book written for the purpose we’re discussing can be quite simple and still be very effective. I point this out because the cost of printing and publication can directly relate to the graphics content of the book regardless of how it is to be published.

Book Signing

Go to the events. It really helps your cause if you can attend events and sign copies of the book as they are purchased. This is not only a great way to thank the cause supporters but also a means to generate interest from potential readers.

Keep your causes separate. It’s not wise, nor proper, to mix your messages when promoting a cause-related book. This must be a personal decision, though. Just as you use a pen name for these creations, it’s best to keep your other work apart. Focus on the cause and the book it represents. There should never be any selling involved when you promote this kind of book. That responsibility belongs to others involved in the cause.

Feel good about yourself. This is the reward point of your contribution. With each book sale, your cause can grow and become more powerful. That’s the “feel good” part of the process that should not be overlooked. As writers, we all want others to read our words. If we can put our books in front of new readers, and feel good about it at the same time, we’ve been well rewarded.

So, why not give it a try? It’s the kind of offer that any forward-looking cause can appreciate and you’ll feel very good about your labor. A guaranteed return on your investment.

When Great Writers Vanish

GeezerBeing a geezer writer has its advantages. Decades in the business makes for a slice of clarity, a broader understanding of why some writers make it while others fail, or just choose to disappear. It’s usually a strange and toxic mixture of life ingredients.

It often doesn’t have anything to do with talent.

Some of the best writers I’ve known simply walked away from the trade. These were gifted people whose work I admired and thought was outstanding. But they gave it all up. They just vanished from the scene.

It’s not easy to wrap your head around this problem. Still, there are some common themes, scant threads that seem to surface with these individuals. Even though they disappeared as writers, a few of them stayed in touch, a few gave explanations. There are lessons.

Feedback fail. Many of the writers I’ve known needed a good deal of feedback. When you write for a living, especially at the start of your career, that just doesn’t happen. You are working in a vacuum, for the most part. Sure, you may get some feedback from friends or a trusted draft-reader, but many writers are looking for much more. They want reader feedback, the kind of notice given by those unknown but appreciated readers. Beginning writers can’t get that feedback, and some of them wither under the wish. They walk away before they’ve given themselves a chance. If you can’t stand lonliness, writing is the wrong path for you.

Life interferes. This is a rough one. It’s something that all beginning writers need to face. It takes a long time, if ever, for your writing to pay off. Throughout that stretch, life moves on. How can a writer balance it all? It’s not easy for anyone but it’s particularly gruesome for someone not yet established. You need the tenacity and drive to make your writing work itself into your life, to weave its place around the necessities of living. Sometimes, life just takes over and there’s nothing you can do about it. During those times, writing takes a second seat. It’s hard but you’ve got to tough it out. Reach deep and pull out the draft, even if it’s just to add a word or two, just to read a few lines. When the flame flickers low, don’t let it blow out. Patience helps, always.

Rejection

Rejection. Too many talented writers die on the words of rejection letters. It’s an understandable reaction. You work your butt off for nothing but the love of the word. You spend years perfecting your trade. Then, some editor blows you off with a tight rejection. Others follow. Suddenly, you’re drained. Too many rejections, too little reward. Wrong feedback. We’ve all been there. But rejections are nothing more than opinions. Editors and publishing houses have a long tradition of making stupendous blunders about writing talent. Opinions are free and common, and often offered by individuals who have never spent the time or effort to perfect their own art. Ignore them and move on. Mourn if you must, but only for a moment. It’s easy to say and hard to do. I understand that. But what choice do you have, if you truly want to be a writer?

Luck. This sounds silly but it’s a factor that’s brought many good writers to their knees. It really applies to traditionally-published work. In the world of publishing, there are limits to production. Publishers set an early and tight schedule for themselves. In other words, there are always more writers than there are slots in the publishing schedule. So, luck sometimes wins out, especially if a number of talented writers are working the same small market. There’s not much you can do about this. It’s best to remember that luck smiles without a winked eye, when it smiles. Your turn will come. The trick is to just accept this randomness and work around it. The best answer to luck is to improve your writing skill.

Timing. Hot genres come and go. If you’re writing for the short term, you need to get into the hot genre and get there quickly. It’s a mad rush toward a narrow doorway, though. Expect a lot of bumping and bruising. Personally, I don’t like this approach. It’s too chaotic, too nuts and too stressful. Why not consider looking ahead, working toward a genre that has more legs? Let the others rush. Take your time and make your work all it can be.

It’s not for you. Great writers don’t always want to be writers. I suppose that sounds strange to those who write for a living. I’ve met a few individuals who fit this category. They were brilliant writers, really good. But that wasn’t their life-ride. They enjoyed writing but also wanted to taste other life pleasures. They tried it, did a good job, and walked away. I have a lot of respect for these people. It’s not something I could do, just walk away from an obvious talent. They could. They had a bigger vision in life. Good for them.

Pain

The pain is too great. I get it. There is nothing simple or easy in a writer’s life. The rewards can be outstanding, no doubt about it. However, the journey is anything but comfortable. In fact, I think you need to be a little nuts to make it your life’s work. Writing can be miserable but also exhilarating. It’s like any other creative process. The ups and downs are extreme. The potential for a reasonable reward is small. The work is downright tough. It’s enough to drive anyone to find another way through life. It’s just too much for some people and they walk away, regardless of their talent. Only the word addict remains.

Art grows. I’ve know a few writers who have moved on to another art form. These people are truly interesting. It seems they can conquer very different arts, each with aplomb. I have no idea how they pull this off. I’m in awe of these people, probably because I have only a single art. I love these artists, the ones who walk away from writing and straight into another art form they easily conquer. Wow! If that’s the reason you walk away from the word, you’ve made a great decision. You are more than a writer, you are an artist. You are my hero.

I suppose there are all kinds of other reasons why these word masters walked away from it all. Back in the early years, I wanted to walk away. I just couldn’t do it. Like many of my writer friends, I had a major word addiction.

I still do, even though I’m old enough to know better.

Dislike Your Writing? Me Too.

English: the conflict of writing for man or ma...

I’ve been writing all my life, and it’s been a long one. My books have been published by major houses and they’ve crossed genres. My articles and short stories have been well received. Yes, I’ve earned money from my writing. But there’s still one, very big problem: I don’t like my writing. In fact, I just can’t go back to read something I’ve written and keep my brain in a steady state.

This is a personal issue, I suppose. I don’t think too many other writers are this distressed with their work. There’s no good, objective explanation. No known diagnosis that works. My reviews have been good and my writing has opened many doors of opportunity that I never anticipated. It should all be perfect but, at the end of the day, I’m still dissatisfied. I have an itchy bug that I chase every day. That bug refuses to die.

It gets even worse.

I can’t talk to anyone about my writing without becoming embarrassed. My family and close friends know this, so they just don’t talk to me about my writing. I’ve even changed residences because of my writing when I felt that I was losing too much privacy in my life. I do whatever it takes to avoid the subject, right down to flatly denying that I write at all. Everyone close to me has been trained to avoid the subject.

But, I’m lying to myself and to them. Secretly, I want people to read my words. In my heart, I feel good when something I’ve written moves a reader, makes him or her pause for a moment, think, get a good chuckle. Of course, I deny this to everyone. Well, almost everyone. My wife knows about my secret and she honors it. I suppose she puts up with lots of strange stuff, living with a writer. Anyway, I know that my secret is safe with her. But what about the rest of the world?

Now, I’m outing myself, just a little. OK, I don’t like my writing. OK, I still want someone, somewhere to read my words. I guess that I just don’t want to know about it in the traditional way. This is all too schizophrenic for my taste. I want my cake, I want to eat it, and then I throw it all back up.

It may come down to an evil mind trick that I’m playing on myself. It may all come down to tension. It’s mostly unconscious, I think. I carry around this dark critic that whispers, “Your writing is absolute doo-doo, so go find something else to do with your life.” Another part of my brain won’t let me stop writing, no matter how hard I try to find some other way. So, there’s a war going on. Write. Don’t write. Do better. It’s all crap. Get a real life!

Geez. What a drag! This has been going on for nearly 50 years now. Enough!

Since I’ve gone this far, I might as well spill the whole story. I need this tension. I need this kind of insecurity. If I was really satisfied with something I wrote, just one thing, I’m afraid I would stop writing on the spot. That would be the summit and I could sit back and say, “Wow! That was great.” If that happened, what would come next?

I suppose this whole schizophrenic approach to writing is my way of keeping motivated, of staying in the game. Frankly, it’s a pain in the ass. But, it keeps me writing and that’s what I enjoy. It’s both the curse and the blessing of my writing life. It’s the fuel for the engine, the tension for the rubber band in my mind.

I don’t like this article very much but I’m going to publish it anyway. Then I’ll never read it again.